III. THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS
Verse 16 begins with the words, “And confessedly, great is the mystery of godliness.” The conjunction “and” in verse 16 indicates that Paul has not finished speaking about the church in verse 15. Oh, the church is a great matter! It is the house of the living God and the pillar and base of the truth. Paul’s use of the conjunction at the beginning of verse 16 indicates that the church is something even more than the house of the living God and the pillar and base of the truth. The church is also the mystery of godliness. The church is the house, the pillar and the base, and the mystery of godliness.
According to the context, godliness in verse 16 refers not only to piety, but to the living of God in the church, that is, God as life lived out in the church. This is the great mystery confessed universally by believers in Christ.
The church as the house of the living God and as the pillar and base of the truth is not so mysterious. But the church as the manifestation of God in the flesh certainly is a mystery. A mystery always goes beyond our understanding. It refers to something which cannot be explained. If we are able to explain a certain matter, it is not a mystery.
The church is not only the house of the living God and the pillar and base of the truth, but also the mystery of godliness. Godliness refers to God expressed. What are we doing in the church life? We are expressing God. Human beings may not realize this adequately, but the angels recognize it and appreciate it. On the one hand, the good angels rejoice when they behold the expression of God in the church. On the other hand, the evil angels and the demons tremble in fear. They realize that eventually those in the church life will condemn them to the lake of fire.
When the Lord Jesus was born, a host of angels praised God (Luke 2:10-14). If the angels rejoiced at the birth of the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem, the city of David, will they not also rejoice to see God manifested in the church, which is Christ’s increase and enlargement? Furthermore, when the Lord Jesus, living out God and manifesting Him on earth, confronted the demons, the demons cried out. In at least one case they begged the Lord Jesus not to send them into the abyss (Luke 8:31). If the demons trembled at the presence of the Lord Jesus, will they not also tremble at the manifestation of the living God in the church? No doubt when the church is living out God and manifesting Him, the demons and the evil angels will be terrified. Every local church must be a place where Christ is born anew in the saints. Furthermore, every local church must live out God in such a way that the Devil’s time is shortened. On the one hand, when the churches come up to God’s standard, the angels will sing and rejoice; on the other hand, the demons and the evil angels will tremble.
It may come as a surprise that in verse 16 Paul suddenly uses the relative pronoun “who,” when he says, “Who was manifested in the flesh.” In Greek the antecedent of this relative pronoun is omitted, but easily recognized, that is, Christ who was God manifested in the flesh as the mystery of godliness. The transition from “the mystery…” to “Who” implies that Christ as the manifestation of God in the flesh is the mystery of godliness (Col. 1:27; Gal. 2:20). This mystery of godliness is the living of a proper church, and such a living is also the manifestation of God in the flesh. The portion of verse 16 from “Who was manifested” to “taken up in glory” may have been a church song in the early days.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)