17 Jan First things first: Pursuing godliness
1 Timothy 4:6-16
6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Two months ago, I had fellowship with my good friends. Because we were still in the midst of a pandemic, we decided that we would just meet at my friend’s house and get the takeaway roasted chicken. One of my friends voluntarily offered to get the roasted chicken. Brilliant! On the day, Ellis and I arrived on time. While waiting for chicken, we chit chat. Then, after half an hour, we were wondering why it took so long to buy the chicken. And, one message came-up to our Whatsapp group, “sorry guys I missed the exit”. You know when you are on the highway, missing the exit is such a big thing because the next exit is far away. We could not do anything so we replied “that’s fine”. Then, a few minutes later, a new message came up again – “sorry guys I missed the second exit!”. We ended up having dinner a bit late. I forgot to tell you at the beginning, my friend is a pastor. If your pastor has the same problem, we may talk to the same person. Thus, the point of the story is our pastor is very bad in direction; always going in the wrong direction. Just kidding! Do you know that everyone is on a journey? We are driving to our destination. The question for us is not whether we are on the journey or not because all of us are on the journey. The question for us is whether we are going in the right direction or not. This question should determine whether we love God or we love the world.
I think if I ask everyone in here whether we love God or not, all of us will raise our hands and say “yes!”. The simple way to check is by checking daily routine; your schedule. What is the priority in your life? Or if you are the type of person who loves making new resolutions every single year, what is on your new resolution for this year? Do you just focus on earthly things? Do you just focus on what people see outside? Or do you focus on pursuing God? If there is one thing that I want to target in this sermon is your schedule routine, your diary that schedules your daily routine, your new resolution for this year. My prayer that at the end of this sermon, we can have a new perspective on how we do live in this world. I pray that we know what the most important thing in this life is.
As Christian, it is important for us to know what is the priority in our life. This is the question that we keep asking since we are born-again – “What is next?”. Do you remember when you give your life to Christ and you are on fire, you ask yourselves “what’s next? Should I go to Ethiopian to preach? Should I start practicing music so that I can worship? Even if we have been christian for 5 or 30 years, we will keep asking this question “I have been Christian for 30 years, what should I do next?”. Even if you feel stagnant with your christian life, you often ask this question – “I feel dry and stagnant, God. What should I do?”. It doesn’t really matter whether you are a new believer or 30 years of being christian, the answer is the same which is pursuing Godliness. You will keep doing this until the end of your life. This is what Paul said in Romans 8:29 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. That is what we are going to learn today – Pursuing Godliness. Sometimes the Bible uses the word Holiness or Christ-likeness.
What does it mean to pursue Godliness? Basically, it is to be like Jesus. It is beholding God and makes God a treasure of our life. Pursuing Godliness is when we put God as our treasure and priority in our life. Pursuing Godliness is when we let the Holy Spirit to change the way we think and to lead our life.
That is God’s goal for us as Christian which pursuing Godliness. The common mistake for every Christian that we focus on something that is not important. There are two root-cause of this problem; firstly, we do not know this truth. The good news is that now you know what the goal in your life is. The problematic one is the second one which is that we know that we need to pursue Godliness but we decide to ignore this. We decide to go another direction which is pursuing the worldly thing.
This is one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter. This letter was written by Paul to Young Minister Timothy and church in Ephesus. There are a lot of things that Paul tried to remind Timothy in this letter. One of them is that Paul knows that they were going in the wrong direction. They have the wrong focus. Therefore, Paul warned them in verse 7 – Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness. In other words, Paul said “Don’t waste your time. Know what is important as Christian which is Godliness”.
I will divide my sermon into 3 parts;
- The Importance of Spiritual Discipline
- The Elements of Spiritual Discipline
- The Heart of Pursuing Godliness
The Importance of Spiritual Discipline
There are many ways that God uses to transform us. God can use people to transform us. God can use our circumstances to transform us. Today, we will not talk about those parts but we will learn how God uses Spiritual Discipline to transform us.
