Train Yourself For Godliness
Topic: Gospel Living Passage: 1 Timothy 4:6–4:10
Godliness is a major theme in the book of 1 Timothy. In fact, of the 15 times godliness is mentioned in the New Testament, 8 of those mentions are here in this little six chapter book. We saw back in chapter two that we are to pray for those in positions of authority, “so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). And toward the end of the book in chapter six, Paul commands Timothy to pursue godliness:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11)
Godliness is of utmost importance.
Well, what is godliness? If this is such an important subject in the book of First Timothy, and throughout the NT, it would be good for us to have a working definition of what it is. Godliness is not legalistic. A godly person is not someone who is always worried that someone, somewhere is having a good time, enjoying life. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, I would say true godliness will lead to the truest and fullest enjoyment of life in Christ. So what is godliness? The word godliness means reverence, awe, piety toward God. It is the inner reality of the heart, the inner attitude, the inner disposition toward God. Awe and reverence toward God. Hebrews 12:28 says that our worship is to be done with reverence and awe:
Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Paul says that Christians are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12). Working out salvation, growing in Christ-likeness is not to be approached half-heartedly or flippantly, but with fear and trembling. Steve Lawson says, “Pursuing godliness means that the soul is dominated by a supreme devotion to God.” To live a godly life is to live a “God-ward” life. Living our lives before God, in the presence of God, before the face God, with reverence for God, for the glory of God.
It’s important to emphasize that godliness is an inner reality. Again, quoting Steve Lawson, “A person is godly on the inside when he takes God very seriously.” What we do is important, but what we ARE internally is fundamental and fundamentally more important than what we do. So this awe, reverence, taking God seriously, total devotion to him - godliness - is an inward reality… which most certainly affects what we do, how we live. So it’s not hard to see what ungodliness is. Ungodliness is irreverence, a lack of awe and fear; a lack of inward devotion to God, and not taking God seriously. A theologian named David Wells wrote the following in the mid nineties, and I think it is still very relevant today:
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.
We are called to pursue godliness, to take God seriously, to have our souls branded with reverence and awe toward him. It’s important to say here that we are saved through faith alone. Godliness is the evidence of salvation, not a way of earning.
BIG IDEA: To grow in godliness, we need to eat nourishing spiritual food and engage in vigorous spiritual exercise.
In our text, we are instructed to run after godliness by doing two things: 1) eating nourishing spiritual food and 2) engaging in vigorous spiritual exercise.
Brothers and sisters, the battle is raging. So, we’ve got to get in spiritual shape. Now, I am not sure if you noticed this, but there are two key ingredients that you need to get in good shape. You have to exercise… duh! But there is another one. You have to check your diet. What you are eating. What you are putting in your body. Well, to pursue godliness it is the same thing. You have to exercise yourself for godliness AND you have to watch your spiritual diet. Ignoring one will sabotage your pursuit of godliness.
So first, pursuing godliness means...
Eat Nourishing Spiritual Food
What you feed on spiritually will lead to godliness or ungodliness. It will help promote a reverence for God or an irreverence. It will lead to a greater seriousness about God or a carelessness about God.
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. (v. 6-7a)
We are presented with two kinds of teachings and they are contrasted to show the effect they will have on our lives. Let’s first look at the command given here. It is in the negative and it is strong. It’s about the kind of spiritual food we feast on. Just like the athlete, if his diet is Doritos and cupcakes, he’s going to be out of shape, malnourished, and unable to compete effectively. The Christian who feeds on junk - garbage input - is not going to excel in godliness. Here’s what Paul says: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.” This means refuse, decline, shun, avoid. We are to avoid irreverent and silly myths like the plague.
Irreverent is literally the exact opposite of godliness. And irreverent and silly myths are the kinds of teachings, stories, and messages that bring God down, belittle him, and thus lead to ungodliness. And there is so much of it out there! What are we to do with it? Avoid like the plague! I recently came across a book called “the circle maker”, which takes a real historical figure from the first century BC, named Honi and an apparent method he had for prayer. But his teachings are not in scripture and in fact upon closer examination, his teaching and the story from which the teaching comes from are found in a text called the Book of Legends. It’s a myth - a book of myths. It’s a kind of old wives tale.
And we are seeing more and more that people are drawn to these spurious stories, practices, and techniques that are not found in scripture and can most accurately be described as irreverent and silly. Paul prophesied of a time when “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will turn away from listening to the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). These stories and teachings may sound interesting, but it leads to speculation rather than solid truth. Therefore have nothing to do with them. Give them no place in your heart. We are to “avoid irreverent babble, because it leads people into more and more ungodliness.” Avoid it.
Well, these irreverent and silly myths are contrasted with another kind of spiritual food, one that leads to godliness. Verse 6 says,
Trained in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine that you have followed.
This is what we must feast on. The words of the “the faith”. The faith is describing the body of truth that we have been given in the scriptures. The good doctrine that you have followed is clearly describing the healthy, nourishing, apostolic teaching that Timothy received from Paul. In 1 Timothy 6:3, Paul says the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness.” This is what we must eat. The words that accord with godliness.
The ESV says, “trained”, but the way the NASB says it is better: “nourished”. That’s what the words of the faith and good doctrine do. They nourish us. They nourish us in godliness. But we need to grow in our knowledge of the truth, good doctrine, the words of the faith! We cannot be content with just avoiding certain things. If we want the good nourishment that comes from the truth, we must be people who are growing in our knowledge of the truth. There is a certain kind of knowledge that puffs up, but a true knowledge of the truth leads to reverence and awe toward God. Listen to Peter in 2 Peter 1:3:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who has called us to his own glory and excellence.
