Sermon series: What Matters Most
Sermon series: Godly Virtues
When my daughter, Bailey, was in the fourth grade she had spelling words to learn. One week one of her words was heritage. As a part of that learning exercise her teacher had her write sentences using each word. The night before she handed in her sentences I was proofreading her assignment. For heritage, she wrote, "My mom and dad are Christians so I am a part of a godly heritage." My eyes moistened as I read that sentence. Somewhere along the way she had come to understand that godliness was a pursuit of her parents. (And, I hope it will be her pursuit, too.)
No greater compliment can be paid a Christian than to refer to him or her as a godly person.
Godliness is not an option in the development of contagious character. The apostle Peter instructs us to add to "endurance with godliness" (2 Peter 1:6). Godliness is not reserved for a few quaint Christians of a bygone era or for some group of super saints of today. The privilege and duty of every Christian is to pursue godliness, to study godliness, and to practice godliness.
What does it mean to be godly? Do we have to live in a monastery to be godly? Does it mean we can't watch television? Can a person be godly and yet competitive in business and achieve financial success? The answer is yes. And at the same time a person may be talented, involved in God's work, and even successful in some aspect of Christian service, and still not be godly.
I. What does godliness mean?
Godliness is taking God seriously. The heartbeat of the godly person is the desire to respect and reverence the things of God. This does not mean they are serious minded at all times. They enjoy life because they enjoy the Creator of life.
There is an account in the Old Testament of a people who failed to take God seriously. These ancient Hebrews had escaped the slavery and punishment of Egyptian rule. On their journey home to Israel they witnessed the miracle of God parting the water at the Red Sea that brought doom to their Egyptian pursuers. These people had everything.
God guided them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God delivered them through the Red Sea.
God's leader, Moses, was out in front of them.
God provided nourishment with manna from heaven and water from the rock.
They were surrounded by unparalleled privileges.
God's presence was constant. His workings were evident. They had been given a heritage of godliness.
In fact, one would think that these people would be the epitome of godliness. But they were not. The apostle Paul wrote of these people, "But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert" (1 Cor. 10:5). As they journeyed from Egypt they played games with their lives and with God.
That is dangerous business.
What happened to these potential saints? What caused their demise? Paul, again, surmises their tragedy and demise, "Don't become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to play'" (1 Cor. 10:7). It sounded like a fraternity party. The supernatural became commonplace. God-talk abounded. But they lacked a reverence and awe for God. They became callused to the divine. They became nonchalant in their values. They forgot their heritage. Apathy ran rampant. They did not mean business with God. The relationship with him became a farce.
Sound familiar? Never in the history of the world has one country been so blessed. We are inundated with churches, Christian radio and television, Christian magazines and books, Christian schools, Christian conferences and seminars, and on and on and on. Never has the potential for religious instruction been so paramount. Our churches should be overflowing with godly men and women. Are they? All to often, we walk down the same paths of carnality as these ancient Hebrews. We make light of what we should honor. We wink at what we should weep about. We play with what we should take quite seriously.
Do you take God seriously? If you do, you are well on your way to godliness.
II. How do you know if you are godly?
How do you know if you are taking God seriously? How do you know if you are radiating the aura of godliness? People who take God seriously:
A. Thirst for God
If we want to be godly we must long for God. David was such a man. He vividly expressed his longing, "As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:1-2). What could be more intense than a hunted deer's thirst for water? The psalmist wanted to see the face of God - ;entering into his fellowship and presence.
Intensity for God is the heartbeat of a godly person.
Columnist Herb Caen writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death." Caen surmises, "It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
Charles Spurgeon, British pulpiteer or a century ago, writes likewise, "If you are not seeking the Lord, the Devil is seeking you. If you are not seeking the Lord, judgment is at your heels."
In the pursuit for godliness, it's not enough to simply wake up. We are called to run, to become like Christ, to press ahead to godliness.
Godliness doesn't come by sitting passively by waiting for it to drop in your lap. It requires hard work, enduring perseverance, and a continued effort. In a manner of speaking, "You have to run for it with everything you got." The godly person is content in their relationship with God, but never satisfied with the present experience. They always yearn for more.
