The Mystery of Godliness

Intro: Who are we? The church, I mean. How would you describe the church of Jesus Christ? The scriptures give us more than one descriptive image of God’s people. I want to begin by noticing two images of ourselves in 1 Timothy 3:14-15. Read with me… 14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.

I. A House with a Cause… Paul tells Timothy why he is writing this letter. If he does not get to come to see him personally, the apostle wants Timothy to understand how he should conduct himself in the church of the living God. A Christian (one in the church) is obligated to behave himself as such. The apostle addresses this [specific roles and responsibilities of men and women, work of church leaders, being an example to others, money, false teaching, living a godly life] But I want us to notice here – Paul describes the church in two images here…

A. The Household of God – the word translated as household (oikos) can also be translated as house, giving the image of a building. But most translate it here as household, or family. The church is pictured as both the dwelling place of God (His house), and the family of God (His household). The church is not a physical building and it is more than a religious institution. The church is people who belong to God. We are a family. We are connected to each other through the work of Christ, and as brothers and sisters we are to behave like a family – devoted to each other, and devoted to God, who adopted us.

B. A pillar and buttress of truth – The words “pillar” (support) and “buttress” (or ground, which means stay) depict something that holds up or supports a structure. A foundation and a column (Great columns of the Temple of Diana in Ephesus). The church holds up or supports truth. This is who we are. All that we hold to and practice is to be rooted in objective revealed truth. But what truth is Paul talking about?

1. God has placed truth throughout His creation; in an atom, in the vast universe, in the human body. This is scientific truth –we have come along way is discovering the truth about the world we live in – from microbiology and the smallest atomic particle, to viewing a picture of a black hole 53 million light years away. We have discovered fascinating things about diseases, the weather, the depths of the ocean, and even the human body that our grandparents never imagined. Is that the truth the church is hold up? No, that truth is ultimately inconsequential and insignificant. So what truth matters? What truth is the church hold up?

II. “Great Indeed… is the mystery of Godliness” – read 1 Tim. 3:16 – Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (ESV)

The truth the church is to hold up is the greatest truth about us, but it is not truth discovered by us. This truth is what Paul describes as the mystery of godliness. The NIV begins vs. 16 as as “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:” Whatever this mystery of godliness is, it is undeniably, most certainly, all would confess it to be GREAT!

A. What is the mystery? We use the word mystery we are usually referring to something that is hidden, obscured or unknowable. So, we read through a mystery novel, and the outcome is just that, a mystery, until we get to the end. But the word mystery in the Bible is to be understood differently. The Greek word is musterion. It always denotes what had formerly been hidden or obscure, but now is revealed. In the Bible, it is a mystery, not because it is hidden, but rather because it is now revealed.

1. A mystery as the Bible uses the term, is something that human reason could not discover on its own. But it has to be revealed! It is therefore a GREAT truth, which a and would have remained forever secret until God revealed it to His people.

2. Paul often uses this term mystery to describe the gospel message that was given to Him (and the other apostles) by the Holy Spirit – a message now revealed.

a. At the end of Romans… Rom 16:25-26Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith —

b. 1 Cor 2:7-10But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory… God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.

c. Eph 3:3-6how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, Paul describes it as the mystery of faith in 1 Tim. 3:9.

3. How is the gospel message a mystery of godliness? Remember we defined godliness, eusebeia (yoo-seb’-i-ah) as piety or devotion toward God. Some translations use the word “religion”. Our religion is to be devoted entirely to God. The godly person lives a God-centered life. This is what the apostle wants of Timothy and those he would teach – to train toward godliness (4:7) = to live God-centered lives. The mystery is not godliness. Godliness, rather, is based on the mystery.

a. The gospel message is the mystery of godliness because it tells us what God did. It is the revelation of Christ – We often think of the gospel in terms of one’s response to the gospel – hearing, believing, repenting confessing and being baptized. Without question, that is the proper response, the saving response, to the preaching of the gospel. But the gospel message is first about Jesus. It is not just about what we are to do, but what He has done. When we know what He has done we will be devoted to Him.

b. Secondly, the gospel is a mystery of godliness because it reveals the only truly godly One, Jesus. He alone lived a fully God-centered life. He is the revelation of what godliness is all about. Notice the words following godliness in v. 16. The description begins with the word “He”, or literally “He Who…” and is implied throughout to be God (some translations use God). This tells us something. We might expect Paul to describe the revelation of godliness as a what – these are the things you must do. Later, he does address the disciplines of godliness, and this letter is filled with directives, but the life of the Christian is based upon the revelation of a Person – God Himself. 2 Peter 1:1His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,

III. The Elements of the Mystery: Paul defines the mystery for us in six stanzas. I call them stanzas because most scholars agree that these next words reflect a Hebrew hymn, possibly sung by early Christians. Whether or not these words are from an ancient hymn or not, we can certainly see their poetic nature.

Note: There are different ways of viewing these phrases (stanzas) in v. 16.

