Chapter 8 The Mystery of Godliness

1 Timothy 3:14-16

These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy 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, (vv. 14-16)

These words immediately follow instruction given as to the appointment of certain brethren for official position in the church of God. The Apostle was hoping to rejoin Timothy, but in the meantime, by divine inspiration, he wrote: “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Now Paul was not telling Timothy how to act when he went to church! Timothy was not a mere child who had to be instructed as to his behavior among a congregation gathered to worship God.

When the Apostle uses the expression “house of God,” he is not referring to a material building. Men may speak of a building dedicated to the worship and praise of God as “the house of God,” and there is a sense in which it is perfectly correct to so speak. It is important that Sunday school teachers and those who have the instruction of children impress upon their hearts the necessity of reverent behavior when they come into the building that has been set apart as a place where we come together to worship and sing praises to God, to lift up our voices in prayer, and for the ministry of His holy Word. It is most unbecoming for boys and girls—little ones and older ones, too—to be running around through the halls, giving vent to loud laughter, and various noises that disturb and distress others. We should realize that there is a certain demeanor that should characterize us when we enter such a building.

We Protestants have much to learn as to this from Roman Catholic and other ritualistic churches. They would not think of permitting their children to run around noisily through the building which they consider most sacred. Neither would they give themselves to loud conversation, or even whispering that disturbs those who are gathered to worship God. I think we should be concerned about these things. One of the crying evils of our generation is that of irreverence or lack of respect for the things of God.

But when the Apostle used the expression “the house of God,” he was not referring to a material building. The “house of God” with him is the church of the living God, a spiritual building, made up of all those who are born of God, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, “in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). Again and again, both in Paul’s epistles and Peter’s first epistle, the church of God is looked upon as being made up of living stones cemented together by the Holy Spirit, and in that building God dwells. We need to learn how we ought to conduct ourselves as members of the assembly of saints; how we ought to behave “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground [bulwark] of the truth.” The only way we can learn this is through the study of the Scriptures, which tell us of the behavior that should characterize those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Chris, and recognize Him as Head of the body, the church.

This church is the pillar and ground or foundation of the truth. A pillar is for display purposes; the foundation is that on which the superstructure rests. The church was intended by our blessed Lord to be the pillar proclaiming the gospel of His grace while resting on the great foundation truths of the Word of God. We have no right to play fast and loose with revealed truth. We may be liberal with that which belongs to us, but this is God’s truth, and we are to stand firmly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

In the next verse the Apostle speaks of the mystery of godliness, or, as it might be rendered, the secret of piety. When the children of Israel marched through the wilderness from Sinai on to the Promised Land, they carried with them the ark of the covenant which typified the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ—the meeting place between God and men. We today are responsible to maintain this sacred truth concerning our blessed Lord to which the Apostle refers as the mystery of godliness. The term mystery does not necessarily mean something which is, in itself, mysterious, but a secret revealed only to initiates. It is the will of God that the church should understand this secret, should know the truth concerning the Person of our Savior. This mystery is that of the incarnation—that God came down to earth, taking into union with His Deity a human body, a human spirit, and a human soul, so that He was both God and Man in one blessed, adorable Person.

“God was manifest in the flesh.” Some of the early manuscripts omit “God” and render it “the mystery of godliness: which was manifest in the flesh.” That is probably more correct than the later manuscripts, but the thought is clear that it was God Himself who came down into this scene and was manifested in the flesh. Jesus is both God and Man.

We read in the gospel of John, “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (1:18) or, “told Him out.” Again we read, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And so “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19).

In the second place we read that He was “justified in the Spirit.” He who was God manifest in the flesh was absolutely the righteous One conceived without sin. After His baptism in the Jordan, where He publicly dedicated Himself as the One who had come to fulfill all righteousness and so to settle the sin question, God the Father opened the heavens above Him, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and the Father’s voice was heard declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17); or, “in whom I have found all My delight.” Thus He was justified in the Spirit. There was no taint of sin in Him. He was absolutely holy. As such He was the suited Substitute to take the sinner’s place and to endure the judgment that our sins deserved.

In the third place—and this is to me most interesting—we read, He was “seen of angels.” He is called elsewhere “the Image of the invisible God.” Did you ever stop to think of this? Before God became incarnate in Jesus Christ He was invisible to created eyes. God the Father was invisible; God the Son was invisible; God the Holy Spirit was invisible. Angels could look only upon the glory of God but could not see the invisible One. But when the Lord Jesus Christ came down to earth, when the Babe was born in Bethlehem’s manger, He who was God from all eternity had become visible. As angels hung over that crib and gazed upon the face of that little Babe, they knew they were looking into the face of the God who had created them. As He walked on earth angels were beholding the wondrous works wrought by God manifest in flesh. And you and I shall see Him in all the blessed reality of His Manhood as well as His Deity throughout all eternity.

“Preached unto the Gentiles.” The word rendered “Gentiles” is the word elsewhere translated “nations”—that is, the time had come when God no longer was to have one people separated from the rest of the nations, but His love could go out to all mankind. So our Lord Jesus Christ is preached unto all nations. The message preached to the nations everywhere is that all may be saved who will turn to Him in faith.

Next we read, He was “believed on in the world.” After twenty centuries there are untold millions in unbelief. In fact, there are millions who have never heard His name. That ought to stir our hearts to increased missionary activity and missionary giving. But even among those who have heard His name there are vast throngs who refuse to trust Him. But, thank God, all through the centuries since the cross vast numbers have believed. Today millions believe on Him and find in Him not only a Savior, not only the One who gives comfort and rest to their consciences, but they find also a loving, tender Friend who gives peace to the heart in the midst of the perplexities and toils of life. To believe on Him is to put your trust in Him, to claim Him as your own personal Savior.

Last of all we read, He was “received up into glory.” Paul was not giving a chronological account of the incarnation and life of our Lord Jesus Christ, but he was bringing out one truth after another in the measure of its importance. He who left the Father’s house came down to earth where He lived a sinless life. He who was the absolutely holy and spotless One went to the cross to die for our sins. He who was preached unto the Gentiles and who has been believed on in the world, He, the Man Christ Jesus, has been received up into glory. He is the very same Person in heaven today that He was when He was here on earth.

Many seem to have the idea that after the ascension of our Lord He ceased to be the Man Christ Jesus and became some kind of a spiritual being, so that they imagine they will never see Him as He was when He left this scene and returned to the Father. But the angels on Mount Olivet said to the disciples, “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). He is absolutely unchangeable: “The same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).

When we behold Him we will know Him by the print of the nails in His hand. When He descends the second time to take His kingdom and appear to His own people Israel, their eyes will be open to recognize Him. They will say to Him, “What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zech. 13:6). When at last we look up into His blessed face, we will see the marks of the thorny crown. As He lifts those loving hands, we will behold the scars left by the wounds, and we will say, “This is my Lord and my God,” even as Thomas said when he fell down in worship at the Savior’s feet.