Dr. Timothy Tennent: Christ is Our Sufficiency
As pastors and church leaders, I am sure you have read the text in 1 Tim. 3 about church leadership many times. This is the passage which outlines the qualifications to be an elder or a deacon in the church. There is little doubt that those of us in full time Christian ministry read these texts with a reflectiveness and poignancy which others may not, because we can’t help but wonder: “How do I stack up against these qualifications?” “Am I qualified to serve as a minister of God’s church?” “Am I really ready for ‘greater judgment’ (James 3:1)?”
Paul outlines 15 qualifications for an elder, and 8 for a deacon. It’s quite a list!
However, it is important to keep reading and see how Paul concludes that passage. He says, “The mystery of godliness is great!” (1 Tim 3:16). Our godliness and holiness as pastors and leaders is caught up in the mystery of Christ! We do not stand alone. The passage gives all of these necessary qualifications, and then bursts into a beautiful six hymn:
He was revealed in the flesh;
Vindicated by the Spirit;
Seen by Angels;
Proclaimed among Gentiles;
Believed in throughout the world;
Taken up in Glory.
These six lines form one of the earliest creedal hymns in the New Testament. It is essentially a summary of the life of Christ. To be “revealed in the flesh” recalls the incarnation which makes the very story of salvation possible. To be “vindicated by the Spirit” recalls his Baptism where the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a vindication of the Father’s pronouncement: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The phrase, “was seen by angels” is clearly a reference to his bodily resurrection which was testified by the angels to the women and others who came to the empty tomb on Easter morning. It was the angels who asked that defining question which shapes your ministry and mine: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). The next line is “proclaimed among Gentiles” recalling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in the post-resurrection period where he called you and me and all the saints throughout history to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. The Great Commission is to “all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). This is a universal and global mandate which is why the next phrase says, “believed in throughout the world.” What began in Galilee by the Risen Christ sets into motion a proclamation which will encircle the world. All who are reading this are caught up in this great commission. The last phrase, “taken up in glory” refers to the ascension of Christ. Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father. But, as Luther wisely reminded us, Christ did not just ascend from “here” (earth) to “there” (heaven). He also re-assumed his eternal omnipresence and therefore Christ is at the right hand of the Father as well as with us wherever “two or more are gathered in his name.” This is why Luther says “He ascended from ‘here’ to ‘everywhere.’”
The point of connecting this hymn to a list of qualifications for church leadership is to remind us all that we stand in ministry, not based merely on who we are and our list of qualifications but on the majesty of Jesus Christ. Our godliness is a mystery, because it has been made possible in and through Jesus Christ. He is the mystery of godliness. He is the reason we can stand for ministry. He is the reason we can faithfully proclaim him through word and deed each and every day of our lives. Thanks be to God for the beautiful mystery of godliness!