Have you ever noticed how many maritime songs are in our hymnals? I googled the question and the list given to me had 156 nautical hymns, some of which we still sing. “Let the Lower Lights be Burning,” “Pilot Me,” “Sail on.” “Throw out the Life-Line,” “Peace be Still,” “We have an anchor,” The Haven of Rest.” There seem to me to be two reasons for all these hymns.
First, it used to be life and local economies were directly tied to the sea. It used to be that nearly everyone lived close to the water, and much of their food was drawn from it. When they weren’t eating fish, their businesses supported the fishing industry. This is still true in many places, Over and over again during the last two weeks, we heard how important salmon are to S.E. Alaska. Everything is linked one way or other to those fish returning to their home creeks. After a very dry winter, if there isn’t rain soon, the rivers will not be full enough for the fish to swim upstream. This would hurt and might destroy the fisheries, which would hurt everything. Stores would suffer, bears would come looking for food, alcohol consumption would go up, even tourism.
There is a second reason for all those nautical hymns – To those who understand them, they are good way to describe life – the Christian life in particular. We are like sailing vessels, trying to reach the safe harbor, but there are all kinds of obstacles and difficulties. Life is like a ship approaching a port which is surrounded by reefs and shoals. At two of our stops, Ketchikan and Victoria, a small powerful boat came racing out to meet us, and a pilot came on board whose job it was to safely bring us to the designated pier. If we didn’t have that pilot and if we missed the channel, moving to the right, we might have hit a sand bar. If our captain didn’t know the lay of the sea, he might have moved too far to the left where the hull could have been crushed on the rocks. One of my few souvenirs was a detailed map of our journey. On it were notations describing the hundreds of wrecks which took place along that particular rocky coast.
Religions, generally, are mans’ attempts at piloting through those shoals to reach the haven of Heaven. Many of them mean well, and are genuine attempts to enter the Lord’s harbor. Some had some good doctrines at their outset, but over the years they have grown old and tired. Many religious people have forgotten what they learned from the Bible and have fallen into the philosophies of man. They are like old harbor pilots who have gotten slow and blind by way of age. At other times, the pilot imagined danger in some Bible doctrine and deliberately chose the wrong path. What has happened, is that most religion has gotten either too far to the right or too far to the left. Most religion is either too heavenly or two earthly – primarily the latter. And, generally speaking, as a result “religion” is a waste of time.
When it comes to the things of life, real Christianity doesn’t overvalue or undervalue the important things. Bible Christianity is right on, it is perfect. THAT is hard for some people to accept. But why? We expect airplane pilots and air traffic controllers to be perfect. The captain of our multi-million dollar cruise ship expect the harbor pilots to be perfect. Why can’t we assume there is branch of Christianity which is exactly what the Lord commanded and taught. Genuine Bible Christianity is perfectly balanced.
For example, Christianity doesn’t sneer at our weak bodies and our short lives. But neither does it encourage that we get our bodies bronzed and erect statues to ourselves. It reminds us that the best Christian life, is but for a moment. As the flowers of grass we are here today and gone tomorrow. Yet that is not the slightest reason to do away with our physical lives and to move on to the purely spiritual. Paul said that he understood that to die is gain to him – it will be better for him. “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God, an house not made with hand, eternal in the heavens. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is still needful,” – for the benefit of others.
In other words, this Christian life is worth living and living well. And Paul tells us in one word HOW it can be well spent – “godliness.” “Refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
Earlier in the second chapter he wrote to Timothy – “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” And why is this important Paul? “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” In chapter 4 he exhorted his young friend – “But thou, O man of God, flee these (sinful) things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love patience (and) meekness.”
Then to Titus, another young preacher Paul said, “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” What was Paul exhorting these Christians to do when he urged them toward righteousness?
What is godliness?
That word is usually an adjective, but it has an adverb form. It basically means “like God.” It means “be like God,” or “live like God.” Do you remember when the serpent came up to Eve in the garden and said, “Ye shall be as gods?” She didn’t realize it, but there was a sense in which Eve already possessed what Satan had to offer. Eve was, in an immature sort of way, already godly – “like God.” But the temptation was to move beyond similarity into deity itself.
Godliness for people in the 21st century, as for people in the 1st century, means genuine Christianity. I stress the word “genuine” Christianity – The Christianity of the Bible, of Paul, Peter and Christ Himself. It begins at one place and one place only – the new birth – regeneration. This is necessary, because we come into this world completely ungodly. “Ye must be born again” said Christ to a man who outwardly appeared to be godly. “As many as received Christ by faith, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” Only the children of God can be truly godly.
I am often amazed when I see someone made up to look like a well-known historical figure. Some actor is not only dressed like Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln but even his face looks like the pictures in the history books. And yet I know it to be a lie. In a sense it is “hypocritical.” It is even possible to make a demon look like an angel of light – but it is hypocrisy. It is possible for Nicodemus to appear to be righteous, but he needed a new heart to have that righteousness. On the other hand, a child often really does look like one of his parents – quite naturally. And a child of God has a natural bent toward holiness. If a love for righteousness is missing then we should wonder about the nature of that professed Christian.
