Great is the Mystery of Godliness

christians strive to have the purity of godliness

Christians strive to have the purity of Godliness.

When we look at the purpose statement for Paul’s first epistle to his young protégé, Timothy, then we see that the “the mystery of godliness” comes to the forefront (1 Tim. 3:14- 16). Yet, we should not be surprised that the message bubbling from within Paul by inspiration and the motivation that prompted him to face such severe persecution (cf. 2 Cor. 11:24-28) was this mystery, which elsewhere he refers to as “the mystery of Christ” (cf. Eph. 3:1-13; Col. 4:2-4). As a matter of fact, he had already briefly introduced this earlier in the context when he discusses the qualifications of deacons and stated, “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9). This concept—“the mystery of godliness” or “the mystery of the faith”— simply refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the means of attaining the quality of godliness. As Paul is about to discuss such, the phrase “without controversy” (1 Tim. 3:16) comes from a Greek term that refers literally to one who confesses. In fact, one translation renders this expression as “common confession” (NASV). In other words, this is a declaration of absolute confidence.

What is that to which Paul is absolutely confident? The object of such is the great “mystery of godliness.” The word “mystery” is from the Greek word musterion, which we find twenty-seven times in the New Testament. Unfortunately, our English translation of this term often brings to our minds a different understanding of what this word actually means. I know that when I think of this term, I often think of the related adjective “mysterious,” and one might also think that this term applies to that which is impossible to understand. However, this word is better understood by the term “secret,” just as we see this concept in the Old Testament: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and it poses a contrast between that which is “secret” and that which God has revealed; thus, we are able to understand what this term “secret” (or “mystery”) means, for it is as Paul explains in Ephesians 3: “…how the mystery was made known to me by revelation…” (Eph. 3:3), and Paul goes on to explain that it was not revealed earlier, but was now revealed to him and other inspired writers for the purpose of enlightening everyone through the sacred scriptures that they wrote (Eph. 3:2-7). As a matter of fact, Jesus used this term to explain to His twelve apostles why He spoke in parables (Mark 4:11); it was not time yet to reveal everything. In other words, that which one time was unrevealed is now revealed in the word of God! The gospel is no longer a mystery or “sacred secret” today, as it once was (cf. Rom. 16:25- 27; 1 Pet. 1:10-12)!

Therefore, Paul does not refer to this “mystery of godliness” as being “great” because there is no way of understanding it, but because this revealed secret—the message now revealed—is a great message of a great God and has great consequences for us! As Paul will discuss the great “mystery of godliness,” he will do so through six propositions that are rooted in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Please consider a discussion of these six propositions in the other articles of this issue, and may we all benefit thereby!

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