How does God give us all things that pertain to life and godliness? Through the knowledge of him. And that’s why the scriptures are so nourishing. They reveal God to us; they reveal salvation and God’s will. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Without God’s word to show us who he is and what he has done and how we are to live in order to please him, it is like trying to navigate your way through a maze when you can’t see an inch in front of your face. And so, what is the spiritual food we must feed on? The precious word of God. Let’s pray for ourselves and each other that we would have the experience of Jeremiah when he said,
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.
He loved God’s word, it was the delight of his deepest soul, it brought the richest and deepest nourishment. This is the spiritual food we need too in order to grow in godliness. To pursue godliness, we also need to engage in vigorous spiritual exercise.
Engage in Vigorous Spiritual Exercise
Train yourself for godliness. (v. 7b)
NASB says, “Discipline yourself”. The word train or discipline comes from the Greek word “gumnazo” from which we get our word gymnasium. It is an athletic term that describes what an athlete does when he is training for the games or a wrestling match. Enter into the training gym or arena and strip down to nakedness in order to be able to exercise unimpeded. He would remove everything that would restrict his exercise and movement so that he could expend himself fully and build up his body. Brothers and sisters, this is a call for serious and diligent spiritual training. A 19th Century Scottish pastor named Robert Murray M’Cheyene said the following:
How diligently the Calgary officer keeps his saber clean and sharp. Every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember, you are God’s sword, his instrument. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument will be its success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Christ.
So what does this spiritual exercise for godliness look like? Of course, this is a subject we could unpack for weeks, but let me just mention a few things. So train yourself for godliness…
** We need to lay aside the things that hinder us from running after Christ well. After the great hall of faith chapter, Hebrews 11, we hear this exhortation:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…
You see what this is saying? Lay aside every weight and sin. Apparently these are two different things. Lay aside sin. Compromise need to go. Practices, habits that you have put up with (clings closely), lay them aside. And weights. What are weights? Apparently something different than sin. I think weights here are talking about anything that keeps you from running after Jesus or pursuing godliness. Even things that Christians may be free to do, but keep you from running well. Train yourself for godliness - lay them aside.
** Confessing sin. We need to do the heavy lifting of confessing sin. Not just once a month when you think you’ve really blown it, but daily heart checks, because you are serious about godliness. 1 John 1:8-9:
If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Train yourself for godliness by confessing sin.
** Prayer. We need to work up a sweat, so to speak in prayer. JC Ryle has a little book (really a tract) on prayer, and in the opening pages he asks the question again and again, “do you pray?” What a probing question. Do you? We often think of prayer as a way of asking and receiving from God, and of course it is! But prayer is also a powerful, sanctifying, reverence-producing activity. Jesus prays for our godliness (John 17:17) and he teaches us to pray for the same. In what has commonly been called The Lord’s Prayer. W is the first petition?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...
Hallowed be your name. This is a prayer for God’s name to be sanctified, holy. Of course God’s name is holy and so the prayer is that it would be sanctified in me, in my heart. That God’s name would be precious and treasured. Train yourself for godliness through prayer.
** Faith and obedience. We need to refuse passivity and exercise faith through acts of obedience, works of faith, labor of love. Jesus redeemed a people for himself who are “zealous for good works”, and so we need to look for opportunities, fighting the urge to be lazy and self-centered and “serve one another in love.” Train yourself for godliness through faith and obedience. Paul presses upon us the great value of godliness. Verse 8 says,
For (reason) while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
You see the comparison between bodily training and godliness. Bodily training, Paul says, is good. It is of some value. And it really is. Seeing our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit and taking care of them as best we can and seeking to train our bodies is of some value.
But godliness is better, and not just a little. Paul says godliness is valuable in every way. Every way. There is no disadvantage to godliness at all! It holds out promises to us in this life and in the life to come. Godliness in this life is a life lived consciously under the smile of God; and it leads to eternal life. The path of godliness is the path to the Celestial City. If you are not on the path of godliness, you should not expect to end up in the eternal city where God is all in all. I am not talking about sinless perfection! That will be our experience when we get there. But godliness, a life of growing in Christ-likeness.
And just in case we aren’t so sure the payoff for godliness is worth it, that godliness is truly that valuable, Paul assures us it is in verse 9:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance...
Paul doesn’t pull this phrase out very often, but when he does it is to add some apostolic weight behind what he has said or is about to say. It’s similar to Jesus prefacing what he is about to say with, “Truly, truly…” In other words: “Listen up! Godliness is far superior to bodily training. Bodily training is good. Godliness is infinitely better.
We are let in on the secret to Paul’s stamina in training for godliness in verse 10 when he says,
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have set our hope on the living God…
Paul is saying, we strive and toil for godliness because of our hope. Because of hope in the God who lives and saves. The hope of eternal life, the resurrection of the body, the joy that is set before us - fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore in God’s presence. Strive for godliness in hope!
We are not called to hunker down in our spiritual bomb shelters until we die or Jesus returns. No! Let’s strive for godliness, let’s pursue Christ-likeness, and let’s do it keeping our eyes on the eternal prize. When your future glory (hope in the living God) outweighs your present comfort (what Francis Schaeffer called the idol of personal peace and affluence), it will motivate you to stay on the path of godliness. The path that leads to the eternal reward of hearing the Master say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”