You hardly hear the word “discipline” today. People use this word normally in the context of punishment to your children. “We need to discipline him/her”. “Go to naughty corner”. Some parents use “magic wooden spoon” or “magic belt” to discipline their children. In our culture, this word “discipline” is hardly used. But this word “discipline” is still used in some circles such as sports. I am a big soccer fan. During the season, you watch how all players discipline themselves with hard training and possibly very healthy diet as you can see in how they play and how their physical body is. The muscles are everywhere and the most obvious one is their tummy which is six-packs. Then, after the season finishes, they normally have 2-3 months break before the new season starts. What happened during that break is all dependent on the player whether they keep disciplining themselves during the break or not. And, normally you can tell when the season starts again. Some of them have big tummies and are overweight and, as a result, they can not run. It is because they do not discipline themselves.
In our christian life, we also need that kind of discipline. We need spiritual discipline for our spiritual life. It is one of the keys to pursue godliness. Paul says in verse 7 – Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness. Church we need to train ourselves for Godliness. We need to be disciplined for our godliness.
I love how Paul compares spiritual discipline with physical exercise in verse 8 – for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. I love this verse because Paul does not really ask us to completely ignore physical training. He said physical training has some good value. Thus, people who are lazy to exercise, please do not use this verse as an excuse to avoid exercise. He said that physical training has value and good (verse 8) as we need to take care of our physical body but comparing to spiritual training, you cannot compare the value that you will get. The benefits that you will get in physical training are no near the benefit you will get in spiritual training. The benefit that you will get in spiritual training is not only in this life but in the life to come. Thus, it means that whatever you will do to pursue godliness, you will get the benefit eternally. This truth should open our eyes to know what is the priority in our life. Are we going to have the perspective of “have the best life now”? Or our perspective will be eternally?
Let me say this – Do you know why Spiritual discipline is so critical in our Christian life? Why is the word Discipline so critical for us as christian? It is because none of us are naturally gifted sitting for a few hours with the Bible; do journaling. If you see your Pastor doing that, it is because of their disciplining themselves for years. Even, I believe that they could be struggling as well day by day. Therefore, we have to really discipline ourselves in this area. I hope that it is a relief for some of you why you are struggling to read the Bible. You are not alone. I want to say this “There is no shortcut to Godliness”. Like a normal athlete, we need spiritual discipline and need constant commitment. It is important to understand that pursuing Godliness is not achieved in a day. It is a lifetime process.
The Elements of Spiritual Discipline
Pursuing godliness is a lifetime process and it is critical to have spiritual discipline in our christian life. There are many examples of spiritual disciplines such as evangelise or worship but today I would like to focus on 3 spiritual disciplines which are Word of God, Growing in Community and Prayer. If these 3 points are not part of your new resolution, I do really want you to consider to include this as part of your new resolution. If these 3 points have never been in your daily routine, I pray that God opens your heart to see the importance of these spiritual disciplines and you can consider to add these in part of your daily routine.
First spiritual discipline is the Intake of the Word of God. Paul said in verse 13 – “devote yourself to the public reading of scripture” and in verse 16 – “ keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching”.
Like an athlete, your diet intake is very crucial. You have to have good diet intake. Athletes can not build a healthy body by eating junk food. What is the definition of junk food? I leave it for you to define junk food. If I mention one brand, I may offend my pastor and if I mention another brand, it may offend one of the cell groups in this church. So, I will leave it with you to define junk food. If you want to build a healthy body, there are certain foods that you need to refuse. Just like athletes, we can not pursue Godliness, if we take whatever we want. No spiritual discipline is more important than the Word of God. Nothing can substitute for it. You can not become a healthy christian without a healthy diet of the word of God.
Some of you might be thinking why the name of point is so complicated – intake of the word of God. it sounds weird. Can’t you just say that reading the Bible? Yes reading the bible is one of them but intake of the word of God can also come from hearing. Why consider hearing as one of spiritual discipline? Because so often we are slack in this point. We love hearing sermons that please our ears. We do not like sermons that talk too much about the Bible. We prefer sermons full of human wisdom. We prefer sermons that do not talk about our sin. We do not like sermons that reveal our sin. And let me tell you that it requires discipline for us to keep feeding our ear with the right Gospel.
There are a lot of false teachings around us. Some of you look to the right and left. I do not mean around us. The reason why I am telling you that false teaching is around us because it is really around us; which is in our smart phone. People share in their social media and you follow their teaching without you realizing that they are teaching false Gospel. That’s how easy you can get exposed with false teaching. It is impossible for us to pursue godliness if we love hearing false teaching. To pursue Godliness, we have to be bold enough to pick and choose our spiritual diet. We don’t want to take all kinds of junk foods. We have to be bold enough to reject those false teachings. The problem is how can we reject those false teachings if we can not differentiate between false teaching and sound doctrine. The only way for us to differentiate false and good teachings is studying and knowing the truth. Therefore, other than hearing good doctrine, we need to read and study the word of God.
