8. Aspiring to Godliness

Aspiring Meditations: 8.  Aspiring to Godliness

1 Tim 4:8  physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

2 Pet 1:5,6   make every effort to add …… to perseverance, godliness;

Titus 1:1  the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness

Some of these characteristics I find naturally come to mind and seem easy to work on. Patience, which we’ll come to later in the series, is one, but godliness has never naturally felt easy to me, and yet I think it probably is easy, for the word must surely mean God-like-ness. If we are ‘godly’, we are ‘like God’.

Now that might be a real challenge to some to say that we can be like God but that is exactly the teaching of the New Testament, at least that we can be like the Son of God. How can it be? Because we are indwelt by his own Spirit: we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

So what does the Bible have to say about godliness and why should I aspire more to it? Well, not much. The word only comes up 12 times in the New Testament and 7 of them are in the letters to Timothy. Let’s start with our first verse from above: “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:8) In a day when so many are concerned with appearance and fitness, worrying about diets, spending time in the Gym and so on, this is an appropriate word for those of us who are Christians. OK, says Paul, all this concern for appearance and physical well-being is all well and good, but actually godliness has a greater value for all aspects of life.

Now I think the paraphrase versions fall down here, those that speak of ‘spiritual fitness’ contrasting with bodily fitness, because that puts on emphasis on me, but the emphasis is on the character of Jesus in me; it is more about him and his ability to live out his life in and through me, that is what godliness is about.

Now look again at the phraseology of that 1 Tim 4 verse, “holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” If we watch a child practising athletics, say, someone might say, “there’s great promise in that young person,” meaning what we see now suggests even better in the days to come. Thus we might suggest a better paraphrase of that verse could be, “having a godly nature, becoming more and more like Jesus, will affect everything you do today, but not only that, it will be the guarantee for the days to come here on earth and our experience in eternity afterwards.”

Now if that is a reasonable conclusion, and I believe it is, then that is dynamic! Becoming like God, becoming like Jesus, will not only bless us and bless others as the world is blessed because of us, the Father will also be blessed as He sees His Son reproduced in us. This is what the plan formulated from before Creation was all about, bringing us back to Him into a unity that is Him in us. That is what is so incredible about it all. Consider Jesus ‘high-priestly prayer’ in John 17: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” (Jn 17:20-23) There is that same unity being referred to.

Now when we look at the word ‘godly’ we see two things. First, Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him,” (Acts 8:2) speaks of the characteristic of these men. But then, Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation,” (2 Cor 8:10) speaks of the origin or cause that brings about something. Both are descriptions, one of character, the other of heavenly activity. Yet, the more you think about that, both are things that have their origins in heaven, for godly character starts there as well.

So how do I become more ‘godly’? Well, I think it is important to say from the outset that every Christian is automatically godly from the moment they are born again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Godliness is a Christian attribute from the start. But then there is appearance or working out or developing of this God-like-ness. So what does that look like? Well think about everything the Lord says about Himself. If we are to become more like Him then it will be expressing more of what He says about Himself. For example, to Moses He said, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) There are six thing to start with. If we are ‘godly, we will be compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful and forgiving. How does your life and mine check out against that list? Are there things there we need to work on?

But how does ‘godliness’ grow in us? There is the ‘discipline’ school of thought that says we need to make a lot of effort by building in spiritual disciplines and for some this is a way that appears to bring fruit, but the real clue comes in a verse we considered earlier:  we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

Paul was using the parallel of Moses meeting with God and when Moses came out of God’s presence his face was shining with some of God’s glory. Instead of sunburn, we might say, Moses face shone with the glory of God he had encountered in the Tent of Meeting. So with us, Paul now says. As we spend time in God’s presence, we too will reflect His glory and that will be seen in the sort of person we are becoming – Christ-like. In the same way we have said at least twice that when we walk in the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit will be seen in us, so as we spend time in God’s presence His glory, His character, His nature, will be ‘reflected’ in us, shown in us – we will be seen to be godly.

Why should I want to be more godly, why should I spend time in His presence? Simply because that is what He wants. He wants to share more and more of Himself with us and He wants us to become more like Him because that will be a blessing for us, it is good. To know His presence, His peace, His joy and so much more, all of this is part of the inheritance we receive, or can receive, when we first come to Him, and it is something to be appropriated more and more throughout life until we see Him face to face.

