+27 (11) 867 3505 church@bbcmail.co.za

Stuart Chase - 27 February 2022

To the King (1 Timothy 1:17)

In 1 Timothy 1:17, Paul argues for the superiority of the blessed God of the Bible to all other gods in every way. That is precisely the goal of missions. The goal of the missionary, sent by the local church, is to show the lost that the blessed God of the Bible is in every way superior to all other gods they worship.

Scripture References: 1 Timothy 1:17

From Series: "Miscellaneous"

Sermons in this series are once-off sermons preached by various church members.

Download Audio     Read Online

Powered by Series Engine

When Chris Tomlin wrote “How Great is Our God,” he began with the words of the chorus and then experienced what we might call writer’s block. He later recalled that he didn’t know where to go from there. He began to pray: “This is all I have, Lord. There are no other words I can summon in the English language to describe how great you are.”

Eventually, he turned to Scripture to borrow imagery from various biblical sources. He started with Psalm 104, which begins: “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendour and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent” (vv. 1–2). The lyrics began to flow:

The splendour of a King, clothed in majesty:
Let all the earth rejoice, all the earth rejoice.
He wraps himself in light, and darkness tries to hide.
It trembles at his voice, trembles at his voice.


How great is our God! Sing with me: How great is our God.
And all will see how great, how great is our God.

The apostle Paul would have appreciated Tomlin’s lyrics. In the first chapter of his first letter to his young friend, Timothy, he wrote about the glory of the gospel. He blessed God for providing the gospel (vv. 1–11) and for the privilege he had to proclaim the gospel (vv. 12–16). Unable to contain himself any further, he broke into song: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).

These timeless words inspired Walter Chalmers Smith when he wrote “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” But they would have struck a particular chord with the believers in Ephesus, where young Timothy served as a pastor. To understand why, it will be helpful to briefly survey Acts 19, which records Paul’s first visit to Ephesus. This survey will offer some important context for this study.

When Paul had first arrived in Ephesus, he had encountered some people, whom the text calls “disciples,” who had not yet received the Holy Spirit (vv. 1–7). They had been baptised “into John’s baptism” but had not even heard about the Holy Spirit. These were unbelievers, though devout followers of John the Baptist. They needed to be pointed to Christ as the one whose path John had prepared. When Paul did so, “they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul spent the next three months evangelising in the synagogue. When opposition ramped up, he took those who had believed to a local hall, which he rented to continue discipling these young believers. In all, he spent two years discipling the believers in Ephesus (vv. 8–10). The gospel spread, and many came to faith, which sets the scene for what happened next.

In vv. 11–20, Luke records “extraordinary miracles” performed “by the hands of Paul.” Seven superstitious sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest, thought that they could invoke the names of Jesus and Paul to perform similar miracles. They attempted an exorcism, which failed spectacularly. When the people saw this, they realised that there was real power in the Christ whom Paul preached. They confessed their occult practices, burning all their books, star charts, and enneagrams. The text notes that “the value of them … came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.” One piece of silver was roughly a day’s wage for an average worker, which means that the total value of the destroyed materials was in the region of 136 years’ worth of wages! This is a crucial element in what follows.

History teaches us that if there is one thing you don’t touch it’s a people’s economy. The book burning was evidence of genuine repentance, the result of which was a dramatic decline in the sale of idols (vv. 21–27). Demetrius, a prominent silversmith in the community, saw the danger. The more people turned to Christ, the fewer people would buy idols. This placed the thriving idol construction business under threat. While Demetrius framed his concern as a religious one, it was really an economic one—which, I suppose, is a religion of its own!

When the people realised the threat to their economy, a riot broke out (vv. 21–40). With one voice, the riotous crowd chanted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” They seized two of Paul’s companions and rushed together into the town theatre. Paul wanted to intervene, but the disciples prevented him from doing so, fearing for his life. For two hours, the chant about the greatness of Artemis persisted, until the town clerk quietened and dispersed the crowd.

Now, what does all of that have to do with 1 Timothy 1:17? Let me explain.

