What is Godliness and How Can We Train/Grow in It?
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
In the letter of 1 Timothy, Paul is instructing his coworker and son in the faith, Timothy, how to handle incorrect teachings during his time as a local pastor in first-century Ephesus. In this letter, Paul also gave Timothy proper instruction on how to run and operate a local church. These instructions were, and are, important because in a local church you have so many viewpoints, so many cultural backgrounds, and so many past experiences all gathered together in one place. It is a pastor’s job to find a way to focus on what really matters and create a healthy environment where all people can grow in Christ safely.
In the middle of the letter, Paul ends some of his instruction about false teaching and order in the church with the command to
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 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. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10 NIV)
One of the best ways to maintain sound doctrine/sound biblical teachings is to train yourself in godliness. One of the best ways to avoid godless myths and old wives’ tales is to train yourself in godliness.
But what is godliness, and what does it mean to train yourself in godliness?
Godliness is a person’s devotion, reverence, and or commitment to aligning to the standards, teachings, and character of God. To be godly is to be someone who reflects the character and actions of God. In contrast, an ungodly person would be someone who does not reflect the character and actions of God. An ungodly person is mean, rebellious, and hostile towards God and His creation. A godly person loves, favors, and agrees with God and His creation. Therefore, to train yourself in godliness would be to align yourself with the word of God (God’s standards and character) consistently. This is what Paul commissioned Timothy to do in his letter to him.
However, it’s one thing to mention that we need to do something, and it’s another thing to mention how we are to do what is required of us. Although Paul doesn’t explicitly say how to train yourself to be godly in 1 Timothy 4:7-10, the bible is filled with ways to train/grow in godliness. Below are four ways we can train ourselves in godliness.
1. Reading and Obeying the Word of God
The bible is the authority on which disciples of Jesus build their lives. We value the bible because Jesus valued the bible and built his life around it’s principles and teachings. If we simply read the word of God, we are interacting with God himself. Psalms 1:1-3 says
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
As we delight in and meditate on the word of God, our lives begin to look like something that is really alive. We can more clearly understand and grasp who God is and what He desires us to do.
But it’s not enough to simply read God’s word, you have to allow it to shape your life. James 1:22-25 NIV says
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it-not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
We have to commit to reading the word of God. It is a foundational component of our faith. We have to allow the bible to shape our lives by spending time understanding it’s stories and seeking to apply it’s wisdom and commands to our lives.
We can grow in godliness by spending time with God in prayer. As my sister Adriane Cooper put it,
"Prayer is thanksgiving, petition, begging for something earnestly (supplication), intercession, seeking justice from authority, etc. We often say prayer is just talking to God and though that is part of prayer, that is us having communion and fellowship. But prayer really is an act of humility before an authority, and in this case the sovereign God, creator of the earth and the judge of heaven and earth. When we enter into prayer, we should come with our hearts bowed, but with confidence in His mercy and loving-kindness.
Think about the many decisions we make in a day. I encourage you to pray and continue praying about them all. For the Father delights in being sought out by us. He exalts the humble and humbles those who exalt themselves."
When we pray, we humble ourselves before God to fellowship with him and gain wisdom from his perspective. As you humble yourself before the ultimate authority in prayer, you will grow in godliness. The more we pray, the more we align to the standards and character of God.
3. Humility in Community
When we walk in humility in our local community, we train ourselves in godliness. We are often tempted to put on our best face when we are around other people. We try to show other people that we aren’t that weird, or we aren't that sinful. While there is a case to be made that we shouldn’t expose too much of ourselves in community, we must be aware that one of the primary ways God shapes us is in community.
But our community can’t shape us if they don’t know us.
When we hide who we really are from people, we never have the opportunity to allow our community to challenge and change us positively. Instead of creating an environment where we try to hide our flaws from those around us, let's work on creating environments where we willingly expose our flaws and failures to people. Please don’t do this to play the victim, but do this so you are approachable. You show humility in community when you share your flaws with others. You show humility in community when you let people know that you are ok with their feedback about your behaviors.
Whether your community is your family, your church, or your colleagues, be open to the feedback of others. As people give you feedback, you don’t always have to take it, but it is always good to honor it by listening to and understanding it.
4. Practice the Principles and Skills of Godliness
1 Timothy chapter 4:7-8 NIV states
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 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.
I love how Paul paints the picture of physical exercise in verse 8. As disciples, we can take a page from athletes and musicians and practice the skills of a disciple with both physical and mental repetitions. We can practice relevant skills repeatedly until they become second nature to us. We can practice interacting with the bible, having integrity, honoring people, and all kinds of skills that disciples need.
If you aren’t sure how you can practice the skills of a disciple, check out our website growingtruedisciples.com where we show you how to have a practice-based system for growing in godliness. It can be another tool in your toolbelt for becoming the person you know God has called you to be.
Why Godliness Matters
Godliness is imperative for those who want to have a meaningful relationship with God and fulfill their God-given potential. As no one can see God without holiness, no one can walk closely with God without godliness. I encourage you to partner with God and train/grow in godliness. As you submit your life to God, you will be rewarded with the peace of right living and proper alignment to reality.
Godliness in the Strong’s Concordance and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:
An overview of 1 Timothy:
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