14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:14-16 ESV)
I think I have confessed before here that I am not as knowledgable of the content of Paul’s letters as I should be. In large part, that is because Paul’s letters are letters, and not stories, and I find them harder to follow or even to be interested in.
But it’s also in part because we treat Paul more as a lawgiver than as a prophet. Paul’s “law” becomes both judge and gatekeeper — it determines who is in and out of the community (as he seems to intend in some of his letters) and whether or not we are actually church.
It’s the second one I struggle with the most, since it takes something of a Calvinist approach to the law — God wouldn’t give us a law we can’t keep, so if we don’t keep it, we aren’t God’s people. This goes against the entire meaning of the biblical story, which is about God calling a people who cannot keep his teachings, and God’s faithful struggle with that faithless people as God moves ever close to doing all the work this faithless people cannot.
We are church, whether we follow the teaching or not, because we are a people called and gathered by God.
The remnant are not a remnant because they are faithful, but rather they will be made faithful because they are the remnant.
Paul does tell us how to behave. The first letter to Timothy is full of instructions for deacons and elders. But here, he also gives us a marvelous confession of our faith. Christ is the mystery of godliness, and no matter how we act, Christ is our righteousness. I have to confess, I’ve never really seen this little hymn before, and it is truly beautiful.
And one of the ways we behave in the household of God is to proclaim and confess this faith. Together. A reminder of who we are.