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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Train yourself for godliness.
Text:1 Timothy 4:7b (View)
Occasion:Ordination (Elder/Deacon)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible translation: NKJV

Psalm 42:1,3

Psalm 42:5

Psalm 63:1,2,3

Psalm 119:5,6

Psalm 84:6

Read:  Galatians 2:11-21; 1 Timothy 4.

Text:  1 Timothy 4:7b

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When you pray for your office bearers tonight, for the brothers who are to be ordained this afternoon, for the elders and deacons who are already in office, and for myself as your minister, please pray that we will be godly.

And don’t just pray it without giving the matter much thought:  implore of the Lord that the Holy Spirit will fill the hearts and the lives of your leaders that we might be men who are godly in all of life.

I am asking you to do this because I am concerned that we don’t pray for the godliness of our office bearers enough. I fear that we do not put enough emphasis on the pressing need for the growth in the godly character of our leaders.  On the one hand that is understandable because it is right to assume godliness in our leaders because if we did not see godliness in them, they should not have been ordained in the first place!  But on the other hand godliness is not something to be taken for granted, nor something that you can ever stop striving for.

The apostle Paul did not take godliness for granted when it came to Timothy.  Even though he addressed Timothy in chapter 1:2 as “a true son in the faith” he implored him in chapter 4:7 to exercise himself toward godliness.  And in verse 12 of that chapter, he urged that he be

“an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

And chapter 4:16,

Take heed to yourself  and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

Godliness in church leadership can not be emphasized enough.  Yes, we want our ministers to be good preachers and teachers.  Yes, we want our elders to be good listeners and wise counsellors.  Yes, we want our deacons to show love and concern and teach good financial management.  And yes, elders and deacons, as office bearers you also want to do all of these things and do them well.  You want the skills and you want to train yourselves in the skills needed to be a good office bearer.  But above and beyond all of this is the need to be godly.  And if Paul felt the need to urge Timothy, a man who had shown himself to be a mature Christian, a gifted pastor, an effective evangelist and a respected church leader, if Paul felt the need to urge Timothy to be godly, so we and our leaders also must be urged to train ourselves for godliness.

And so I preach to you the Word of the Lord under the following theme:

Train yourself for godliness.

  1. The heart of godliness.
  2. The practise of godliness.

1. The heart of godliness.

Brothers office bearers, and those of you who are to be ordained this afternoon, the office of elder or deacon is a beautiful calling.  It is an honour and a wonder of God’s grace that He is willing to bless you with the privilege of serving His church in this way.  You will rejoice and be filled with thanksgiving as you see people come to a knowledge of the truth, repent from sin, and grow in faith and in love.  You will make visits thinking that you went to support a brother, a sister or a family but return with the feeling that you received far more encouragement from them than you could ever give.  You will establish relationships not just with those in your wards but also with your fellow office bearers, relationships that you will cherish and that will encourage you in your walk with the Lord.

But there will also be great cost and sacrifice.  You will see another side of church life.  You will be confronted with sin.  You will grieve over those who turn their back on the Lord, who dishonour His name and who suffer the consequence of their rejection or their sinful behaviour.  You will feel great stress when there is disunity, when brothers fail to live together in communion.  You will find it hard to balance your marriage, your family life, your work and your office of elder or deacon and you will feel that you are failing to do any of those things as well as you would like.  Your body and your mind will be tired and will be pleading for rest on some of the nights when you are expected to go out yet again for a meeting or a pastoral visit. 

And so you will be confronted not just with the stresses of ministry, but also with yourself.  Your own weaknesses.  Your own failings.  Your own fears.  Your own pride.  Your own sin. 

You see, brothers and sisters, office bearers are human beings.  Office bearers are made of flesh and blood, fallen flesh and blood.  They are not super-humans, not even super-spiritual in the sense that they are not affected by the limitations, the weaknesses or even the lusts of the human flesh. 

Office bearers, that is ministers, elders and deacons, are in need of the same blood of Christ, the same saving grace, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit as every last one of you.

And that has to be our starting point if we want to get to the heart of godliness.  We could say that godliness is living before God’s face.  Godliness is placing God at the centre of every activity and every endeavour.  Godliness comes from a God-centred and a gospel centred life.  To be godly is to be crucified with Christ so that it is no longer I who live but Christ living in me.  Godliness is living out of the grace-filled position that we have in Him.

