Summary: Sermon for Commissioning of Missionary couple. Holiness as a lifelong pursuit.
"Train yourself in godliness, 8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." It might seem a strange thing to those of you who know Hugh and Dorothy well, to preach on the pursuit of godliness at their commissioning. I guess if you made a list of the godly people you know, they’d come high on the list. But I want to suggest today, that Paul uses the expression, "Train yourself in godliness" for good reason. You see, godliness is the sort of characteristic that we have to work at all the time. You don’t just reach a certain stage of godliness where you can then sit back and coast along. It isn’t like learning to ride a bike. No, training in godliness is a lifelong task for the Christian.
I’m reminded of those sports shows where you see sports men and women who have just retired from professional sport. Some of the guys on the Footy Show, or commentators at the Cricket. And so often what you find is that the footballer or cricketer who used to be sleek and fit, has suddenly developed a paunch or is looking a bit chubby in the cheeks. What’s happened you see, is that they’ve stopped training. You see it in those nostalgia games that the TV channels set up every now and then with stars of the past dusting off their creams or their footy boots and trundling around the field trying not to make a fool of themselves. What those games show, apart from how age catches up with all of us, is that if we stop training we quickly lose our fitness and skill levels.
So Paul is warning Timothy to keep up his training in godliness for the same reason. Because if we get out of training our fitness level, or in this case, our godliness, will fall off.
What is Godliness
But before we think about how we can train ourselves in godliness, let’s first think about what godliness is.
At its simplest, godliness is taking on God’s character. It’s imitating God. This has been the essence of godly living from the earliest times. The Old Testament law was premised on this injunction: "Be holy for I am holy." In the New Testament it’s the same. Eph 4:24 tells us to clothe ourselves "with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Similarly, in Col 3:12 we read: "As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience."
The result of us believing in Christ is that Christ’s Spirit comes and fills us, enabling us to bear fruit according to his nature. And what is that fruit? "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23 NRSV)
These are the sorts of characteristics that Paul’s talking about when he talks about training ourselves in godliness. Love, joy peace, patience, compassion, humility, meekness, righteousness, holiness. And later on in this letter to Timothy he links godliness with contentment. In 6:6 he says godliness with contentment is great gain. Why? Because contentment indicates that the focus of our hope is on the living God, the Saviour of all people and that we’re willing to trust him to look after us whatever our circumstances.
So if that’s what we’re aiming for, how are we going to achieve it, according to 1 Tim 4?
The first thing to notice is the personal responsibility involved in pursuing godliness. He says "Train yourself." Have you seen those electronic machines you can buy for toning up your muscles? You connect probes to your muscles and the machine sends electric pulses into your skin to make your muscles contract, so you develop muscle tone without expending any actual effort. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the spiritual equivalent of one of those. Something that would automatically make us more godly. But that isn’t how it works is it? We actually have to practice being godly. The psalmist says "Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night." If we spend time reading and meditating on God’s word, we’ll understand what God is like, so we can imitate him. And having understood what he’s like, and how he wants us to be, we can work on those characteristics that fit with godliness. What’s more we need to be aware of the things in us that militate against godliness and work to get rid of them. Paul puts this in that passage I just mentioned from Colossians 3 in terms of changing the way we dress ourselves. He says "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. ... 12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." (Col 3:9-12 NRSV) Putting on the nature of God doesn’t just happen. It’s something we do consciously, like taking off our dirty clothes and putting on clean ones each day. It requires personal responsibility.