Godly character

Near the end of his ministry, Paul wrote a letter to a one of his traveling companions named Titus. “Titus was most likely a Gentile from Macedonia (Galatians 2:3) who was led to Christ by Paul (Titus 1:4). Titus was with Paul in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1) when some dogmatic, Jewish brethren insisted that Titus should be circumcised. Paul would not allow it (Galatians 2:3-5) because this would have suggested that all non-Jewish Christians were second-class citizens in the church. Titus remained as Paul’s traveling companion and may have been with Paul when he wrote the letter to the Galatians. After Paul’s release from his first imprisonment in Rome, Titus traveled with Paul to do mission work in the East. They landed at Crete and evangelized several towns (Titus 1:5). However, since Paul was unable to stay, he left Titus in Crete to complete the organization of congregations in that region. Titus met with considerable opposition and insubordination in the church, especially from the Jews (Titus 1:10). It is quite possible that Titus had written to Paul to report this problem and ask for spiritual advice. Paul responded with this short letter encouraging him to complete the process of organization, to ordain elders, to exercise his own authority firmly, and to teach sound doctrine while avoiding unnecessary strife…The letter was probably delivered by Zenas and Apollos (Titus 3:12). It is believed, however, that Paul penned this sometime between his first and second imprisonments in Rome (ca. AD 64) when he was in the city of Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). This was about the same time that the book of 1 Timothy was written. The instructive tone of this epistle to Titus is similar to that of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Both Titus and Timothy endured much criticism from false teachers during their ministries. Paul exhorts Titus to continue to preach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and to use wise judgment concerning the appointing of leaders in the church (Titus 1:5-9)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Titus).

The transition of leadership in the church from Jesus’ apostles and original followers to Gentile believers that were some of their early converts was difficult because of the cultural differences between the Jews and Gentiles. The issue of godly character was discussed in depth by Jesus, but not in the context of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because he didn’t come into the world until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven (Acts 2:1-4). Paul’s greeting included a doctrinal statement that was intended to lay the foundation for his message to Titus. Paul began by stating:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:1-3)

Paul indicated that he had been made an apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1) and then, linked his role to the development of godliness. Paul used the phrase which accords with godliness to emphasize the fact that godliness is dependent upon an individual’s knowledge of the truth. The Greek word that is translated godliness, eusebeia (yoo-sebˊ-i-ah) “is from eu, ‘well,’ and sebomai, ‘to be devout,’ denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him” (G2150). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul directly linked godliness with the manifestation of God through Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, and implied that godliness was embodied in, and communicated through, the truths of the faith of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).

A critical point that Paul made about God’s character was his inability to say something that wasn’t true. With regard to our hope of eternal life, Paul said, “God, who never lies” promised it to us before the ages began (Titus 1:2). The Greek word psuedomai (psyooˊ-dom-ahee), from which the word lie (pseudos) is derived, means “to utter an untruth or attempt to deceive by falsehood” (G5574). The prefix pseudo “is used to mark something that superficially appears to be (or behaves like) one thing, but is something else” (Wikipedia). Jesus associated lying with the devil and told the Jews who had believed in him:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works of your father.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:39-47)

Jesus contrasted the devil’s behavior with God’s and said, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In the same way that God never lies (Titus 1:2), Jesus indicated that the devil never says anything that is true because of his character (John 8:44).

In his letter to Titus, Paul stated, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:12-14). Paul acknowledged that it was the Cretans’ natural tendency to act contrary to their Christian heritage and may have been trying to encourage Titus that it wasn’t his fault that his congregation was lacking in spiritual character. Paul may have wanted Titus to view these believers as being under satanic influences. Paul said that Titus should “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13). The words Paul used have the connotation of cutting the Cretans off abruptly. In other words, Paul wanted Titus to be rude, if necessary, to convince the Cretans that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Paul wanted the Cretans to be sound in their faith, meaning that they could recognize for themselves when they were being drawn away from the truth.

The Israelites often stumbled in their attempt to do what God wanted them to. When the people of Israel demanded a king, the prophet Samuel was resistant to giving in to them because he knew they were rejecting God’s authority. God told Samuel to do what the people wanted him to (1 Samuel 8:7). “God knew that the Israelites would someday desire a king. He had previously given guidelines that were to be followed by the people and by the kings that would reign over them (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). Among the guidelines that God established was the stipulation that the king write for himself in a book a copy of the law. God said, “it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). God intended that his commandments would be the constitution that his people lived by, but “they wanted a visible deliverer in whom they could place their trust (cf. Judges 8:22). They wanted to walk by sight not by faith. In so doing, they sought to escape the moral demands of the law by doing away with the theocracy under which they had been living” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). In order to prevent his people from abandoning him completely, God gave the man that was selected to be Israel’s king another heart and changed him into another person (1 Samuel 10 6, 9). 1 Samuel 10:9-13 tells us:

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah,behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.

