The Mystery of
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness…
I Timothy 3:16
Do you like a good “mystery?” I’m not speaking of a fictional novel, but a real honest to goodness mystery? A few years ago I visited the land of Egypt. In the Cairo museum I learned of many ancient mysteries that no one has ever discovered the secrets of. Space does not allow me to go into detail in this message, but these people, thousands of years ago, had the abilities to do many things that we cannot duplicate even today, or do not know how they did them without our modern technology. For one example, there is a statue of one of the Pharaohs lying on its back out in the middle of the desert. It is hewn out of solid rock. It is almost one hundred feet from head to foot. It is so heavy, that as recently as fifty years ago, while Egypt was yet under British control, England could not find a way to move it. They attempted to bring it to England for display, but did not have the machinery capable of moving it out of the desert, yet it was discovered hundreds of miles from the quarry it was hewn from. How did the ancient Egyptians move it? We will probably never know. Another “mystery” that interested me is about the ancient art of “sword-making.” Swords that were made by the Syrians in ancient Damascus were of such high quality steel that they could be sharpened to the point of splitting a hair in mid air, yet in combat they could clash against another sword without nicking or dulling the edge. We have lost the art of tempering steel of that quality today. We do not know how they did it, but we know it is so because several of the swords still exist in perfect condition. Lost arts and lost skills; there are hundreds of mysteries out of the past that we may never solve, even with our “superior” knowledge and technology. I love a good mystery. In the past I have spent many hours trying to imagine how ancient societies did such marvelous things that we cannot understand. There is, however, a “mystery” that overshadows every other. It has been kept so “secret” that few people in the world today have even heard of it. If they should hear of it, few would believe it. It was kept secret for thousands of years, was revealed for about a generation, and was lost once more until this day. This great “mystery” is the subject of this message to the children of God.
The Apostle speaks of a “mystery” seventeen different times in his letters. While speaking of the same mystery, he variously calls it “The Mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4, Colossians 4:3),” the “mystery of His will (Ephesians 1:9),” the “mystery of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:32),” the “mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19),” the “mystery of the faith (I Timothy 3:9),” and “ The Mystery of Godliness (I Timothy 3:19).” In Mark 4:11, Jesus speaks of it as “The mystery of the Kingdom of God.”
In Romans 16: 25-26, Paul speaks of “…the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest…” Again, in Ephesians 3:3-5; “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” In Ephesians 3:9, he tells of “…the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…” Finally, in Colossians 1:26, Paul speaks of “…the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.” In these four references Paul tells us two things; first, the mystery had been “kept secret,” or, “hid” from man from the “beginning of the world,” and second, it was “now made manifest.” For proper understanding of what Paul is saying, we must know that the world began with the transgression of Adam. The mystery is what man was before his fall and the entrance of sin into his nature. Not even Adam’s children could have the least comprehension of the glorious state of their daddy before he transgressed the commandment of God. They never knew him “in the image and likeness of God.” They never saw him “crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2:7).” They never saw the “paradise of Eden.” By no stretch of imagination could they understand the minutest part of what was lost. Adam could attempt to tell them of the wonders, but no way could they believe what they heard, nor could Adam find words to tell them with. The Prophet Isaiah said it best in Isaiah 64:4, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” That which was commonplace before Adam’s fall had never been heard, nor perceived by the ear, nor seen by the eye, until the appearing of Jesus Christ, over four thousand years after Adam’s fall.
The second thing Paul tells us in these scriptures is that the “mystery,” which had been hidden for all ages since Adam, “…is now made manifest…” We, being citizens of the “twenty first century,” must understand that the “now” Paul spoke of was in his day, the “first century.” The “mystery” was first made manifest in Jesus Christ. After “Pentecost,” it was seen in the first generation of the “church,” as it was “made manifest” to the holy Apostles and Prophets, as well as to the “saints.” It does not follow, however, that there is no more mystery. As I search the scriptures, I become more and more aware that what was manifest in Jesus Christ was also manifest in the first generation of the church. I am just as aware that it was lost to the church by the end of the first century through the entrance of false teachers and false doctrines into the church. Once more, we have a “mystery” that has been “hidden” for ages and for generations. There is nothing in the modern church that even vaguely resembles the “glory and honour” that was revealed in Jesus Christ and His church.
