The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)

mystery_of_godlinessAs we arrive at 1 Timothy 3:16 (in the Three Sixteen series) Paul tells Timothy about the importance of godliness in the church, the church being the pillar and foundation of the faith. The church has been entrusted with the Gospel, with proclaiming Christ to the world. Paul lays down guidelines for selecting overseers and deacons in the church, for teaching, for prayer. Then he includes this apparently random summary statement about the great mystery of Christ:

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs* is great:
He appeared in the flesh,

    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.”

This is a great summary about Jesus, his life and purpose, and makes a great 3:16 verse! But Paul is actually quoting lines from a well known hymn of the early church. This commentary has some good insights about the relevance of Paul’s words:

Now Paul’s citing of part of what was surely a well-known hymn in the course of writing instructions for behavior in the church is to bring his readers to the point of corporate response. The hymn itself, like many in the New Testament, celebrates Christ’s appearance and ministry on earth. The introductory phrase is a call to consider the implications of this grand event, to evaluate our conduct on the basis of what we confess. . . . Consequently, this phrase ‘the mystery of godliness’ forms a connection between the appearance of Christ, which the hymn celebrates, and Christian living: the mystery is the essence of godliness. It was critical for Paul to remind the readers of this principle, for the false teachers were successfully driving a wedge between belief and behavior with damaging results. In our day of institutionalized atheism and the popular heresy of humanism, the church faces the same danger. Even if dangers of this sort seem remote, we easily forget the practical implications of what we believe and profess to be true.” 

So this is a great verse not just because it celebrates Christ’s work, but because it connects his glorious saving work with our behaviour. We are to walk worthy of Christ’s saving work for us.  His work is finished, we don’t have to earn it! But we are called to live godly lives that point to Him as we, the Church, safeguard and pass on the Truth of His Saving work.

(*Note: if you look at other versions of this verse you may find that it simply says “the mystery of godliness” or the “mystery of our faith” – but the newest NIV translation seems to have hit the proverbial nail by phrasing it “the mystery from which true godliness springs”. True godliness will grow in us when we have build our life on Christ!)

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One thought on “The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)

  1. Pingback: The Great Mystery of Christ | Christianity 201

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