Vol. 1 - No. 5 

May, 1982

The Mystery of Godliness

by John W. Wilson

 "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God 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 Timothy 3:16)

I think that most students of the scriptures are well acquainted with the word mystery and rarely is it taken out of context. We understand that it is God's plan of redemption purposed within himself so that in the dispensation of the fullness of time he might gather together in ONE all things in Christ in heaven and in earth, and that we might be knit together in love in the understanding of that mystery. (Ephesians 1:9-10 & Colossians 2:2) We know that it was in the mind of God and was kept secret since the world began and from the time sin entered into the world. (Romans 16:25 and Genesis 3:15) In other ages, or worlds, or dispensations it was not made known (Ephesians 3:5) although bits of the events surrounding it was declared unto God's servants, the holy prophets. (Revelation 10:7) These inspired prophets looked for the unfolding of that mystery; even redemption, but knew not when or how. (Luke 2:38 & Mark 15:43)

Since secret things belong to God, we could only speculate as to God's reason for choosing this dispensation in which to reveal his mystery, but we are told that it was ordained to our glory; that it was kept secret from Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles came in. (1 Corinthians 2:7 & Romans 16:25)

The apostle Paul warns the Roman brethren not to be ignorant of this mystery lest they be wise in their own conceits, (Romans 11:25) and it would behoove us all to learn more concerning this great mystery of Godliness given unto us by the grace of God so that we might understand that through no wisdom of our own are we able to preach its simplicity to a sinful world.

In 1 Timothy 3:16, in the verse which introduces this subject, Paul defines the mystery in six fundamental facts of faith, but just before he does this he tells Timothy that these things are written unto him that he might know how to behave himself in the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15) This is important as we remember Paul's teaching to the Ephesians concerning the mystery of Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)

(1) God was manifest in the flesh in the person of Christ the Savior of the world. (John 1:1) (2) Christ was justified in the Spirit; that is he was the only just one who could justly be our justifier by our faith in his resurrection. (1 Peter 1:35) (3) He was seen of angels. Angels announced his birth, ministered unto him, and witnessed his resurrection. (Matthew 1:21, Matthew 4:11, & John 20:12) (4) He was preached unto the Gentiles. (Acts 10 & Ephesians 3:6-7) (5) He was believed on in the world. (John 17:8) and (6) He was received up into glory where he ever liveth to make intercession of us. (Hebrews 7:25)

With our faith grounded firmly in the above six fundamental facts of the mystery of godliness, we have a hope as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. (Hebrews 6:19)

Oft times as we attempt to preach the mystery of godliness, we fail to preach the complete intent of the revealed mystery. The third chapter of Ephesians is a marvelous sermon on this very subject. Paul declares first that the mystery had been revealed to him so that when we read that we might understand his knowledge of it; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same BODY, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel, and that all men might see what the fellowship of the mystery is, TO THE INTENT: That now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known BY THE CHURCH the manifold wisdom of God. All of this according to God's eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, and all of this so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by FAITH; that we might be rooted and grounded in love, and may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. The beautiful summary is made in the last verse of the chapter: "Unto Him be glory IN THE CHURCH by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end."

Much has been said of late concerning the preaching of too much of the church and not enough of Christ. The church is joined to Christ just as securely as God joined together husband and wife from the beginning. (Ephesians 4:15-16) Paul said, "This is a great mystery: But I speak concerning CHRIST AND THE CHURCH." (Ephesians 5:32) Jesus said, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Matthew 19:6)

So many preachers can see nothing in Mark 19 and Luke 10 except the marriage and divorce question. They preach it, and preach it, and preach it; even to the dividing asunder of the body of Christ. Although I would not minimize the importance of Christ's teaching on God's law of marriage, I would want to be careful that I never take Christ's answer to the conniving Pharisees out of context. We can be guilty of dividing asunder the very thing that Christ was pointing toward, the kingdom of Christ. Jesus knew that the Pharisees knew the answer to God's law of marriage and that their aim was to trap him. He was very much engaged in teaching concerning the coming kingdom and he very quickly disposed of the question by telling them that a husband and wife shall be one flesh and... what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. I am convinced that the importance of Christ's answer to the Pharisees is pertinent to the kingdom toward which he was trying to point his disciples. Paul to the Ephesians spoke of the husband and wife relationship as it related to the great MYSTERY of Christ and the church, the spiritual marriage of Christ to the Church where we are one with each other and with him. In the beginning God took from the side of Adam one bride for life. In the new beginning Christ purchased the church with the blood from his side. (Acts 20:28) This church is called his bride. (Revelation 21:9) We cannot separate nor divide asunder Christ from the church, and we must be as careful not to divide asunder the children of this relationship.

Surely there can be no controversy concerning the GREATNESS of the mystery of godliness. It was unanimously agreed upon by the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and they bear record in heaven. (1 John 5:7) Only deity could reveal a plan of redemption unto the sons of men so very simple that the wisest of this world stumble at this wonderful and profound mystery. (1 Peter 1:8)