An Excellent Minister Disciplines Himself for Godliness
On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. (4:7b–9)
There is no effective spiritual ministry apart from personal godliness, since ministry is the overflow of a godly life. J. Oswald Sanders wrote, “Spiritual ends can be achieved only by spiritual men who employ spiritual methods” (Spiritual Leadership, 40).
Spurgeon described in the following words the minister who, lacking godliness in his own life, would seek to lead others to it:
A graceless pastor is a blind man elected to a professorship of optics, philosophising upon light and vision, discoursing upon and distinguishing to others the nice shades and delicate blendings of the prismatic colours, while he himself is absolutely in the dark! He is a dumb man elevated to the chair of music; a deaf man fluent upon symphonies and harmonies! He is a mole professing to educate eagles; a limpet elected to preside over angels. (Lectures to My Students, first series [reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980], 4)
Discipline is from gumnazō, from which our English words “gymnasium” and “gymnastics” derive. It means “to train,” or “to exercise.” The word speaks of the rigorous, strenuous, self-sacrificing training an athlete undergoes.
Every Greek city had its gymnasium, and Ephesus was no exception. Youths customarily spent much of their time from ages sixteen to eighteen in physical training. That was vital, since life in those days involved much physical activity. There was a great emphasis on physical training and the glory of winning athletic events.
By using gumnazō, Paul plays off that cultural phenomenon and applies it to the spiritual realm. As Greek culture emphasized dedicated training of the body, Paul urged Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness. The present tense of the verb indicates that was to be Timothy’s constant pursuit. Timothy was to train his inner man for godliness.
Eusebeia (godliness) expresses the reality of reverence, piety, and true spiritual virtue. It was a word much used by the philosophers of Paul’s day. The Platonists defined it as “right conduct in regard to the gods.” The Stoic definition was “knowledge of how God should be worshipped.” Lucian said it described one who was “a lover of the gods,” while Xenophon said it characterized someone who was “wise concerning the gods” (cf. Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976], 172–73). Thus even to the pagans eusebeia meant a concern for deity and a reverence for things holy.
That concept carried over into the Christian faith. Godliness is a right attitude and response toward the true Creator God; a preoccupation from the heart with holy and sacred realities. It is respect for what is due to God, and is thus the highest of all virtues. In 1 Timothy 6:3 it is said to be at the heart of truth. Second Peter 1:3 says that it comes from Christ, while 1 Timothy 6:11 balances that by teaching that believers must pursue it. According to Acts 3:12 it brings power, while 2 Timothy 3:12 indicates it brings trouble. First Timothy 6:5–6 says that it brings eternal (though not necessarily temporal) blessings. Godliness is the heart and soul of Christian character, and the aim of Christian living (cf. 1 Tim. 2:2; 2 Peter 3:11).
Spiritual self-discipline is the key to godly living. In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 Paul wrote,
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
In 2 Corinthians 7:1 he exhorted us to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In 2 Timothy 2:3–5 Paul commanded Timothy to
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.
Here Paul likens spiritual discipline to that required of a soldier and an athlete. Such discipline is necessary for victory in war, or in the games. The lack of spiritual discipline is the primary reason so many spiritual leaders fall into sin. They fail to spend time cultivating the means of grace, in the Word, in prayer, and in self-sacrificial service. An excellent minister is to pursue godliness, not success (cf. 1 Tim. 1:5; 2:8; 3:2, 10; 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:1, 21–22). He will one day hear from the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt. 25:21).
In Paul’s day, as in our own, there was a great emphasis on bodily discipline. While helpful, such discipline is only of little profit. Paul is showing that it is limited both in extent and duration. Bodily discipline affects only the physical body during this earthly life. On the other hand, godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. Unlike bodily discipline, godliness is profitable for the soul as well as the body. Its positive effects are also not limited to this life, because it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. Cultivating godliness will bring benefits in the present life (cf. Prov. 3:7–8), but it will primarily bring blessedness for all eternity.
So axiomatic is the truth of verse 8 that Paul calls it a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. As noted in chapter 3 of this volume, a trustworthy statement is a self-evident, obvious statement. It is something so patently clear that everyone acknowledges it. This affirmation refers back to verse 8, not ahead to the comment in verse 10. Verse 8 is much more of a proverbial, axiomatic statement than verse 10. A proverbial statement would not begin with a reference to laboring and striving, as does verse 10. Finally, the Greek phrase eis touto gar that begins verse 10 shows that verse 10 is not the trustworthy statement, but supports it. Verse 10, then, follows up the truth of verse 8.
It is axiomatic that believers are to be disciplining themselves for godliness because of its eternal value. Godliness, not fame, popularity, or reputation, is the pursuit of the excellent minister, who must be an example of spiritual virtue to his flock. He must apply all the means of grace as he endeavors to be able to say, as did Paul, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ “ (1 Cor. 11:1).
7b–8 Timothy is take the alternate route of godliness (v. 7b). The third command employs language typical of Greco-Roman ethical teaching: “train yourself.” It was first applied to the effort and exercise involved in physical contexts, and transferred naturally to describe the work of progressing toward virtue in the moral and spiritual sphere. Here the language of training paves the way for development of the next comparison of bodily exercise and godliness.
The purpose or intended result of this training is “godliness.” This term, first surfacing in 2:2 (see Excursus), defines Christian existence as the interplay of the knowledge of God and of the truth (cf. 4:3) and the observable outworking of that knowledge in appropriate ways. The contours of this life of genuine spirituality would include all of the ethical teaching contained in the letter, but we are invited immediately to consider the elements spelled out in 4:11–16. It is highly probable, in this context where Paul has firmly denounced certain behaviors of the opponents (4:1–2), that “godliness” is being advanced in contrast to the misshapen spirituality of the heretics. But Paul will rely on traditional paradigms and implicit comparisons as he finishes his brief exposition of “godliness.”
Verse 8 provides grounding (“for”; gar) for the command to pursue godliness. It consists of a contrast between the value of bodily or physical training and godliness. Although the reference to bodily training (gymnasia) was anticipated by the preceding reference to “training” (gymnaze), the comparison might be proverbial and had possibly found its way into Christian teaching by this time from either secular or Hellenistic-Jewish sources. “Physical training” is generally that which pertains to the body, and the language suggests immediately a background in the athletic culture of Greco-Roman society.16 Paul admits that such exercise has “some value” (cf. 1 Cor 9:24–27), but the purpose of saying this is mainly to limit its relevance within this discussion and shine the brighter light on “exercise in godliness.”
The question often asked of this text is whether the reference to “physical exercise” in what is perhaps a well-known comparison coming from the philosophical schools (in which physical training is understood in the Greco-Roman sense or athletic training) is simply a way of highlighting the greater significance of “godliness,” or whether the term specifically zeroes in on the asceticism alluded to and challenged in 4:3. In my opinion, this remains an open question, though the force of the contrast (clearly elevating godliness to the highest level) cannot be missed. Although the traditional maxim would suffice to emphasize the greater importance of godliness, it does not seem far-fetched that the ascetic practices of 4:3 are at least obliquely in view (how could they not be?), perhaps regarded by Paul as an extreme example of the category defined by “physical exercise.” Paul’s denunciation of the opponents’ excessive measures with regard to marriage and foods is unequivocal, so there is no need to address them specifically again. But they do nevertheless fall at least somewhere within the category of those physical activities (including athletic exercise) that, in comparison with exercise in godliness, can only offer limited benefits. In turning the instructions to Timothy to his pursuit of godliness, Paul shifts to the level of larger principles. It is difficult to ignore the alter-image of the heretics and their practices (vv. 7, 3) as this shift is made.
The contrast indicating the better course to be pursued is expressed with an almost perfect parallelism as a literal translation shows:
|For physical training is of some value;
|But godliness is valuable for all things.
|hē gar sōmatikē gymnasia
|hē de eusebeia
In place of physical exercise (whether ascetic rigor is meant or not), exercise in “godliness,” that holistic life encompassing faith and visible behavior, is set out as the first priority (4:7; 2:2). Its superiority stems from its far-reaching value (“for all things”), in contrast to the limited value of the former. This value is then explained in terms of eternal life: “holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The phrase, “promise of life,” is almost technical, identifying this “life” as that which is specifically associated with the salvific pledge of God (2 Tim 1:1; Titus 1:2). Given the inherent unity in the concept of life associated with God’s promise (both now and to come; see discussion at 1:16), it is unlikely that Paul is distinguishing rigidly between physical life (“now”) and spiritual or eternal life (“to come”). The point is rather that the practice of godliness will lead the believer into the experience of God’s promise of eternal life in the present age that carries on into the “age to come.”
In the letters to Timothy and Titus it is typical of Paul to hold tightly together the present age (“now”) of Christian activity and the “coming”26 age (here the life associated with it), the result of which is an ethical tension. On the one hand, Paul insists that the future promise of God is being realized “now” in the present age, changing it and opening up new possibilities for those in faith. On the other hand, this fact, linked to the fact of the past Christ event, obligates believers to “put on” the new reality. Here this entire network of ideas is consolidated into the concept of “godliness.” Practice of it is anticipation of the fullness of blessing to come. Its value transcends that of bodily exercise—and in this the behavior of the opponents is flatly denounced—not simply because bodily exercise pertains only to life here and now, but because godliness is the outworking of God’s eschatological promise of life that has broken into the present age.
