1 Timothy 3. 15-16; Titus 2. 11-12; 2 Peter 3. 10-11.
In dealing with this subject, we have to satisfy ourselves that we understand what is meant by ‘godliness’. Some have thought in terms of that passive state of being ‘godlike’ or ‘saintly’. But that would hardly satisfy the enquiring mind that would ask, ‘How do I attain to that state?’ We would be nearer the truth if we said that godliness is about maintaining that balance in the life that shows, not only the passive assurance of salvation but, as a result of that assurance, leads on to the active side, giving God due reverence in every part of the life.
When the Old Testament was translated into Greek (Septuagint) the word ‘godliness’ was used to translate those powerful Old Testament words, ‘the fear of the Lord’, Prov. 1. 7 (see G. ABBOT SMITH - Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament on Greek eusebeia, and HARRIS, ARCHER and WALTKE - Theological Workbook of the Old Testament on Hebrew yira). We should make it clear that the fear mentioned has nothing to do with being afraid of God. By contrast, it has everything to do with exhibiting in the life that principle already mentioned, of ‘giving God His rightful place in heart and mind’.
So, although the New Testament is not the sole province of the word ‘godliness’ it does indeed have a special place there. We do not find the expression mentioned outside what we call the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) plus 2nd Peter. The exception is a brief mention in Acts 3. 12, and even there it is Peter who is talking.
Teaching in the Pastoral Epistles
If the expression is found only in this area of scripture, it is essential to get closer to the heart of these letters. Although they cover a range of topics, they all place great emphasis on the subject of the personal life of the believer. Just three examples are quoted here where we find:
1 Timothy 3. 15 - ‘But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’.
This is not an instruction to Timothy alone, but as the NIV puts it ‘how people (all of us) should behave towards one another as part of the household of God’, see A. T. ROBERTSON - Word Pictures in the New Testament on ‘the household of God’. The verse has in view our association with Christ which then takes that further step in verse 16, leading on to the full expression of ‘godliness’ found in Christ. So, in this verse we have instructions on Christian behaviour, i.e., practical godliness as exercised within the household of God.
Titus 2. 12 – Paul is dealing here with the fact that the grace of God has appeared to all men, Christ in His mission for the salvation of mankind. But the purpose of that mission has an ongoing aspect for the believer, taking us beyond the immediate thought of the assurance of salvation and ‘teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age’. The question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘Where should men and women be able to look for guidance regarding God’s ways in this world?’ If we replied, ‘In the word of God’, we would be quite correct. Hoever, initially the answer must be, and it is challenge for us all, ‘in the lives of Christians’, the likes of you and me - ‘known and read by all men’, 2 Cor. 3. 2.
2 Peter 3. 11 – Having set out the teaching about the day of the Lord in verse 10, ‘But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night: in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise’, verse 11 continues, ‘Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?’
From these verses we can see that it isn’t the ‘saintly halo’ or as someone recently put it ‘that freeze-dried Sunday Christianity’ that is in view here to describe ‘godliness’. Rather, it is that practical daily outworking of the life that brings pleasure to God and at the same time points men and women to Christ in a godless world, i.e., a world that has decided to live without reference to a holy God.
The Focal Point for Peter
There are three periods of life that are of interest to Peter and in fact to everyone – past, present and future and so he writes of:
1. A Good Start in the Past, 2 Pet. 1. 3
‘His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness’. Salvation has brought us more than the assurance of a place in heaven – peace of conscience, knowing that our sins have been forgiven. What Peter is emphasizing is that God has given us everything to enable us to live a life pleasing to God – now! This is underlined in the very next verse where he says that we might be ‘partakers of the divine nature’. Pagan teachers may have taught that divine nature was a goal that could be striven for but Peter insists that, for the believer, participation in that nature is not the goal but the starting point of the Christian life.
And God never has in mind failure on our part as we seek to live out the life, but through Peter, who knew what failure and recovery was all about, He encourages us to take a look at the support and strength that we have in Christ. It is Christ alone who gives us the ability to live for God in this age which aggressively pursues its own aims. When discouragements come into our experience, it is quite possible to forget and underestimate what farreaching changes God has already made and is still making in our lives, ‘and such were some of you, but’, 1 Cor. 6. 11.
2. An Experience in the Present, 2 Pet. 1. 5-8
This group of verses has been called ‘the ladder of faith’. Each rung climbed should enable the believer to grasp hold of and claim another characteristic of the faith, (a good development of this is in MICHAEL GREEN’s 2nd Peter and Jude - Tyndale Series). At the centre, in verse 7, is ‘godliness’, this essential part of growing up into Christ as our lives give expression to that great desire and ambition to please God in every way. Verse 8 in the NIV says, ‘For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive’. What Peter is encouraging is growth and maturity in Christ.
3. An Eye to the Future, 2 Pet. 3. 10, 11
‘But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night … both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up’. Peter is describing final events relating to this world and in view of that, he reminds us how we should be living, knowing the judgement that is ahead for those around us who stubbornly resist the grace of God who has lengthened out the day of salvation for them.
In 1 Peter 1. 1, Peter draws a comparison for the believers who are described as ‘strangers’, aliens, with no home country, passing through this world seemingly with no hope down here. The comparison is of course with the ‘living hope’ and all that was theirs through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Despite the problems that we in the Western world have seen in recent days, people still look forward to the same things from life as they always have done. The benefits of a good education, a job with a future, a stable relationship within marriage and a family, are still high on people’s agendas.
But whilst the Christian may also look forward to these things, what Peter is stressing is that we need to take care that we are not simply taken up with the affairs of this passing scene. There is the greater challenge of ensuring that our lives display a confidence in another sort of life, having a different ambition with our eyes focused on a better place where God is all in all. With all this in mind, Peter’s question comes afresh today, ‘What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?’
To be continued.