Manifesting the Name of God
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: John 17:6
This statement is the declaration of Jesus in His prayer to the Father in the seventeenth chapter of John. “I have manifested thy name…” In order to understand what Jesus was saying, we must understand the meaning of the Greek word translated “name.” The Greek word is “onoma,” and literally means “character” and “authority.” In the origin of “names,” a name was more than just an “identifying label.” A name told what a person was. Often a name was changed because of a dramatic change in the character of the person. For example, there was “Jacob,” whose name meant “supplanter,” or “heel grabber,” so named because he was the youngest of twins and was born holding onto the heel of his brother, Esau. His name fit his character until the night he wrestled with the angel of the Lord. He had been a deceiver, selfish, and overly ambitious. He had finally come to a time of “reckoning” with his brother Esau, who was come out to kill him. He wrestled with the angel of the Lord, and prevailed. His name was changed to “Israel,” which means “prince of God,” or “one who prevails with God and man.” His entire character was changed that night, as well as his name.
Jesus was the manifestation of His Father’s character and authority. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus was “…the brightness of his (God’s) glory, and the express image of his (God’s) person…” Everything Jesus was and everything He did was an expression of His Father, God. In fact, the Greek word “Logos,” which was in part coined to express Jesus Christ in His pre-existent state, means “divine expression.” God revealed Himself to man in the person of His Son, Jesus. In character, He was in the flesh, what God is; in authority, He did in the flesh, what God did. He was a flesh and blood expression of God Himself, yet, He told us in John 5:19, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” In John 14:10, Jesus gave the secret of His ministry: “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”
In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word (Logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3
This declaration by the Apostle John is the grandest and most definitive ever expressed in a few human words. The “Logos” is eternal (in the beginning was…), the “Logos” was with God, and (according to original Greek) God was “Logos.” The “Logos” made all things, and without “Logos” not even one thing was made.
And the Word (Logos) was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14
It is clearly understood that “Logos” is the “pre-flesh” existence of Jesus Christ. He was with God, He was God, and He was the creator of all things. Now comes the “Mystery of Christ.” Being “made flesh,” He is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. The writer in Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Two verses previous tells us that man (Adam) was made “a little lower than the angels,” and also “crowned with glory and honour.” The actual meaning of both these verses is found in Psalms 8:5 where we are told that man “…was made a little lower than the angels (Elohiym, or, God Himself).” This was speaking of Adam before his fall, but, in Hebrews 2:9, applied to Jesus after He was “made flesh.” While this was a “highly exalted” position for man, to be “a little lower than (God),” it was a “greatly humbled” position for the Eternal One to be made flesh and dwell among us.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:5-8
Notice the order of things in these verses. He was “in the form of God;” He was “equal with God,” but He “made Himself of no reputation.” He had “reputation.” His reputation was “God.” His reputation was “creator of all things,” but He made Himself of no reputation. He “took upon Him the form of a servant.” Please see this! Before He was “made flesh,” or “made in the likeness of men,” He became subservient to God. Again, here is the “Mystery of Christ.” He that “was God” made Himself servant “to God,” and this was before He was made flesh and dwelt among us. When He came into the world, He was “sent” by God. Only the subservient are “sent.” No one “forced” Him to take the form of a servant. There was none that could, for He was God, but now, for the sake of our redemption, He took the form of a servant, and “was made in the likeness of men.” Again, according to Hebrews 2:9, He was made a “little lower than (God) for the suffering of death.” God could not die, but Jesus, the Son of God died for our sins. The only reason our “creator” so humbled Himself was to “redeem” His fallen creation with His own blood through His own death on the cross.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. I Timothy 3:16
This verse, which begins with the words “without controversy,” is the single most “controversial” scripture in the New Testament. The controversy is over the Greek word translated “God” in this verse. According to “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Lexicon of the Bible,” the Greek word translated “God” should actually be “who.” Bible Scholars have tried to determine what the original Greek word was for centuries, and cannot. The problem originated when someone, many hundreds of years ago, either traced over, or, added a line in a single word in the Greek text. If they “traced over” what was already there, the proper translation is “God.” If they “added” a line that was not there, the proper translation is “Who.” If this were the case, the verse would read like this: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness who was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit…etc.” The difference this makes is simple but important. If the correct word is “God,” as the translators gave us, then it was “God” who was “manifested in the flesh,” and also “justified, seen, preached, believed on, and received up into glory.” If, on the other hand, the correct word was “who,” then “Jesus Christ” is the “mystery of godliness,” and it was He who was “justified in the Spirit, seen of angels (messengers), preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory.” In the view of this writer, all these things apply only to the Son of God, therefore establishing that it is Jesus Christ who is the “Mystery of Godliness.”