Artemis was the Greek mother goddess. She was considered the queen of heaven. The Ephesians believed she had been born in Ephesus. Her temple stood in Ephesus as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Her worship was fiercely guarded in Ephesus because any threat to her worship was a threat to the local economy. All of this is important background to 1 Timothy 1:17, where Paul seems to deliberately (if implicitly) contrast the King of the universe (the God of the Bible) with queen of heaven (Artemis of the Ephesians). In this study, I want to consider some of these contrasts and see how they apply to the Great Commission.

As we work our way through this verse, listen out for how Paul points to the superiority of the blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11) of the Bible in every way, and realise that that is precisely the goal of missions. The goal of the missionary, sent by the local church, is to show to the lost that the blessed God of the Bible is the King of all creation, who stands above whichever gods they worship. Missions is, in simple terms, a battle of the gods. The God of the Bible will brook no rival. The missionary task is to present the God of the Bible, and Jesus Christ his Son, as superior to every other god and as the only means to eternal salvation. That is what Paul did in Ephesus. That is what missionaries are called to do today. That is what the church must understand the missionary task to be: to highlight the blessedness of God in the Great Commission.

As we think about this reality, observe five truths about the God of the Bible—five ways in which God, as King of the universe, stands above, not only Artemis of the Ephesians, but above every other so-called god that people worship.

The Blessed God of the Bible is a Royal God

First, the blessed God of the Bible is a royal God. Artemis was considered the queen of heaven, while the blessed God is “the King of the ages” (ESV) or “the King eternal” (CSB). The contrast between Artemis as queen and the God of the Bible as King is deliberate.

In referring to the God of the Bible as “the King of the ages,” Paul picks up on Old Testament theology, where Yahweh is described as “king forever and ever” (Psalm 10:16) and “the everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:10).

Some commentators have gone to extraordinary lengths to determine whether Paul is speaking here of God the Father or God the Son, and opinion is divided. In one sense, it doesn’t matter a great deal. Revelation 11:15 tells us that “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Father and Son reign together and to praise one as “the King of the ages” is to praise the other in the same way.

Note that God is “the King of the ages” or “the King eternal.” He is not only King of this age but King of every age—past, present, and future. As John Kelly writes, “God is the supreme king who governs all the ages from the creation of the world, including the age of the Messiah himself, until the end of time.” The missionary task—and the assignment of the missions-minded local church—is to proclaim this King of the ages to those who have yet to bow the knee to him.

Allow me to pause for a moment and say a word about the significance of this truth to the situation facing the world as I write these words. The gospel has something to say about the situation unfolding right now in Eastern Europe. Too many Christians today have a very narrow understanding of the gospel and its implications. Far too many think that the gospel is only about Jesus saving me from my sins so I can live with him in heaven. The gospel certainly is about Jesus saving me from my sins, but God’s vision for the gospel is far broader than that.

Listen to Isaiah’s vision of the gospel: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7). The gospel tells us that the God who provides and applies salvation to sinners is the God who reigns. And his reign, as we saw recently in Daniel 2, is a global reign. The kingdom of God may have started as a stone broken off without human intervention but, in Daniel’s vision, it grew into a mountain that covered the entire earth. And the gospel, as Isaiah 52:7 says, is a gospel of peace not war.

Where Jesus Christ reigns, there is peace, for people love God and love neighbour as self. As we pray for the cessation of hostility in Ukraine, we should realise that we are praying a gospel prayer. We are praying the gospel of peace will bring peace as people bow to the reign of Jesus Christ in Russia and Ukraine. World events are not easily divorced from the gospel, for God’s vision of the gospel is a global vision.

But let’s bring the application of divine royalty back specifically to the missionary task.

If the missionaries and church planters we support as a local church will experience God’s royal power, it must begin withus bowing the knee to King Jesus. We cannot send and support missionaries to preach the Kingship of Christ if we will not bow to his Kingship ourselves. So, let me ask you, have you bowed the knee to King Jesus?

At the most basic level, have you bowed your knee to the command of Christ to repent of your sins and believe the gospel? Have you believed that he died for your sins, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures so that you might be saved from your sins and the eternal consequences of sin?

