Godliness: Awe—then Action!

Professor Howard Hendricks shocked a class of young seminarians with this statement attributed to Robert Murray M'Cheyne: "My people's greatest need is my personal holiness."1 Few, if any, of those sitting in class that day had ever thought their personal godliness was so important to the needs of their future congregations. If surveyed, the students would have indicated that the faithful preaching of God's Word was a congregation's greatest need. What those students didn't know then—and what many pastors don't know now—is that few things sour the spiritual stomach more than a biblical meal served with the dirty hands of deceit, by one covered in the stench of sin.

When Paul told Timothy to exercise himself for "godliness," he used the word eusebeia, which means "reverence, respect, piety toward God."2 The term occurs fifteen times in the New Testament, thirteen in the Pastoral Letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, and a whopping nine times in 1 Timothy alone (2:2, 10; 3:16; 4:7, 8; 6:3, 5, 6, 11). Because the Pastoral Letters are the last written by Paul, his call to godliness is hot with urgency.

Godliness , however, is not a stain-glassed word for worship. It doesn't describe serene expressions, bowed heads, or folded hands. It's not a word for the monastery or nunnery. Godliness is alive and active. It marches out into the world and shines the light of faith. It's the Isaiah-like obedience of a man awestruck by the person and presence of God, rising to his feet and saying, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8). It is "Awe—then action!"3 Only the God-struck doers of the Word are rightfully called godly.

  1. Howard G. Hendricks, "Teaching Objectives," in class Dynamics of Leadership, (lecture, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Sept. 7, 1989).
  2. Kenneth S. Wuest, "The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament," in Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 70.
  3. R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2000), 105.

Excerpt taken from Excellence in Ministry: Finishing Well—Doing What's Best in the Challenges of Ministry Bible Companion by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 1983–2015 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved.

About the author


Derrick G. Jeter

Derrick G. Jeter holds a master of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and served as a writer for the Creative Ministries Department of Insight for Living Ministries. He has authored or coauthored more than twenty-five books. Derrick's writing has appeared on influential Web sites, and he is a contributing writer for The Christian Post. He and his wife, Christy, have five children and live in the Dallas area. He blogs at www.DerrickJeter.com.

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