I Timothy 3:14-16 “The mystery of godliness”

Today I would like to talk about “the mystery of godliness” (3:16) from the last part of chapter 3.  Those who are fit to be an overseer of the church or a deacon is written about in the first part of chapter 3.  That is because from chapter 2 on it teaches how Christians should be in the church.  The church first of all must pray for all people. That’s because God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2:4) Also in the church men are “to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (2:8) “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” (2:8) That’s because “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (13) That’s the order of creation.  The church is to follow this order and men are to be manly and women are to be lady like.

Today’s passage is a continuation of this.  It is teaching more concretely.  In other words, precisely, what is the church? “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great.” (3:16) Today let’s look at three things about this “mystery of godliness.” (3:16)


  1. The church is the family of God (Vs. 14, 15)

First of all let’s look at verses 14 and 15.  “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

This is a letter written from the apostle Paul to the disciple Timothy. The purpose of writing the letter was so that if Paul was delayed Timothy would “know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church.”  (14, 15)  Here Paul is saying something extremely important about the church. The church is “God’s household”. (14, 15)

The same Greek word “household” is also used in 3:4 and 5 where it is translated as “family”.  “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (3:5)

Therefore, “God’s household” (14) is the family of God. The church is God’s household, the family of God. It is the flock gathered together by God, a co-operative body. Ephesians 2:19 says, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”  We were formerly separated from Christ “without hope and without God, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:12, 13)


By believing in Jesus Christ and being in Christ we have become one. We are “follow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Eph. 2:19) Therefore, the church is God’s family.

We hold the church as important because it is the family of God, “God’s household”. (14) The church is not the Pastor’s family. It’s God’s family.  Its structure is different from companies in this world.  If it is a company, then if the workers quit then other human resources are available and the workers can be replaced. However, families aren’t like that. There are no replacements for family members.  There is no one to replace you.


  1. The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (Vs. 15)

That’s not all. Verse 15 says, “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Here the church is not just God’s household, but the household “of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” “The living God” (15) is in contrast to  a dead god or idol. The real God is living in contrast to the idol that is dead.

At this time Paul is writing to Timothy who is pastoring the Ephesian church.  Ephesus boasted of a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. At present the temple is beyond recognition, but at that time it was one of the 7 wonders of the world. It was 115 meters long 55 meters wide, and18 meters tall. It was supported by 117 pillars and it was made entirely of marble. It started to be built in the 7th century B.C. and the grand temple was finally finished after 200 years of building. In the inner room the goddess Artemis was enshrined. It was made of wood, but except for the head, arms and legs which were decorated with precious stones.  The town of Ephesus made the temple that the great Artemis was enshrined at as the center of their lives.

However, not matter how magnificent a thing it was, it was nothing more than something just made from wood and stone. There was no life there and it couldn’t give man life either. It was only just an idol, and nothing more than a dead god. However, God of “God’s household, with is the church” (14) is different. God of the church is “the living God”. (15) He is alive now and working. He is different from the gods of the idols. He can give those who believe in God life. Therefore, the church is “the church of the living God.” (15)

That’s not all. Here it says, “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (15)  In order to understand what this means let’s think about the role of the pillars and foundation.  Of course, it is to support the entire building. However, that is not the only role. The pillars and foundation are a necessary support for the building, but at the same time, depending on the place, they are used as a part of

the interior design. At the Fukushima church at the entrance of the sanctuary there are 3 pillars. I couldn’t figure out what they were for.  When I asked, I was told that the architect put them there as part of the design.

Before I talked about the temple of Artemis. Paul probably used this expression because he was bearing in mind the pillars and foundations of the Artemis temple. In that case the pillars certainly had the role of supporting the entire temple, but more than that they were used as elaborate decorations. Also the foundation was the same. Marble was used entirely throughout the foundation. I think it is not difficult to imagine how magnificent it was.

Bearing this in mind, when you look at the church of this world in relationship with the world, it may look really poor.  However, the church is the climax of God’s truth. In other words, it is the place of testimony. It takes care of God’s truth so that it doesn’t crumble. By such a meaning the church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (15) That is because “the living God” (15) is there working. This definitely doesn’t mean that the church is a perfect organization without one flaw.  Certainly the church that is seen by the eyes has many weaknesses and faults both systemically and capability wise.  However, even so, it is not to say that the church is not the church as Christ’s body, the universal church. Of course we are not a perfect being.  However, we who are in the midst of this imperfect vessel, have entered into God’s truth, the Gospel.  If you look at II Cor. 4:7, you will see this. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

“This treasure” is Jesus Christ.  The Words of salvation is the Gospel. We put “this treasure in jars of clay.” (II Cor. 4:7)  “Jars of clay” (II Cor. 4:7) are very weak. If by mistake it is dropped, then it will be broken. That the treasure is not put in metal or steal boxes, but in weak us, like weak jars of clay makes it clear that it is by the power of God, not by our power. Therefore, the church is a great place! Even though it is such a small flock, even it is a poor building that is weak and poor and about to collapse, the treasure has been put there.

