Study 8 THE CREED OF THE EARLY CHURCH
PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portions: 1 Timothy 3:14-16; Philippians 2:6-11
This study is based on one verse which contains, in brief form, the creed of the Church - 1 Timothy 3:16. It emphasises some of the main doctrines of our faith, and it is not surprising that when Paul was warning Timothy of false teachings he inserted this basis of belief. It is helpful to us in a day when many Christians are untaught and are therefore not sure what they believe. Look at our key-verse and notice these preliminary truths:-
- (1) All Christian truth is a Divine revelation. The word ‘mystery’ tells us this. It does not mean that God’s truth is mysterious, but that it was hidden, or concealed, and that it has now been revealed - for a mystery is a revealed secret. (Look up and compare the six mysteries mentioned in the New Testament - Romans 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Ephesians 3:4-6 and 5:31-32; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; and 1 Timothy 3:16).
- (2) This Divine revelation is only understood by the initiated. In other words, the mystery only becomes revealed to us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit - compare Matthew 11:25 and 1 Corinthians 2:14.
- (3) This Divine revelation is the declaration of great historical facts concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important to notice that our faith does not rest upon tradition or theories but upon the great acts of God declared in our key-verse.
- (4) This Divine revelation is a matter of certainty. When the apostle says, “beyond all question…” he means there is absolutely no doubt about it! J.B. Phillips renders it, ”No-one can deny it.” It is solemn that some deny the great truths of our faith and certain portions of Scripture! - look up Revelation 22:18-19.
- (5) This Divine revelation leads to godly living on the part of those who receive it. C.H. Spurgeon writes, “It is called the mystery of godliness because it leads to a godly life.” Sometimes we hear people say, “We do not need doctrine; we do not need creeds.” This results in Christians who are untaught and unsure of their faith, and they fail to live victorious Christian lives.
Now let us study the six articles of this Christian creed:-
1. The Lord Jesus Christ was God and He “appeared in a body”
No statement could be clearer than this, for in these words is the great mystery of the Incarnation, declaring the eternal existence of Christ. Jesus did not begin His life at Bethlehem (compare John 1:1 and 14, and Galatians 4:4). In these verses we are told that the eternal God came and entered a human body in order that He might secure our salvation, and in order that we might know what He is like and be brought back into fellowship with Him. This is the first article of the Christian faith. A man must believe that Jesus is the Son of God to be a Christian at all - look up Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10; and compare John 1:12.
2. The Lord Jesus Christ was “vindicated by the Spirit”
The word ‘Spirit’ is spelt with a capital ‘S’, for the reference is to the Person of the Holy Spirit. The meaning is that Jesus, from the moment He appeared on earth and all through His earthly life and ministry, was vindicated by the Holy Spirit in all His claims to be the Son of God. When He came there were many reasons why men should not believe His claim to be God’s Son, for He came in such poverty, weakness and disrepute, but all the way through our Lord’s earthly life the Holy Spirit gave this proof. Look up the references to the activity of the Holy Spirit in the earthly life of Jesus:- He was (1) born of the Spirit (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:34-35); (2) anointed with the Spirit (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 4:18); (3) led by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1); (4) He served in the power of the Spirit (Luke 10:21 and 11:20; Acts 1:2 and 10:38); (5) His Calvary-work was done in the power of the Spirit (Hebrews 7:27 and 9:14); – but it was especially by His resurrection that the Holy Spirit fully and finally vindicated our Lord’s claim to be the Son of God - look up Romans 1:4.
3. The Lord Jesus Christ was “seen by angels”
Angels always attended our Lord. For instance: (1) they announced His birth (Luke 2:9-14); (2) they attended His life and ministry (Matthew 4:11); (3) they observed His passion (1 Peter 1:12); (4) they proclaimed His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-7); (5) they confirmed His ascension and coming again (Acts 1:10-11). The angels were the first to see Him rise from the grave, and T.A. Gurney says that the words “seen by angels” have special reference to the post-resurrection of our Lord - to the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, “for”, he points out, “the word ‘seen’ implies self-exhibition”. Our Lord showed Himself alive to the angels (Ephesians 3:10 and 1 Peter 1:12).
4. The Lord Jesus Christ has been “preached among the nations”
All the clauses in this creed are statements of historical facts, and the fourth great fact is that the Gospel of Christ has been proclaimed worldwide. Our Lord commanded that the Gospel be preached in the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) - for He is everyone’s Saviour - compare 1 Timothy 2:3-5.
5. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all who believe on Him
Think of it – at first only a few believed on Him; later on three thousand believed (Acts 2:41); and as we go through the story of the early Church more and more heard the Gospel and believed on Him and were saved. This part of the creed is important because it declares God’s plan and method of salvation. He has given His Son - “appeared in a body, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations …” but how are people saved? Simply by believing and trusting in Christ as Saviour and Lord (John 3:16 and 5:24; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10; and Ephesians 2:8-10).
6. The Lord Jesus Christ is now exalted in Heaven
Yes, He was “taken up in glory”. He came to purchase our salvation, and having finished the work He went back to Heaven (Acts 1:8-9). This Christian creed declares the victory of our Saviour, who has been here in the flesh, who has been down into death and has conquered sin and death and Hell, and is now exalted at the right hand of God in glory (Philippians 2:6-11). He is there now - look up Hebrews 1:3 and Revelation 1:12-18.
In conclusion, notice that the whole creed centres on the Person and the Work of Christ. Christianity is Christ!