This is a question that I want you ask yourselves – what is one thing you can do to improve your intake of God’s Word? You may not have discipline in daily bible reading. At this point, I have not talked about the bible study group yet. I am talking about your personal time/ quiet time with God. Do you have personal time with God every day? Do you have time when you meditate the Word of God? Our church has a daily devotional plan. You can choose a one year plan or 2 years plan. It is not too late for you to start now. If you want to know more about this, you can talk to me or Ps Yosia or other leaders after the service. If I can give a few tips about daily devotional, first tip is choose the plan that is do-able for you. If one year plan is too much for you, choose a 2 years plan then. You are not less christian by choosing a 2 years plan. The aim is not to just tick the box but we want to meditate and study the Word of God. Second tip is do it at the same time everyday. Please do not plan to do daily devotional when you have spare time. At the end, you will not do it. One of the hardest parts of doing this spiritual discipline is to find the time. Is that true? We spend most of our time doing something else and at the end, we do not have time to have personal time with God. Before we can have discipline in reading the Bible, I think we have to have discipline to find time for God. Last tip is do not just read the Bible but study and meditate on the word of God. Pick one chapter and study that chapter. You can use a devotional plan from DA Carson which aligns with our plan.
Second spiritual discipline is Growing in Community. It is true that personal devotional time with God is very important but we also have to remember that God created us for community. We are not created to live by ourselves. We can not pursue godliness if we do not want to be involved in the community.
You can be involved in the community in a number of ways in this church. This Sunday service is one of them. You can become involved in a ministry team – serving in the ministry team. Or, you can get involved in a small group or our small group Bible Study (MC). That is one of the reasons why Jesus commands us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. God uses people to influence other people. We need one another. God sends other people into our lives to draw us closer to Him.
When talking about influencing other people, our culture always says that adults are supposed to set an example for young people (which is completely true) and it is very rare to say the other way around. What we normally see is people looking down on young people. At the end, we have low expectations of young people to be an influence for others including adults. That’s what happens to Timothy. He is a young leader, young minister. Paul gave encouragement to him in verse 12 Let no one despise you for your youth. Do not let anyone look down on you, Timothy, because of your age. Young people, for us to be an influence for others even to older people, is not by using your intelligence or showing off your human wisdom but by pursuing godliness and being a godly example in real life.
That’s the reason why Paul said in verse 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Paul encouraged every believer including young people to be a good example for other people. Be a good example in your speech! Be a good example in your life including how you love one another, how you are an example in purity. Church, if we call ourselves a christian, our lives are living testimony for our Lord, Jesus Christ. As Christians we must be careful of the way we act and the way we live our lives, because, whether we want to admit it or not, there are people who are watching us to see if we are really practicing what we preach.
The third and last spiritual discipline is Prayer. I will start with this question – “Do you pray?”. The question that you can only answer in your heart. Prayer is another kind of diet that we need for our spiritual health. God is very clear in the Bible that He commands us to Pray. Col 4:2 – “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” If you are parents, you want your children to communicate to you. You want your children to be open to you. Even for a newborn baby, you want them to communicate to you even if what they can do is crying and crying because when they are crying, you know that they are alive. So God expects you and me as God’s children to communicate to Him through prayer. One of the reasons why we do not pray is lack of discipline in our time management. There are a lot of excuses that we made such as too much work, or not having time. Another reason why we do not pray is because we doubt that anything will actually happen if we pray. These three spiritual disciplines are very critical in our christian life. Again, if you have not committed yourself to these spiritual disciplines, I want you to consider to include this as part of your daily routine.
One of theologians; J.C. Ryle said this “You may be very sure people fall in private long before they fall in public. They are backsliding on their knees long before they backslide openly in the eye of the world”. Is that true? Before the world saw believers fall in public, long before that those people have fallen in their private life with God. Do not neglect your private time with God.
