Growing in godliness - by Dan Stephenson
1 Timothy 6:3-11 (ESV)
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
Godliness is one of those familiar Bible words, like glory or majesty. We’ve heard all our lives. We have an idea of what godliness looks like, but we’d have a hard time explaining it to someone who had never heard the word before.
The word translated into English as godliness is found only 15 times in the New Testament. Eight of those 15 are in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. As we explore 1 Timothy 6:3-11, we will gain a better understanding of what godliness is, and what God wants from us.
In verses 3-5, Paul talks about people in the church who have no regard for the teaching of Jesus Christ or for unity in the body. They are pushing their own agenda. They don’t even realize that their lives demonstrate the very opposite of godliness. They think that godliness is all about what people see on the outside—their words and actions. They are chasing after power and privilege, so they are willing to put on an act of what they believe is godliness. They think this show of godliness will lead to gain (verse 3).
But godliness, in the way that word is used in the Bible, is not a matter of outward conduct. It’s not about keeping rules of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” of making sure you look good in public. Godliness is actually a moral and ethical commitment. It is an attitude of respect or reverence as a Christian attitude to life. It’s about respect, first of God, and then extending that respect to other believers, and to the world in general.
In verse 6, Paul acknowledges that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” And it is. But before we can understand why, we have to adjust our understanding of contentment. As believers in Christ and heirs of the kingdom, we are content in God’s grace, provision, and love. God provides, and we are content (verse 8). This is the same as what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13. He had learned to be content whether he had a little or a lot, knowing that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When we have the right attitude (including godliness) toward God and toward people, we don’t need to strive for riches and power in order to be content.
Godliness is one of several character qualities we are told to pursue (verse 11) along with righteousness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. As we pursue these things, God works in us by his Spirit, transforming and conforming us to the image of Christ. If you’ve got the time, read 2 Peter 1:3-8 and compare what he says to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6. Peter says essentially the same thing—we start with faith, and then with God’s help we layer on various character qualities including godliness and love for one another.
So rejoice in who you are through faith in Christ, and work together with God as he helps you to grow in faith, love, and godliness.