Our Holy Calling
God…who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: II Timothy 1:9-10
Paul reminds Timothy that God has not only saved us, but He has called us with a holy calling that is not based upon our works, but upon the purpose and grace of the one who saved us and called us. The phrase, “not according to our works,” literally means that what we are called to “be” and to “do” is not based on our human abilities to be or to do anything. According to II Thessalonians 2:13-14, we are called “…to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is that which was “…given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” and was “…kept secret since the world began (Romans 16:25),” but is “…now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” That which was manifest in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is the same as was given, “in Christ” to every man before Adam transgressed. It was “hidden,” never seen, from the beginning of “time” until it was again “made manifest” in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who is the “Mystery of Godliness.”. According to Paul’s message to Titus, Jesus “…gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Titus 2:14).” In salvation He redeemed us “from all iniquity,” and “purified” us “unto Himself, a peculiar people.” In I Peter 2:9 is the only other instance in the New Testament where a “peculiar people” in mentioned. Peter told the church, in his words, “…ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God prepared a people in Christ, through His death and resurrection, to “manifest” the glory of the one who redeemed them. This also is a great mystery, that is obviously lost, or, hidden from the church of this generation. Jesus did not suffer and die to take “sinners” to heaven. He suffered and died to “redeem, reconcile, and restore” man to the purpose of God which He purposed in Himself before the world began.
God’s Purpose for the Church
And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:22-23
Have you ever seen a church such as Paul describes here? A “church” which is the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all?” I was preaching our Fourth of July Campmeeting at Calvary Outreach Tabernacle in Donaldsonville Louisiana. In my message I came to these two verses. It was the twenty third verse that captured my total attention; “...which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” Paul was speaking of the “church,” calling it the “body” of Christ. As a definition of the “body,” Paul called it “…the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” I asked the question, “Is our church like this?” I didn’t wait for a response, because my next question was this, “Have I ever seen such a “church?” The answer was easy. No! Our church, Calvary Outreach, is not what Paul described, and no, I have never in my lifetime seen a church that is. Don’t get me wrong. I have seen some truly great churches in my lifetime, and I believe ours is becoming one of them, but never, at any time or in any place have I seen a church that could be called “The fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” This speaks of the fullness of Jesus Christ being manifest in the church. It would be as though Jesus Christ were there “in the flesh,” because such a church would be the “flesh and blood body” of Jesus Christ in the world today. I know someone will protest, “but that is just the way God sees us. He sees us as the fullness of Jesus, even though we are not.” Such reasoning is the cause of the sad condition of the church in general today. The church is sinful, “but,” they say, “God sees us as holy.” In the days of the Apostle Paul, it is obvious there were sinners in the “church,” but they were not accounted to be the church. The opposite is true today. Most would tell us that every “child of God” is also a sinner. Many would also tell us “only sinners will be received into heaven,” because they are the ones trusting “only” in the grace of God. It’s incredible that they should think so!
