Word of the Month

Exercise yourself in godliness

September 2011

In contrast to today, sport was not a big issue in biblical times. At the time of Jesus, it merely served as a form of exercise and training for war or as a performance in the worship of pagan gods. Apostle Paul once contrasted this physical exercise with godliness. Godliness – or piety – is a term that is not very familiar to us today and is at times belittled in modern life. It is often considered an outwardly affected behaviour or even an expression of fanaticism. However, the term as applied by Paul has a completely different meaning. There is nothing fanatical or unrealistic about it. The value of this godliness is something the Apostle makes clear in the ensuing verse: “Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4: 8). In other words, godliness already has its reward here on earth – “the life that now is” – but the special thing bound to it is the promise of eternal life.

What is true godliness or piety in the eyes of God? First of all, godliness and piety are a matter of the heart. I have already pointed out that fanaticism and everything that seeks to express itself outwardly in order to give a certain impression is of no value in the eyes of God. In the par­able of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Lord spe­cifically addressed those who made an outward show of being devout and who looked down on others. The Pharisee looked down on the tax collector and thought himself to be absolutely marvellous in terms of his piety. In contrast to him, the tax collector hardly dared look up toward the Lord, and beat his breast with the plea: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (cf. Luke 18: 13).

The moral of this parable is as follows: true piety is something that plays out between us and the Lord. Everything else is of no profit. One thing is needed in order to truly exercise such godliness and piety, namely the fear of God. Without the fear of God we cannot be truly devout. Piety and the fear of God are even expressed using the same term in Greek.

True piety implies making room in one’s heart for divine matters! Associated with this is the admonition to give no room to sin. That is always difficult, particularly in our time. Let us liberate ourselves from the earthly. Let us not allow ourselves to be completely overtaken by the matters of our time. How can we do this? I advise taking a moment here and there to occupy ourselves with divine matters, with the things the Lord has given us. Why shouldn’t we talk about the divine service in the circle of our family? Why shouldn’t we discuss that which the Lord has granted us in His word? Let us make some room for divine matters in our thoughts, in words, in our fam­ilies, and everywhere else it is possible. Beyond that, let us make clear decisions for the Lord and hold high our loyalty to the Lord and His work!

We are usually all too happy to put things off, but it is important to act today and accept salvation. “Exercise yourself toward godliness!” That is what Paul recommends to Timothy. This means that godliness is not something that just comes about automatically. It is not something with which we are born! This is something we must acquire. It is a lifelong task. Exercising oneself toward godliness thus means: “Make the effort to make room for the Lord! Practise making firm decisions for the Lord! Exercise yourself in loyalty!” Already today, the Lord can bless those who make the endeavour to be devout in this sense. 

(From a divine service by the Chief Apostle)