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. 1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)
Are you one of those people who love a deep mystery? Whether it is the plot of a movie or a novel, many folks get a trill from trying to figure out how the story will end and what is the outcome of the characters. In the first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul lays out the entire script of a mystery that had been kept secret for long ages but has not been revealed; an open secret (Romans 16:25).
The mystery that Paul boldly proclaims he titles “the mystery of godliness.” The word godliness most often means piety, reverence or holiness. However, in this case Paul uses it to refer to the gospel scheme. The word scheme means a large-scale systematic plan or arrangement for attaining a particular object or putting a particular idea into effect. So according to Paul, this systematic plan was hidden for ages in God and was put into effect or realized in the incarnation of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:9-11).
This plan was not one that God came up with on the spur of the moment or in desperation because something didn’t go as intended. This plan was the eternal purpose of God schemed before time began and manifest in due time to his saints (Colossians 1:26).
Paul doesn’t leave us hanging to figure out the mystery on our own. He reveals it plainly. He continues: 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. This great (Gr. metas-meaning exceedingly large, big, or mighty) gospel scheme was no less than God becoming flesh to save men from their sin, Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 3:6). God accomplished his plan in the life, death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV) Paul wrote to the Colossians that Christ is God’s mystery in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).
The mystery of godliness, God manifesting himself in the form of his son, was of no small importance to the early church. When Paul said, “we confess,” he is stating that what he is about to reveal is without controversy. There was no dispute in Paul’s mind that God’s revealed plan in Christ was to be the universal confession of the church. Some commentators believe that this confession was a hymn that was sung by the congregations of believers.
This great gospel plan remains the universal confession of the church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15). When the church strays from this confession it ceases to be a pillar and buttress of the truth and ceases to be the church of the living God.
Charles Spurgeon said about this confession; “Now saith he, without controversy this is a great matter, if it be received by us as true, it becomes us to act as those who are put in trust with a priceless deposit with which we dare not be otherwise than faithful. There is no room for indifference where the gospel is concerned — it is either the most astounding of impostures, or the most amazing of revelations; no man can safely remain undecided about it, it is too weighty, too solemn to be snuffed at as a matter of no concern.”
Is the mystery of godliness your confession?
Scriptures for meditation: