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Summary: The responsibility of the pulpit to promote godliness in the Community of Faith is explored

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“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.” [1]

Godliness looms large in the thinking of the Apostle. The term “godliness” occurs fifteen times in the English Standard Version of the New Testament. The term appears disproportionately in these Pastoral Letters of First Timothy, Second Timothy and Titus, occurring eleven times; and the word is employed nine times here in this First Letter to Timothy. Since these missives sent to Timothy are among the last correspondence of the aged Apostle, the concept of godliness is charged with exaggerated urgency.

If you have followed the Apostle’s argument to this point, you will know that godliness cannot be restricted to a Sunday morning, eleven-to-twelve concept; godliness is dynamic, growing out of knowledge of the True and Living God. Like Isaiah when he was confronted by the glory of the Living God, the Christian falls on her face and cries out, “Here I am! Send me” [see ISAIAH 6:8]! Awe—then action!

Perhaps that accounts for the lack of emphasis on godliness in contemporary preaching. Seemingly few of us who occupy the sacred desk know what it is to have been awestruck at the knowledge of the Holy One. Consequently, too often we modern preachers are unprepared to speak either of His glory or of the need for those listening to strive for holiness. Because the pulpit is silent on this spiritual necessity, a complacent pew is unwilling to tolerate calls for godliness, believing that religion will suffice to satisfy God.

Whenever I consider such failure by the contemporary pulpit, I am reminded of the divine censure delivered against supposed prophets through the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah.

“If they had stood in my council,

then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,

and they would have turned them from their evil way,

and from the evil of their deeds.”

[JEREMIAH 23:22]

Godliness as presented by the Apostle must not be confused with piety—upturned eyes and folded hands; godliness cannot be cloistered. Godly people are those who reverently worship the True and Living God, with obedience flowing out of that worship throughout the days that follow. Godliness is equated with ongoing obedience. Only those individuals who have known the Holy One can be godly; only those who know what it is to be awestruck can be godly.

Only shortly before this Paul had written of “the Mystery of Godliness.” The mystery of godliness is rooted in Christ Jesus the Lord; Jesus was not only the epitome of godliness—because He is very God, living a sinless life among sinful people and walking in godliness at all times—He is godly. Now, as the ascended Lord of Glory, He gives godliness to His people. Jesus, the Risen Lord of Glory, strikes us with awe and then empowers His people to live in obedience to His will.

The Apostle has been scathing about those who focus on the externals of life as though they could be a means to godliness. He says that all such efforts to substitute aestheticism for godliness amounts to the “teachings of demons” [1 TIMOTHY 4:1] and he identifies those who promote such errant teaching as “insincere[] liars whose consciences are seared” [1 TIMOTHY 4:2]. Understand that while it is evil to promote that which God has created as though it is the summum bonum of life, it is equally wicked for anyone to teach that God’s good creation is to be rejected in order to be godly. To permit deviant teaching such as this to go unchallenged is tantamount to denying the finished and glorious work of Christ our Master!

Thus, Paul has focused on how Timothy is to prepare the congregation of the righteous to live and work in the midst of a fallen society. Because he provides this instruction for Timothy, we benefit as well. We also live in this fallen world and in a broken society. Technologically advanced, we moderns appear incapable of ruling our emotions. Trained from childhood that each of us is special, we are intolerant of anything than challenges our personal comfort. Focused on gratifying our own insatiable desires, we are always unsatisfied and hungering for something more. Christians are to be different, focused on honouring the Lord Christ and serving one another in a spirit of harmony and peace.

THE ELDERS’ TASK — “Put these things before the brothers.” Let’s establish a truth that is neglected far too often in contemporary church life—elders are responsible to preach and teach. When the first deacons were appointed by the congregation in Jerusalem, the Apostles established the principle of a division of labour among the churches. They prefaced the charge to the congregation by saying, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” [ACTS 6:2]. They followed this by establishing their priority when they said, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” [ACTS 6:4].

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