While Timothy was ministering to the people of Ephesus, there were many false teachers who failed to begin with that starting point, who did not seek their godliness in the grace of God through Christ.  And for that reason Timothy was called to be on guard against those who promoted their false doctrines and false forms of godliness.  The apostle Paul began his letter in 1 Timothy 1:3,4 by saying,

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia – remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in the faith.”

And chapter 1:18-20,

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

And then in chapter 4, Paul goes back to these false teachers and he describes some of the things that they are insisting on: 

“. . . forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”  (1 Timothy 4:3)

These teachings were, Paul wrote, the work of “deceiving spirits” and “doctrines of demons” and those who promoted these lies had their own conscience seared with a hot iron.  That is, they had begun to believe their own lies, thinking that this was the way to be saved, this was the way to be godly. 

But it was not the way to be saved, and it was not the way to be godly.  Nor could one be saved or grow in godliness through what verse 7 describes as “profane and old wives’ fables”, the teachings of men as though they were the teachings of God.  That is not to say that there was anything wrong in itself with abstaining from meat or certain other foods.  The New Testament actually speaks positively of the practise of fasting.  Likewise, there was nothing wrong in itself with remaining unmarried in devotion to God.  Paul himself was single and he called it a gift.  And there was nothing wrong in itself with pummelling the body into submission.  After all, Paul himself had written in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that

“. . . I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

But what was wrong with these teachings was that they misrepresented the way of salvation and the way of godliness.  They suggested that salvation was not to be found in Christ alone by grace alone but by keeping human rules and regulations.  This, then, was the old heresy of a works-based righteousness, of legalism that had come up so often before, a legalism that Paul had to fight against in Acts chapter 15 and described in Galatians chapter 2.

In Galatians 2 Paul wrote about the time when he had to oppose Peter and Barnabas and many of the Jews who were caving in to pressure from the circumcision party.  The circumcision party were those Jews who insisted that the way to come to God was not by faith in Christ alone but by keeping the law, by being a Jew.  And the result of this hypocrisy, Paul wrote in Galatians 2:13, was that “they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel.”  Legalism is a “do-it-yourself religion”, a religion that teaches you that the way to come to God and so the way to be godly is through setting aside the gospel, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and working your own way into God’s favour.

But you can not do that!  To add anything to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to teach or suggest that God will accept you in any way other than through Jesus Christ alone is heresy!  It is false teaching!  It is the doctrine of demons.

And what that means when it comes to godliness is that you may not see godliness apart from the grace of God.  You see, the heart of godliness is to know that I am nothing in and of myself.  It is to be deeply aware of my sin, of my guilt and corruption.  It is to be profoundly ashamed of my sin.  It is to be broken before God.  And then it is to rejoice more and more in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Brothers office bearers, you need that!  Yes, you need to be a good listener and a wise counsellor.  Yes you need to show love and concern and be able to teach good financial management.  But above all of these and all other things is that you need to live in and out of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

And that is also how you are to do your work.  Do not set aside the grace of God (as the apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 2:21.)  Do not set aside the grace of God but live and breathe that grace.  You need to be broken before God before you can minister to the broken-ness of others.  You need to live out of the grace of God yourself before you can minister in that grace to others. 

Do not forget that!  As an office bearer it is tempting to rush around putting out fires.  As an office bearer it is tempting to take short cuts to think that so long as a person is in church, so long as the marriage remains intact, so long as he is paying his contributions to the church, so long as he appears to be doing the right thing, that things are ok.  Now don’t get me wrong here:  I am not saying that these things are unimportant, nor am I saying that you should not focus on these fruits of faith.  But do not neglect the heart of godliness!  Do not short-cut, do not set aside the grace of God.  Brothers, as office bearers you are ambassadors of the grace of God, calling people to be reconciled to God in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Be drawn to God yourselves.  Be drawn to His love, His grace, His favour.  Live out of His grace and His favour yourself.  And then call others to see the greatness and the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and then to respond to His grace in love and worship.

2. The practice of godliness.

Sometimes Christians can get a little bit concerned with all this talk about grace, worried that the result is that you become too soft on the  law.  And it is true that in some areas you will be less black and white with how you think about and speak about the Christian life.  But if a focus on grace leads you to be soft on godliness and holy living, then you have misunderstood what grace is all about! For the grace of God is the greatest motivator for you to be godly in all of life.  You see, as Galatians 2 teaches us, when you are crucified with Christ and buried with Him, then you are also raised with Him so that it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you!  You belong to Him with body and soul.  You share in all His treasures and gifts.  And then you also take on His person, His personality.  Then you will want to be to be like Him, righteous and holy.  And so you will also want to live for Him every day in every way.

