20 April 2021
We have considered Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy to train himself for godliness and how important this was for him to serve God faithfully in a place like Ephesus, which in many ways, is similar to our current society today in terms of its emphasis on wealth, sex and idolatry.
We noted also how the church in Ephesus subsequently ended up losing her first love for the Lord although for all intents and purposes, she seemed to be an exemplary church, demonstrated in her many spiritual activities, her testing of false apostles and her hard work and toil.
Godliness essentially means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. The outworking must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word – why so? We know that God is almighty, transcendent, far above and beyond us; there is no way we can know this God unless He reveals Himself to us and shares with us about Himself, His desires and His plans and intentions.Thankfully, what happens is that the almighty Creator, the Lord of hosts, the Great God before whom the nations are as a drop in a bucket, comes to us and begins to talk to us, through the words and truths of Holy Scripture. He not only talks to us about our sin, guilt and weakness; He also opens His heart to us as a covenant partner and a personal ‘friend’. After we become believers, God provides us with the Holy Spirit who interprets and applies the Scripture to us, showing God’s nature and character as well as His commands, desires and love.
Disciplining ourselves to godliness therefore must involve our knowledge of and fellowship with God in the Scripture. There is no other way we can know God accurately and wholesomely apart from Scripture. It has to mean knowing, understanding and appreciating God through His revelation of HImself and HIs plans and covenants in the Scripture. If we do not discipline ourselves to immerse ourselves in Scripture, the whole Scripture (New and Old Testaments), we cannot truly know God, love Him and become like Him. The degree of our knowing God and His ways would be proportional to the degree we know and understand His truths and revelation in Scripture. It follows that Christian activities, apart from knowing HIm through His revelation (and not just knowing about Him), by themselves, cannot effect transformation into godliness. The church in Ephesus gradually lost her first love although she retained her outward spiritual activity and apparent spiritual intensity; knowing all the ‘rules’ of churchlife without knowing the Master and Lord of the church and loving HIm; slowly but surely this would lead to spiritual degeneration and degradation.
But beware! We can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God. Our interest in theology, and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not at all the same thing as knowing God.
We can be preoccupied with getting much theological knowledge as an end in itself; we can be involved in Bible study with the motive to know all the answers but all these may end in a state of satisfied self-deception. It is true that there can be no spiritual health and godliness without doctrinal and biblical knowledge; but it is also very true that there can be no spiritual health with the knowledge itself if it is pursued with the wrong motive for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard. Doctrinal study and even Bible study can become a danger to spiritual life – this seems contradictory but true – we need to guard our hearts against the wrong motives and attitudes and pray to be kept from them
Our desire must be to know God Himself, to love Him and enjoy Him. We must seek to understand God and HIs truth in order that our hearts may respond to Him and our life be conformed to Him and His ways. Our interest and study in theology and Scripture are not ends in themselves; they are means to the further ends of life and godliness. Our ultimate concern ought to be the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth and being we seek to understand and appreciate. The process however requires spiritual discipline and training; we must seek, in studying God to be led to God, to be godly and to be like Him.
There is a place in this pursuit to learn from godly men and women, those among them who are truly Godly have learnt over the years to know God through their study of Scripture and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. However, whatever we can glean from them must be examined in the light of Scripture itself; even godly men and women can be sincerely wrong although they may seek to promote what they believe to be the right revelation from God. Caution is in order as we learn from other servants of God and we need to constantly evaluate the teachings against the revelation from Scripture.