Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 6:14-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/18/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 6:14-16
“To Whom be Honor and Everlasting Power. Amen!”
Jesus is coming again! Last time we were in 1 Timothy, Paul was telling Timothy how he needed to be living until the coming of Jesus Christ. That’s there at the end of verse 14. Paul states this as a given. Paul wants Timothy to keep living this way until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing. It’s something we can read over too quickly as Christians. Jesus Christ is coming again. The word in the Greek is the word for epiphany. There was already a first epiphany of Christ; Christ’s first coming when he was born of the virgin Mary and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. That was at his first epiphany. But Jesus declared that he would come again to bring us to paradise and usher us into an eternal reward. That second epiphany for many will be a terrible day; a day of judgment. But for those who are found trusting in Christ, we know it will be a day of great glory and most wonderful joy. As Christians, we can’t wait for this. It will be the end of all our current afflictions. Even the things Paul just talked about, how Timothy and us need to keep daily fighting off the temptations of sin and striving and struggling forward toward righteousness – then that battle will be over. We’ll reach the finish line and be perfected in holiness. We won’t have to battle or fight against sin anymore. What wonderful rest that will be to arrive in that holiness and comfort. But we are not there yet. So, we must keep our eye on the target; on the finish line; on the day of Christ’s appearing.
When will that be? We are reminded when in verse 15. The time of Christ’s return is when God has planned it. It’s exactly then. Not a moment before or after. The challenge is that God has kept that time a secret. No one knows the day or the hour. The secret things belong to God, and this is one of them. We must live by the revealed things. But what has been revealed is that Christ will return and he will do it according to God’s own time. Everything is under control. None of the challenges of this life have taken God by surprise. God has a plan. God’s ordered all things in human history, especially the day of Christ’s return. When it says in verse 15 that God will manifest this in his own time, the idea is that God will finally show us what his plan is. That’s when we will get to know the day and the hour! Until then we must walk by faith!
It’s this language of verse 15 that this manifests or displays God’s plan that causes Paul to break forth into doxology. At that point, he changes tune. No longer is he giving Timothy practical commands for godly living. But as Paul considers the perfect timing of God when he finally returns Christ to this world, Paul has to break forth in grand praise! And so that’s what we’ll be focusing on today. As we have already remembered the promise of Christ’s coming this morning, I hope you have also been getting excited. I hope you also have been wanting to rejoice in praise and worship. Let us join Paul then right now in giving glory to God as we reflect on his transcendent beauty.
The first thing Paul focuses on in this doxology is the majesty of God. This is found in verse 15. “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” These are all regal and royal words. They speak of authority and dominion. God is over all. The first phrase there especially brings this out. He is the blessed and only Potentate. The word for potentate in the Greek is dunastes; think of the English word dynasty. Basically, this is the word for being the person in charge; a ruler; a sovereign.
Well, it says that God is not just this ruler or sovereign, he’s the only one. Yes, in one sense there are many. In fact, the rest of the verse goes on to mention many lords and many kings; that’s how he can be called Lord of lords and King of kings. There are many both on earth and even in heaven who are rulers of sorts. But their majesty, their authority, their rule, is so derived and inferior to God’s majesty, that this verse can say that he is the only ruler. Paul’s making a point of transcendence. God’s reign and rule is so ultimate and above all others, that Paul can say he is the only potentate.
This is especially wonderful when we think of how Paul describes this one and only ruler as “blessed”. Not only does God deserve all our blessings and praise, but this supreme ruler is the one who brings blessing and happiness to mankind. God in his reign is all cause for thanksgiving. To say it another way, this supreme ruler is good. He’s a good and benevolent master over all. We are blessed to be under the rule of this most blessed potentate.
So that’s a little of how Paul describes God’s majesty here. The other main thing Paul talks about in this doxology is what you might summarize as the mystery of God. This is found in verse 16, saying of God, “who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” There is a sense of mystery to these things. First, consider this immortality. This is clearly part of the mystery of God because it says that God alone has immorality. The fact that the word “alone” is used explains the uniqueness of this quality in God. Interesting, the word use here could be translated in a very literal way was “without death.” That’s interesting, because we know that God has promised us eternal life. Though, of course, we know our physical bodies are subject to death. Then again, there will be some alive when Christ returns who won’t taste of that physical death like the rest. I say this because as Christians we surely think of a way in which we have immortality. And yet here and now we are subject to physical death. And even more so, the immortality that we will ultimately know, is one given unto us by God. It’s something outside of us that God gives. And that then clues us in to what this doxology is getting at. For God, immortality is not something he got from someone else. It’s something he is. God is not death. He is life. It’s only in God that humans live and move and have our being. John 5:26 says it like this, “The Father has life in himself.” As soon as we start talking like this, we realize the mystery of this. And we realize the uniqueness of this. God alone is immortal in that sense; as an essential property of his being. God is to be praised as the one who alone is immortal! Again, notice the transcendence; the uniqueness of God!
