What Is Godliness?


Our humanity, by the design of God, is a union of both flesh and spirit, body and soul. We are both temporal and eternal in our nature. We are a composite that only omniscience could conceive and only omnipotence could bring together. Nothing in science, no ‘evolutionary’ process brought this about. We are ‘persons,’ unique creations of a personal God, who created our humanity out of two completely disparate things; the “clay” of the earth and God’s own breath. (Genesis 2:7) Both need training in what Paul calls “godliness.”

Paul is counseling the younger Timothy to be a good minister of Christ Jesus and to pass on the faith and the good teaching that he follows to the brothers and sisters he serves in the Ephesian community. He is giving Timothy some very practical advice here beginning with: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wive’s tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” (verse 7) The key word here is “train” yourself. Paul is counselling the development of good habits of mind and body that are necessary for keeping our faith strong and fully effective. In this verse he is saying that Timothy and the Christian community need to continue to train their minds to recognize the difference between the true teachings of the gospel and those that are “myths and old wive’s tales.” How many Christians have been led astray with such things, because they had not done the hard work of continually training themselves in godliness, the godliness that is shaped by the true teachings of the gospel. It is absolutely important that we train our minds in the habits of right and righteous thinking. It is a matter of the salvation of our souls.

Paul, in today’s passage, uses a metaphor to get his point across. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The value of “physical” training is important for the stewardship of our physical health. Paul is not denigrating physical training here. We are held responsible for our own health because it is important to the well-being of our bodily lives here on earth. But there is a “training” that is even more important, which is related to our eternal life, the life and health of our souls. That “training” which is necessary both now with our present lives and for our lives to come, is in godliness.

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What, then, is this godliness? For Paul, it is clearly, having the mind of Christ. It is to train ourselves to think and to act as Jesus did. It is to love one another as Jesus loved us. Any good Christian knows that this is true, but also knows, by experience, that it is very hard. Because we are weak we often fail in this. That is why we need to “train” ourselves in this practice of godliness at all times, in all things. What kind of training is Paul suggesting here? That which is, “nourished on the truths of the faith and the good teaching [of the gospel] you have followed.” (verse 6) We need community here. We need good and faithful teachers in our Church leadership who, by their public and private lives, clearly show that they have been well trained in godliness. We, too, need to develop the habits of regular private prayer and communal worship. We are to steep ourselves in the gospels, reading them and meditating on them and their application to our own lives. We are also to practice compassion and generous service to the poor and the needy. We need to make a habit of hospitality to all, including “the poor and the foreigner residing among you.” (Leviticus 23:22) We need to continually practice humility, bending our often rebellious wills to the will of God, until it becomes our very nature. This is the training that Paul is counselling Timothy to continue in his own life and which he is to then pass on to the brothers and sisters he ministers to in Ephesus. This is what we are to do as well.

Lord, help us in our daily efforts to train ourselves in godliness. Give us discerning minds that can discriminate clearly the difference between true and false teachings. Help us to train our bodies and our souls so that we can grow and be nourished in your ways as we continue our pilgrimage to you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.