Having considered in the first part of this article the apostle Peter’s perspective on godliness, we now turn to that of the apostle Paul.
The Focal Point for Paul
Godliness perfectly displayed in Christ, 1 Tim. 3. 16
Where do we look for the exemplar of this principle of the life totally given over to pleasing God? There are plenty of examples of men and women in the scriptures and most believers could cite people known to them who would stand out from the crowd. However, without wishing to belittle the lives of dedicated people, past or present, we would have to all agree that every one of them would fall short of God’s ideal. If we want to grasp the meaning of ‘godliness’ in its fullness, we need to look at this most important statement in the Bible, where the apostle speaks of ’the mystery of godliness’.
The word mystery in the New Testament has nothing to do with mysterious in the sense of ‘knowledge withheld’. Mystery here underlines the fact of ‘truth now revealed’. What Paul is saying is, ‘If you want to learn what godliness is all about – take a look at Christ. Follow Him from birth, through baptism to His ministry and dealings with His disciples. Take note of Him in His sufferings, through the cross and resurrection and His ascension into glory’.
There is no other person who has displayed so perfectly all the characteristics of godliness as the Lord Jesus Christ. He is unique in every way. At His entry into public ministry the voice of God is heard from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’, Matt. 3. 17.
Look at Him in His humanity – how He displays care and the loving touch to us, the unlovely and untouchable, and shares in our sorrows with tears. Here is godliness in action and in all its perfection. Those attributes appeal greatly to the gentle and caring side of His life, but we need also to take a look at His strength as He deals with powerful political and religious figures of His day, whilst still retaining that godly composure at all times. Note His words to Pilate in John 19 verses 11 to 12 , ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above’.
And the result? ‘From then on Pilate sought to release Him’. And to the religious authorities whose officers failed to arrest Him, those men say, ‘No man ever spoke like this Man’, John 7. 46.
The Son of God never traded insults with those that hated Him and attempted to belittle Him. Take careful note of Him – we shall never match Him – but we are encouraged to follow Him!
But then Paul wanted to see:
Godliness displayed in our lives, 1 Tim. 3. 15
If verse 16 shows that God revealed Himself through His Son in humanity, the previous verse reminds us how He reveals Himself now through His people. Although the verse may centre our attention on ‘the household of God’ the same principle should govern every part of our lives. So let us simply look at three examples.
a) Assembly life, 1 Cor. 14. 25
This chapter has to do with divine order and the excercise of gifts in local church meetings. We need to look closely at our individual situations – how would the conduct of our assembly meetings come across to a non-Christian who might be present to see? Is there plenty of style – correct in every way outwardly – but little in substance? What do we mean by substance? Does the sense of the presence of God become so evident within our own local church meetings that a visitor who is not a believer would have to conclude –’God is truly among you’? 1 Cor. 14. 25
Again, we have to ask ourselves a question, ‘When did that last happen in our assembly?’
b) Business life, Eph. 6. 5-9
Only we as individuals know the extent to which God is honoured in our business and secular life. The words used in respect of the servant (employee) here are very much in line with ‘godliness’ in action:
verse 5, ‘sincerity of heart';
verse 6, ‘doing the will of God from the heart';
verse 7, ‘with goodwill, doing service, as to the Lord and not unto men’.
The instructions to employers (masters) run along the same lines: verse 9, ‘do the same things to them (i.e., the employees)’.
These 1st century injunctions have never changed – those same issues are part of modern commercial life. They are the kind of challenges that God sends to those who have responsibilities on both sides – as employers and as employees. The New Testament is well supplied with instructions to servants to live out life in a God- honouring way and, in the same way the challenge is there for employers, for in the final analysis we are all servants: ‘Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven’, Col. 4. 1.
c) Family life, Eph. 5. 22 – 6. 9
Teenage years can be testing times for parents and youngsters alike. Patience is required on both sides – but parents must of course exemplify the godly and patient example if children are expected to follow suit.
Then, turning to the marriage bond, we are all so familiar with Ephesians chapter 5 verse 22 onwards dealing with the responsibilities of the wife to the husband. But how many read on to verse 25 and feel the real impact of the verse as addressed to husbands? ‘Love your wives – in the same manner and degree (that is the force of the expression) that Christ loved the church’.
It is possible to hold on to historical and cultural ideas about marital responsibilities that really have no biblical support. How important it is to ensure that scriptural teaching and example, where the needs of both sides of the marriage partnership are honoured, take precedence.
Godliness may still have that passive ring about it but it is a very practical matter because every part of our lives comes into play when dealing with the issue of honouring God. As Christians we are not in competition with each other in this exercise, so let us make every effort to encourage and support one another as we all seek to give God His rightful place, not only in principle but also very much in practice.