Sermon: The Mystery of Godliness (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

The Mystery of Godliness

1 Timothy 3:14-16

Primary Truth Taught-The mystery of godliness is made manifest through the local Church.


In this short section we see Paul’s purpose for writing this epistle to Timothy…The Apostle wants young Timothy to remain in Ephesus to correct the errors of the false teachers (Ch 1), to also correct the wrong or unacceptable worship patterns (Ch 2), to evaluate those in leadership positions within the church (Ch 3). Now as we finish Chapter 3, we’ll see why these issues are so vitally important.

Paul explains why all of these details of local church life are so important. Paul is going to explain to you why it’s significant that we ought to strive to live in accordance with God’s instructions, written down in His Bible, about life and ministry in the local church. And he’s going to give us two reasons in this passage.

The first reason is because of what the church is. The second reason is because of who the Savior of the church is. Paul is going to tell us here that the reason we ought to strive to live in this way is because of what God has made the church to be. And if we would realize this, we would realize why we need to strive to live in accordance with these commands about life and ministry together.

And then he tells us that the only way we’re going to be able to live this way, the only way we’re going to be able to live a godly life together in the way he describes here in I Timothy and II Timothy and Titus, is if we properly appreciate the glory of the Savior with whom we are united by faith.[1]

The Church must listen to what Paul is writing Timothy and do what he tells them because what’s at stake is the Gospel message itself.

Human Need Met

We live in a world where the Church has taken a back seat to the individual. People think they can be a Christian apart from the local Church. This is a symptom of the self-centeredness that permeates our culture. Christianity is not about the individual so much as it’s about the Church. Christ died for the Church. The Church corporately is the Bride of Christ. We are called to serve one another, love one another, and care for one another because as we do so, we love Jesus Christ who died for His bride the Church.

We need this passage to show us our true identity in Jesus Christ. We need this text to show us the glory of our Lord and Savior.


1 Timothy 3:14–16 (ESV)

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

       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.


  1. Proper Corporate Conduct

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave

The dynamic in the context shows how important this subject is. Paul desires to come personally to take care of the issues he mentions in this letter. However, they are of such great importance to the Church that he cannot take a chance on the truths not arriving simply because he doesn’t. So the letter is dispatched to Ephesus and specifically to the acting pastor Timothy.

The first section of the letter dealt with the evil and vile nature of those who would teach a different Gospel (1 Timothy 1:3-11). These were only after fame and fortune and cared nothing for those whom they taught. Paul then reminded Timothy of the genuine Gospel, the one that had such amazing power that it could even save the worst sinner in the world namely, Paul, himself (1:12-20). Then, after highlighting the truth and its power over and against the lack of power in the false gospel the Apostle focuses his attention on the church at prayer (Ch. 2). Then in Chapter three he establishes who should be leading Christ’s church giving us their qualifications.

All these things he focuses on are vital for the church to be functioning correctly and to have the reputation it should have in the world.

When the church is gathered we have certain ways in which to conduct ourselves. This is why Paul wrote to Timothy. He wrote to straighten out the ways in which the church was behaving that did not honor her Lord.

  1. Proper View of the Church

in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

  1. Household of God

The congregation, the church, the ecclesia (called out ones) are God’s household or even more precisely, God’s family. The Church is the family of God. The building we meet in is not the house of God but it’s us, we are the house of God.

Paul often uses the picture of a building to describe the church. Here in 1 Timothy he’s going to use things like pillars or buttress. Other letters he uses words like spiritual house, foundation, living stones, all of which present the image of the church, again believers, forming a spiritual household.

The Church is God’s family or household. Like any household there are certain rules the household goes by. Don’t track mud into the house, brush your teeth, things like that. The same is true in God’s household. He gives us certain rules to go by. These are found in this letter and other places. See, we cannot just do whatever we want. God is in charge and we must obey Him.

Have you ever thought of the meaning and impact this concept had on the Jewish population especially as they had to let go of their temple and cling to Christ and His Church?

Paul’s words would have been thunderous to Jewish Christians. Jewish Christians would have remembered that way back in the days of Jacob, when he met God at Bethel he could say, “Surely this is the house of God. Surely the Lord is present in this place.” He was struck by the dwelling of God near to him, by the favor of God to him, by the presence of God with him. And then later when Moses first gave the commands for the tabernacle to be built in Exodus, and then executed the building of the tabernacle in the Exodus, the tabernacle became that place, that focal point of God’s presence with His people. It was not that the God of heaven and earth could be contained in a tent: He’s bigger than a tent. But it was a special place where He manifested His nearness to, His love for, His favor on His people. It was the place where His people came face to face with Him, met with Him, encountered Him, praised His name, heard His word, enjoyed communion with Him. And then later, after the tabernacle, the temple became the place where God dwelt, God’s house par excellence in all the world.

