We noticed in our former essay that Paul condemns very severely and justly those who teach another doctrine than what Paul has taught concerning the relationship of slave and master in this present world as sanctified in Christ our Lord. He dares to say that only his teaching is that according to godliness. It is the norm of all godliness in the social relationships. Those who teach otherwise, refusing to give heed to the sound words of Christ Jesus, are puffed up and they know nothing; such are men of corrupted minds; they are bereft of the truth in Jesus. Yes, they speak of a life of godliness. They have only the form of it, however, denying its very power. They think of godliness only as a way of gain, that is, of advancement economically, socially, in this present world. They equate pure worldly advancement with godliness.
From such Timothy must depart. He must give them no ear, nor must he in any way condone them. On the contrary he must teach what true godliness is and instruct men and women to walk in godly contentment. Wherefore we read in verses 6-10: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, (and if is,) certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with manly sorrows.”
What should by all means not go unnoticed is Paul’s usage of the term “godliness,” particularly in this first epistle to Timothy. With this end in mind—that it shall not go unnoticed—we propose to give a little more attention than usual to the term in Scripture in general. Thus we shall be in a more favorable position to see why godliness is the secret of real and permanent gain, quite contrary to the false and sinful notion of those who are in a constant state, up to the present moment, of being bereft from the truth.
There probably is no more comprehensive and massive statement of what constitutes real godliness than what Paul writes in this same letter, chapter 3:16. He speaks of the mystery of godliness, that is, what God’s revealed meaning, content and purpose is in godliness. Apart from Christ’s incarnation—God’s manifestation in the flesh—there is no doctrine of godliness. Apart from this, man is without God and without hope in the world. He is God-less. He is very religious outside of Christ, as is attested by all the pagan religions. All try to find God if ever they might touch Him. But it is all ungodliness. The secret is not really known to them. For Christ is the manifestation of God, and He is justified in the conscience of every man who hears Him that He is God in the flesh, Immanuel. Angels sang of Him in Bethlehem-Ephratha, and they visited Him upon earth at various times (did they not ascend and descend upon Him? John 1:51), and they ever stoop to behold Him in His suffering and the glory to follow. I Peter 1:12. And the apostles being sent out and empowered from on high preached God as manifested among the nations of the earth, Him in the midst of the world. And the end of this man and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed infestation of the mystery of godliness is that God will be manifested in Christ in the final glorification in the church in the New Jerusalem.
Such is the objective mystery of godliness. And it is “great.” It is great because God is great. He is great in power, wisdom and grace, and His greatness is unsearchable. Now any teaching which is “according to godliness” must fit with this great work of God. Only they who draw the lines straight in doctrine, in the great historical facts of the Christian religion, can draw them straight also in matters of a Christian life.
It ought to be observed that the Christian life too is denominated “godliness.” Such a person who lives a godly life lives this in confession and walk, and in that order. Of such a person we say: He is sound in doctrine and upright in walk. Should one not be sound in doctrine, he cannot be upright in walk. Only they who confess that great mystery of godliness walk in this godliness.
It seems to us that the term “godliness” must be taken in our Scripture passage both in the objective as well as the subjective sense of the term, with emphasis on the latter. It is then tantamount to a walk in thankfulness, or as Paul phrases it in I Tim. 15 “Now the end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” This is the death-blow to all moralism and legalism; both are condemned. For we must not forget that godliness is placed by Paul in the composite of Christian virtues in verse 11, which must be pursued. These virtues are righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. From this is it evident that “godliness” is walking in a righteousness consisting in the keeping of the commandments from a pure conscience in Christ Jesus. It is a having died unto law that we may live unto God. It proceeds from true faith and is motivated by the love of God. Then we suffer all manner of evil from evil men, but we are, notwithstanding, filled with a mildness of disposition, a gentleness of spirit which is called meekness. For the meek shall inherit the earth.
Such is practical godliness.
Such is a manifestation of a living faith which confesses the great mystery of godliness as signaled above.