Living in the grace of God will make you long for holiness and long to be godly.  And this longing then will also drive you to train for godliness, or as it says in the New King James Version of 1 timothy 4:7, to “exercise yourself toward godliness.”  You see, growth in godliness doesn’t just happen: it is not simply a matter of praying that the LORD make you more godly and then going on in life as though nothing had happened.  But as you pray for godliness you are also praying that the Holy Spirit will help you to work at being godly more and more.

The word “exercise” in 1 Timothy 4:7 refers to physical exertion, bodily exercise, and comes from the same Greek word as our word “Gymnasium” comes from.  It is the word used to describe the physical training that athletes need to do in order to compete at sport.  As such it is rigorous, hard work.  To exercise yourself toward godliness requires great and ongoing dedication and concentrated energy.  In our text Paul is not simply telling Timothy to pray to the Lord for godliness and that this would be the end of the matter.  No, Timothy was called to strive to be godly, to train himself for godliness. He is to strive for godliness in the same way that a sportsman strives to excel at his sport and win the prize.

And the rest of 1 Timothy 4 gives us some guidance in just how we are to train ourselves for the godliness that the Lord requires of us.  Verse 12 in particular calls Timothy to be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith and in purity. 

Personal godliness is to be seen in your words, in what you say and how you say it.  Although your love for God calls you to defend the truth of the gospel, sometimes even to strongly defend it, you will not be quarrelsome but you will speak the truth in love with words seasoned with the grace of God.  What you say will be saturated in prayer, prayer in which you will plead for the Holy Spirit to guide you in all your thoughts and words.

And becoming more Christ-like will also have an impact on your conduct in all of life.  Being clothed with Christ is not something that you can take on and off at will, but you are a child of God wherever you are: at home, at church, at work, on holidays and so forth.  The danger for us as office bearers (and, I think, for all of you) is that we have a bit of a split personality, where we put on a godly front at church and in our official capacity as minister, elder or deacon but that this godliness does not flow through to how we deal with our own family, to what we think, say or do among our friends or in private.  Fellow office bearers:  you will not be able to call the congregation to be godly in their conduct if you are not growing in godliness yourselves!  You can not tell a person that sin is terrible if at the same time you allow sin to gain a foothold in your own life, if you do not seek to conduct yourself in godliness.

And in addition to godly speech and godly conduct, you will also train yourself in godly love.  You will grow in your love for the members in the church and the people in your wards.  You will be passionate in your concern for those are lost and you will firmly but lovingly call them to return to God and to the grace that can only found in Jesus Christ.

And you will also train yourself in godly purity.  Office bearers, it is of critical importance that you be pure in every way, that your motives are pure, that your heart is sincere.  And godly purity must also mean bodily purity.  Be men of integrity.  Practise godly discipline in what you think or dream about, what you look at, what you say and what you do.

And so you are to train yourself for godliness.  But even as you train yourself, you will be confronted once more with weakness of your human flesh, of your inability to be truly godly.  And this in turn must drive you to your knees in prayer, imploring the LORD once again for His grace and the Holy Spirit.  And the LORD will give you His grace.  And He will give you His Holy Spirit to comfort you, to convict you and to train you.

And the chief way that the Holy Spirit trains you to a life of increasing godliness is through His Word.  And so take God’s Word and read it.  Do not just read it for others, for the sake of your family or those whom you are visiting.  Read it for yourselves.  And then don’t just read it but meditate on it.  May our lives be saturated not just with the reading of God’s Word but that we might also seek to live in it and through it. Be nourished in the Word,  holding on to the true doctrine of grace.  And, as it says in 1 Timothy 4:15,

“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.”

From my own personal experience and from what I have read and observed, I believe that one of the greatest dangers that office bearers in the church face is that they stop exercising themselves towards godliness.  One of the greatest dangers is to let the busy-ness of work, the pressures of life, the demands of ministry block out the call to take heed to yourselves and your own godliness.  But you can not and you may not do that!  For it is only through a godliness that is grounded in the grace of God in Jesus Christ that you are able to fulfil your ministry.

And therefore, brothers and sisters, pray that you might be godly.  And pray, earnestly pray, that your leaders, myself as your minister and the elders and deacons of this church might be godly.  But more than that, pray that we might train ourselves for godliness.  For then not only will we be blessed, but you will be blessed through us as we minister in the grace and the godliness that is given to us by God through His Holy Spirit.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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