UNDERSTAND the GREAT MYSTERY of GODLINESS: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16)
The above verse written by Apostle Paul to his spiritual son Timothy is perhaps one of the greatest, most profound statements ever recorded in Scripture. The rhythmic construction of the summary statement suggests that Paul may be quoting an early hymn or creedal confession. God has made His plan—this great “mystery of godliness”—known to us only by special revelation (see Ephesians chap. 3). Through the above verse, Paul is trying to unravel one of the greatest secrets that ever existed until that point of time, which has the express purpose to produce godliness in humans who are born in sin. It is a mystery of “godliness” since it leads to and results in godliness in those who accept it, and it is “great” due to its importance and scope.
The “mystery of godliness” points out to the person of Jesus Christ, who is the essence of this mystery and whose work as completed on the earth. He is God incarnate, who was made flesh, and was manifest in the flesh as He lived among us (John 1:14). Though condemned as a sinner, and put to death as a malefactor, Christ was raised again by the Spirit, and so was justified from all the false charges with which he was loaded. He was God manifest in the flesh, to take away our sins, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Thus, the person and work of the Lord Jesus is truly marvelous and wonderful!
J. N. Darby in his collected writings has explained this verse as follows: “This is often quoted and interpreted as if it spoke of the mystery of the Godhead, or the mystery of Christ’s Person. But it is the mystery of godliness, or the secret by which all real godliness is produced—the divine spring of all that can be called piety in man...Godliness springs from the knowledge of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ...This is how God is known; and from abiding in this flows godliness.”
Apostle Paul elaborates on this “mystery of godliness” in six different phrases as listed below:
- Manifested in the flesh refers to Christ’s incarnation, the fact that Jesus became man and lived as a servant for about 33.5 years (John. 1:14). True godliness was manifest in the flesh for the first time when the Savior was born as a Babe in Bethlehem’s manger.
- Justified in the Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit’s role in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was vindicated by the Holy Spirit of God at His baptism (Matt. 3:15–17), transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), resurrection (Acts 2:32-33; Rom. 1:3-4), and ascension (John 16:7, 10).
- Seen by angels refers to the angelic witness of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus was seen by angels at His birth, temptation, His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 1:10-11).
- Preached among the Gentiles refers to the proclamation of Christ to the nations (Col. 1:23). From the Day of Pentecost onward, Jesus has been preached among the Gentiles in the farthest corners of the earth.
- Believed on in the world refers to the response of individuals to God’s plan of salvation (1 Cor. 1:18–25). It describes the fact that some from almost every tribe and nation have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Received up in glory refers to the ascension of Christ to heaven after the work of redemption had been completed, after which He is seated at the right hand of God in heaven (see Acts 1:9; 7:56; Heb. 1:3-4).
Let us understand that this great “mystery of godliness” is none other than Jesus Christ and it is only when we serve Him sincerely can we ascend the steps to godliness in the coming days!