Are you pursuing God?
B. Focus on God
The pursuer of godliness focuses attention on God in all things. The trouble and tragedy of modern man is that we tend to divert our focus away from God. It is quite possible to become an idolater. An idol is anything that draws our attention and adoration away from God.
Idolatry must have been a problem in Paul's day. In his letter to Timothy the subject of godliness is discussed in reference to two distractions of its pursuit. Both have a focus on self. The first was bodily exercise. "But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness, for, the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Tim. 4:7-8). The second was money. "But godliness with contentment is a great gain. . . . For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. Now you, man of God, run from these things; but pursue righteousness, godliness . . ." (1 Tim. 6:6, 10-11).
Paul correctly addresses the problem of most twentieth century Americans. The age of physical fitness and monetary gain are upon us. True, nothing is sinful in these pursuits. Until they come between God and us.
A man who had spent all of his time making and hoarding money found himself in a most disturbed and unhappy state, and went to a minister for counsel.
The minister, who knew the man rather well, picked up the Bible, pointed to the word "God" and asked, "Can you see that?"
"Certainly," replied the man with annoyance.
"All right," said the minister as he picked up a coin and placed it over the word "God." "Can you see the word now?"
The man did not reply immediately, but eventually said, "Yes, I understand now."
Jerry Bridges noted that "Godliness is an exercise or discipline that focuses upon God." What are you doing to focus on God? Have you allowed the cares and worries of the world to blur your vision of God? What activities are you performing to keep yourself spiritually fit?
C. Worship God
Worship enables us to properly acknowledge God. We see him as he is - ;Majestic and Sovereign, and we see ourselves, as we are - ;finite and helpless. The godly person removes himself from the center of his world and puts God in his proper place. In fact, the Greek word rendered godliness embodies the idea of worship rightly directed.
The reverence of God will cause us to worship God rightly. Far too often, we take God too lightly. We approach him in a trite and casual fashion. We think of God as our buddy or our pal. But this is the eternal God of the universe who has a claim on our lives because he has placed eternity within our hearts. We are to approach him with respect and reverence.
Reverence of God will also regulate our conduct. John Murray says, "What or whom we worship determines our behavior." If a person worships basketball their conduct and behavior is consumed with the sport. If a person worships money they are driven to accumulate as much as possible. If a person worships God they seek to know him and live obediently to his principles.
Who are you worshipping?
D. Serve other people
Godly people don't bicker and complain about what's happening to them. Instead, they have found the joy of service. The quickest way to not dwell on personal misfortune is to get involved with those who are less fortunate than you are. In doing so, you will discover that you are better off than most people are.
The godly individual not only gives God his due; he also serves his fellow man and gives him his due. Someone said, "Some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good." I believe that is only when people are heavenly minded that they can be of any earthly good. As we invest time with God he will guide us to serve others. Godly people know that service is an outgrowth of worship.
The best evidence of godliness is not the monk who lives in the monastery secluded from people. It is the person who lives a godly life in the midst of crying children, busy schedules, foul-mouthed workers, and rain soaked days by serving other people.
Who are you serving?
Will you mean business with God or will you be content to just play the game? Is your religion of the heart or is it superficial, skin deep? Do you speak the Christian lingo, but fail to live the life of godliness?
A man returned to his hometown after being away for many years. As he looked around at familiar faces and places, he noticed that the old church where he had once worshiped no longer existed. He asked the man who operated the service station since he was a child, "Whatever happened to that old church and the glory it once had?"
The attendant asked him, "Are you going to be driving around town some more today?"
The visitor replied, "Yes."
Then the attendant said, "If you will drive up the hill where the church used to stand, you will see a sign. Read it carefully for it will tell you what happened to that old church and the glory it once had."
Later in the evening the man started up the hill. It was getting dark, so he slowed down to catch the message written on the sign. As his headlights glared on it, the motorist read these words: "Drive Carefully: Children at Play."
The life of godliness will not come easy. All the courage, discipline, and persistence you can muster will be needed for taking God seriously. Godliness may not be an easy life, but it is a distinguishable life. Other people will take notice. The godly person takes on the stamp that reflects the very stamp of God. People will take notice of such a reflection.