The Heart of Pursuing Godliness
Last point that I want to talk about is the heart of pursuing Godliness. Do you know there are big problems when we are pursuing godliness? The problem is that it is very hard to do. I will tell you now that pursuing godliness is not an easy thing to do. Paul said this in verse 10 For to this end we toil and strive, … Paul said we will toil and strive. We will struggle while we are pursuing godliness because we pursue godliness in an ungodly world. How can we expect that it is going to be easy when we are living in this ungodly world where the flesh and the devil are constantly at war against us. The world will put unending pressure on us.
Therefore, it is important for us to remember that pursuing holiness is the process of transformation from inside out. Pursuing Godliness is not simply outward behaviour changes. Pursuing holiness is not just moral changes. It has to start from the inside transformation in your heart. I think it is very critical to understand this.
Donald Whitney in his book said “Just as the only way to God is through Christ, so the only way to godliness is through the Christ-centered practice of spiritual discipline.” Pursuing godliness starts from transformation inside our heart which is understanding what Christ has done for us as sinners. It starts from realisation that nothing we can do to be Holy.
Otherwise, we will think that what we have done such as bible reading, prayer, or cell group are the way to qualify us to see God. We treat our spiritual disciplines as to-do-list to be righteous instead of seeing Christ as the reason we can be accepted by God. Church, nothing we can do to impress God.
Therefore, when we are pursuing godliness, our eyes must keep looking at what Christ has done for us on the Cross because that is our only Hope to pursue godliness. When we are pursuing godliness, we can not rely on our strength or our power. It will be useless. The cross is our motivation to pursue godliness.
I do not know whether you ever experience this or not. This is one of the most common problems when we follow a daily devotional plan. At the beginning of the year, we are so on fire and we do every single day. Then, a few months later, in mid of the year, we just realised that we are behind for 2 months already. Especially, when you use an online app, it will tell you how many days you are behind. What do we normally do in this case? We stop! That is what we normally do. Anyone with me in this case? Let me ask – “Why do we stop?” “Why do we decide to not continue?”. When we look at those many days, we think that it is impossible to complete this plan by the end of year. But why? Why do we need to stop when we can not complete the plan by the end of the year? Let me tell you exactly why. It is because deep down inside your heart, you treat this daily devotional plan as the way for you to be accepted by God. It is all about you! We just want to feel good with our progress. It is about elevating ourselves. We think that if I could not complete this plan, I am less Christian. We think that if I could not complete this plan, I will not be accepted by God. We forgot that nothing we do can satisfy God other than believe what Christ has done for us on the Cross. Nothing we do, even our spiritual discipline can impress God.
Thus, next time you face that temptation to stop in the middle of your devotional plan. Remember this – the ultimate goal is not to complete your plan but to grow your love for Christ. Expect temporary setbacks and ask for God’s grace and Holy Spirit to remind and move us forward. Remember pursuing godliness is not a one day process or even one year process but lifetime process.
For parents, it is your job to teach your kids about this. Parents, children observe and learn about this from how you make decisions day to day (priority of life). Children see and observe when parents fit the church into schedule when it is convenient. It is like “this week, we skip church, kids” I am not talking in regards to covid pandemic or not feeling well but more about out of comfort and convenience. To the point, kids have to ask their parents whether they go to church or not this week. Rather than, it should be a priority. Children can also observe if their parents have different lives between Sunday and other days. On Sunday, my parents are like angels – reading the Bible and teaching the Bible but they never read the Bible at home. How can the parents teach the Gospel to our kids, if the parents do not know about the Gospel. Ps Paul Tripp said this “The goal of parenting is to send young adults out into the world who are prepared to live as God’s children and as salt and light in a corrupt and broken world”.
As we look to be disciplined in our spiritual life, one thing that we need to remember is that we can not do that if we do not invite Jesus into our life. Jesus is the one who is going to transform our heart. He is the one who will give us desire for us to pursue godliness. There is no point we change our outside behaviour if our heart has not changed. Perhaps, today is the day for some of you to do that; to invite Jesus into your heart for the very first time. Or, today could be the day for you to come back to Him. You have been running away from Him. You have been living in sin. Let’s pray.
- What comes to your mind when you think of godliness? What does the Bible say about pursuing godliness?
- Explain the relationship between physical and spiritual discipline.
- Look at the three practices of spiritual discipline. Which one do you think you need to put more effort in? Come up with rough plans and share it with your group.
- How can we have the right heart to pursue godliness?
- Spend time to pray for one another that they might continue to pursue godliness.