To finish, the apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”   (1 Jn 3:2,3) Enough said.

4.3 The Wonder of Godliness

Short Meditations in Psalms: 4.3  The Wonder of Godliness

Psa 4:3  Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him.

This is one of those verses you go to pass by without much thought but then suddenly you realise it is saying things that are much bigger than you first thought. In the previous verse David spoke about those who worshipped idols, people who live a lie and are deceived. Now, by contrast, he speaks of the godly. Who or what are the godly?

A godly person is simply someone who has entered into a living relationship with the Lord and who now exhibits something of the characteristics of the personality and being of God. The apostle Paul described it in this way: “we… all reflect the Lord’s glory, ….being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor 3:18) A godly person relates to the Lord and reflects the Lord.

But David says, “the LORD has set apart the godly for himself.”  i.e. we are a work of God. Again the apostle Paul speaks of this: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (Eph 1:4,5) There is in His foreknowing us, a strong sense of sovereign calling. He knew back then who would respond to Him when, in our present day, He called us and we responded and became His children.

But note also those words from David, “for himself”. There is behind those words the sense that the Lord called us to Himself for His own pleasure (as well as ours). The Lord delights in us, His children, and takes pleasure in us – and yes I too struggle to accept the truth of this so often, but it is true!

Now it is because of all this that when we pray, when we call upon the Lord, He will hear us. Obviously because He is God He sees and hears everything, but here there is a special sense of Him hearing us; it is like He focuses on us when we cry to Him in the way that a mother or father focuses immediately when they hear their child cry out when they hurt themselves playing in the garden. So the Lord’s attention is caught by us when we cry out to Him because He is a loving Father who is attentive to His children.

Do you see how all this distinguishes us and makes us stand out in contrast to the ungodly who focus on idols that have no life, that are simply wooden models, the ungodly who have no relationship with the Lord? Imagine you have a child who is say six years old. You are at a fair and there is an explosion and people who running in all directions and crying out. In the midst of the shouts, there will be one that stands out – your child. That is how it is with the Lord, child of God!

37. Fight the Good Fight

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 37:  Fight the Good Fight

1 Tim 6:11,12   But you, man of God…..  pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In the previous meditation we saw verse 11 in the light of what went before, but actually it also goes with what follows. In the face of the false teaching, confused ideologies and mixed up ‘believers’,  Paul reminds Timothy that he is a man of God who is called to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (v.11) These six characteristics are part of the inheritance that every believer can come to experience, they are the hall marks or brands of the believer and where they are absent you see a believer who has a long way to go to maturity.  But the truth is that there is a battle and the enemy would seek to stop these characteristics coming about in us.

Thus as we move on we find Paul making this very simple exhortation: “Fight the good fight of the faith.” (v.12a) For those who mistakenly think that the Christian life is just sitting back and receiving all the good things that God has to give, this comes as a cultural shock. Fight? Fighting suggests effort, effort to resist and effort to overcome. This has the same sort of feel to it that we find in Ephesians 6 where Paul wrote, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) Other versions use the word ‘wrestle’ instead of struggle but the same sense is conveyed, there is a battle to be fought, a struggle to overcome. Every time you are confronted with a temptation, there is a struggle to be overcome, every time you are confronted with a doubt or a challenge there is a struggle to be overcome.

But this is a fight “of the faith”, it is what comes with the package, it is part of the life to which we have been called, ‘the faith’, and we should NOT think badly about it for it is “the good fight” or as some have put it, “the noble fight”. It is a fight that is worthwhile for in fighting we are made stronger and through fighting we come through to a better place. In Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev 2 & 3) there are seven calls to overcome. When we ‘overcome’ we get the better of the enemy, of sin and of temptation, we prevail against them, and we come through stronger. It’s a good fight!

So, he continues, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”  Eternal life isn’t just for after we die; it begins the moment we come to Christ. From that moment on, we are living in the eternal dimension by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. When God called us, it was to enter into and enjoy the fruits of this life which, as we just said, started the moment we were saved and continue on through this life and into eternity. The call to Take hold of the eternal life” suggests this is an action our part, an act of will. The Christian life is not passive, it involves resisting the enemy and it involves actively taking hold of the things God promises in His word.

This eternal life, says Paul, came when “you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” That probably refers to the confession of belief that Timothy made when he first came to Christ  and which almost certainly would have been repeated before the congregation at his baptism.

