Bill McFarland

February 25, 2007


In the last two letters of the beloved apostle Paul he speaks of the God of heaven as he does not speak of God in any of his other writings.  It is not that God has changed; he is the same God.  It surely isn’t that Paul’s faith is any less or has any different focus than it has had all through his life as a godly man.  It is, though, that as he approaches a time when he faces the end himself at the hands of persecutors, and a time when the pressure of the world presses on the church which may be not mature enough to face it yet, and as he deals with some of the internal pressures that arise from people being less than they should be in the Lord’s family, that he realizes that above all other needs at a time like that, there is the need for a view of God in a certain way.

In I Timothy, for example, at the beginning of the letter and at the end of the letter Paul speaks of the “blessed God” - I Timothy 1:11 and then over in 6:15-16, “the blessed God.”  There is no other place in scripture where this word is used as an adjective to describe God in this way.  One older writer said, “Blessed’ here describes God as experiencing within himself the perfection of bliss” – nothing to detract from that all – the blessed God.

In I Timothy this God is also referred to as “God our Savior.”  The old commentator Lenski says that literally this should be translated “our Savior God.”  In I Timothy 1:1, he is “God our Savior.”  In I Timothy 2:3, he is “God our Savior.”  And in I Timothy 4:10, he is God, “the savior of all.”  “Our Savior God!”  That great God, that blessed God, is our Savior – the one who initiated and planned and purposed – that which has the power to give us all life.

The interesting thing is that through these writings of Paul, as he thinks about the blessed God who is the Savior God, he breaks out in two outbursts of praise to Him which themselves are unique in Paul’s writings in the kind of characteristics that they mention.  It is not unusual at all in Paul’s writings for him to break out in praise.  He does that as he thinks about what God has done for us in Christ.  It just happens that in these passages, the words that he uses are unique expressions of what God has done for us.  He does this once at the beginning of I Timothy and one at the end.  He does it once as he thinks of what God’s mercy toward us means and once as he thinks of what God’s power toward us means.  He does it first as he contemplates the Lord’s first coming to this world and then finally as he thinks of the Lord’s second coming into this world. 

Notice if you will these two wonderful statements.  First, I Timothy 1:17: Paul, having thought of how he had been the recipient of the grace of God, said, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”  And then over in chapter 6 of I Timothy, as he thought of the time when God will display the glory of his Son at the proper time, he breaks out again at the middle of verse 15: “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen.”  There is something about those expressions of praise to God which is crucial in sustaining the church for the long term.

Who He Is

Let’s think of what they are.  Consider first the characteristics and the nature of the God whom Paul praises here.  First, he is sovereign as ruler.  Notice that he is spoken of in the first passage as “the King of ages.”  There have been others who have been kings of places at times over certain groups of people.  There have been some who have been kings in various circumstances down through history.  But God is the King of ages, meaning that he rules over the natural world, the historical world, and his kingdom in the spiritual world – he is King overall.

Notice that over in chapter 16 he is spoken of as “the only potentate” (KJV) or “the only Sovereign.”  It is a term that was commonly used of rulers in this world, but here it is applied of God as being supreme overall.  And then literally, he is “the King of all those who are kinging and Lord of all those who are lording.”  That is what it literally says.  The pagan kings of Old Testament days liked to speak of themselves as the king of kings – men like Nebuchadnezzar, for example.  What this passage teaches, though, is that there is only one who has that kind of power.  He exercises it finally through his Son, according to Revelation 17:14, but God is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

In Daniel 4, the pagan Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon learned the lesson the hard way and then confessed the truth beautifully.  He said in 4:34-35, “I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

The idea of God’s being the King of kings and the Lord of lords is frequently used in Old Testament scriptures to stress his concern for the fatherless, the widow, the sojourner and the helpless.  This happened in Psalm 10:16-18 and following, Deut. 10:17-18 and in other similar passages.  God’s sovereign power is used not to oppress but to bless.  He is that kind of king.  One writer said that this passage “provides a magnificent description of the unique sovereignty of God.  In his absolute bliss and unending life, he is completely self-contained.  Such things belong wholly to Him and to Him alone.  He is thus the exclusive lord of all else.”  (New Bible Commentary, p. 1176).  King of kings and Lord of lords!

