Yesterday, we talked about bodily exercise in relationship to godliness. Paul uses this metaphor to encourage Timothy toward a life of godliness. However, it is not the physical exercise that Paul is really warning Timothy about. Paul’s main point, starting in chapter 4, is to warn Timothy about those who will depart from the faith and practice an ascetic life thinking it will produce benefit. This departure is not simply because they are tired of Christian living but because they pay attention to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”.
It is not the ones drawn away that are the real problem but those who draw them away by insincere lies and teachings that, for all practical purposes, are the teachings of asceticism. The forbidding of marriage, requiring abstinence from certain foods, and all such types of “irreverent and silly myths” are only, in reality, an appearance of piety.
They offer no true benefit:
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23 ESV)
It is that stopping of the fleshly indulgences that Godliness is able to help with.
Asceticism does seem to help answer some of life’s more difficult questions. The Ascetic believes that by abstaining from worldly pleasures one can achieve a more spiritual or enlightened state. Paul’s warning may be an early indication of Gnosticism beginning in some areas of the Christian faith. When one renounces worldly pleasures and goods, it is easier to answer those hard questions such as:
- How much do I give to the church or others?
- How much car should I buy?
- How big of a house should I get?
- How much “bling” do I buy in clothes or toys?
The answers are to give more, buy less, do without and avoid purchases that you do not need. Living an austere life then becomes the measuring stick. You also are more able to judge others by how they stack up to your level of austerity. If they have more, buy more, enjoy life more, then they are not as pious as you are. The whole attitude is one of self-will, self-control, or will power. Without the proper motivation and purpose, it is doomed to fail.
Godliness, on the other hand, also answers these questions but does so with a different attitude. Godliness, is not an outward, mechanical, rote action that by itself has some value. You can not say because you spend 5 hours in prayer that you are more godly than the person who spends 1 hour in prayer, even though prayer is something that a godly person will engage in. That is the type of trap the Pharisee fell into and Jesus warns about:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luk 18:9-14 ESV)
Godliness answers these questions from the heart. With a Godward attitude, one is first grateful to God for what he has and then because he knows God is a generous God, he is then able to let go of things this world promotes. Why? Because they are sinful? To be sure, some are but many are not. The Why is answered by what distracts him from putting God first in his life. I have no doubt that Abraham and Job were godly men. Their riches did not prevent them from serving God. If they will prevent you from doing so, then by all means, get rid of them, for it is better to enter into Heaven, poor and destitute, than to be cast into Hell with all of your riches (which will be burnt up, in a short nanosecond anyway.) You do not see a U-haul following a hearse.
Paul encourages Timothy to train for godliness, but he will not be able to do so if he goes to the extreme that Asceticism would require. What examples to you have, were Asceticism was being promoted to try and improve godliness?