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. (1 Timothy 3:16 NIV 2011)
In the Bible, a mystery is not a secret but a revelation, something that God has made known in Jesus Christ. Godliness is holiness, or piety, or the “fear of the Lord.” Godliness is God-centeredness.
What Paul is about to tell us here is something he describes as “beyond all question,” or, as the NKJV has it, “without controversy.” The Greek word is homologoumenos, which has to do with confession. In other words, it is something about which the early Church was quite in agreement, a confession of faith, straight up and orthodox. Paul is likely quoting a creed or hymn that was already in circulation in the Church.
So, what is this mystery, the revelation about God-centeredness of which Paul speaks? It is a confession of the gospel. It is the proclamation of the good news, encapsulated in six short statements. But it is the first statement that I want to particular consider today. This is where the mystery begins: He appeared in the flesh.
The mystery of godliness is the mystery of the incarnation, that God appeared in the flesh. As John the Evangelist put it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14). This is what we celebrate in the season of Christmas, and is why Jesus is called Immanuel, “God with us.” This is where the gospel begins, for it is as a human being that Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world and was taken up in glory.
In his letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, Paul speaks of the mystery of godliness this way:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.So the great mystery is also a paradox, for it turns out that God-centeredness is gloriously centered on a man — Jesus the Messiah, God become flesh. He is the one we believe and confess, and in Him we learn true godliness.
(See also Divine Humility, Divine Greatness)
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles
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