Believer, does Christ rule your ethics? Do you determine what is right and wrong based on what he says or on the prevailing opinion of culture? The unbelieving world accepts the validity of same sex marriage. Do you? Or do you submit to God’s definition of marriage? Do you accept God’s definition of the beginning of life in his image and therefore reject the validity of abortion and assisted suicide? Do you accept God’s rule for human sexuality and affirm that any sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage is sin? Do you accept God’s rule that Christians should enter romantic relationships only with other Christians, and are you willing therefore to break off that budding relationship with that person who doesn’t believe and draws your affection away from Christ? If we don’t do this at home, how can we expect God to bless our missionaries as they seek to instil godly ethics on the field?

Missionaries on the field face this same challenge. Many missionaries minister in cultures where profound immorality is accepted and praised, and the missionary task is to bring people in that culture to bow the knee to Jesus Christ as King. Don Richardson, whose story is detailed in Peace Child, took his family to the jungles of Papua New Guinea, where he encountered tribes that prized deception. Lying was not only accepted; it was praised. The greater your act of deception, the more highly you were esteemed in the culture. When he first told the story of Jesus, the tribespeople though that Judas was the hero because he had managed to deceive Jesus. Murder and cannibalism were considered feats of heroism. His task as a missionary was to change that: to bring the tribes to bow to the lordship of Christ. He did not simply want to change their ethics, but to see them bow to King Jesus, which would change their ethics. Our missionaries share that task, and we assist them by praying but also by bowing to Christ’s authority ourselves.

Does Christ rule in your employment? Will you do whatever is necessary to climb the corporate ladder or are there things you will refuse because to embrace them is to dishonour Christ? If our missionaries will preach, as they declare the whole counsel of God, that their disciples must submit to Christ in their employment, let it start at home base.

Does Christ rule your family? Do you submit, Christian husband, to Christ’s command to sacrificially love your wife? Do you submit, Christian wife, to Christ’s command to respectfully follow your husband? Do you submit, Christian teenager, to Christ’s command to honour and obey your parents?

Do we, as a church, submit to Christ’s commands for the operating of a local church? Do we select leaders according to biblical precept? Does our budget reflect submission to Christ’s lordship? Submission to Christ sometimes invites conflict but submission to Christ is crucial to meaningful involvement in the Great Commission. The missionary message will be stripped of its power if the sending or supporting church refuses to submit to Christ as it asks the lost to do so.

The Blessed God of the Bible is an Immortal God

Second, the blessed God of the Bible is an immortal God. Artemis of the Ephesians was thought to have been born in Ephesus and her worship would cease when the supply of her images was interrupted. For centuries after the rise of Christianity in the ancient world, the worship of Artemis became a relic of the past. Worship of these ancient gods and goddesses has made something of a comeback since the mid-twentieth century, and Wiccans worship Artemis because of her association with the moon. But, for most people, Artemis is a forgotten deity.

In contrast, the blessed God of the Bible is “immortal.” He had no beginning and will have no end, and nothing threatens the glory or worship that is inherently his. We sometimes talk of living in a “post-Christian” world. I understand what people mean when they use that term but it is theologically problematic because God is immortal and there will never be a time when his worship will be completely forgotten.

The word translated “immortal” also carries the idea of incorruptibility. Demetrius was a silversmith who made his living by crafting images of Artemis. The scientific reality of entropy—that everything in creation degrades—kept him in business. The idols he made today would eventually need to be replaced. He counted on it. That is just life in a created universe. Everything tends toward decay. Everything, that is, except the blessed God of the Bible. He is immortal. He is incorruptible.

The God of the Bible is the same yesterday, today, and forever. While he may deal differently with different people in different times and in different places, he does not change in character. We serve the same God today whom Abraham and Moses and David and Paul served. And generations after us will serve the same God we do today. He does not tend to decay. He does not improve. He never learns anything and never loses any of his power. He has always existed, and will always exist, as he is today.

The missionary task is to unapologetically preach the God of the Bible as the Bible reveals him to be because he does not change. We do not import “modern” notions of God into our theology and worship because he is who he is. That may sometimes mean that his gospel causes offence, but our task is to preach the unchanging God as he reveals himself to be—whether at home in Brackenhurst or on the field in India, the Middle East, or Belville South.