4:7–8 / Almost as a reflex action, Paul’s mentioning the good teaching calls forth a contrast with the bad kind. Indeed, his own word order, with the imperative coming last, serves to highlight the contrast. “But (Gk. de, untranslated in the niv) godless myths and old wives’ tales, have nothing to do with.” For myths, see discussion on 1:4. Here they are characterized as godless, meaning profane in the sense of being radically opposite to what is sacred, and as coming from old wives’ tales, a sarcastic expression often used in philosophical polemic comparing an opponent’s position to the tales perpetuated by the older women of those cultures as they would sit around weaving and the like.
In contrast to godless myths and old wives’ tales, which promote speculations and have nothing to do with genuine godliness (eusebeia), Paul urges Timothy to give himself vigorously to the latter. In doing so he changes metaphors—from child rearing (v. 6) to athletics: Train yourself (gymnaze) for eusebeia (to be godly). Paul’s point is that, like the athlete, Timothy should keep himself in vigorous training for the practice of genuine godliness, understood here as both the content of the truth and its visible expression in correct behavior (see disc. on 2:2 and 3:16).
Having used the metaphor of physical training, Paul, in typical fashion, pauses to reflect on the metaphor itself for a moment. There is another kind of training, he says, physical training (gymnasia), which is of some value. This statement has been the cause of some puzzlement. Is Paul herewith trying to encourage Timothy to take a little physical exercise? Almost certainly not. Such a concern is irrelevant to the context and quite beside the point. What, then? Most likely the reason for it lies with the metaphor itself. Having just urged gymnaze (train yourself) for eusebeia (godliness), Paul now picks up both ends of that imperative, and with perfectly balanced sentences presses home the reason for Timothy’s training himself in godliness. Paul will allow that physical training (gymnasia) is of some value, a value, however, that is limited strictly to this age. But he says that only to set up his real concern. Eusebeia (godliness) is where the real value lies. Indeed, it has value for all things (better, “in every way”), because it holds promise for life, both the present life and the life to come. (The idea of godliness as holding promise of life is reiterated in Titus 1:2.) Here is a clear reference to Paul’s understanding of Christian existence as basically eschatological. Life, which means “eternal life” (see 1:16), has already begun. The life of the future is therefore both a present reality and a hope of life to come. (See further the note on 4:1.)
Paul’s argument has strayed a bit, but not without purpose. The word eusebeia (“true godliness”) is used throughout 1 Timothy to express genuine Christian faith—the truth and its visible expression. It is this quality that the false teachers lack. Thus “godliness,” though contrasted with physical training, really stands in contrast to the godless myths, precisely because it has to do with life, both present and future.
8. For bodily exercise is of little profit. By the exercise “of the body,” he does not mean that which lies in hunting, or in the race-course, or in wrestling, or in digging, or in the mechanical occupations; but he gives that name to all the outward actions that are undertaken, for the sake of religion, such as watchings, long fasts, lying on the earth, and such like. Yet he does not here censure the superstitious observance of those things; otherwise he would totally condemn them, as he does in the Epistle to the Colossians, (2:21,) but at present he only speaks slightingly of them, and says that they are of little advantage. So, then, though the heart be altogether upright, and the object proper, yet, in outward actions, Paul finds nothing that he can value highly.
This is a very necessary warning; for the world will always lean to the side of wishing to worship God by outward services; which is an exceedingly dangerous imagination. But—to say nothing about the wicked opinion of merit—our nature always disposes us strongly to attribute more than we ought to austerity of life; as if it were no ordinary portion of Christian holiness. A clearer view of this cannot be adduced, than the fact, that, shortly after the publication of this command, the whole world was ravished with immoderate admiration of the empty form of bodily exercises. Hence arose the order of monks and nuns, and nearly all the most excellent discipline of the ancient Church, or, at least, that part of it which was most highly esteemed by the common people. If the ancient monks had not dreamed that there was some indescribably divine or angelical perfection in their austere manner of living, they would never have pursued it with so much ardour. In like manner, if pastors had not attached undue value to the ceremonies which were then observed for the mortification of the flesh, they would never have been so rigid in exacting them. And what does Paul say on the other hand? That, when any one shall have laboured much and long in those exercises, the profit will be small and inconsiderable; for they are nothing but the rudiments of childish discipline.
But godliness is profitable for all things. That is, “he who has godliness wants nothing, though he has not those little aids; for godliness alone is able to conduct a man to complete perfection. It is the beginning, the middle, and the end, of Christian life; and, therefore, where that is entire, nothing is imperfect. Christ did not lead so austere a manner of life as John the Baptist; was he, therefore, any whit inferior? Let the meaning be thus summed up. “We ought to apply ourselves altogether to piety alone; because, when we have once attained it, God asks nothing more from us; and we ought to give attention to bodily exercises in such a manner as not to hinder or retard the practice of godliness.”
Which hath the promises. It is a very great consolation, that God does not wish the godly to be in want of anything; for, having made our perfection to consist in godliness, he now makes it the perfection of all happiness. As it is the beginning of happiness in this life, so he likewise extends to it the promise of divine grace, which alone makes us happy, and without which we are very miserable; for God testifies that, even in this life, he will be our Father.
But let us remember to distinguish between the good things of the present and of the future life; for God bestows kindness on us in this world, in order that he may give us only a taste of his goodness, and by such a taste may allure us to the desire of heavenly benefits, that in them we may find satisfaction. The consequence is, that the good things of the present life are not only mingled with very many afflictions, but, we may almost say, overwhelmed by them; for it is not expedient for us to have abundance in this world, lest we should indulge in luxury. Again, lest any one should found on this passage the merits of works, we ought to keep in mind what we have already said, that godliness includes not only a good conscience toward men, and the fear of God, but likewise faith and calling upon him.
7–8. By way of contrast to the good doctrine the apostle describes the false teaching as godless myths. The word used here (bebēlos) means ‘profane’, from a root meaning ‘permitted to be trodden’ with the idea that nothing remains sacred. The word has already been used in 1:9 in the list of law-breakers coupled with ‘unholy men’. The use of this word to describe professedly religious people shows the utter bankruptcy of their religion. The addition of the epithet old wives brings out forcibly the frivolous character of the false teachers’ tales (mythoi). The whole teaching lacked substance and must be vigorously rejected. The verb (paraiteomai) emphasizes the strong nature of the refusal (cf. Titus 3:10 and 2 Tim. 2:23).
Again the apostle is quick to balance a negative with a positive injunction. He turns to athletics for his illustration, probably to emphasize the contrast between manly exercise and old wives’ tales. There is a further comparison between physical and spiritual discipline. The apostle admits a place for the former but sets a strict limit on its exercise. The description of it in the niv as of some value does not bring out the force of oligos which means ‘little or slight’ and which seems to suggest only a limited value for physical exercise. It is contrasted with spiritual training, which on the other hand is of value for all things; or perhaps ‘in all directions’ (Moffatt). Its range is immeasurably greater for it embraces not only this life but the life to come. The promise … for the present life is not an equivalent for worldly prosperity, but sums up the blessedness of godliness. Irrespective of his present earthly circumstances, the Christian may fairly be said to have the best of both worlds.
Ver. 8. For bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable unto all things.—
The profit of godliness:—Not only is this the testimony of a great man, but the testimony of a good man, the testimony of a Christian man; a man, therefore, who had experience as to the utility of that concerning which he makes affirmation. He did not speak on the report of others, but he had brought the matter to the test of personal experiment; and from what he had realized in himself he could say, “Godliness is profitable unto all things.”
- What is godliness? It is real, vital, experimental, practical religion—genuine Christianity—a religion concerning God, the great, the wise, the blessed God. 1. Godliness comprehends a genuine fear. For where there is no fear of God there is no genuine piety—there is no religion. 2. Godliness means the saving knowledge of God, “whom to know is life eternal.” 3. And then, where there is knowledge of God, saving knowledge, there must be love to God; and no man can love an unknown object. 4. Then just in proportion as we love God (and this is essential to godliness) we shall be concerned to entertain intercourse with God. 5. Then perceive that this will lead to conformity to God—likeness to God. Such, indeed, is the very nature, such the constitution of the human mind, that it contracts a resemblance to those objects with which from inclination it is the most conversant. Apply the remark where you will, it will hold. Look at the man of this world; where are his thoughts? Why, the world is his object, and he becomes more and more worldly: and so of every other class. Now look at the man of God: his thoughts rise to God, his affections are spiritually placed on God: there is his object, there is his all; and, beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus, he catches the impress of it. 6. Let me say, too, that all Scriptural piety is practical. All that godliness which is genuine must lead to holiness of life and conversation.