But despite the Lord’s spiritual DNA flowing through our veins, there is always a tendency toward prodigality. We need instruction and the Lord’s help to be as we ought to be. And one of the tools which the Lord has put into our hands is the Word of God. The Bible is a revelation of GOD, among other things. Godliness is conformity to the Bible – It is the practical implementation of the mind of God. The man of Psalm 1 was godly. And how is he described? “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”
Godliness is putting into practice the will and heart of God as revealed in His Word. Godliness is living the Word of the Lord. Psalm 119:11 – “Thy word have I hid in mine heart. “ And yet I let it constantly escape through my life. I John 3:1-3 – “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
Godliness is Bible Christianity in action. But it is not necessarily anything extraordinary. 35 years ago there was a Hollywood movie called “The Karate Kid.” It is the story of a boy named Daniel, who was being bullied by neighborhood kids. He decided he needed to defend himself and even fight back by learning Karate. So he went to a master, agreeing to do whatever he demanded of him. He was told to paint a fence with a very precise brush stroke. He was ordered to scrub the teacher’s floor, with a very precise stroke. And he then had to wax the man’s old car, again with a very precise stroke. Daniel grew weary and furious that he was only doing the old man’s unwanted chores. He wasn’t learning karate. When his complaints were really ramping up, Quick as a wink the old man attempted to hit the boy with his hand, but instinctively Daniel defended himself. And then the master tried to kick him, but again Daniel blocked the kick. He defended himself with the strokes that he had been going over and over and over and over. He had been learning karate when he thought he was painting the fence and waxing the car. Godliness is not necessarily anything extraordinary, it is simply living the life the Lord demands of us.
The Bible puts the word “godly” into situations and contexts which might surprise some people. Not only does it speak of “godly sincerity” and “godly edification,” which shouldn’t surprise. But it also encourages “godly sorrow,” and “godly fear.” The Bible talks about a “righteous walk,” “holy conversation,” and even an “holy kiss” all of which are related to living the Christian life. Godliness is living your life as Christ would live it He were in your shoes. A godly person is crucified with Christ, yet alive in Him as well. He strives for victory over sin, not permitting its dominion over him. “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, but if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us are sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteous.” On a scale of 1 to 10 where does your godliness rate? Remember that this is the sort of thing that will come up at the judgment seat of the Christ.
This verse clearly says there are ADVANTAGES which flow out of godliness – what are they?
In answering, let’s ignore the eternal and spiritual. These are self-evident. Let’s not talk about heaven and escape from Hell – eternal life. We realize that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” and this is a part of God’s gracious gift at salvation. Because we are in Christ, sin has lost its condemning power. But rather than focusing on eternity and heaven, let’s consider today and tomorrow here on earth. Godliness pays dividends today. Salvation from sin is like a huge term deposit, but it has interest which it pays to your account regularly.
But Paul does not say that godliness protects the saint from troubles and problems. In fact it is just the opposite – II Timothy 3:12 – “All those who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” And yet in another place he says that “godliness and contentment are great gain.” He doesn’t say that great gain is godliness. What are the profits, the gain, the dividends and the interest provided by godliness?
Obviously it saves us from the effect of whatever sin we have NOT committed. If striving to live like Christ keeps us from defending ourselves with a lie, we are better off. Just as Christ is sinless, to whatever degree we are like Him and godly – we are sinless as well. So if godliness keeps us away from drugs or alcohol, we will not suffer their effects like hangovers and perhaps time in jail. If godliness keeps us away from cigarettes then we will not have certain cancers. If it keeps us from pride, we shall not suffer the humiliation that comes when our self-made pedestal crumbles. If godliness keeps us from fornication and adultery it will keep us from untold pain. These are just the physical results of some sins, and don’t even bring up the Lord’s direct chastisement. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” If living in a godly manner can keep us from one sin it is a great gain.
Turning that around, godliness also provides POSITIVE BLESSINGS. One form of godliness is the fear of the Lord. And Proverbs 10:27 says that “the fear of the Lord prolongeth days, but the years of the wicked shall be cut short.” A study of the history of the kings of Israel shows that the righteous kings usually reigned many years, but the wicked often fell quickly, and often very painfully. In fact most of the kings were classified historically on that basis; this one did evil and that one did right.
Why is it profitable to live in godliness? That is like asking why is it better to live a freeman then as a prisoner. It is profitable because it improves our relationship with others. Excuse the old illustration, but as two people approach the Lord they approach each other. That is precisely the opposite as people rise higher in the things of the world. Those people are usually climbing upon the backs of others.
Godliness is profitable because it provides us with the reason to go on in the Lord. Christianity doesn’t spare us pain and tribulation. It doesn’t block the ravaging effects of the curse upon humanity or the sins we have committed in the past. For example, it doesn’t repair brain cells destroyed with alcohol or marijuana. But a godly life today means that we can honestly look for the smile and approval of God. The Christian, in living a godly life, finds that “all things work together for good.” Because he abides in Christ, when the Lord shall appear neither of us will be ashamed. It pays to live a godly life in Christ Jesus because the steps of the good man are ordered by the Lord.
And because it makes a child of God useful in the world. A godly life turns us from being weeds in the Lord’s creation to grain producers. It takes nobodies and slaves and makes them into princes and Kings. The Christian has something to share with the world which is shivering in darkness. We have the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ residing in us.
Are you reaping and sharing the benefits of living godly in Christ Jesus?