“Not to the King eternal, immortal…”
The Apostle Paul must have been a pretty amazing guy. Immediately after his conversion recorded in Acts 9, he began preaching that Christ was the Son of God in the synagogues. His preaching was so strong that it elicited death threats. Paul was young, enthusiastic and full of talent. But while he was preaching the truth, it evidently had a hard edge to it. It didn’t have what he would write later about. It needed more love (Eph. 4:15). So Paul shipped off to the dessert for 3 years (Gal. 1:17-18). And what the Spirit taught him there set in motion a series of letters that formed the basis of the entire New Testament. And what a collection of revealed truth it was! So much so that from time to time we see Paul breaking into praise and thanksgiving. In these passages, you need to crank up some moving music to get the emotional drive welling up in Paul. Our text today is one of those moments.
Beginning in 1 Timothy 1:12, he “thank[s] Christ Jesus our Lord” for putting him into the ministry of the saints, despite his past as “a blasphemer and a persecutor [of the Church] and a violent man.” God showed him mercy (v.13) and poured out grace, faith and love (v. 14) on him. In the next verse he claims sole position as “the worst” of sinners, and repeats the fact that God showed him mercy. And there was a reason: God would use him as a pattern for future believers. That’s you and me and millions of others down through time. Thank you, Lord, for choosing and using Paul in such a way.
As the music builds through this testimony, Paul breaks into his doxology ascribing greatness to the Lord: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (v. 17). I think the translators should have finished this with an exclamation mark. By this time, Paul is shouting at the top of his lungs, giving God every last breath as he sees the wonder of God using him for countless Christians worldwide. Wouldn’t you sing with all you had too?
One of the words that Paul uses to describe God in his praise song is immortal. The word in the Greek is used about six times and always means “incorruptible or imperishable.” Immortal suggests not being subject to mortality, which is death. Since God is life itself, he is certainly not subject to death. But here it means that he is not subject to the effects of death, which is corruption. There are various words to describe this. Gross ones are decomposing and rotting. Not so gross are deteriorating and decaying. Perhaps the best word is disintegrating, or a falling apart, a return to its constituent parts. For living things, this means returning to dust (Gen. 3:19). The process is disgusting on many levels, which is why we typically bury animals and humans after death.
So what is Paul really getting at when he says that the King is immortal? He’s really saying that in God there is nothing associated with death and its effects, the process of disintegration. In fact, the opposite is true: life means full integration, coming together, purpose, beauty, meaning and glory! Moreover, the sphere of heaven itself radiates this truth. Think of what will not be in heaven. Let’s start with landfills. Full of trash, garbage, debris, and rotting matter. The sight and smell and nuisance drive the values of adjacent properties way down. Same with junkyards. What else won’t be in heaven? Doctors, dentists, surgeons, anyone in health care or rehabilitation of any part of the body. How about recycling centers? Nope. How about repairmen? Plumbers? Electricians? Lawyers? Firefighters? Inspectors? Teachers? Cleaners? Manufacturers? No again. Any job, any position that has to do with fighting against or repairing the effects of corruption — which is essentially every job on the planet — will not be done in heaven. This could suggest a lot of unemployment in heaven, but actually, it’s only a kind of unemployment. We’ll have other jobs — better jobs — waiting for us to do for the glory of God. This simply demonstrates that our God and the sphere of heaven are virtually indescribable in human terms. Can you think of any human government that is free, entirely free from corruption? See what I mean?
So yes, at this point Paul is singing the glories, the wonders, the praises of our King who is incorruptible. He is blown away to be involved in growing the Church into a beautiful bride which is destined for an eternity of incorruption invisible to the eyes of this world. Are you also involved in this timeless venture? Are you too finding times of doxology for our immortal King?