July 8, 2007
THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS
1 Timothy 3:16
Among the practical and spiritual qualifications for spiritual leadership in the local church Paul wrote that they should hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” ( 1 Tim. 3:9). We understand this mystery (or secret) is the final capstone of revelation, the mystery of Ephesians 3 and Colossians 1, concerning the church, which is Christ’s body whereof He is our Head. Paul wrote these things in case his visit was delayed. Timothy was reminded how to behave himself “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
Confessedly “...great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
It is suggested that this secret of godliness centers in the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ and His ministry in contrast with the secret of iniquity which centers in the revelation of the man of sin, Satan’s deception and Israel’s apostasy. The six statements begin with the incar-nation and end with Christ’s ascension. He was declared righteous in all He did; angels appeared at His birth, His wilderness trial, in Gethsemane, the empty tomb and His ascension to glory. He was preached to the nations through Paul’s ministry through which He was believed throughout the world.
Yet there are Greek manuscripts that suggest that “great, concerning godliness (in which Timothy was called to walk), is the mystery, which refers to the church, which is His body, which was manifested in flesh, that they were “declared righteous (justified) in their new nature,” that it was “seen of messengers” who “preached to the nations,” so they believed on Christ in the world, and finally were “received up into glory” when Christ Who is their life appears in His glory (Col. 3:4).
Early Greek manuscripts do not have the word “God” in this text, but instead they have the neuter pronoun, which refers to the mystery. In this light we ask, “Can one walk in godliness without a clear understanding of God’s sacred secret, the church seen as Christ’s body, uniting believing Jews and Gentiles in one NEW MAN?” Understanding this is necessary for us to “hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.”
Ivan L. Burgener