- What, then, are the advantages of godliness? “Godliness is profitable.” As though the apostle had said, “It is not merely a very harmless and innocent thing, and therefore no person should be afraid of it.” This would have been very low praise, if it had been praise at all. It is not merely said “that it is profitable for some things”; nor is it affirmed concerning it that it is profitable for many things; but the affirmation is without qualification, “Godliness is profitable for all things.” “The life that now is.” You cannot hear this without at once in your minds adverting to the beneficial influence of godliness on a man’s external circumstances. Then consistent godliness gives a man character. Besides, godliness saves a man from intemperance: and what a vast benefit is this! When a man becomes truly godly, he becomes industrious. You never saw an idle Christian. And then the Lord will bless the man that fears Him. Besides, godliness is beneficial considered in its influence in preserving and prolonging the life that now is. Then is it not true that ungodliness tends to impair and destroy life? Godliness is profitable in its beneficial influence on all the relations of life—on all the grades in society. Let me just add here that godliness is profitable at all the periods of life. It is profitable in the morning of life. Oh! how it brightens the morning: and is not morning the best part of the day? And if it be bright in the morning, oh! may it not bless the noon? Then if it brighten the morn and bless the noon, how will it cheer the evening of life! Learn the inconsistency and folly of those who, while they admit the profit of godliness, make no effort to avail themselves of its advantages. Let me recommend this religion to you on the principle of self-interest. (R. Newton.)
The advantage of godliness:—Among the other advantages which it secures on this side eternity, one is the improvement of the human mind—I mean of his intellectual qualities: the improvement of his judgment, his discrimination, his mental faculties. I shall draw your attention to four reasons why the religion of Christ, when received into the heart, improves the human mind.
- Its tendency is to subjugate the passions. It is more than its tendency; it is its direct effect. Not that man is wholly without restraint; there are three things which may operate to check the evil passions of the heart. 1. Conscience has some power. 2. Reason. 3. Self-interest. Self-interest can do something to check the passions, because it will say, “This will do you an injury.” But they are unable to do this perfectly, and that for two reasons. 1. That passion is greatly assisted by powerful allies. Satan sits at the right hand of the human heart, blowing up the coals of evil which are in the heart into a flame of sin, which marks the demon’s power over fallen man. But religion comes to counteract this; the grace of God, by applying to the mind Divine truth and disposing the mind to love and embrace it, improves the mind—(1) By strengthening it. It gives such views, and principles, and motives, as direct the conduct. (2) By enlightening it. The tendency of religion on the mind is to make it see more accurately, reason more correctly, and feel more properly.
- It presents right principles of action. 1. It presents a principle extremely weighty to regulate the mind aright and make it decide right on such things as it is called to judge respecting it. It enables the mind to realize eternity; to be influenced by it at such times and in such places as an individual living in preparation for it should be influenced and guided in relation to an appearance before the great tribunal. 2. Religion produces the realization of another object which tends to guide the mind aright. What is that which will decide the rectitude of the whole life? The apostle has stated it—“Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”; because all that is not done according to this motive is not done according to the will of God. 3. Religion influences the mind and will aright, and therefore elevates the mind, because it furnishes a directory—the Scriptures. Religion has this influence, because—
III. It presents to the mind the highest subjects of contemplation. 1. It brings to the mind the things of God. It takes the mind, by contemplation, up into the mount, as Moses was taken up to converse with God; or as the disciples were taken up into the Mount of Transfiguration to behold the glory of Christ and to hear Him talk with Moses and Elias. It has an elevating effect. 2. It makes the mind serious; and seriousness improves the mind. Trifling is the mark of a light mind, and does not improve it. Religion, as it induces habits of seriousness, cannot fail to improve the mind. 3. The study of God’s Word tends to strengthen the mind; and that which strengthens the mind improves it. 4. Religion gives acquiescence to the will of God; and this improves the mind. The mind that is opposed to the will of God is always battling; but the mind that yields to the will of God is always going right.
- By the internal peace, the peace of soul which religion is calculated to produce, and which it actually does produce; it raises the human mind. When the mind is at peace, it can operate calmly, and is therefore more likely to regulate the judgment and guide it aright. It has often been remarked what effect religion produces in seasons of great danger. This was strikingly observed in the case of the loss of the Kent East Indiaman. There were some persons on board under the influence of religion; and some of these, even females, became objects of admiration, because of their remarkable presence of mind. And this power of religion has often been remarked in our pious soldiers and sailors: their minds have been composed in the hour of danger and of battle; and they have been distinguished by their energy and calmness. In fact, almost all that distinguishes the rational from the irrational is seen in the Christian. The Christian in this world is always in danger. We cannot but observe, then—1. How superior is the state of the human mind in those who have religion to the state of the mind in those who have it not. 2. In attentively reading the history of the world, we may state, without fear of contradiction, that the minds of men have been improved in proportion to the degree of religion they have possessed. (R. Sibthorp.)
The advantages of practical religion:—1. “Godliness is profitable,” as it tends greatly to alleviate the sorrows of life. 2. Godliness is profitable because it imparts sweetness to the enjoyments and an additional relish to the pleasures of life. It is a libel on piety, to represent it as something gloomy and morose. 3. “Godliness,” because it confers upon its possessors pleasures peculiarly its own, “is profitable.” 4. Godliness is profitable, as it disarms death of its terrors and the grave of its gloom. 5. “Godliness is profitable,” for it prepares its possessor for eternal glory. From this subject we learn the importance—the value of religion. But, in fine, if religion is so profitable, I need scarcely, except for the purpose of excitement, remind you that it is personal religion that alone can be beneficial to any of you. (Dr. Beattie.)
- The nature of godliness. 1. Knowledge of the perfections of God—of the person and work of Christ as the Mediator—of man’s state as a fallen creature—of his duty and privileges as redeemed by Christ. (1) As to the perfections of God. This knowledge is to be found nowhere but in the Book of God. (2) Here alone we obtain a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. (3) Here we are made acquainted with man’s state as a fallen creature. (4) As to his duty and privileges. Now, the knowledge of all this is essential to true religion in any soul. 2. Obedience to the commands of God. 3. The transformation of the soul into the image of God.
- The fruits, or tendencies and effects, of godliness. 1. For the increase of worldly comfort. 2. For the establishment of respectability of character in the world. 3. For the improvement of the human mind. (P. M’Owan.)
The gain of godliness:—
- And, first, what is godliness? It is a real belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; our Maker, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier. It is believing in Him, as He is made known to us in the Bible, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us see, whether, even in this world, godliness is not great gain. In the first place, the Scripture gives a general promise that the godly man shall have good things in this world. 1. For godliness fits a man for every station. It is that character on which favour, honour, and esteem surely follow. 2. The godly man alone really enjoys the things which God gives him here. 3. But further, the godly man alone has the privilege of know ing that all things shall work together for his good. 4. But after all, if you would know the great gain of godliness, even in this life, you must try it.
- And this word brings us to the full gain of godliness. If in this life only the believer had hope in Christ, he might still be deemed of all men most miserable. (E. Blencowe, M.A.)
That godliness generally makes men happy in this life:—I. It is to be observed that under the Jewish dispensation temporal promises were most expressly made to obedience, and most particularly with regard to the national success of the righteous against their public enemies (Deut. 32:29). II. Therefore it is to be observed in the next place, and the observation holds more universally true, that religion and virtue, whenever they obtain generally so as to prevail in a nation, do bring along with them very great temporal blessings. III. As to the case of particular and private persons, about whom is much the greatest difficulty, there are several considerations necessary to be taken in in order to determine with any exactness how far godliness having the promise of the present life can be applied to them in this mixed and disorderly state of things. And—1. Religion and piety does not generally alter the natural circumstances or the relative states and conditions of men. If a man be poor or be a servant or slave, his being pious and religious will not certainly make him rich or gain him his freedom. 2. Godliness and true holiness does not exempt men from the unavoidable casualties of nature, such as sickness, death, and the like. 3. Righteousness and piety do not exempt men from such afflictions as God sees necessary either to make trial of their virtue or to make an example of it. 4. Religion and virtue do not always secure men from all the consequences of their own former sins. 5. Righteousness and true holiness do not secure men from the consequences of other men’s sins also: from oppression and unrighteous judgment. (S. Clarke, D.D.)