Paul exhorts him strongly to persevere with his faith: “In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame.” (v.13,14) He makes this charge in all seriousness before God and reminds Timothy how Jesus had testified before the Roman authorities. In the same way Jesus had been fearless, so (by implication) Timothy is to be fearless is testifying. The good confession that Jesus made was probably, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (Jn 18:37)

The command that Paul refers to is probably that of verses 11 and 12, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” i.e. go all out for that to which you have been called! When he says, “without spot or blame” he is saying, don’t let there be any points where you hold back and there could be accusations of half-heartedness against you.

Do this, he continues, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time.” (v.14,15)  i.e. keep on doing it until Jesus comes, whenever God decrees that will be. It doesn’t matter how soon or how long, just make sure you are going all out for these things until he comes.

So we have seen the call – to go all out to fulfil his calling – the importance of it – with a charge before God – and the duration of it – until Jesus comes. That’s it! Go for it!

21. The Mystery of Godliness

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 21:  The Mystery of Godliness

1 Tim 3:16   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.

We have noted before Paul’s use of the words, ‘a trustworthy saying’ (1 Tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, 2 Tim 2:11 and Titus 3:8) indicating a practice in the early church of having mini-creedal sayings that conveyed the basics of the Gospel for believers to learn. Much of this verse is laid out in poetic style and the content also suggests that, although he doesn’t say it, here we have another of those ‘sayings’.

But leading into this ‘saying’ is an interesting statement. Sometimes comparing different versions is both helpful and interesting. The old RSV has, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion”. JBP version has, “No one would deny that this religion of ours is a tremendous mystery.” Both of those bring out well the meaning behind our version’s “Beyond all question”, the AV’s out of date, “And without controversy” and the more recent Message version’s somewhat mundane, “This Christian life is a great mystery, far exceeding our understanding”. Those two first versions, I think, emphasise that the mystery that is the Gospel, is indeed a challenge to the intellect. Yes, we have to acknowledge the difficulty, implies the RSV and JBP.

Paul spoke of the Gospel, possibly into the minds of the adherents of the so-called ‘mystery religions’ of that day, as a ‘mystery’. Near the end of Romans he spoke about the Lord: Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” (Rom 16:25,26) The so-called ‘mystery religions’ held mysteries that only people on the inside could know about (rather like the Freemasons and similar groups today). Paul used mystery to refer to the fact that until recently God’s plans had been a mystery. Hints had been there in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, but now it had all come to past, prophetic writings and present actions married together to reveal that which had been previous hidden, a mystery.

But the focus of the mystery which has perplexed religious people down through the ages, is how can you be pious, how can you be genuinely religious, how can your behaviour truly reflect the reality of God or gods? That is where the RSV and JBP version fall down, for they both use that word, ‘religion’. ‘Religion’ is too general. Religion, as a dictionary puts it, can be ‘man’s expression of his acknowledgement of the divine’, but that could simply mean the rites and rituals that a man performs in his attempts to reach and appease God. The better word is ‘godliness’ which in its very simplest might be thought of a ‘being godly’ or ‘being like God’,  for that is in fact what the Christian faith entails. We are being changed into the likeness of the God-man, Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor 3:18) by the working of His own Holy Spirit within us.

Although there are a number of New Testament uses of the word ‘godliness’ none of then defines it. For example, the apostle Peter wrote, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Pet 1:3-7) Note the order there: i) God’s power equips us to live the Christian life and be godly. ii) This godliness comes as a byproduct of our experience of Him and knowing about Him which has been revealed through His glory and goodness. iii) Fulfilling the promises of His we participate in the divine nature, His very life. iv) The part we play is to work at the various characteristics that Peter points out, godliness being one of them. v) The implication is that as these things grow in us, we will express our godliness more fully.

Godliness is more than the word ‘pious’, that is so often used to describe this. It is all about how we express the divine nature, the divine being that dwells within us, that enables us to have the most intimate relationship possible with God. This is the mystery of the ages: how is it possible to relate to God?   How can we live lives free from fear of Almighty and Holy God? Until the coming of Jesus Christ, this was THE great mystery of existence. Mankind senses the presence of a God, but how to relate to Him? This is what the Gospel addresses and this is what the ‘saying’ that follows is all about, which we shall examine in the next meditation. In the meantime, marvel at the wonder of what you have experienced: the mystery of the ages has been made clear to you and as a result, you live in harmony with the living God. Rejoice in that and worship Him.