But there is more to be said about godliness. Godliness is a gift from Christ, who is God in the flesh. Christ has a divine power by which He gives unto His own all things that pertain unto life and godliness. We have this godliness by knowing Christ with a living and an experiential knowledge. We must know Him as the One who has called us irresistibly to His great glory and virtue. Godliness is that which is promised unto us in Christ Jesus. One who is godly is a partaker of the divine nature; he is conformed to the image of God. II Peter 1:2. The godly man has escaped from the corruption which is in the world through lust. He has the law of God inscribed in his heart; he is a partaker of the New Testament in Christ’s blood.
Godliness is associated very closely in Scripture with the virtues of patience and brotherly kindness and the great love which energizes faith. Now patience is a gift of God which is received and learned in affliction for Christ’s sake, and is the power to bear evil in the hope of the final reward with Christ which He has promised to those who love Him. And the godly man is sweetly reasonable. He does not avenge himself but is mindful of the Word of God: the Lord will judge His people!
Suppose now that a Christian is in the position of a slave to an unjust and exacting master. How is his godliness revealed? By throwing off the yoke in revolution, or by striking for higher wages, or by waging a “class struggle,” improving the conditions in the world by revolution to better one’s lot, or taking counter measures to maintain one’s freedom? The false teachers in Paul’s day would advocate such a policy in the name of godliness! Then one begins to preach a social or anti-social gospel. The virtues of meekness and patience are here as unknown as they were in the vocabulary of the Greeks and Romans, world conquerors. By their fruits ye shall know the false prophets, even though they cry very loudly: Lord, Lord, have we not cast the demons of slavery out this world? But Christ shall say: Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity. I never knew you. You never did champion the cause of the Son of God manifested in the flesh, seen of angels . . . and taken up in glory! Matt. 7:15-24. The number of those who teach exactly such a social gospel in our day from the pulpits and cathedras are literally legion when they must stand up and be counted, and their number is increasing like mushrooms even in churches which once were the salt of the earth. These have lost their savor and are good for nothing but to be cast out; they are deceivers and being deceived!
Such is the world of the anti-Christian church!
It is the broad way that leads to destruction; many there be who go in thereat!
What is to be a component part of godliness in this evil and unjust world of men? It is the ingredient which Paul calls “contentment.” And even as godliness is a gift of grace, so it is with contentment. Contentment in Scripture is a far cry from the contentment of the pagan. He is never content. He may try to fabricate a certain contentment which he calls self-sufficiency. Then if he is a Stoic, he may try to be content in denying the reality of hardships and affliction as affecting his soul and life. Only God, however, is self-sufficient. He is the Most High God. He is great; He alone is content in Himself. But our contentment must always be a contentment of godliness which learns to kiss the rod of affliction because we know that all the evil and poverty which God sends us in this life does not and cannot separate us from the love of God, but must needs be a means in God’s hand to work for our eternal salvation and glory. What greater gain could any mortal have than this?! Yes, such godliness which has in it the ingredient of contentment is great gain!
It is that which is promised for this life and the life to come. I Tim. 4:8. In this life it is the assurance of eternal glory, and that nothing shall be lacking us. The Lord withholds no good thing from them who walk uprightly. All these things are added unto us. The contented person is not busy trying to attain a false Utopia, an imaginary island, the ideal of a perfect social, political life here on earth. He knows that Christ’s kingdom is not out of this world; he is in the world yet he is not of her. The perfect kingdom will be in glory of the new heaven and the new earth where righteousness shall dwell.
Such contentment is born from godliness which sings of the great mystery of God in Christ Jesus. He has Christ in him, the hope of glory. He is a child of the King and will presently be joint-heir in reality with Christ over all things. He lives by sound and health-affording words; his soul is healthy in thankfulness. He richly enjoys what God grants him in this life, ending in the Giver in thanksgiving, and he knows that presently he shall have all things.
Evaluating this life, he sees that he brought nothing when our threescore years and ten are ended “death is the leveler of all men”; the rich and the poor are alike. None take or are able to take anything along of all the riches they have carried on one heap. God will see to it that whether nations or individuals have it-it will again be scattered to be gathered, never to be taken along out of this world. How instructive is here the parable of the rich man! Soul, thou hast laid away for many days. Take thine ease: eat, drink and be merry! But that night his soul was required from him. Whose shall these things be?
But the man of godly contentment is rich in God!