The profitableness of godliness:—How generally men, with most unanimous consent, are devoted to profit, as to the immediate scope of their designs and aim of their doings, if with the slightest attention we view what is acted on this theatre of human affairs, we cannot but discern. Profit is therefore so much affected and pursued, because it is, or doth seem, apt to procure or promote some good desirable to us. It hath been ever a main obstruction to the practice of piety, that it hath been taken for no friend, or rather for an enemy to profit; as both unprofitable and prejudicial to its followers: and many semblances there are countenancing that opinion. For religion seemeth to smother or to slacken the industry and alacrity of men in following profit many ways: by charging them to be content with a little, and careful for nothing; by diverting their affections and cares from worldly affairs to matters of another nature, place, and time, prescribing in the first place to seek things spiritual, heavenly. It favoureth this conceit to observe that often bad men by impious courses do appear to thrive and prosper; while good men seem for their goodness to suffer, or to be nowise visibly better for it, enduring much hardship and distress. 1. We may consider that piety is exceeding useful for all sorts of men, in all capacities, all states, all relations; fitting and disposing them to manage all their respective concernments, to discharge all their peculiar duties, in a proper, just, and decent manner. If then it be a gross absurdity to desire the fruits, and not to take care of the root, not to cultivate the stock, whence they sprout; if every prince gladly would have his subjects loyal and obedient, every master would have his servants honest, diligent, and observant, every parent would have his children officious and grateful, every man would have his friend faithful and kind, every one would have those just and sincere, with whom he doth negotiate or converse; if any one would choose to be related to such, and would esteem their relation a happiness; then consequently should every man in reason strive to further piety, from whence alone those good dispositions and practices do proceed. 2. Piety doth fit a man for all conditions, qualifying him to pass through them all with the best advantage, wisely, cheerfully, and safely; so as to incur no considerable harm or detriment by them. Is a man prosperous, high, or wealthy in condition? Piety guardeth him from all the mischiefs incident to that state, and disposeth him to enjoy the best advantages thereof. It keepeth him from being swelled and puffed up with vain conceit. It preserveth him from being perverted or corrupted with the temptations to which that condition is most liable; from luxury, from sloth, from stupidity, from forgetfulness of God, and of himself; maintaining among the floods of plenty a sober and steady mind. Such a wondrous virtue hath piety to change all things into matter of consolation and joy. No condition in effect can be evil or sad to a pious man: his very sorrows are pleasant, his infirmities are wholesome, his wants enrich him, his disgraces adorn him, his burdens ease him; his duties are privileges, his falls are the grounds of advancement, his very sins (as breeding contrition, humility, circumspection, and vigilance), do better and profit him: whereas impiety doth spoil every condition, doth corrupt and embase all good things, doth embitter all the conveniences and comforts of life. 3. Piety doth virtually comprise within it all other profits, serving all the designs of them all: whatever kind or desirable good we can hope to find from any other profit, we may be assured to enjoy from it. He that hath it is ipso facto vastly rich, is entitled to immense treasures of most precious wealth; in comparison whereto all the gold and all the jewels in the world are mere baubles. He hath interest in God, and can call Him his, who is the all, and in regard to whom all things existent are “less than nothing.” The pious man is in truth most honourable. The pious man is also the most potent man: he hath a kind of omnipotency, because he can do whatever he will, that is, what he ought to do; and because the Divine power is ever ready to assist him in his pious enterprises, so that “he can do all things by Christ that strengtheneth him.” The pious man also doth enjoy the only true pleasures; hearty, pure, solid, durable pleasures. As for liberty, the pious man most entirely and truly doth enjoy that; he alone is free from captivity to that cruel tyrant Satan, from the miserable slavery to sin, from the grievous dominion of lust and passion. As for all other profits, secluding it, they are but imaginary and counterfeit, mere shadows and illusions, yielding only painted shows instead of substantial fruit. 4. That commendation is not to be omitted which is nearest at hand, and suggested by St. Paul himself to back this assertion concerning the universal profitableness of piety; “For,” saith he, “it hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” As for the blessings of this life, although God hath not promised to load the godly man with affluence of worldly things, yet hath He promised to furnish him with whatever is needful or convenient for him, in due measure and season, the which he doth best understand. Particularly there are promised to the pious man, A supply of all wants. “The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish.” A protection in all dangers.—“The eye of the Lord is on them that fear Him, on them that hope in His mercy; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” Guidance in all his undertakings and proceedings.—“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Success and prosperity in his designs.—“Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” Comfortable enjoying the fruits of his industry.—“Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands.” Satisfaction of all reasonable desires.—“The desire of the righteous shall be granted.” Firm peace and quiet.—“Great peace have they which love Thy law.” “The fruit of righteousness is sowed in peace.” Joy and alacrity.—“Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Support and comfort in afflictions.—“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Deliverance from trouble.—“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Preservation and recovery from mishaps, or miscarriages.—“Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand.” Preferment of all sorts, to honour and dignity, to wealth and prosperity.—“Wait on the Lord, and keep His way; and He shall exalt thee to inherit the land.” Long life.—“The fear of the Lord prolongeth days.” A good name endureth after death.—“The memory of the just is blessed.” Blessings entailed on posterity.—“His seed shall be mighty on earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed.” “The root of the righteous shall not be moved.” It is indeed more frequently, abundantly, and explicitly promised unto God’s ancient people, as being a conditional ingredient of the covenant made with them, exhibited in that as a recompense of their external performance of religious works prescribed in their law. The gospel doth not so clearly propound it, or so much insist on it as not principally belonging to the evangelical covenant, the which, in reward to the performance of its conditions by us, peculiarly doth offer blessings spiritual, and relating to the future state; as also scarce deserving to be mentioned in comparison to those superior blessings. But infinitely more profitable it is, as “having the promises of the future life,” or as procuring a title to those incomparably more excellent blessings of the other world; those “indefectible treasures,” that “incorruptible, undefiled, and never-fading inheritance, reserved in heaven for us.” (I. Barrow.)
The profitableness of godliness:—1. We may consider that religion doth prescribe the truest and best rules of action; thence enlightening our mind, and rectifying our practice in all matters, and on all occasions, so that whatever is performed according to it, is done well and wisely, with a comely grace in regard to others, with a cheerful satisfaction in our own mind, with the best assurance that things are here capable of, to find happy success and beneficial fruit. Of all things in the world there is nothing more generally profitable than light by it we converse with the world, and have all things set before us; by it we truly and easily discern things in their right magnitude, shape, and colour; by it we guide our steps safely in prosecution of what is good, and shunning what is noxious; by it our spirits are comfortably warmed and cheered, our life consequently, our health, our vigour, and activity, are preserved. The like benefits doth religion, which is the light of our soul, yield to it. Pious men are “children of the light”; pious works are works of light “shining before men.” What therefore law and government are to the public, things necessary to preserve the world in order, peace, and safety (that men may know what to do, and distinguish what is their own), that is piety to each man’s private state and to ordinary conversation: it freeth a man’s own life from disorder and distraction; it prompteth men how to behave themselves toward one another with security and confidence. 2. We may consider more particularly, that piety yieldeth to the practiser all kind of interior content, peace, and joy; freeth him from all kinds of dissatisfaction, regret, and disquiet; which is an inestimably great advantage: for certainly the happiness and misery of men are wholly or chiefly seated and founded in the mind. If that is in a good state of health, rest, and cheerfulness, whatever the person’s outward condition or circumstances be, he cannot be wretched: if that be distempered or disturbed, he cannot be happy. 3. Seeing we have mentioned happiness, or the summum bonum, the utmost scope of human desire, we do add, that piety doth surely confer it. Happiness, whatever it be, hath certainly an essential coherence with piety. These are reciprocal propositions, both of them infallibly true, he that is pious is happy; and, he that is happy is pious. All pious dispositions are fountains of pleasant streams, which by their confluence do make up a full sea of felicity. 4. It is a peculiar advantage of piety, that it furnisheth employment fit for us, worthy of us, hugely grateful and highly beneficial to us. Man is a very busy and active creature, which cannot live and do nothing, whose thoughts are in restless motion, whose desires are ever stretching at somewhat, who perpetually will be working either good or evil to himself; wherefore greatly profitable must that thing be which determineth him to act well, to spend his care and pain on that which is truly advantageous to him; and that is religion only. It alone fasteneth our thoughts, affections, and endeavours, on occupations worthy the dignity of our nature. 5. It is a considerable benefit of piety, that it affordeth the best friendships and sweetest society. (Ibid.)
Temporal blessings, support under trouble, and sanctified afflictions:—
- Godliness is profitable for the obtaining of all temporal good things that we stand in need of. In that catalogue of the Christian’s possessions and treasures, which St. Paul has drawn up (1 Cor. 3:22). 1. As to riches. “The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich (Prov. 10:22). To all this we may still add, that religion brings contentment to the mind, and “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). If it does not bring the estate to the mind, it brings the mind to the estate; and that is much the same thing, it is altogether as well. Thus it is that “a little that a righteous man hath, is better than the riches of many wicked” (Psa. 37:16). And he is truly richer with a little, than the others are with a great deal. 2. To honour and good reputation. A blessing which the wise man rates at a higher price than gold and silver, or any of the riches of this world (Prov. 22:1). 3. Pleasure. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Prov. 3:17). (1) As to bodily health, without which we can neither enjoy ourselves, nor anything. (2) A peaceable mind. If the mind be not in tune, the sweetest harmony will make no music in our ears. I must not here pass by an objection or two which may possibly be made against the pleasantness of religion. One is, that it requires some difficult and distasteful duties, as repentance, self-denial and mortification. But as well may one object against the pleasantness of health, because itmay be sometimes necessary to take distasteful medicines, either to recover or to preserve it. Another objection against the pleasure of godliness is taken from the uncomfortable lives of some godly persons.