  • Some suggest it is a single stanza with six consecutive lines (NASB).
  • Others contend for 3 stanzas of 2 lines each (NIV) 1) Manifest in the Flesh – vindicated in the Spirit; 2) Seen by angels – proclaimed among the nations; 3) Believed on in the world – taken up in glory The first pair contrast flesh with spirit; the second pair contrast nearness to God (angels and nations), and the third pair contrasts earth (world) with heaven (glory).
  • Still others view 2 stanzas with three lines each (ESV) 1) He was manifested in the flesh – vindicated in the Spirit – seen by angels 2) proclaimed among the nations – believed on in the world – taken up in glory The 2 stanzas depict the mystery as it relates to 1) Jesus’ personal life and 2) the result of the gospel message in the church.
  • We will consider the 6 elements of this mystery individually.

A. Manifested in the flesh – the word manifested means revealed, not created. The use of this term implies that Jesus, as God, existed before he was manifested in human flesh. These words reference an incarnation of deity. Elsewhere Paul wrote… “although He(Jesus) existed in the form of GodHe emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and [was] made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).

1. John wrote: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).God was revealed in human flesh – flesh that withers like the grass of the field; flesh that is dust. We could not have known apart for revelation that God Himself came into this world just like you and me -as a helpless baby. That the One who feeds the world would go hungry; that the God who created and controls the universe should suffer and die like a man. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9].

B. Vindicated by the Spirit – vindicated is renders as justified in some translations. The word means to pronounce or regard as innocent or righteous. Jesus was sinless, and thus did not need to be justified as a sinner. But vindicated is the better rendering. Jesus was proven to be right through the Spirit in two clear ways.

1. The work of the Spirit in Jesus’ life – Jesus received the Spirit without measure, and it was through the Spirit that He spoke and it was through the Holy Spirit He performed signs and miracles attesting to His deity. Acts 2:22Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested (proven, accredited) by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — Jesus declared that he cast out demons by the Spirit of God.

a. Mark 2the man let down through the roof as Jesus was teaching… “Son, Your sins are forgiven”the Pharisees are aghast, and the charge is He is a blasphemer… who can forgive sins but God? Mark 2:9-11 –“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” — He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” – He was vindicated by the power and work of the Spirit.

2. The work of the Spirit in His resurrection: Rom 1:3-4 – …3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. When Jesus came from the tomb it forever vindicated Him of any accusation against Him and verified that He was the Son of God. He was proven to be sinless.

C. Seen by angels – (beheld) Angels are abundant in Jesus’ life and mission – from their song of praise, witnessed by the shepherds, at His birth (Luke 2), to their strengthening of Jesus in the wilderness after His temptation (Mt. 4:11) , to their comfort in Gethsemane in His hour of agony, while his disciples slept. (Lk. 22:43), to their part in His great victory by rolling away the stone of His tomb. He was seen by angels – God, the Father was aiding Christ in His mission.

1. This points to the heavenly audience, as God Himself engages sin and give Himself for sinful men. Peter declares that the prophets testified to the suffering of Christ would endure to redeem man, and that the angels desired to look into these things (1 Peter 1:10-12). In Eph. 3 Paul confirms that he was called to preach the mystery of Christ among the Gentiles, but that this mystery was also revealed to display God’s power and wisdom to principalities and powers in heavenly places.(Eph. 3:8-10)This passage introduces the next point…

D. Proclaimed (preached) among the nations – In contrast to the heavenly audience to the mystery revealed, there was the human audience as well. Jesus was preached to the nations (Gentiles). Mark 16:15-16– “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. We are familiar with these words – they do not shock us. But to the Jewish audience this was incredible. Even though it had been alluded to in the O.T., it was a mystery that salvation would be offered to all the world. Even Peter struggled with this element of the mystery.

1. Do we recognize our part in this? The preaching of the gospel to the lost is as much an integral element of the mystery of godliness as the incarnation and the miracles of Jesus. This preaching was and is done by God’s church. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).“How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”…Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”(Romans 10:14, 17)

E. Believed on in the world… Although Jesus was rejected by His own, handed over to the Gentiles and crucified on a cross… He was believed on in the world! In fact, many of the very ones who put Him to death and reviled Him, came to be believers and were obedient to the gospel. All of Satan’s efforts to thwart the mission of Jesus and stop the subsequent growth of His body have been impotent.

F. Taken up in glory… Acts 1:9-11-Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Mark tells us that Jesus ascended to heaven and “sat down on the right hand of God. (Mk. 16:19)

1. Jesus finished His work, and His ascension declared that the Father was pleased with Him and accepted His work. Paul wrote… Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:8-11).

Conclusion: I can devote myself to Him completely because His tomb is empty and His throne is occupied. This is the foundation of godliness among men. We can be what God wants us to be because He is alive. We are the church of the living God. The writer of Hebrews proclaims… Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb 7:24)             

  • Hebrews 5:9 – And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
  • They that gladly received His words were baptized.
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