Christ “Formed” in His Church
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, Galatians 4:19
Paul was in travail for the church at Galatia. He said he was travailing “again” until Christ was formed in them. At one time this church was what God had purposed in Christ Jesus that His church would be, “…the fullness of Him that filleth…” They had begun in the Spirit (Galatians 3:3). The manifestation of God was with them (Galatians 3:5). Christ was formed in their midst. Now, they were “fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).” They had been “bewitched (Galatians 3:1).” They had come to believe that what God had begun in the Spirit would be “perfected” by fleshly means (Galatians 3:3), such as obedience to religious ordinances (circumcision, etc), principles, and observance of times, days, and seasons (Galatians 4:10). Christ was of no effect to them (Galatians 5:4). Paul was in travail “again” for them (Galatians 4:19). Just as he had travailed in birth for them while they were yet heathen worshipers of strange gods, he now travailed for them a second time to bring them back to the truth they had denied. The issue for a “true” church is that “Christ be formed” in them. The Greek word translated “formed” is not the same as when God formed Adam from the dust of the earth. The word Paul used means “to fashion, as by the assembly of parts.” The church at Galatia still carried the label “church,” but it was no longer the “body of Christ.” For Christ to be formed in them would require many individuals in that “church” to be filled with the Holy Ghost, “baptized into that one body (of Christ, I Corinthians 12:12-14)” which would be the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” That body, according to Paul, is made up of many members, each of which is identified by the “manifestation of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:7)” which is given them. No one member of that body is the fullness, but when Christ is “formed in the church” by the assembly of His different members, that church is become the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” The world would not see “super stars” of religion as in the present day church. They would see Jesus, and oh, what a wonderful difference that would make. The ministry of the church would move outside the walls of the church into every public place. On the job, in the market place, wherever the need, there would be Jesus, revealed in His people.
Christ Revealed in Us!
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Galatians 1:15-16
There are five points in these two verses I want to cover quickly.
1. “…separated from my mother’s womb…” Paul was speaking of his natural birth. He speaks of “…God, who separated me…” only to indicate that it was the same God, the God of Israel and the Jew, that later called him by His grace.
2. “…and called me by His grace…” In these words, Paul speaks of his salvation on the “Damascus road.” He was “born again,” born a second time, this time, of God.
3. “But when it pleased God…to reveal His Son in me…” With these words, Paul indicates a third incident, the subject of these verses. Notice that he said the word “in” me, and not “to” me. This certainly did not happen at his natural birth, from his mother’s womb, nor did it happen when he was “born again,” of God. On the Damascus road, Christ was revealed “to” Saul of Tarsus. Being saved and filled with the Holy Ghost, he immediately began to show by the scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. This he did in the synagogues of Damascus. He could do this among those who believed the scriptures of the prophets, because Christ was revealed “to” him. The matter of Christ “revealed in Him” is a totally different matter. It was necessary for the fulfilling of the Holy Calling given to him. He must now preach Christ among those who did not believe the prophets; to those who worshiped other god’s. He would go to the very seat of the wisdom of this world to preach a foolish message to the wise. He must have more than just words. In His wisdom, it “pleased God to reveal His Son” in Paul.
4. “…that I might preach Him among the heathen…” This is an issue that we in America have never had to consider. Ours was a “Christian” culture. Virtually everyone you met professed to believe in “God” and “Jesus Christ.” Most professed to believe that the Bible is the word of God. Our witness, even to the rankest of sinners was among those who had some concept of Christianity, and what a “Christian” is. September 11, 2001 was a “wake-up call” that changed all that. We woke up, not only to the fact that we been attacked by a radical Islamic group, but also to the fact that there are millions of Muslims living in our midst, as well as the Hindus, Budhist, and those of many other eastern religions. In 1970, there were 500,000 Muslims living in the United States. Today Islam has become the fastest growing religion in America, far outstripping all others in rate of growth, with something near ten million Muslims in our nation today. Project the past thirty-two years into the next generation, and it is easy to see that Islam will be the dominant religion in America. Impossible, you might say? No! It is probable if we do not have a nation wide revival of Christianity. Such a revival must sweep through the American Islamic communities as well if America, as we have known it, is to be saved.
There are several things we Christians must consider concerning reaching the Muslim for Jesus Christ. First, there is no common denominator between them and us. We do not worship the same God, we do not believe the same scriptures, and they do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We cannot reach them with intellectual argument. We will not persuade them of the “superiority” of our “religion” over theirs. There is no basis for theological discussions between the two religions. There is only one way to reach the Muslim, or those of any other non-Christian religion, and that is “God’s way.” It “pleased God” to reveal His Son in the Apostle Paul for the purpose of preaching Christ to the heathen. When the “heathen (those who worshiped other gods)” saw Jesus Christ revealed with great glory and power in Paul, they were convinced and converted. When Jesus Christ is revealed in His people today the results will be the same. It is God’s way, and it “pleases” Him to reveal His Son in those who love Him.