- Godliness is profitable for the life that now is, to support us under troubles and afflictions whenever they befall us. Here let us inquire what those peculiar supports under afflictions are, which are the proper fruits of godliness. They are chiefly these—1. The testimony of a good conscience. This, St. Paul tells us was his rejoicing in all his tribulations, and at last in the near views of death (2 Cor. 1:12). 2. A sense of pardon and reconciliation with God is a further support under worldly troubles. Pardon takes away the curse from affliction, and a sense of pardon is a sovereign balm to ease the anguish of the mind. 3. The comfortable hope of heaven, where these present afflictions shall be felt no more, and where they shall be abundantly compensated with fulness of joy for ever. 4. There are the supporting influences of the good spirit of God, which are promised in the gospel to all believers.
III. That it secures a sanctified use of afflictions, as well as a happy issue of them; which is therefore a present, as well as a future benefit. (D. Jennings.)
The present life:—1. It is a mysterious life. 2. It is a trying life. 3. It is a preparatory life. 4. It is a short life. 5. It is a precarious life. (The Homilist.)
- The principle.
- The practice. Godliness must be exercised; religion is a personal matter. He must exercise himself vigorously.
III. The profit. (D. Thomas.)
The profit of godliness:—
- “Bodily exercise” is of considerable profit. St. Paul is speaking of the training in the gymnasium. He allows it profits a little. Yet it is not all. No man is necessarily better in heart and life for having the muscles of his arm increased in girth half an inch or an inch. A sound constitution does not necessarily involve goodness in character. If so the Kaffir or Zulu would be the best man upon earth, which he is not. “Bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” The discipline of godliness does make a man better inwardly. And the goodness passes from the centre outwards. It includes even that measure of advantage which may be derived from the culture of the body.
- There is another view of this phrase, “bodily exercise,” which we ought to notice before passing on. A large class of writers understand by it not so much athleticism as asceticism. The soul should bear empire over the body; but it should also reverence and care for the body. The laws of the body, of health, of sustenance are equally laws of God, with those of the soul. The perfection of manhood is attained when the laws of both, according to their kind and function, are duly observed. Asceticism is immoral, because it violates wantonly the law of God in one of the fairest provinces of His creation—viz., the delicate, sensitive, serviceable body of man. Yet even asceticism, in certain forms, profiteth a little. “Allow not nature more than nature needs,” says Shakespeare. Self-denial in bodily indulgence might put some of us into more robust mental health, and impart to us a finer spiritual tone. I am not sure but that “bodily discipline” might (as St. Paul says) “profit a little.” If any bodily appetite or habit rises into mastery over the mind or soul, it must be put in check with a firm hand, and with patient self-denial. So far “bodily exercise,” discipline, is not only profitable, but imperative.
III. The higher principle including all that is serviceable in both athleticism and asceticism, and immeasurably more beside, is godliness. It grows also by use. “Exercise thyself unto godliness.” We grow patient by being patient. We become industrious by refusing to be indolent and by working hard. We learn to love best by loving. We become religious by praying and communion with God. Begin to make God’s law a ruling influence and power in your life. Think out what His will is about, say, that temptation which is coming to you to-morrow; then keep to His will, and pass the temptation by. That is the discipline of godliness.
- This is profitable for all things—unlike athleticism, which profits only for soundness of health and toughness of muscle. 1. For the body itself godliness is profitable. Disease, weakness, morbidness are far more the devil’s work than God’s. 2. For the mind. He who ordered the planets in their orbits, and the seasons in their unvarying round, has not left the human mind without its law. Godliness brings man into harmony with the Author of his being. 3. For faith. But godliness advances faith. The more godlike we grow, the simpler, clearer, stronger is our faith in God. Live holier lives, live less selfish lives, and you will believe more in God and His Son. 4. The affections. This great reverence for the God who is great and good and loving enlarges our heart and our affections. Godliness is instinctive chivalry. If by your evil passion and harshness, your self-indulgence, your weakness and wanton folly, you blight the lives of others, I tell you, you are ungodly men. Godliness is profitable to the home. 5. Business. Be a godly man. Fear God rather than turns of fortune or than opinion. Be like God—true, reliable in your word and deeds. (A. J. Griffith.)
The profitableness of godliness:—
- A man quickly learns if he wishes to live profitably he must have regard to law. We cannot violate law without suffering for it. Disobedience entails destruction, obedience informs with life.
- Let us carry this examination into greater detail. The most profitable human existence is that existence which secures the greatest benefit to the greatest number of faculties. If we resolve a human being into its elements, we shall find it divisible into body, mind, and soul, or, as some would put it, moral instincts. The true philosophy of living consists in the development of this tripartite. We pass, then, to consider the influence of rigidly religious life upon these sides of our nature. 1. If we practise the precepts of the gospel we will eschew those evil acts which occasion uneasiness and remorse; our temperament will maintain an even tranquility, our happiness will be full and satisfying. It has been truly said that an atheistic age is a barren age. We may safely say, then, that for the growth of the mind a godly life is best. 2. But the mind sends down its roots deep into the encompassing body upon which it acts and is acted upon. Physiologists tell us that a healthy mind conduces to a healthy body. If a Christian life produces vigour and clearness of intellect, then it must have a similar effect on the body. A religious life, then, we assert to be physically beneficial. 3. Passing to the region of the spiritual we are relieved from all necessity for discussion. Spirituality can only exist amid holy influences. The man who sins deadens his moral instincts, makes them useless here, and entails the penalty which such misuse is visited with hereafter. 4. But we cannot have obtained anything like a reliable knowledge of the relative value of two courses of life if we have excluded from our calculations all thought of suffering and sorrow. As we cannot by human device stave off sorrow, it behoves us to consider how it can be most successfully met. Mr. Spurgeon has said that if we take our troubles to God He will carry them for us; but if we take them anywhere else they will roll back again.
III. Passing from the individual man to his business interests, we proceed to consider whether godliness is inimical to worldly success. Now, all that Christianity enforces is the necessity of strict honesty. Religion will not transform the dunce into a genius, but sinfulness will transform the genius into a dunce. And if all things are considered, I feel confident that the just man gains in more than mere clear-headedness. Deceit is a most deceitful helper. Henry Ward Beecher tells a story of a man in the Canadian backwoods who, during the summer months, bad procured a stock of fuel sufficient to serve the winter’s consumption. This man had a neighbour who was very indolent, but not very honest, and who, having neglected to provide against the winter storms, was mean enough to avail himself of his neighbour’s supplies without the latter’s permission or knowledge. Mr. Beecher states that it was found, on computation, that the thief had actually spent more time in watching for opportunities to steal, and laboured more arduously to remove the wood (to say nothing of the risk and penalty of detection), than had the man who in open daylight and by honest means had gathered it. And this is oftener the case than we are disposed to allow. What appear to be short cuts to wealth are never safe ones, and very generally they prove to be extremely circuitous. Relaxation, too, is necessary for all men. Consider, then, whether the frivolous and enervating gaiety so frequently indulged in, or the innocent and energizing merriment of the godly, will best enable a man to recuperate the waste occasioned by business life.
- We cannot isolate ourselves from others; we are bound by innumerable bonds to the system of human interests. Our welfare is knit up with the welfare of the world. The man, then, who strives to suppress swindling, and who by the nobility of his own character rebukes all cheatery, is doing a grand service for mankind. He is making property more secure, and society more stable. If irreligion was crushed prosperity would visit this country with her brightest blessings and most permanent happiness. The gospel is also the more potent than all the antidotes which economists prescribe for the diminution of crime.
- It is true godliness, not sham or selfish godliness, that proves profitable.
