By: Rev. Mackay Smith, Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Lake Wales, FL
The Scriptures make one thing clear: God delights to make himself known. He does this through abstract facts about Himself, such as “God is love…” (1 John 4:8), but he also reveals himself to his people as he works his character into them. The Bible describes the goal of Christians as “godliness” (e.g., 1 Tim 6:11), that is, being like God. As we are made more like God, then, we serve as a witness to one another and to the world of who God is (e.g., John 13:35).
Like many of you, I am grieved at the disobedience so often on display in the news. More often than not the loudest voices and brightest pictures are those of godlessness. All the more reason for us to consider our own witness each day.
What comes to your mind when you think of “godliness?” Is it first of all holiness, or rightness, or moral purity? Indeed, God is completely unstained by sin, and his people are to put sin aside in favor of obedience. So, when people see Christians obeying God and not sinning, they encounter an accurate witness of God. Yet, just as God’s character is vast and cannot be defined with one perspective, so godliness takes on more depth in the Bible. We might say that just as Jesus summarizes the law as love for God and neighbor, so obedience (though it cannot be less!) must be more than simply doing the right thing. It is a matter of deed and heart.
A classic formulation of the breadth of godliness is found in the fruits of the Spirit recorded by Paul in Galatians 5. We can’t isolate the fruits as if the Spirit works a la carte, but there are three words Paul uses that are particularly striking in our current culture. The Spirit of God is bringing kindness, goodness, and gentleness in us. Are we displaying these aspects of godliness?
Our God is kind. In Ephesians 4, Paul closely relates kindness to God’s forgiveness of our sin. Our kindness is shown when we forgive others. Kindness, then, is an attitude of sympathy toward others. It is a pre-existing inclination towards others instead of away from them. We cannot fathom the full depths of the love of God that led Him to forgive us in Christ, but we can be sure that from all eternity past, God was for his people! So, from the very outset, how do we view other people? Do we pray for compassion no matter what weakness may be on display? Does your social media page make others feel welcomed in the name of Christ, or does it clearly stipulate what sins make others “monsters” or “thugs”? Kindness does not mean we are pushovers, ignoring sin in the name of unity. Yet, the Galatians were “biting” and “devouring” one another, ripping the church apart (5:15). May we learn from the God of kindness and show compassion to one another as God has shown compassion on us.
Not only is God kind, but his kindness has been deployed in his goodness: the self- sacrificing love of Jesus. Our Lord accomplished his work for the glory of God and for the good of his people. One commentator states that the word “goodness” closely relates to actions we might describe as “out of the goodness of one’s heart;” that is, something done not for self, and even at the expense of self, for the good of others. What goodness is the Spirit working within you? When is the last time you were truly inconvenienced for the good of another? Our Savior acted not out of his “rights” (Philippians 2), but made himself a servant. Are we characterized by serving others?
Consider, finally, the gentleness of God. Jesus, as God, commanded awesome, infinite power, yet that power was constrained and directed in such a way that the neediest people found rest in Him (Matt 11:29). This is Christ as Aslan in Narnia: a mighty, terrifying lion, yet for his sons and daughters, a mighty refuge and impregnable fortress. How do we show gentleness in our words and actions? First, by recognizing where the real power lies (in God), and humbling ourselves to him. Out of this reverent fear will come an approachability in the eyes of others. We need not put up the barriers of cruel self-defense, for our hope in God leaves us open and willing to care. Further, just as gentle Jesus cleared the Temple courts, so our strength and passions will be directed towards glorifying God, rather than glorifying self at the expense of others.
As we celebrate God’s majesty, let us remember that God has welcomed us by his love. This welcoming spirit will be reflected in all who God has claimed as his mighty Spirit works in our hearts. Pray that we will glorify him.