In this world there is no other place other than the church where in reality the correct truth of Christianity is seen, supported and taken care of. Therefore, in this Ephesian church too even though they had many problems on their hands, they had to be protected from heretical teaching and getting off the track of faith. That is also the same today in our church too. We must recognize the great commission that God has given the church that we belong to and firmly live out our church life. Even if it is a small flock, we must remember that it is a church established by God’s providence and together take care of the truth and testify to it.


  1. The mystery of godliness (Vs. 16)

Paul summarized the content of the truth as “the mystery of godliness”. (16) Please look at verse 16. “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great!

He appeared in a body,

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.””

“Mystery of godliness means the revealed secret of true piety. In other words, it is the secret that produces piety in people. That secret as the following words indicate is Jesus Christ. The content is “He appeared in a body,

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.”  In other words, Christ’s incarnation is the source of genuine piety. These words are printed in poetic form and probably come from an early creedal hymn. Paul uses it here to explain what the truth is and quoted this hymn which was well known at that time. Its content is 6 facts about the entire life of Jesus Christ.

  1. Christ “appeared in a body.” (16)  This refers to Christ’s incarnation. Please look at John 1:1-3, 14 and 18. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

“The Word” (John 1:1) is Jesus. Jesus 2,000 years ago through the Holy Spirit by the virgin May was born. However, Jesus didn’t come into being then. Jesus “was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1) He is the Son of God. He took on flesh and came from heaven.  He is the Savior Jesus Christ.  “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18) but he made it clear what God is like. Christ is with God forever and is God and has made God known.




  1. Christ “was vindicated by the Spirit.” (16) This means that the Holy Spirit vindicated that Christ was without sin. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, heaven was opened and God’s Spirit could be seen as a dove hovering above him. At that time a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I am well pleased.” Matt. 3:17)

Also by Jesus rising from among the dead, he demonstrated that he was righteous.  “Who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:4)

If Jesus remained dead, then he couldn’t have been the Savior. However, Jesus died and then rose again. By this he “was declared with power to be the Son of God.” (Romans 1:4)


  1.  Christ “was seen by angels.” (16)  In other words, Christ’s being wasn’t just seen by humans, but also by angels. For example, when Jesus was born, he was seen by the angels. When the shepherds were watching their sheep, the angels appeared and praised God.  “Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests “(Luke 2:14).

Also when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, the angels came near Jesus and supported him. This happened too when Jesus prayed at Gethsemane and when he rose from the dead. His whole life was seen by the angels.


  1. Christ “was preached among the nations.” (16) The Gospel of God’s kingdom was  not accepted by the Jews so it was preached to the Gentiles who were far from God. By this it showed that Christ was the Savior of the whole world.


  1. Christ “was believed on in the world.” (16) Paul who is writing this letter is one of the people. He before persecuted Christians. However, the resurrected Christ appeared to him. Then he became an apostle to preach the Gospel throughout the word. This Gospel “was believed on in the world.” (16)


  1. Christ “was taken up in glory.”  (16) In this, of course, the cross and resurrection, the work of salvation, is included.  Christ’s cross is God’s glory.  Christ’s resurrection is also God’s glory.  Jesus accomplished the work of salvation, the cross and the resurrection, and “he was taken up in glory.” (16) Christ’s death was not the end.  He rose again and ascended into heaven. He went there to prepare a place for


us. He will come again and to get us Christians, the bride, the church. We are not the end either. In the course of time we will rise again in an unperishable, glorious body, and we will be taken up to heaven. There we will be with the Lord forever.


This is the “mystery of godliness”. (16) This is the contents of our faith that we believe in. This is the contents of the truth that the church should follow.  These contents are Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the “mystery of godliness”. (16) This is our faith.

This is not hidden, but has already been made clear. The truth of who Jesus Christ is and how we are saved has already been made clear. The Bible shows this to us clearly. We must not wander from the teaching of the Bible. If we move away from this truth then there is no salvation. Anyone one who believes in Christ will be saved.  If you seek this truth, then come to Jesus Christ.  If so, you will be saved. If you seek the power of the blessings of faith, then come to Jesus.  If so, you will receive power. Let’s not forget that it is all by Jesus Christ whodied and rose again for us. This is above all that we can understand, but this is the truth. “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great! (16) God made this mystery clear. Its center is Jesus Christ. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

The church is the place where Christ’s truth is made clear. Also it takes care of the truth and supports it. We too have entered into this church. That it because God wants to do his work through the church.

“Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph.1:23)

God gave us this church. That is so that we can do God’s work through the church.  God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2:4) People are saved through the church. Therefore the church is necessary. What is necessary is that the church, we, each individual, stand firmly on the truth. If we are separated from the truth, then there is no salvation. Through “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (15) we must remain firmly in Jesus Christ. To do that we must make God’s mystery clear. If you look at each individual one of us we are all weak and frail, but let’s remember that God gave these clay pots the truth of Jesus Christ and keep this truth and become someone who testifies to it. Let’s perform our role as “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (15)