- Having thus glanced at the profitableness of religion in this life, let us bestow a moment’s thought upon that other life which is eternal. If we lose this, what profit is it that we have been successful in business! We have gained the lesser by losing the greater. The course which in the end will prove profitable cannot be a selfish one. Love to God is indissolubly intertwined with love to man, and the glory of God must issue in man’s exaltation in the best and truest sense. (J. G. Henderson.) What is the profit of godliness?—That men, by godliness, should reap a fruition and harvest hereafter is not surprising to those who have at all been instructed in religious things; but there are many who have supposed that godliness was in a man’s way here. What is godliness? So that godliness means something more than merely religion, in the narrow and technical sense of the term. It means having a wise view of all the laws of our being and condition, and living in conformity to them. Moreover, when it is said that it has in it “the promise of the life that now is,” we are not to narrowly interpret it. A man with a clumsy hand, without skill and without inventive thought, is not justified in attempting to be an inventor simply on the general ground of godliness. We are not to suppose that a man who has no commercial training is to plunge into business and make this plea: “I live in conformity to the laws of my being, and shall be prospered in my pursuits.” We are to have a larger idea of prosperity than is seen in any of these special things. That which, on the whole, promotes their greatest happiness must be considered. Their prosperity now means their welfare. It does not consist in the development of any one part of their nature, but the whole of it. Godliness has an immediate relation to that which is the foundation of all enjoyment—a good, sound bodily condition. The condition of enjoyment in this life is that one is in a sound state of bodily health. Godliness, or a conformity to the great laws of our condition, includes physical health—works toward it. Moderation of appetite; restraint of undue desires; that quietness of spirit which comes from the belief in an overruling Providence; that undisturbed equilibrium which comes from faith in God—all these are, looking at them in their very lowest relations, elements of health—of a sound physical condition. Next consider how much a man’s happiness in this life depends upon his disposition—both with reference to himself and with reference to his social surrounding. It is not what you have about you, but what you are, that determines how happy you shall be. Excessive pride takes away from the power of enjoyment. Godliness, by its very nature, reduces a man to a certain conformity with the laws of his condition, and makes him content therein, and so works upon his disposition that it becomes amenable to the law of happiness. It is made to be more childlike and simple. It is brought into conditions in which happiness may distil upon it from ten thousand little things. A man who wishes to see beauty in nature must not watch for it in gorgeous sunsets always—though they will come once in a while. Let him watch for it in ten million little facets which glisten in the light of the sun, by the roadside as well as in the rich man’s adorned grounds. We must see it in the motes and bugs, in the minutest insects, everywhere. So, then, we are to reap happiness and satisfaction, not so much from great cataclysms and paroxysms as in little things, that have the power to make us supremely happy. Another thing. Men’s happiness depends more upon their relations to society than we are apt to think. Where men have the art of fitting themselves to their circumstances and their companions there is great satisfaction in these also. There is a true sympathy, a true benevolence, which is godly. If you go among men with a mean, selfish spirit, how little happiness will you find in your social intercourse! But if in the child and in its sports you see something to make you smile; if toward the labouring man you have a kindly good will, and if you find companionship with all who are virtuous in the various walks of life—with those who are high for certain reasons, and those who are low for certain other reasons; if you feel a generous brotherhood and sympathy of men, then there is a vast deal of enjoyment for you in this life, which comes simply from your aptitudes for fellowship and friendship. Now it is the peculiar office of a true godliness to subdue the heart to this universal amnesty and sympathy, so that they who are godly, who live in conformity to the will of God, in all their circumstances, shall reap more or less enjoyment. Godliness, by changing men’s condition, prepares them to be happy; and by giving them affinities for things about them produces conditions of happiness. There are also other ways in which godliness works towards happiness. It gives to men a motive in this life without concentrating on their worldly endeavours the utmost of their powers. The outgoing of a man’s own self, legitimately and industriously, with the constant expectation of success—there is great enjoyment in this. At the same time, let this enjoyment be coupled with the moderating, restraining feeling that if earthly enterprises fail and come short, this world is not the only refuge, and worldly affairs are not the only things of value—that though the house perish, and the garments be wasted, and the gold and silver take wings and fly away, and all things perish, yet there is a God, there is a providence, there is hope, there is a home, and there is immortality; then the happiness is greatly increased. Then there is the consideration of those qualities which go to make success in business. Men do not believe you are as honest or as faithful and prompt as you believe yourself to be. But where all the parts of a man are morally sound; where he is free from vices of every sort; where he has fidelity, conscientiousness, industry, good judgment, and intelligence; where he is so trustworthy that you can bring the screw to bear upon him, and, though you turn it never so many times, not be able to break him until you crush him to death—he is invaluable. And I say that just in proportion as men approach to that, they are more and more important in a commercial age, and in a great commercial community. Now, it is the tendency of the ethics of Christianity to produce just such men. If religion does not produce them, it is so far spuriously or imperfectly administered. There is a difference between ethical religion and ecclesiastical and doctrinal religion. But where a man has Christian ethics; where a man is truth-speaking and reliable; where a man is founded upon the rock Christ Jesus, and cannot be moved from it, I say that godliness tends to success in commercial affairs. If you take the different classes of religionists, where shall you find more Christian ethics than among the Quakers? Where shall you find more carefulness in daily life? And among what class will you find more worldly prosperity, and more enjoyment in it, than among them? When I lived in the West, a merchant told me that during twenty years he never suffered the loss of a quarter of a dollar from a whole Quaker neighbourhood. You might take whole settlements, and say that they were exemplifications of the fact that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” Many a poor man goes along the street whose name would not be worth a snap on a note. He could not get a bank in New York to lend him a hundred dollars for a month. He is of no market value whatever. But if your dear child was dying, and you did not know how to pray, he is the very man that you would send for. You would say to him when you were in distress, “Come to our house.” Ah! a man may not have outward prosperity, and yet prosper. He may have that which money cannot buy—peace, happiness, joy. The power of making joy he has; and is he not prospered? Is he not well off? Finally, taking society at large, those who get the furthest from the rules of morality; those who have the most doubt and distrust in regard to the overruling providence of God; those who have a leaning to their own wisdom; those who are proud and selfish, and do what they have a mind to regardless of the welfare of others—they are not pre-eminently prosperous, even in material and commercial things. (H. W. Beecher.)
The profit of godliness in this life:—With regard to this life, let it be remarked that the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ neither undervalues nor overvalues this present life. It does not sneer at this life as though it were nothing; on the contrary, it ennobles it, and shows the relation which it has to the higher and eternal life. There are many who undervalue this life; let me mention some of them to you. Those undervalue it who sacrifice it to indulge their passions or to gratify their appetites. Too many for the sake of momentary gratifications have shortened their lives, and rendered their latter end bitterly painful to themselves. Some evidently undervalue their lives, because they make them wretched through envy. Others are richer than they are, and they think it a miserable thing to be alive at all while others possess more of this world’s goods than they. Oh poison not life by envy of others, for if you do so you miserably undervalue it! The slaves of avarice undervalue their lives, for they do not care to make life happy, but pinch themselves in order to accumulate wealth. The miser who starves himself in order that he may fill his bags may well be reasoned with in this way: “Is not the life more than the meat, and the body than raiment? So also do they undervalue it who in foolhardiness are ready to throw it away on the slightest pretext. He that for his country’s sake, or for the love of his fellow-creatures, risks life and loses it, truly deserves to be called a hero; but he who, to provoke laughter and to win the applause of fools, will venture limb and life without need is but a fool himself, and deserves no praise whatever. Yet there can be such a thing as overvaluing this life, and multitudes have fallen into that error. Those overvalue it who prefer it to eternal life. Why, it is but as a drop compared with the ocean, if you measure time with eternity. They overvalue this life who consider it to be a better thing than Divine love, for the love of God is better than life. Some would give anything for their lives, but they would give nothing for God’s love. It appears from the text that godliness influences this present life, puts it in its true position, and becomes profitable to it.
- First, let me observe that godliness changes the tenure of the life that now is. It hath “the promise of the life that now is.” I want you to mark the word—“it hath the promise of the life that now is.” An ungodly man lives, but how? He lives in a very different respect from a godly man. Sit down in the cell of Newgate with a man condemned to die. That man lives, but he is reckoned dead in law. He has been condemned. If he is now enjoying a reprieve, yet he holds his life at another’s pleasure, and soon he must surrender it to the demands of justice. I, sitting by the side of him, breathing the same air, and enjoying what in many respects is only the selfsame life, yet live in a totally different sense. I have not forfeited my life to the law, I enjoy it, as far as the law is concerned, as my own proper right: the law protects my life, though it destroys his life. The ungodly man is condemned already, condemned to die, for the wages of sin is death; and his whole life here is nothing but a reprieve granted by the longsuffering of God. But a Christian man is pardoned and absolved; he owes not his life now to penal justice; when death comes to him it will not be at all in the sense of an infliction of a punishment; it will not be death, it will be the transfer of his spirit to a better state, the slumbering of his body for a little while in its proper couch to be awakened in a nobler likeness by the trump of the archangel. Now, is not life itself changed when held on so different a tenure? “Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is.” That word changes the tenure of our present life in this respect, that it removes in a sense the uncertainty of it. God hath given to none of you unconverted ones any promise of the life that now is. You are like squatters on a common, who pitch their tents, and by the sufferance of the lord of the manor may remain there for awhile, but at a moment’s notice you must up tents and away. But the Christian hath the promise of the life that now is; that is to say, he has the freehold of it; it is life given to him of God, and he really enjoys it, and has an absolute certainty about it; in fact, the life that now is has become to the Christian a foretaste of the life to come. The tenure is very different between the uncertainty of the ungodly who has no rights and no legal titles, and the blessed certainty of the child of God who lives by promise. Let me add that this word seems to me to sweeten the whole of human life to the man that hath it. Godliness hath the promise of life that now is; that is to say, everything that comes to a godly man comes to him by promise, whereas if the ungodly man hath any blessing apparent, it does not come by promise, it comes overshadowed by a terrible guilt which curses his very blessings, and makes the responsibilities of his wealth and of his health and position redound to his own destruction, working as a savour of death unto death through his wilful disobedience. There is a vast difference between having the life that now is and having the promise of the life that now is—having God’s promise about it to make it all gracious, to make it all certain, and to make it all blessed as a token of love from God.
