1 Timothy 3-4.
Paul, writing to Timothy here, lays out plain-as-day instruction as to how certain leaders in the church should behave, what they should pursue, and what they ought to avoid. The third chapter touches on overseers of a church and on deacons as well. In both cases, they are to be above reproach, blameless, thought well of outsiders, not lovers of wine or greedy among other things. They must be good managers of their household as well if they are to be trusted with managing a congregation. It then concludes with what Paul calls 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.”
The fourth chapter begins with a sobering reminder that some who believe would depart the faith and pursue deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, forbidding that which God has given to be received with thanksgiving and allowing that which God has said is off limits. Paul then instructs Timothy to lay these teachings out before the brothers having been “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” He warns to steer clear of silly myths and other distractions. While bodily training is of some value, Paul writes, godliness is of value in every way. Lastly, Paul instructs Timothy not only to practice these things but become immersed in them, all the while persisting in the faith, “for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
What is godliness? How would you define it? What would it look like in the day-to-day? Paul lays out what behaviours, actions, and attributes are fruits of godliness, but I think it’s fair to say that it is more than a list of traits that can be ticked off a list; it is something more, something magnetic and obvious and aromatic to the souls of others. It’s worth pointing out that Paul was not writing such instruction only for Timothy so many centuries ago, but for me and you today. He also touches not only on practical, human aspects but on divine mystery as well, linking the two together as parts of a whole. It is for this reason that we know godliness is not merely a set of actions to be performed but the intangible presence of a heart in love with God, immersed in the Holy Spirit.
Remember, godliness is not restricted for a certain few “really good” Christians (whatever that means) who might play music on Sundays or serve communion or whatever – it is something in which every single Christian must live if we truly are what we say we are and believe what we say we believe. Godliness isn’t some sort of Christianity Plus Members Club where only a few are invited to participate, rather it is the foundational proof of one whose life really has been given over to Christ. It isn’t acquired through striving, rather it is developed through immersion: in community, fellowship, prayer, worship, and so much more. Very likely others will spot it in you before you spot it in yourself.
The fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), these marks of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, develop slowly and steadily and will always always always bring about a real change in our real lives, pointing towards our real God. Paul tells us to “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
So let’s circle back and answer our initial question. Godliness is the mark of any sinner who has truly, truly given themselves, their heart, their very body and soul over to God to do with what He pleases. It is the working out of stubborn sin and the working in of patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, selflessness, true love of one’s neighbour, and most of all true love of God. If we have been claiming to have followed Jesus for some time now, it isn’t unreasonable for me or anyone else to ask, “is godliness evident in your life?”
There is no close second or alternative to godliness but plenty of counterfeits. We as Christians are obliged to become trained in the words of the faith so that we may be able to discern between that which is from God and that which is mere imitation, the teachings of demons, or silly and irreverent myths. Here in North America especially we have unending resources in this area, Bibles and studies and groups to fit any schedule and all learning styles. For those who say they want to know Christ but don’t put any effort into training, there are no excuses.
This isn’t some ethereal, philosophical, out-of-reach theological topic. Godliness is the very mark of salvation. We are meant to pursue it with everything we have, and that means pursuing God Himself. What could be more valuable than Him? Nothing in the entire world, seen or unseen. It is of the utmost value, and upon Him each one of us can confidently stake our very souls. Paul says it best – “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
Brothers and sisters, we are either in or out. We either get serious about Christ or walk away, for lukewarm faith is worst of all. He is either worth everything to you or nothing at all. C.S. Lewis says it well:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Thank you, Lord God, for your saving grace and patient instruction. Please keep us from lukewarm faith – set a fire in our hearts to know you with everything we have! Teach us to search diligently for you no matter our circumstance, that we might live godly lives that bring light and hope to others. Amen!
Song: Knowing You - Shane & Shane
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.