Then notice, not only his sovereignty, but the fact that he is eternal in nature is stressed.  The two words that are used in these passages to make this point are sometimes translated the same – “immortal” – and yet they are two different words and they have two different emphasis.  Notice in I Timothy 1:17, this King of ages is immortal.  This particular word stresses the fact that God is beyond being affected by the decay that comes with the passing of time.  Everything that we know wears out.  It doesn’t last.  We can’t keep it forever.  It is passing in nature.  But the word used of God in this passage says that he is imperishable, that he is incorruptible.  He does not fade with the passing of years; he is not affected by moth or rust or things that would consume in any way, shape or fashion.  He remains forever God in that way.

And then notice that over in chapter 6 in the praise that is expressed there, God is again said to be the one “who alone has immortality” (v. 16).  This time the emphasis of the word is that he is deathless; he is beyond death, that he is not going to be affected by loss of life or by the ending of life in any way.  Jesus taught in John 5:26 that the Father has life in himself.  Paul says in I Timothy 6:13 that it is God who gives life to all things.  You and I, if we have immortality, if our lives last beyond this world (as the Bible teaches us that they will), it is because we have received that from God, being made in his image.  But immortality is something which by the nature of the matter belongs to God and to God alone.  He won’t be affected by decay and corruption, but neither will he be touched by the changes of life in anyway.  God is the living God.  Wherever the apostle Paul went in the New Testament world, when speaking to the Gentiles, he would stress that God is the living God.  At Lystra in Acts 14, he taught God that way.  At Athens in Acts 17, he said that “in him we live and move and have our very being.”  God is not served by men’s hands as though he needed anything.  He is independent of that.  He rules over it.

Not only is God sovereign and eternal, but notice in the third place that he is said to be invisible.  In I Timothy 1:17 and in chapter 6 it says that he is the “God whom no one has ever seen or can see.”  Somebody says, “Wait a minute.  The Old Testament teaches us that there were people who saw God.”  If you really investigate it, there were people who saw some shining forth of God’s glory, some back part of his glory.  There were people who saw something of God in visions, etc.  Isaiah is an example of that in Isaiah 6:5.  It left them undone.  It left them feeling as if they were going to come apart just to see God either in a vision or something of his glory.  But Paul says here that God’s holiness and his greatness is such that no man has or can see it.  God is invisible in that sense.  We cannot take him in.  He is a God who is spirit.  He is not subject to our investigation or curiosity.    We are not going to be able to examine God in the same way we might handle the material world and make it subject to our exploration and study.  God is greater than that.  God is supremely greater than that, as this passage teaches. 

In Hebrews 11, we read of the experience of Moses in the earlier part of his life.  The Bible teaches us that Moses “when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:24-27)  Notice the source of Moses’ endurance.  Each of these qualities of God is like this.  They have an affect on people who think on them.

Recently we tried to remember the long journey of our Sister Hallie Mitchell.  A lot of you know that Hallie lived as a faithful Christian for 80 years from her obedience to the gospel when she was 17.  I found among her papers a little article that she had kept and made a note to herself on the back of at a time when she had in the space of a little over a year lost the four people who were most precious to her in her life, and then her other family member was in poor health and had to be moved out of state and Hallie was left here by herself.  She wrote, “I regret that I don’t feel strong right now, but God does know I want to be.  Sunshine will break through these clouds right now and then I will see my Savior’s face fully, I’m sure.”   Friends, that is seeing the invisible.  That is what it means, and that is what Paul is praising God for here in this text.

Notice that only is God said to be invisible, but Paul also says that he is holy.  He “dwells in light unapproachable” (6:17).  This is a part, maybe, of his holiness, but his dwelling in light which is unapproachable suggests that there is something about God’s holiness that separates him from us.  He is inaccessible to us unless he opens up the way.  We will not know him unless he makes himself known.  He will have to be the one who does the reconciling, who brings us into his presence.  The whole background of redemption in the Bible is the idea that God had to send someone to reconcile us to himself, that he had to open up a way, that we are dependent on his grace - all that rests on this thought here – that he dwells in light unapproachable.