- The benefit which godliness bestows in this life. Perhaps the fulness of the text is the fact that the highest blessedness of life, is secured to us by godliness. Under ordinary circumstances it is true that godliness wears a propitious face both towards health and wealth and name, and he who has respect to these things shall not find himself, as a rule, injured in the pursuit of them by his godliness; but still I disdain altogether the idea that all these three things together, are or even make up a part of the promise of the life that now is. I believe some persons have the life that now is in its fulness, and the promise of it in its richest fulfilment, who have neither wealth, health, nor fame; for being blessed with the suffering Master’s smile and presence, they are happier far than those who roll in wealth, who luxuriate in fame, and have all the rich blessings which health includes. Let me now show you what I think is the promise of the life that now is. I believe it to be an inward happiness, which is altogether independent of outward circumstances, which is something richer than wealth, fairer than health, and more substantial than fame. This secret of the Lord, this deep delight, this calm repose, godliness always brings in proportion as it reigns in the heart. Let us try and show that this is even so. A godly man, is one who is at one with his Maker. 1. It must always be right with the creature when it is at one with the Creator. But when godliness puts our will into conformity with the Divine will, the more fully it does so, the more certainly it secures to us happiness even in the life that now is. I am not happy necessarily because I am in health, but I am happy if I am content to be out of health when God wills it. I am not happy because I am wealthy, but I am happy if it pleases me to be poor because it pleases God I should be. 2. The Christian man starting in life as such is best accoutred for this life. He is like a vessel fittingly stored for all the storms and contrary currents that may await it. The Christian is like a soldier, who must fain go to battle, but he is protected by the best armour that can be procured. 3. With a Christian all things that happen to him work for good. Is not this a rich part of the promise of the life that now is? What if the waves roar against him, they speed his bark towards the haven? 4. The Christian enjoys his God under all circumstances. That, again, is the promise of the life that now is. 5. I am sure you will agree with me that the genuine possessor of godliness has the promise of the life that now is in his freedom from many of those cares and fears which rob life of all its lustre. The man without godliness is weighted with the care of every day, and of all the days that are to come, the dread remembrance of the past, and the terror of the future as well. 6. And as he is thus free from care, so is he free from the fear of men. 7. Moreover, the fear of death has gone from the Christian. This with many deprives the life that now is of everything that is happy and consoling. Another application of the text is this. There is a bearing of it upon the sinner. It is quite certain, O ungodly man, that the promise of the life that now is belongs only to those who are godly. Are you content to miss the cream of this life? I pray you, if you will not think of the life to come, at least think of this. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Happiness of godliness:—Christianity a gloomy system! The world and devils may say so; but a thousand eyes that sparkle with a hope that maketh not ashamed, and a thousand hearts that beat happily with the full pulse of spiritual life, can tell thee thou liest. Christianity a gloomy system! Why, it is the Christian only that can thoroughly enjoy the world. To him, to his grateful vision, earth is garlanded with fairer beauty, heaven sparkles with serener smiles; to him the landscape is the more lovely, because it reminds him of the paradise of his hope in prospect which his father once lost, but which his Saviour has brought back again, as a family inheritance for ever; to him the ocean rolls the more grandly, because it figures out the duration of his promised life; to him the birds in their forest minstrelsy warble the more sweetly, because their woodland music takes him upwards to the harpers harping with their harps in heaven; to him the mountains tower the more sublimely, because their heaven-pointing summits are the emblems of his own majestic hopes. (W. M. Punshon.)
Secret of happiness:—A thoroughly loyal subject of God’s kingdom is qualified to dwell happily in any world to which God may call him. Because he is what he is, it matters less where he chances to be. The star which shines by its own light may traverse the infinite space of the heavens, but it can never know eclipse. On the other hand, a peevish, uneasy, and wilful spirit is not much helped by outward condition. King Ahab, in his palace, turns his face to the wall and will eat no bread, because he cannot have Naboth’s vineyard. How many a proud man is so unweaned and pulpy that he cannot bear a cloudy day, an east wind, the loss of a dinner, the creaking of a shutter by night, or a plain word! You will meet travellers who take their care with them as they do their luggage, and grasp it tightly wherever they go, or check it forward from place to place, although, unlike their luggage, it never gets lost. You may carry an instrument out of tune all over the world, and every breath of heaven and every hand of man that sweeps over its strings shall produce only discord. Such a man’s trouble is in his temper, not in his place. You can hardly call it “borrowed” trouble either, for it is mostly made, and so is his own by the clearest of all titles. (Wm. Crawford.)
The blessedness of religion:—Religion makes a man happier all the way through. You may have to work hard for your daily bread, but you hear reports of a land where they neither hunger nor thirst. You may have a great many physical distresses and pangs of pain, but you hear of the land where the head never aches, and where the respiration is not painful, and where the pulse throbs with the life of God! You may have to weep among the graves of the dead, but against the tombstone leans the Risen One pointing you up to that sphere where God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes. Ask those who are before the throne, ask those who have plucked the fruit of the tree of life, ask those who are waving the palms in glory whether this is the happy side or not. I knew a minister in Philadelphia (he was not poetic, he was not romantic—they called him a very plain man), who, in his last moment, as he passed out of life, looked up and said, “I move into the light.” Oh! it is the happy side—happy here—it is happy for ever. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Happiness is attainable in this life:—Is happiness attainable? First, there is something in our condition as sinners against God, that militates against our happiness. God “made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions.”
- In order to show that happiness is attainable, I shall first appeal to the infallible assurances of God’s inspired Word (2 Chronicles 20:20; 26:5; Job 36:11). In the first Psalm there is an encomium upon the happiness of the godly (Matt. 6:33).
- The manifest and unquestionable tendency of true godliness to impart and insure happiness. Health is by universal consent considered an essential ingredient to happiness. Cheerfulness is a part of happiness. And who can pretend to cheerfulness on such just grounds as the real Christian, the man of genuine godliness? His principles make him happy. Look at the influence of those principles on friendship; which is essential to happiness. Mark how the principles of godliness bear upon a man’s usefulness. How can I be happy unless I am useful?
III. The experience of the power of the God whom we serve. If I can show you that happiness has been actually attained, it will be quite clear that it is attainable. Look, therefore, at the history and experience of the servants of God. I will grant the straitness of their circumstances, for they are often a poor and an afflicted people. Let me call your attention to the case of the prophet Habbakuk. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail and the field shall yield no meat, the flocks shall be cut off from the fold and there shall be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Look at Paul and Silas—their backs lacerated with the Roman scourge, their feet made fast in the stocks, condemned to spend the night in a prison; “at midnight they prayed and sang praises to God; and the prisoners heard them.” Now either these persons must be grossly deceived, or happiness is attainable.
- In the fourth place, I must make an appeal to the fact of the existence of hypocrites in the Church. The counterfeit itself proves the value and the existence of the genuine coin.
- Finally, I make my appeal to the confessions and lamentations of the ungodly themselves; who, having discarded religion, both in principle and in practice, have been left to rue their own folly, and to admit that their happiness was indeed illusory and vain, ending in bitter disappointment. Some have been honest enough to confess this; that they have “forsaken the fountain of living waters,” and they have heaped to themselves immeasurable bitterness and sorrow of heart. 1. In conclusion, then, let this subject, in the first place, rectify our judgments. 2. In the next place, let this subject decide our choice. The consideration of it will do us good, if the decisions of the will should follow the enlightenment of the understanding. 3. Let this subject, thirdly, awaken our gratitude. 4. Finally, let this subject serve to stimulate our desire for a more full and complete and final happiness beyond the grave. (G. Clayton.)
The profit of godliness in the life to come:—There is another life beyond this fleeting existence. This fact was dimly guessed by heathens. What was thus surmised by the great thinkers of antiquity, has been brought to light in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Godliness concerning the life to come possesses a promise unique and unrivalled. 1. I say a unique promise, for, observe, infidelity makes no promise of a life to come. It is the express business of infidelity to deny that there is such a life, and to blot out all the comfort which can be promised concerning it. Man is like a prisoner shut up in his cell, a cell all dark and cheerless save that there is a window through which he can gaze upon a glorious landscape. 2. No system based upon human merit ever gives its votaries a promise of the life to come, which they can really grasp and be assured of. No self-righteous man will venture to speak of the assurance of faith; in fact, he denounces it as presumption. Godliness hath a monopoly of heavenly promise as to the blessed future. There is nothing else beneath high heaven to which any such promise has ever been given by God, or of which any such promise can be supposed. Look at vice, for instance, with its pretended pleasures—what does it offer you? And it is equally certain that no promise of the life that is to come is given to wealth. Nay, ye may grasp the Indies if ye will; ye may seek to compass within your estates all the lands that ye can see far and wide, but ye shall be none the nearer to heaven when ye have reached the climax of your avarice. There is no promise of the life that is to come in the pursuits of usury and covetousness. Nor is there any such promise to personal accomplishments and beauty. How many live for that poor bodily form of theirs which so soon must moulder back to the dust! Nor even to higher accomplishments than these is there given any promise of the life to come. For instance, the attainment of learning, or the possession of that which often stands men in as good stead as learning, namely, cleverness, brings therewith no promise of future bliss. “Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come,” but to nothing else anywhere, search for it high or low, on earth or sea, to nothing else is the promise given save to godliness alone.