But in the New Testament the emphasis is this: there’s no longer some special spiritual location, there’s no longer a tent somewhere or a building somewhere. Wherever the people of God are gathered, the local congregation of believers assembled, whether it’s in a beautiful sanctuary or whether it’s in a parking lot, or whether it’s on a hillside, or whether it’s in a valley; there, when the people of God are gathered on the Lord’s Day to meet with Him, they are God’s house! And Paul’s saying ‘Why is it important that we obey all of these instructions that I’ve spoken about in I Timothy 1, 2, 3 and am going to speak about in [chapters] 4, 5 and 6 for the life of the local congregation? Because you’re God’s house! That’s why.’[2]
B. The Church of the Living God
Here, Paul further carries out the idea of the people of God as the place where His special presence is found. The phrase Church of the living God could be seen as the place where God is found. Now, we know God is everywhere all the time, however, He is with His people gathered in a special relational way.
We see the same concept in the Book of Acts as Paul seeks to convince those in Lystra that they should not worship anything except God alone…
Acts 14:15 (ESV)

15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

So, when he uses the phrase Living God he means a bit more than the fact that God is alive, he literally has in mind that the Church is the place where the Creator of the Universe is found.
His further contrast is that the Church, being the abode of the Living God goes against all paganism where only dead idols can be found. Paul captures this concept in 1 Thessalonians as he writes to encourage them…
1 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV)

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

  1. Pillar and Buttress of Truth
    Finally, what the Apostle teaches is that it is the Church who is given the responsibility to uphold the truth or more specifically keep the Gospel pure and hold it up for all to see. The imagery is of the Roman columns that hold up the roofs of their massive structures so the Church is the pillar that’s not holding up a roof but the truth of God.
    Not only is the church the pillar for truth but it is also the foundation on which truth is placed…Notice what Jesus tells us…
    Matthew 16:13–19 (ESV)

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The foundation for the Church is the Gospel of Christ and the Church is to hold up this truth for all to see. It must maintain the true Gospel and not a watered down version or a false Gospel because there is no salvation if we get the Gospel wrong.
So, the bottom line is that it is the Church where God dwells with His people. Not necessarily in the home of the person who has decided that he can meet with God by himself and not join with other believers on the Lord’s Day. I hear this a lot. I can read my Bible and pray etc at home. What does God say? It is the Church whom He loves and if you are apart of His Church His love is manifested to you. He saves us from the domain of darkness and places us in the kingdom of light. We then become His people who are called to be in relationship one to another. Someone who refuses to become a vital part of God’s family may need to examine whether their salvation is, in fact, genuine.
3. The Mystery of Godliness
1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

       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.


As we look at this last point there are a few very important points Paul is making by using this ancient hymn in the midst of his teaching on the Church and its power and place in God’s world.

The mystery of godliness is an important phrase. At first it seems like the word godliness is an adjective that describes a trait or quality of someone. In this case it is not used as an adjective or a word of description but as a noun.

What this ancient hymn teaches fits right in with what Paul is teaching which is why he uses it as an example. Many theologians are puzzled by the hymn but here is what, I believe, the apostle is doing…

The first three lines…

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,


This first section shows us what God has done to grant people the godliness He requires. It was God the Father who sent Jesus as a man to earth. Jesus Christ is one Person of the eternal Trinity. Jesus, the Son of God has always existed. For our sake He was manifested in the flesh…

John 1:14 (ESV)

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God did that…

John 17:3 (ESV)

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Line one of this hymn praises God for the fact that God the Son was incarnate and took on flesh.

vindicated by the Spirit,…speaks to the fact that The world crucified our Lord but he was vindicated by the Spirit in the resurrection.

Romans 1:3–4 (ESV)

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Because of our Lord’s perfect sinless life, death could not keep Him but through the power of the Holy Spirit had to release Him. Death had no claim on our Lord.

Here, the hymn speaks of His ascension, going back to the Father and is now seated on the throne.

seen by angels,

Refers to His glorification and ascension. Jesus was given the glory that was His before the world began.

Jesus was made flesh, was raised from the dead and then ascended to the Father. All three amazing events were the work of God.

Now lets look to the second verse of this hymn…
I want to go ahead and give you the punch line, here God is doing all these things through the faithful witness of the Church. I think there are some parallels we should notice…


proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.


While Jesus’ taking on flesh and becoming a man was done by God, the Church is to take Jesus to the world by preaching and teach about Him. By being what we are called to be and by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world, it’s as if He is incarnate again.

So, the Gospel is proclaimed by the Church and the Holy Spirit moves and men and women believe. The belief that is brought about by God through the Church’s evangelism is vindication for our Lord. His death was not a victory for Satan but a victory of Christ. His death purchased men and women for God. They have been made His children and Jesus is vindicated.

The final line, taken up in glory, speaks again of His glorification and ascension.

So, the point of Paul’s reference here is that God works through the NT Church to accomplish His end, namely, the glorification of His Son.

We must see the vital importance of the Church. I pray you fall in love with the Church and seek to serve the Church in ways that would bring glory to Jesus Christ.

The mystery of godliness only comes about through the Church of Jesus Christ.


How do you view the Church? Is it something you can get by without? Or is it so important to you that you have invested yourself for her good? Your view of the Church will greatly expose the true nature of you salvation. Jesus died for the Church…that’s love. How committed are you to the Church?


[1] Ligon Duncan 1 Timothy

[2] Ligon Duncan 1 Timothy

%d bloggers like this: