Summary: God makes godly men to lead us to love Jesus.
The Bible chapter God has for us today, may seem, at first, related only to a few: “What help for me comes from the qualifications for overseer or deacon?” Before we hear the passage, therefore, please consider two thoughts.
First, the aim and dynamic (what godliness looks like and how to get there) for godliness as a leader in the church is the same as for all Christian maturity. In officer training we are using this wonderful book by Oswald Chambers, Spiritual Leadership. The subtitle is: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer. He is correct—the principles apply whether you aspire to be a deacon or an excellent math teacher. This passage teaches all who desire to live a godly life.
Second, please be aware that “living is leading.” We do not elect everyone to church office, but leadership is inescapable. When Johnny offers quick and cheerful obedience at home, he leads his younger siblings. When Betsy readily respects and honors her music teacher, she leads fellow students to the joy of conforming their lives to the fifth commandment. When John stands at work against copying software, he leads fellow employees to value character over the expediencies of a quick profit. This chapter teaches all who desire godliness. [Read 1Timothy 3.1-16. Pray.]
Two cookies remain. One is soft, fluffy, bulging with chocolate chips. The other is a bit flat, slightly overcooked, a little too hard, and (we might say), “chocolate chip challenged.”
Each of your three children greedily eyes the treasures, plotting how they will score the better one. The eldest already gobbled two near-perfect specimens and is enjoying his third. The youngest is close behind. She is eating her second, but they were both good ones, and she wants the fluffy, chip-filled third so as to equal her big brother. The middle child has eaten only one; and because she chose poorly when the plate passed earlier, hers was not prime. She begins to whine, an advance warning of her intention to get the better one.
Suddenly your oldest stuffs in his third cookie and reaches for the fluffy, favored, fourth. You stop him: “You have already had three cookies; you must give that one to your sister.” He responds: “Do I have to? She had more cookies the other day.”
We then say (and forgive me for getting personal, but this is where we sometimes fail as parents), we say, “Yes you must; drop it now!” Or we say, “Don’t be so greedy and selfish!” Or “How would you like it if you had eaten only one cookie and your sister took the better one for her fourth?” We have answers; but sometimes we appeal to the flesh for the reason and the motivation.
Must the eldest give up the better cookie? Yes, but what kind of “must”? The battle for faith and godliness is fought more often around the kitchen table than in the Roman Coliseum. Certainly there are times when God calls his people to give up life and liberty for faithfulness to Jesus. One of the most profoundly deep and rich verses in the Bible is Galatians 2.20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Standing against the world, the flesh, and the devil may require that we prove there is something more precious than this life—by dying rather than denying the faith. But far more common is the call to deny self and serve others for faithfulness to Jesus. After all, when Paul wrote Galatians 2.20, he was not awaiting execution. He was, though, dying to self and living to Christ.
Must the eldest give up the cookie? Yes, but with what kind of “must”? The kind in Galatians; the same as in 1Timothy 3.16. A “must” which gets at “the mystery of godliness”; a “must” which drives us (and our children) to Jesus.
Careful thinking is necessary, lest we forget that grabbing the fourth cookie reveals a greedy heart needing a Savior’s redemption. Unless we guard our mouths, we may inadvertently communicate: “If you drop the cookie, all is well.” We may offer “life” by obedience to the law of dropping a cookie, but the law cannot give life! Certainly dropping the cookie is the correct and necessary outward behavior, but the “mystery of godliness” is not conformity to the law, but Christ living in me.
I begin with a greedy child so that, hopefully, we will see that this applies to each of us, not just church officers. The “mystery of godliness” applies when you must speak graciously of the co-worker who gossips behind your back. The “mystery of godliness” applies when you must wait for a Christian man though you want to be married right now. The “mystery of godliness” applies when you must love your wife when she is not particularly submissive. The “mystery of godliness” applies when you must be scrupulously honest at work though you may not survive without cutting a few corners. And the “mystery of godliness” applies when you seek maturity in your life and you look for it in your leaders.