- I pass on to notice, in the second place, that the promise given to godliness is as comprehensive as it is unique. In the moment of death the Christian will begin to enjoy this eternal life in the form of wonderful felicity in the company of Christ, in the presence of God, in the society of disembodied spirits and holy angels.
III. I have shown you that the promise appended to godliness is unique and comprehensive, and now observe that it is sure. “Godliness hath promise”; that is to say, it hath God’s promise. Now, God’s promise is firmer than the hills. He is God, and cannot lie. He will never retract the promise, nor will He leave it unfulfilled. He was too wise to give a rash promise: he is too powerful to be unable to fulfil it.
- This promise is a present promise. You should notice the participle, “having promise.” It does not say that godliness after awhile will get the promise, but godliness has promise now at this very moment. When we get a man’s promise in whom we trust, we feel quite easy about the matter under concern. A note of hand from many a firm in the city of London would pass current for gold any day in the week; and surely when God gives the promise, it is safe and right for us to accept it as if it were the fulfilment itself, for it is quite as sure. You cannot enjoy heaven, for you are not there, but you can enjoy the promise of it. Many a dear child, if it has a promise of a treat in a week’s time, will go skipping among its little companions as merry as a lark about it. When the crusaders first came in sight of Jerusalem, though they had a hard battle before them ere they could win it, yet they fell down in ecstacy at the sight of the holy city. When the brave soldiers, of whom Xenophon tells us, came at last in sight of the sea, from which they had been so long separated, they cried out, “Thallasse! Thallasse!”—“The sea! the sea!” and we, though death appears between us and the better land, can yet look beyond it. V. This promise which is appended to godliness is a very needful one. It is a very needful one, for ah! if I have no promise of the life that is to come, where am I? and where shall I be? Oh! how much I want the promise of the life to come, for if I have not that I have a curse for the life to come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The life to come:—It is a singular and lamentable fact, that while men are so sensitive and eager in pursuing temporal interests, they are so obstinately careless with regard to those spiritual interests, which are far more expanded and enduring. The correction of the evil now adverted to, must of course be considered as a matter of transcendant importance.
- First, notice some of the proofs that a “life to come” does really exist. There are evidences upon the subject of a future life, apart from any direct connection with revelation, to which nevertheless no insignificant weight must be assigned. I refer you especially to the masterly work of Dr. Butler, whence I imagine no candid mind can arise, without being satisfied that there is a strong probability, arising from analogy, of the continuance of conscious being after the death of the body, and entirely and absolutely uninjured by it. We may notice, again, the common consent of mankind, who, in all nations and in all ages, have admitted a futurity, although frequently with acknowledged and grievous defects: a fact, I conceive, which can only be properly accounted for by receiving the substantial and final truth of the thing which is believed. We may notice, again, the aspirations after something far beyond this transitory and mortal sphere—“longings of immortality.” We may notice, again, the operations of the momentous faculty of conscience, in the judgment which it forms as to the moral qualities and deserts of actions and thoughts, and the feelings which it inspires in the bosom (by reason of its decisions) of pleasure or pain, hope or fear, satisfaction or remorse; and all these, which are entirely independent of the opinions of other men, are to be regarded as prophetic indications of a subjection to other principles of decision, and to a great system of moral government, the sanctions of which are to be found in the yet impervious and impalpable future. But we must direct our regard to revelation itself: by which, of course, we mean the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, “given by inspiration of God,” and unfolding all the truths relating to the condition and to the destinies of man.
- The characteristics by which “the life to come” is distinguished. It will appear to you important, besides the contemplation of the general fact, to notice the particular attributes, which the fact involves. It is very possible, to admit the general fact, and yet to indulge great and perhaps fatal mistakes as to the detail. The heathen admits the general fact, but grievously errs as to the detail. 1. And we observe, in the first place, that “the life to come” will comprehend the whole nature of man. 2. We are to observe, that “the life to come” is purely and entirely retributive. God has arranged it as the scene, where He will apply to His intelligent creation the sanctions of that great system of moral government, under which they have existed. 3. Again, “the life to come,” which thus will comprehend the whole nature of man, and which is purely retributive, will be unchangeable and eternal. We can conceive nothing of what is indestructible in “the life that now is”; all around us breathes with decay and dissolution. The attributes which now are noticed do not merely apply to abstract existence, but to the condition of existence. In other words, the rewards and the punishments, which have been adverted to, will be unchanging and will be everlasting too.
III. The power, which the prospect of “the life which is to come” should possess over the minds and habits of men. 1. First, “the life which is to come” ought to be habitually contemplated. It has surely been revealed that it might be pondered; and admitting the fact that there is a life to come, a mere sciolist, a child, would be able to arrive at the conclusion, how it ought to be made the object of thought and of pondering. Think how noble and how solemn is your existence. 2. Again “the life to come” ought to be diligently prepared for. Your contemplations are for the purpose of leading you to preparation. And how are we to prepare, so as to escape the world of punishment and to receive the world of reward? The merit of penitence is nothing; the merit of what you regard good works is nothing. There is only one method of preparation; and that is, according to the announcements of the system of grace, in the volume which is before us. For the “life to come” many of you are prepared. Are there not some, who have never offered these aspirations, who themselves are not yet prepared? (J. Parsons.)
7b, 8. In continuing his advice with respect to Timothy’s spiritual advancement and the means which he should use to that end, Paul says:
Train yourself for godly living. For while physical training is of some benefit, this godly living is of benefit in every way.
The figure which underlies the passage is, of course, that of the Greek gymnasium (or its popular imitation), comprising grounds for running, wrestling, etc. It was a place where stripped youths by means of physical training would try to promote the grace and vigor of their bodies. Timothy, then, is told to gymnasticize. But, in keeping with the immediately preceding context, which pictured him as being nourished on the words of faith and as shunning profane myths in order that thus he may be (and may continue to be) “an excellent minister of Christ Jesus,” he is told to train himself with a view to godliness or godly living. The exercise which he is urged to take is to be of a spiritual character.
What Paul had in mind, accordingly, must have included one or more of the following comparisons:
(a) Just as a youth in the gymnasium exerts himself to the utmost, so you, too, by God’s grace and power, must spare no efforts to attain your goal.
(b) Just as that youth discards every handicap or burden in order that he may train the more freely, so you, too, should divest yourself of everything that could encumber your spiritual progress.
(c) Just as that youth has his eye on a goal—perhaps that of showing superior skill on the discus range, that of winning the wrestling match or boxing-bout in the palestra, that of being the first one to reach the post which marked the winning-point on the running track, at least that of improving his physique—so you should be constantly aiming at your spiritual objective, namely, that of complete self-dedication to God in Christ.
It is not at all surprising that the apostle, with this figure of the gymnasium or its less pretentious substitutes in mind, now draws a comparison between the value of physical training (literally “bodily gymnastics”) and training for godly living. He states that the former is of some benefit. It is useful for something. The latter, however, is of benefit in every way. It is useful for all things. He is by no means belittling the value of physical exercise. He is saying two things: a. that the boon which bodily training bestows, however great it may be, is definitely inferior to the reward which the godly life promises. The former at best bestows health, vigor, beauty of physical form. These things are wonderful and to be appreciated. But the latter bestows life everlasting! b. that the sphere in which bodily training is of benefit is far more restricted than that in which godly living confers its reward. The former concerns the here and now. The latter concerns the here and now but also reaches far beyond it.
That this is, indeed, what he means is clearly shown by what follows in verse 8, after the words, “this godly living is of benefit in every way,” namely, as it holds promise of life both for the present and for the future.
The essence and contents of the promise is life, fellowship with God in Christ, the love of God shed abroad in the heart, the peace of God which passes all understanding. (See also N.T.C. on John, Vol. 1, pp. 71–73, 141.) Complete devotion, godliness, or godly living, itself the fruit of God’s grace, results in the increasing possession and enjoyment of this reward, according to the teaching of Scripture throughout (Deut. 4:29; 28:1–3, 9, 10; 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 1:1–3; 24:3–6; 103:17, 18; 1 John 1:6, 7; 1 John 2:24, 25; Rev. 2:10, 17; 3:5, 12, 21).
God has promised this, and he always fulfils his promise. And this life which God bestows, and which surpasses all other blessings in value, is both for the present and for the future, for the age that now is and for the coming age. It can never cease.
The explanation of 1 Tim. 4:7b, 8 which I have given departs in some points from that which is favored by others. See the footnote.
4:8. Paul declared, Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things. Physical training is limited to just that—the physical dimensions of life. Godliness, on the other hand, penetrates every aspect of life. Godliness affects everything: our view of self, marriage, parenting, business, civic responsibilities, environmental outlook, relationship with our next-door neighbors. Nothing escapes godliness; it covers everything.
Godliness is not limited only to the present; it also extends to our life to come: Godliness [holds] promise for both the present life and the life to come. It does not matter if a person invests in physical exercise or careful dietary plans. Inevitably, death confronts us. Jesus addressed this truth when he said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). What we become in this life we carry into eternity.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 108–110). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 206). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.