The next mystery of God is put in terms of God dwelling in unapproachable light. Think of light so brilliant, so bright, that you can’t get to close. Think of how we can’t even look directly at the sun, let alone approach it. God dwells in unapproachable light. Psalm 104 speaks similarly here. Psalm 104:1: “O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.” The psalmist sees the this light as a covering for God that hides him from us. He similarly describes the heavens that way. Even today with our abilities in space travel in the heavens of outer space, we still aren’t able to transcend into the third heaven, in the heavens of God’s royal throne. That’s where God dwells. And even if we could create a craft or ship that could somehow get us to that heavenly throne room, then still we couldn’t approach this God on our own. For his holiness and perfection would yet keep us back. Think of even mere earthly examples that have taught us this lesson with only the earthly reflections of God’s heavenly dwelling and presence. Think of Moses who had to remove his shoes when standing on holy ground. Think of Nadab and Abihu who were struck dead as they inappropriately approached the holiness of God in the earthly tabernacle with their strange fire. Think of Uzzah who was struck dead when he put out his hand to steady the Ark of God. Remember unconsecrated King Uzziah who presumptuously entered the temple to give an offering and was stricken with leprosy. Remember Isaiah, getting just some kind of vision of God in his temple, cried out, “Woe is me, I am undone!” God is a holy God and if he dwells in such unapproachable light then surely it is ultimately his holiness that is in mind. If Queen Esther barely dared to approach the earthly King Xerxes, uncertain if she would meet favor or death, what sinful human would dare to approach the Almighty who covers himself with such unapproachable light? Again, think of the mystery of this. There is great mystery in this God who dwells in a place that no one can approach. And again, this shows the transcendence of this great God.
The last mystery described here is in terms of seeing God. No man has seen God or can see God. This surely reflects back on Moses’ request in Exodus 33:18, where he said to God, “Please, show me your glory.” God responded by allowing him to see his back side, while he was protected in the cleft of the rock. But God said to him in Exodus 33:20, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” Clearly, Paul’s doxology has that in mind here. This is another one of those verses that might need some clarification. On the one hand, the Bible spoke like in Exodus and here that no one has seen God. On the other hand, there are references in Scripture to at least some way in which a human saw God. For example, when Isaiah had that heavenly vision, he cried out as being undone because he said that he had seen Yahweh. Or in Genesis 32:30, after Jacob wrestled some mysterious man and eventually figured out who it was, he declared his surprise that he had seen God and yet lived. So, which is it? Have people seen God or not? Well, again this gets at the mystery of who God is at his core. Remember what 1 Timothy 1:17 said of God. It called God the invisible God. You see, God is a spirit. He does not have flesh and bones like we humans have. How can physical eyes see the invisible? They can’t. And so, whatever sight those in the past had of God, it was somehow an earthly accommodation for them. It was God manifesting himself in some way that could be seen with human eyes. But that’s not what Paul speaks of here. Paul speaks of here of God in his transcendent glory. Again, there is great mystery here and great uniqueness here!
So then, having considered this doxology with Paul, what should our response be? Well, it’s to praise and worship God! It’s, what Paul says at the end here! To this God, be “honor and everlasting power, amen!” This final part is a sort of wish. It is somewhat like when someone says, “Long live the king!” Faced with transcendent majesty and mystery of God, Paul says, “May honor and power be to him forever!” This word for honor here is about assigning value. It’s us saying may God be valued the way he should be, with all value, always and forever! The word for power here is specifically the power to reign and rule. It’s the might a king needs to establish and maintain his government. It’s us saying may God always have the strength to rule as the supreme sovereign over all. May his kingdom always be secure. May all his enemies be vanquished and may peace and justice endure forever under his dominion.
