Wednesday in the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 Timothy 3:16

Great Is the Mystery of Godliness

I was so concerned yesterday to make sure that we all knew that the gospel is something that is not subject to our personal experience but is something in and of itself and which has a definite content and meaning (and I did this because we live in a day when people so naturally measure the value of things by their own personal experiences) that I forgot to deal with the first line: “Great, indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness,” which Paul then explains by reciting the hymn, the first part of which we took up yesterday. 

Now I have said elsewhere that “mystery” in the Bible does not mean what we are accustomed to thinking today.  A mystery in the Bible is something that has been (at least partially) revealed.  In another place, Paul defines this mystery as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  So the gospel of Jesus Christ is the “mystery of godliness,” and as we said yesterday, that mystery is encapsulated in our Lord’s Incarnation (including his sinless life and death), resurrection, and ascension.  This is the mystery of godliness, and it is the way which leads to godliness for those who receive it.  Yesterday, we took up the first three lines of the hymn which spoke to those three events of our Lord’s life; today we take up the last three lines of the hymn which speak to what has happened in the world as a result of our Lord’s Incarnation, resurrection, and ascension.  He was:

“Proclaimed among the nations.”  The nation of Israel was founded by God to be a light to the nations.  This was prophesied by Isaiah (60:3) and the entire account of Jonah preaches it; that is, that the gospel is to be proclaimed to all the nations.  And through the Church, it has.

“Believed on in the world.”  This was also part of the mystery, that the gentiles would also believe and come to the knowledge of the truth (Colossians 1:27).  This was the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) which will one day have its ultimate fulfillment (Romans 11:25-32).

“Taken up in glory.”  The natural interpretation is again that this refers to the ascension of our Lord as did line three.  So why the repetition?  Coming after the proclamation of the gospel and its acceptance among the nations, perhaps this “taken up in glory” is more inclusive—one that includes us as well at the end of time.  At any rate, the primary focus of the hymn remains on Christ from the first line to last, for he is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).  Great, indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness!

Addendum

It is not my intention to bore people with literary lessons of which I am barely an amateur, but I would like to call believers’ attention to the beauty of, not just what the Bible says, but how it says it.

If you have a Bible that gathers verses into paragraphs, then yours also probably sets this hymn off in a different way, indicating that it should be understood as a unit, but different from the rest of the letter.  Perhaps it is set off like this:

                        He was manifested in the flesh,

                                    vindicated by the Spirit,

                                                seen by angels,

                        proclaimed among the nations,

                                    believed on in the world,

                                                taken up in glory.

Such an arrangement by the editors reveals that they believe that the first three lines (stanza) are one part while the second three lines (stanza) are another.  The original Greek did not set the lines off this way; scholars make such determinations based upon syntax, rhythmical structure, meter, etc. 

What I would like to alert you to, however, is the literary device Paul was using known as “parallelism.”  It is found in many places in the Bible, especially in Psalms and Proverbs where the Hebrews used the device to great effect.  Why?  Because such devices make memorization easier in oral cultures than using just plain prose.  The question is, “What lines are parallel to one another?”  If we letter the lines a-f, a and d make a nice couplet (manifested and then proclaimed), b and e make a nice couplet (vindicated and then believed on), and c and f make a nice couplet (seen by angels and taken up in glory).  So you have an a/d, b/e, c/f arrangement. 

But what if it is abc-cba, what is sometimes called a “chiasm.”  In such an arrangement, a (revealed in the flesh) goes with -a (taken up in glory), b (vindicated by the Spirit) with -b (believed in the world), and c (was seen by angels) with -c (preached among the nations).  This arrangement is more “antithetical,” that is, each couplet is grouped according to its opposite. 

It could be either, both, or something else.  The point is to show that the biblical writers didn’t just write any ole way they would; the Holy Spirit moved them not only to write God’s word but to write it well—in a way that would be beautiful and pleasing to read.  Our God is Goodness itself, Truth itself, and Beauty itself—the quintessence of all three.  Never forget that.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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