And then notice that he is said to be “the only God.”  Paul says in 1:17 that he is the only God.  Some versions will say “the only wise God.”  It is put that way in Romans 16:27, but the text here seems to say “the only God.”   And then notice in chapter 6 that Paul emphasizes again that he is “the blessed and only Sovereign.”  In I Timothy 2:5, he makes the point that “there is one God.”  This thought of the unity of God in the scriptures is the basis for everything God has done in revealing himself for us.  The Jews in the Old Testament days in Deut. 6 began, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord, the Lord our God is one Lord.” 

That conviction became the basis of two ideas.  One is the jealousy of God - the idea that he will not give his place to anyone else because there is no one else such as him – and then also of the worldwide concern of God.  The reason that he cares about mankind as one is that he is one.  In I Timothy 2:3-5, the basis of his desire that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth is that he is one God. 

Put these ideas together for just a moment and think of it against the background of this statement that really goes back to the writings of Augustine commenting on this passage, thinking of what God has done to reverse the problem of our sin, “We celebrate the one who is king, not of a particular age but of all ages, all worlds, all times and spaces; the eternal one who is incorruptible, immortal, who cannot cease to be; invisible, not yielding himself or reducing himself to be a passive subject of our objective, empirical investigation; hence the only God, the only one worthy to be called God.” (cited by T. Oden, I & II Timothy and Titus, p. 42, 43)

What He Means To Us

Now, from the Pastoral Epistles, there are three implications of the picture that I have tried to lay before us – the God who is sovereign, eternal, invisible, holy and unique is the God whose house the church is.  It matters what the church does because of who God is.  It is who God is which provides the “ought to” to how we behave ourselves in the house of the living God, according to I Timothy 3:15.  The church needs above all else to have a heart which is capable of rejoicing and praising God when it remembers what he has done to show mercy to us or when it thinks of the power that will be displayed when his Son comes.  Some of these days when I am gone from this work, I want you to remember that I believe and I am convinced the scriptures teach that what we need more than anything else is a knowledge of God; that our highest obligation is to love God with all of our hearts, soul, mind and strength, that our most important work is to seek his face, and that there are no more important factors.  A church which cannot be more impressed with God than it is anything else will be less than what these three letters call for.

  Secondly, it is interesting that Paul stresses in these letters that our response to these truths must be to honor God.  This is the word that he pours into these statements of glory here that you don’t find in Ephesians, that to this God honor is due.  He says in both of these places – honor.  And it is interesting that in the time in between I Timothy 1 and I Timothy 6, he uses this word “honor” in the instructions he gives to Timothy suggesting that this God is to be honored by our showing honor in the other relationships that he speaks of here.  We give God honor by honoring our husbands or wives, by honoring people who are in places of authority, by honoring people that we deal with in everyday life.  Who God is becomes the basis for our thinking that there are more important things than material things because he is invisible, that we ought to listen to what he says because he is sovereign, that we need to lay up for ourselves riches beyond this world because this world won’t last.  The things that are invisible – faith, hope and love – are more important than visible things can ever by.

The third thing that comes out here is that whatever Paul calls us to do – behaving ourselves in the house of God, to honor other people, to honor God – these charges are offered in the presence of the God we have been talking about.  Paul had a sense of his living in the presence of God.  He wanted his readers to have that also.  Notice in I Timothy 6:13 he charges Timothy “in the presence of God who gives life to all things.”  In 5:21 it says, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these ordinances without prejudging.”  Also, in II Timothy 4:1, it says, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is the judge of the living and the dead and by his appearing in his kingdom preached the word.”  We think of “King of the ages” and we remember “there is the point.”  That is why we ought to act certain ways – we need to honor him and we live in his presence.

This God wants us all to be saved and to have life in the name of his Son.  Today if you are here and you need to examine where you are living and whether you are living in the presence of God or not, remember that he invites each one of us to come to him through his Son by obedience to the gospel of Christ and to let him walk with us day by day.  If you need to make that beginning today by repenting and being baptized, or if as a Christian, there is something you need to bring to his throne in prayer, if we can help with that, would you please let us know while we stand and sing together?