And so, this is the first application for today. As we contemplate this doxology, we ourselves should be brought to a place of praise. As we consider the awesome majesty and mystery of this transcendent God, may we break forth in doxology ourselves. May we give God all the glory for his majesty and mystery. Indeed, to this great God, to him be honor and everlasting power, amen!
But there is another application I would like to bring to you today. And it begins with a question. If this God we are praise today is so unique, so high and lifted up, so transcendent, how is that we can even know him? How is it that we can be in relationship with him? This is a question religions and philosophers have wrestled with down through the ages. You see, if God were not transcendent like this, if he was immanent, something we could all just approach and see, something not unique and a part of this earth, then he really wouldn’t be something to get excited about. He wouldn’t warrant a grand and glorious doxology like this. Simply put, he really wouldn’t be God, not as we are talking about today. But if God is in fact the amazing yet transcendent God that we talked about today, if is he so above this creation, so set apart, so distinct, so different, how is it that we even have this knowledge of him so we could issue forth such a doxology. The answer is a beautiful thing. The transcendent God is also immanent, and that has especially the case in and through his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We especially know and experience this transcendent God via Jesus Christ.
Think about this truth in light of today’s doxology. Think in terms of God’s transcendent majesty. This God who we can’t see is called here the King of kings and Lord of lords, yet Jesus whom we can see is also twice called in the book of Revelation by those same titles. Normally, that would be a contradiction. How can you have two King of kings? But Jesus is the God-man. In his divinity, he is uniquely the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords! And in his humanity, Jesus comes to us his brothers as this Supreme King. And in our relationship with Jesus, we then further know this majesty. The Bible tells us that in Christ we have become royalty now too! 1 Peter 2:9, we are a royal priesthood. Revelation 20:6 speaks of Christians being priests and reigning with Christ! What a dynasty to be a part of! By grace through face, we have come to know and share in the very majesty of this transcendent God!
And so, then think about this in terms of God’s transcendent mysteries. We read here of God alone having immortality. Yet, 1 Corinthians 15 declares to us a mystery, that will take place because of Christ. And specifically, it will take place at Christ’s second coming. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, we shall all be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:53 says that on that day the mortal will put on immortality and the perishable will put in imperishability. This speaks of the glorious victory we will have over Christ, that we will be clothed with this immortality! This is what Jesus said in John 11:25. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” In Christ, we know the immortality of the transcendent God.
Or think of how it says that God dwells in unapproachable light. Yet, he has sent such light to the world in Jesus. John 1:9, Jesus is the light that has come into the world. John 12:46, Jesus said that he came into the world as light that whoever believes in him will not remain in darkness. Colossians 1:12 speaks us of us now in Christ as those who are “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Or I especially love 1 Peter 2:9. It says that in Christ we may now “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In other words, we can know and even praise God as we have come into his marvelous light. Or to put it another way; we can now approach the God who dwells in unapproachable light because of Jesus. Hebrew 4:16 says that we can draw near to God with confidence now, in Christ. I love how it goes on to talk about this in Hebrews 12. It compares there how under the old covenant, the people got to draw near to only an earthly revelation of God and his presences, but it left them terrified. If they had to veil the fleeting glory of Moses’ face, then they surely couldn’t approach God in his unapproachable light. But in Christ, Hebrews 12:22 says we have come to a better tabernacle, saying, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” In Jesus, we now can approach the unapproachable God who covers himself in light. In Jesus, we know this light and have a share in that light! In Christ, we know the light and presence of the transcendent God!
Thinking then lastly of this God “whom no one has ever seen or can see”. In the mystery of it all, Jesus encouraged his disciples saying in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Of course, this too is something that is ours in Christ. Yet, how can we see the invisible God? Well, remember what the Scriptures say in Colossian 1:15. There it calls Jesus the image of the invisible God! Or John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time. the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” When his disciples asked Jesus to show them the father, he said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father!” Jesus is the revelation of God to man. In and through Christ we see the invisible transcendent God! By grace through face, we have come to know and share in the these mysteries of this transcendent God!
Saints of God, how marvelous! How amazing! We can know and praise this transcendent God today! Not only that, but we’ve even come to share in his majesty and mystery! What wonder of wonders! And it is all possible because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us end then today’s message exalting that name above all names, by whom we can even worship and know God today. All honor and power be to our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.