5. “…immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” Have you been “born again?” Are you a “child of God, and no longer a sinner?” Have you received the “Holy Ghost” since you believed? If you will set your heart diligently to seek the Lord with all your heart, it will “please God to reveal His Son in you.” In I Corinthians 14:12 we that have received the Spirit are told to “seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” In I Corinthians 12:7, the promise is, “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal (to have to give).” Do not seek “gifts.” Do not seek “power.” Seek Him! Seek His presence! Yield your members to Him (Romans 6:13). Present you body, holy, acceptable, unto Him, a living sacrifice. Let the mind of Christ be in you, making yourself of no reputation and taking the form of a servant. Be subservient to Him. Let your life be hidden in God, and Christ Jesus will be your life, and your all in all.
Paul said, "…I conferred not with flesh and blood.” If you are hungering and thirsting for God’s purpose for you in Christ, man cannot give to you. The very nature of “flesh and blood” is to discourage you from believing God and taking Him at His word. Paul said that he did not even ask man about it. He didn’t seek anyone’s permission. He sought only the fullness of God’s promise, and found that when he did, it pleased God to fulfill the promise in him. If we wait for our friends or loved ones, we will never seek the Lord. If we wait for others in the church to join us, it will never happen, but if we will seek Him now in secret, God will reward us openly. In Joel 2:12-13, God said, “Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God…” If we do so, we will see revival, and it will begin “in” us.
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Colossians 1:25-27
God has chosen to reveal Christ in His saints for the purpose of reaching the masses of peoples of every nation, race, and religion on earth. This is the literal meaning of the scripture above. A “dispensation of God” was given to the Apostle Paul for the people. In Ephesians 3:2 he called it the “dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward.” In each case, Paul speaks of the same thing. It is the “mystery, which hath been hid from ages and from generation, but is now manifest to His saints.” The people saw Christ, revealed in the Apostle Paul. Back to Ephesians 3:8, where Paul says, “Unto me…is this grace given, that (in order that) I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery…” Christ was revealed in Paul “in order that” men everywhere would see and understand the mystery of Christ. It was by this means that the “saints” in Colossians 1:26 saw and understood the mystery. The twenty seventh verse, literally and correctly translated, speaks of those saints, “…whom God chose to make known what is the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in (revealed in) you, the hope of Glory.” It “pleased” God to reveal Christ in Paul that he might preach Him among the heathen. Those very heathen, not only hearing about, but also “seeing” Christ revealed, in both character and authority, in Paul, believed unto salvation. Being “born again” of the Spirit, they became the “saints” of God, and being “baptized with the Holy Ghost,” they became “members in particular” in the body of Christ. Now, it “pleased” God to reveal Christ in each of the saints, giving them the “manifestation of the Spirit” as promised in I Corinthians 12:7. Christ Jesus, being “formed” in the midst of the congregation by the effectual working of God in each of the members, is now “manifest” to the entirety of the world around them. Once more, the “Logos,” the “divine expression” is made flesh. The church of Jesus Christ is become His flesh and blood body on earth. It is the “brightness of His glory,” and the “express image of His person.” It is His body, “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.”
Have we seen this? No, not in this generation. The fullness of it has not been seen for almost two thousand years, but it will be seen. God is stirring the hearts and spirits of His people. They are aware, that with all the programs and outreaches of the church today, something is missing. Our eyes have been blinded to what His church really is, but the light is of the glory of God is soon to arise upon His people. Even now, across the land there are those who are fasting and praying, seeking nothing but Him. Again, there will be a “Pentecost” that will shake the world. The pretenders, the “magicians,” and all the “prophets of Baal” will be put to shame, as a “glorious church,” arises to gather the harvest just before the second coming of Jesus to this earth. When this happens, the “scales” will fall from the eyes of Israel and the Jew (Romans 11:25), for Paul said they would be blind until the “fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” That “fullness” is what the Mystery of Christ is all about. A church, which is the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” All Israel will be saved, and Jesus will come again.