The Hebrew word that is translated gave in the phrase God gave him another heart, haphak (haw-vakˊ) has to do with transformation. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). The Spirit’s interaction with Saul was not the same as when a believer is converted and the Holy Spirit enters into that person’s heart, what is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Saul was changed by the Spirit coming upon him which caused him to be transformed into another man (1 Samuel 10:6).

The New Testament speaks of transformation in the context of both internal and external change. Paul’s instruction to the Romans was, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Being conformed to the world means that externally you look and act like everyone else (G4964). Transformation, on the other hand, has to do with a continuous process of inward change that is expressed in the character and conduct of the individual (G3339). Paul indicated that believers are transformed by the renewal of their minds. The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) refers to “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God’s stipulation that the king of Israel have a personal copy of the law was so that he could meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2) and adjust his thinking to it in order to develop godly character.

“From a human perspective, Saul fully satisfied the desires of the people. He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe of all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies. Saul was also a man whose own spiritual life mirrored that of the majority of the Israelites; it was not long until he disobeyed the Lord (1 Samuel 13:8-14). During his farewell address, Samuel made the people aware of the fact that they had sinned by asking for a human king. Samuel said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.’ So Samuel called upon the LORD, and he LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king” (1 Samuel 12:16-18). The people confirmed their rejection of God’s authority when they asked Samuel to pray to the LORD your God. Samuel assured the Israelites that in spite of their rejection, God would not forsake his people, “for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22).

Samuel’s final remarks to the people of Israel made it clear that God was not going to give up on his chosen people. Samuel said that “it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22, emphasis mine), implying that the LORD could work things out with or without the cooperation of the Israelites. The Hebrew word ʿasah (aw-sawˊ) means “to create, do, make…This verb is also applied to all aspects of divine acts and actions. In the general sense of His actions toward His people Israel, the word first occurs in Genesis 12:2, where God promises ‘to make’ Abram a great nation” (H6213). God’s intention of making the people of Israel a people for himself was related to his covenant with Abraham and his plan of salvation for the world. The LORD’s anointing of Saul “to be the prince of his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1) was the first step toward Jesus becoming the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was initially recognized and worshipped as “the king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), but throughout his ministry he talked about the kingdom of heaven and he told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

The distinction between God’s effort and ours when it comes to developing godly character and the result of us acquiring it are considered in the book of Acts in connection with the healing of a lame beggar. Peter and John were going up to the temple when a man asked to receive alms from them. Acts 3:4-8 states:

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

The lame beggar didn’t ask or expect Peter to heal him. Peter merely commanded the man to rise up and walk. Afterward, Peter asked the people that had witnessed this miracle, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12). The Greek word that is translated piety in this verse, eusebeia is translated godliness in Titus 1:1. Peter concluded that it was power and godliness that had made the lame man walk, but wanted everyone watching to understand that he was not the source of it.

Godliness is a spontaneous feeling of the heart that causes us to do things that are godly or for God (G2150). Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that godliness had to be exercised in order for it to be helpful or advantageous to us. Paul said:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

Paul suggested that toiling and striving for godliness was a worthwhile effort “because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10). The point that I believe Paul was trying to make was that godly character is based on a real person, Jesus Christ, and therefore, we know what the end result looks like. Our hope is based on reality, not a fantasy.

When God gave King Saul another heart and turned him into another man, Saul was immediately converted, but he didn’t have any context for the influence of the Holy Spirit because Jesus, the source of his transformation, hadn’t yet been born. You might say that Saul was left to his own devices when it came to developing godly character because he had no concept of what God was really like. It’s possible that God intended for Saul to be an example of an ungodly Christian. In other words, Saul represented the kind of person that has experienced spiritual rebirth, but has no interest in doing things for God. Saul’s focus was on the material world rather than the kingdom of heaven. In his letter to Titus, Paul identified the qualifications for elders. Paul said, ‘For an overseer, as God’s steward must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:7-8). “The word ‘self-controlled’ is the Greek adjective sophron (4998). It means ‘to voluntarily place limitations on one’s own freedom’” (note on Titus 2:2, 5). Paul used the word sophron three times in the section of his letter that addressed qualifications for elders and the teaching of sound doctrine. Paul’s emphasis of self-control suggests that it was an important quality of godly character. Sophron is derived from the words sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982) and phren (frane) which means “to rein in or curb.” In a figurative sense, phren is “the supposed seat of all mental and emotional activity. In the New Testament, by metonymy, meaning the mind, intellect, disposition, feelings” (G5424). One way of looking at self-control is that your mind operates like someone who has been saved. A person who exercises self-control demonstrates that he or she has actually been delivered from the power of sin and death and in the process develops godly character.

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