The Blessed God of the Bible is an Invisible God

Third, the blessed God of the Bible is an invisible God. The worship of Artemis depended on craftsmen who would fashion visible images of her. You can google images of Artemis to see what she looked like. But the God of the Bible is “invisible.”

God’s invisibility means more than that he cannot be seen; it significantly impacts the way we worship. Worship of the true God looks radically different to worship of false gods precisely because the God of the Bible is invisible.

God’s invisibility is the rationale behind the second commandment, which forbids the creation of graven images, and the second commandment is the rationale behind the regulative principle of worship—that God regulates how and when we worship. Romans 1:23 talks about those who “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” God’s glory is wrapped up in his invisibility and to make an image and pretend that image is the God of the Bible is to strip him of his glory. We strip him of his glory by images because he is, by nature, invisible.

God forbids the creation of anything that represents him because nothing (except Christ, of course, who is the image of the invisible God [Colossians 1:15]) truly can represent him. God’s invisibility, therefore, means that, unless he reveals himself to us, we cannot know him. Conversely, we can only know him to the degree that we rely on who he has revealed himself to be. We don’t get to determine what he looks like, what his nature is, or what his characteristics are. We rely on what he has revealed of himself. And we can therefore only worship him as he has commanded us to worship.

When Christians gather for worship, we do not worship on our own terms. We worship as God has commanded because we worship him as he has revealed himself to be. New Testament worship is not a complicated or extravagant thing. The Reformers spoke of the elements of worship as “ordinary means of grace” because they are just that: ordinary. The early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Those four elements summarise what a Christian worship service looks like.

New covenant worship involves devotion to “the apostles’ teaching”—that is, reading and preaching Scripture. It involves devotion to fellowship, which would include things like exhorting one another, singing to one another, and serving one another. It involves devotion to “the breaking of bread” (Communion) and, as often as God saves people, to baptism. It involves devotion to corporate prayer. A new covenant worship service should therefore look pretty much the same anywhere in the world and should include Scripture reading and preaching, prayer, singing, praying, fellowshipping, the sacraments, and, I think it can be argued, giving back to God in our stewardship. We worship that way because the invisible God has revealed that it should be done that way and, since he is the invisible God, we don’t get to set the rules for worship.

In the worship of Artemis, her creators determined what she looked like, how she behaved, how she should be worshipped. They created the terms of worship. Christian worship, on the other hand, is more a response than anything else: It is the reverent response of the redeemed to divine revelation.

That means that the missionary goal is, in many ways, to replicate what happens in the sending church in the context to which the missionary is sent. There will be—must be—differences, of course. Singing in the planted church may be more (or less) exuberant than in the sending church. The language used from the pulpit may be different. The building may look different, if there is a building at all. But the basic elements of worship transcend culture because the invisible God has revealed how he is to be worshipped.

When you gauge the “success” of the missionary, therefore, you should be less concerned about numbers than about whether the disciples are gathering in a church and worshipping God as he expects to be worshipped.

The Blessed God of the Bible is the Only God

Fourth, the blessed God of the Bible is “the only God.” Christianity is unapologetically exclusive. Artemis was an idol, but Paul wrote elsewhere that “an idol has no real existence” (1 Corinthians 8:4). This is supported in our text by reference to the blessed God of the Bible as “the only God.”

Christianity unashamedly declares the exclusivity of its gospel. The God of the Bible is not one among many but “the only God.” And he has ordained his Son, Jesus Christ, as the only way to receive eternal life from him. In fact, everything we’ve said today about the blessed God of the Bible is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the royal God—the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). Jesus Christ is the immortal God (John 1:1) who saw no corruption (Psalm 16:10). He is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). And he is the only way for sinners to be made right with God (John 14:6).

Before I move on to the rest of the verse, let me pause here and ask, do you believe all this about Christ? Your eternal destiny rests on this recognition. The Bible tells us that God “alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16), while it frequently refers to humans as “mortal” (Job 4:17; Romans 1:23; 6:12; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:53–54; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 5:4; Hebrews 7:8). Our destiny is death, but Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). In Christ, and Christ alone, our mortality can put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53–54). If we seek immortality, we will find eternal life in him alone (Romans 2:7). Do you believe this?

