Any reader of the epistles, commonly known as being the "pastoral epistles", 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus, will be aware of the fact that "Godliness" is a prime subject in these pages. In writing to Titus Paul mentions it, and we find it again from the pen of Peter (2 Pet 1.3,6,7; 3.11). In Pauls first letter to Timothy the exhortations are to "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness" (2.2), to come to an understanding of the "mystery of godliness" (3.16), to "exercise thyself rather unto godliness" (4.7-8), to teach and practice "the doctrine which is according to godliness (6.3), never to fall into the trap of believing that "gain is godliness" (6.5), to understand that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (6.6), and to "follow after…godliness" (6.11). In the second letter to Timothy the warning concerns those who have "a form of godliness" (3.5), and in the opening verse of the letter to Titus it is to acknowledge the "truth which is after godliness".
But, what is Godliness? W E Vine in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines it as denoting "that piety which, characterised by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him". Godliness, therefore, is vital in the life of a believer. The determined followers of the Lord realise that their life must be one of spiritual exercise, which is, training to excel. It must not and cannot be ignored. It is the exact opposite of wordliness. In Acts 3.12 the word is used by Peter but translated "holiness". Godliness simply is behaving as God would have us behave, and in so doing giving Him joy in seeing His Word practised in our lives.
Note that although physical training profits for a little, Godliness promises reward in our present life and beyond, to be enjoyed in the life "which is to come" (1 Tim 4.8). Today, people are exhorted to exercise by becoming involved in sport or other such activities. It is the "thing" to do and there is much encouragement to do it. But for the believer exercising unto Godliness has not to be forgotten, and of necessity must take the prime place. One cannot be proficient in godliness if there is not constant training in it. To excel physically through exercise is the goal of many; the purpose of Christian discipline is to be proficient, indeed to excel, in Godliness.
The attitude of those who intend to shine in their sport is four-fold. First, there is the necessity to discard everything that impedes in any way. Second, there must be a strong desire to excel, to be an outstanding athlete. Third, the athletes must be completely devoted to their objective. Fourth, they must be noted as subject to strong discipline. The spiritual goal demands similar determination.
Those who are watching athletes giving their utmost will be doing all that is necessary to encourage the one they most favour. The contest of which Paul speaks is of a different nature. Many who look on regard Christians as wasting their time and effort, living a life that achieves very little, if not nothing at all. The contest, however, is not run to please the world. There are other spiritual "athletes" who not only regard their fellow runners with respect, but also wisely recognise that those fellow participants set an example worthy of following.
The cry goes out today, "Are we prepared for such discipline and self-control?". Are we able to keep our eye on the goal? This is the charge given to Timothy. In a day when it is so easy for spiritual lethargy to take hold of us, when that which is of the world constantly seeks to grip and control us, there is the danger of slacking in our desire for godliness. Let no such consideration sap our strength, slow up our progress, or destroy our determination. May the words of Paul continue to be the means of encouragement to have before us constantly, that "godliness is profitable unto all things". Such a determination lodged in our hearts will enable us to keep our spiritual ambitions fixed on "that which is to come" (1 Tim 4.8).