What Leads to Godliness? #311
Happy Monday, friends! In a time and season where it seems like all of the days and weeks kind of flow together (at least in my neck of the woods) I encourage you to seek the Lord daily – His mercies are new every morning, His covenant love is great and enduring, and He is our hope and refuge in the midst of what we are going through, whatever that might be!
Funny thing about doing a daily Bible podcast is that you totally forget things that happened just a few months ago. For instance, I was reading through our Scriptures today, considering what topic to cover, when I thought – what a great story and topic – looking at the life of the righteous king Azariah, who was inflicted with a bad skin disease, and discussing why God allows bad things to happen to good people. Of course a quick check of the Bible reading podcast website shows that we’ve done not one, or two, but THREE episodes on that topic, so I’m either getting senile, or it is easy to forget things when you are 300+ episodes and over half a million words. If you would like to hear those episodes, they are #s 34, 35 and 36. Our readings today begin with 2nd Kings 16, then Psalms 123-125, Hosea 8 and Titus 1. Our question seems kind of basic, but actually gets into deep waters. Paul identifies something in Titus 1 that leads to godliness. Let’s read and listen for that key, and then discuss it.
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness
Right there in the first verse it tells us that knowledge of truth leads to godliness. Let’s break down what that means. First of all, the word godliness here is quite interesting – appearing 18 times in the CSB, and 12 of those 18 times 2/3rds, are in the pastoral epistles of 1 and 2nd Timothy and Titus. It would seem that, near the end of his life, Paul quite focused and concerned about godliness and teaching pastors/elders Timothy and Titus all about godliness, and what leads to godliness. Paul has previously warned Timothy (2 Timothy 3:5) that there is a type of godliness that really is more like religion – not focused on truth, not focused on God and not empowered by God in anyway – he says there is a form of godliness that denies God’s power, and tells Timothy to run from it. As we have discussed, I believe that Paul is warning against religion that is not based on the truth of God’s Word, but on what people want to hear and on what the culture considers popular. Christians should flee from such ‘godliness/religion.’ but they should run to the knowledge of God’s truth, which produces actual godliness. How could that be? It is because the truth that Paul is talking about is God’s Word of truth, and that Word has the power to sanctify, or make holy, as Jesus tells us in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
Paul is here reminding Timothy that the Word of God is living and active – it has life, and it brings life because it is supernatural. In what is certainly one of Jesus’ most important parables, we learn that the Word of God is like seed. When the truth of God’s Word (the seed) goes deep into the fertile ground of a receptive human heart, it will bear much fruit:
20 And those like seed sown on good ground hear the word, welcome it, and produce fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what was sown.”
How does the truth/Word of God bear fruit? Because God’s Word has life and power in it. Consider the parable of the growing seeds:
26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground.27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head.29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
We humans don’t know exactly how God’s Word does its work, but we know it is living and active, we know it is a light that shows us the way (Psalms 119:105) and we know it is eternal (Psalms 119:89.) So – here’s the basic, but profound truth: the more knowledge of the truth/God’s Word we have in us, the more this should produce godliness in us, just like more seed in a field produces a greater crop. The Word does the work…so those of you who are actively reading the Word of God on a daily basis are partaking of something supernatural that will bear fruit in your lives for eternity. Here’s a great story from pastor Tim Keller that illustrates how the Word, like a seed, grows in our hearts and brings godliness:
The power of the word…changes you from the inside out. It changes your motivation. It changes your identity. It changes the very inside, your structure, so it’s organic growth, not mechanical growth. Do you see?
Some years ago I was on vacation, and I went into McDonald’s to buy lunch. Nobody goes into McDonald’s for the food; you go for the speed. After 20 minutes I was still in line. It totally frustrates the whole reason to go to McDonald’s. The reason I was still in line was there was a woman at the cash register, and she was screwing absolutely everything up. She was constantly getting the order wrong. The person would say, “I didn’t order that. I ordered that,” then she had to reorder.
I was just looking at my watch, and I was saying, This is ridiculous. I’m on my vacation, and here I’m doing all this. I was really mad at her. When I got a little closer, I realized why. Her English wasn’t good enough for her to understand what people were saying. Then I really got … I said, Oh my gosh, and I was really mad.
I said, Why don’t they do screening here? What’s the matter with McDonald’s? What’s the matter with their model here in which they screen employees? Then I said, What is she doing here in this society if she doesn’t even know how to speak English? Then I started, on top of feeling mad at her, guilty for my xenophobia. Oh my gosh, here I am, a New York City minister, a Christian minister. Here I am xenophobic about immigrant people.
Do you see? On top of my anger toward her, I layered guilt toward me. That really helped. Then, even though I didn’t have Saint Paul at my elbow, something happened I’ll never forget. I had just that morning been studying in Exodus, and there is a verse in Exodus I had underlined and I had thought about. It’s the verse that says, “Be kind to the alien and the immigrant, for you were aliens in Egypt, but I brought you out.”
All of a sudden, the word went right to my heart like an arrow, and I thought about it. The first clause all by itself would just be mechanical. The first clause was, “Be kind to the alien and the immigrant, because God says so.” If that’s all it was, that wouldn’t have helped my anger. It would’ve helped my guilt. I would’ve just felt angrier and guiltier. It’s the second clause that said, “For you were aliens. You were alienated from me. You were a foreigner from me, but I brought you out.”
Do you know how God brought us out? He became an alien. He became crucified outside the gate. God says, “I did that for you. I became an alien for you. I was cast out so you could be brought in. I was thrown out of the city so you could become a member of the family of God. So remember that when you see people who are aliens and immigrants.”
By the time I got actually up to the counter, I was ready to kiss her. Why? Because I’m a virtuous, enlightened New Yorker? Because, of course, I have enlightened view of race and immigration? It was the power of the seed, and the power of the seed is the weakness of the Lord. His weakness for me changes me at the very root. It makes me want, not have, to embrace people who are different than me. That’s why you have that John Newton hymn …
Our pleasure and our duty,
Though opposite before;
Since we have seen his beauty,
Are joined to part no more …
William Cowper also wrote …
To see the law by Christ fulfilled
And hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.
This passage ends on a note of triumph, because even though three out of the four soils resist the power of the word, the last one … thirty-, sixty-, a hundredfold. That’s supernatural. Conventional agriculture, even today’s agriculture, can’t produce that kind of yield. Why? Because Jesus is saying it’s supernatural. If you do let it in, it’s supernatural.
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).