The Blessed God of the Bible is a Praiseworthy God

Fifth, and finally, the royal, immortal, invisible, incomparable God is, by virtue of who he is, worthy of our praise: “be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Paul changes gears here from recognising who God is to praising him for who he is. Such praise is the only rational response to the revelation of who the blessed God of the Bible is.

Brackenhurst Baptist Church is an independent Baptist Church, unaffiliated with the Baptist Union of Southern Africa. But the church a member of Sola 5, which is not a denomination but an association of God-centred evangelical churches in Southern Africa. The association’s name—Sola 5—reflects its member churches’ commitment to the great truths of the Protestant Reformation: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone); sola gratia (grace alone); sola fide (faith alone); solus Christus(Christ alone); and soli Deo gloria (to God alone be the glory). The Reformers recaptured the glorious truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone. Paul was clinging to that last truth in this verse. God alone deserved the glory for all he had done in providing and applying salvation.

The praise of the blessed God is the goal of missions. There is coming a day, wrote Paul elsewhere, when “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11). God gets the glory for salvation. The missionary task is about bringing the glory of God the Father to bear in every people group in every corner of the globe. We have opportunity to be a part of that by sending, by going, by praying, and by giving.

Perhaps you will never be sent as a missionary to another culture, but we all play a role in the church’s involvement in the Great Commission.

Each March, our church comes together for a four-day World Outreach Celebration, a missions conference that focuses us as a church on the Great Commission needs and how we can and should be involved in them.

One aspect of the World Outreach Celebration is receiving feedback from missionaries and church planters that we support in various parts of the world. These presentations, which ordinarily take the form of a brief video, offer some important feedback and always include specific prayer requests. Throughout the year, we regularly ask our supported missionaries and church planters for specific ways in which we, as a church, can pray for them, and then distribute those prayer requests to the church. We regularly receive prayer updates from our missionaries, which always include prayer requests.

Prayer is indispensable to the success of the Great Commission. More than anything else, Paul asked the churches to which he wrote to pray for him. His requests were not focused primarily on health needs or material provision but on the spread of the gospel. “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured, as happened among you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1). Paul’s burden was for Jesus Christ to receive honour and glory wherever he ministered and he knew that the prayers of the saints were indispensable to that.

Do you pray for missionaries and church planters? They desperately need your prayers. Read their newsletters, watch their videos, stay in contact with them—and pray.

Another important aspect of our World Outreach Celebration is when we receive the church’s faith promise commitment. The faith promise offering is a monthly commitment, for the period of twelve months, over and above regular giving, for the Great Commission focus of the church—for sending and supporting missionaries. Paul provides the rationale for this in Philippians 4:14–20.

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

(Philippians 4:14–20)

Faith promise giving is a commitment by faith to financially support the outreach work of the church. As members sacrifice for the cause of the Great Commission, they create need in their lives. But, according to Philippians 4:14–20, when need is created because of a believer’s commitment to the Great Commission, God promises to meet that need. This is not a name-it-and-claim-it promise. This is Christians taking God at his word, believing that, if their financial commitment to the Great Commission creates need in their life, God will supply.

But as a church, we are in a very interesting position. For decades, our church supported its own missionaries serving on the field. For the last few years, for various reasons, that has not been the case. We’ve not had our own people on the field. But the church still supports church planters and missionaries from sister churches we trust. And this potentially creates a strange temptation to withdraw our commitment to the Great Commission.

When you are supporting your own members—people you know and love and have a relationship with—it is relatively easy to sacrifice. It can be a little more difficult when you are asked to support works with which you have no intimate contact. You may never travel to another part of the country or world to witness the work or meet the people that are being reached through your sacrificial giving. And this may tempt you to be less generous in your commitment. Our text speaks directly to that.

Jesus Christ is worthy of honour and glory forever and ever. That conviction must drive our prayers and our giving for the cause of missions. You may never, this side of eternity, meet the people that your prayers and generosity will help reach, but if you believe that Christ is worthy to be praised where your missionaries serve, pray and give for Christ’s sake.

The gospel of the glory of the blessed God, with which we have been entrusted (v. 11) must go to the ends of the earth so that peoples everywhere bow to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God. Let us pray. Let us give. Let us go. Let us be a part of seeing his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.