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.