This article is about the great need for godliness in office bearers. The author discusses the characteristic of godliness, and what it means to train in godliness.

Source: Una Sancta, 2012. 2 pages.

Grace and Godliness

When you pray for your minister, your elders and your deacons, please pray that they will be godly. I am asking you to do this because I am concerned that we don't pray for the godliness of our office bearers enough. I fear that we do not put enough emphasis on the pressing need for the growth in the godly character of our leaders. On the one hand that is understand­able because it is right to assume godliness in our leaders: if we did not see godliness in them, they should not have been ordained in the first place! But on the other hand godliness is not something to be taken for granted, nor something that you can ever stop striving for.

The office of minister, elder or deacon is a beautiful calling. It is an honour and a wonder of God's grace that He is willing grant brothers the privilege of serving His church in this way. If you are an office bearer, you will rejoice and be filled with thanksgiving as you see people come to a knowledge of the truth, repent from sin, and grow in faith and in love. You will make visits thinking that you went to support a brother, a sister or a family but return with the feeling that you received far more encouragement from them than you could ever give. You will establish relationships not just with those in your wards but also with your fellow office bearers, relationships that you will cherish and that will encourage you in your walk with the Lord.

But there will also be great cost and sacrifice. Office bearers see another side of church life. If you are an office bearer, you will be confronted with sin. You will grieve over those who turn their back on the Lord, who dishonour His name and who suffer the consequence of their rejection or their sinful behaviour. You will feel great stress when there is disunity, when brothers fail to live together in communion. You will find it hard to balance your marriage, your family life, your work and your office of elder or deacon and you will feel that you are failing to do any of those things as well as you would like. Your body and your mind will be tired and will be pleading for rest on some of the nights when you are expected to go out yet again for a meeting or a pastoral visit.

And so you will be confronted not just with the stresses of ministry, but also with yourself. Your own weaknesses. Your own failings. Your own fears. Your own pride. Your own sin.

You see, office bearers are human beings. Office bearers are made of flesh and blood, fallen flesh and blood. They are not super-humans, not even super-spiritual in the sense that they are not affected by the limitations, the weaknesses or even the lusts of the human flesh. Office bearers are in need of the same blood of Christ, the same saving grace, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit as every last member of the congregation.

And that has to be our starting point if we want to understand what godliness is all about. We could say that godliness is living before God's face. Godliness is placing God at the centre of every activity and every endeavour. Godliness comes from a God-centred and a gospel centred life. The heart of godliness is to know that I am nothing in and of myself. It is to be deeply aware of my sin, of my guilt and my corruption. It is to be profoundly ashamed of my sin. It is to be broken before God. And then it is to rejoice more and more in the cross of Jesus Christ. And if you are an office bearer, you need that! Yes, you need to be a good listener and a wise counsellor. Yes you need to show love and concern and be able to teach good financial management. But above all of these and all other things is that you need to live in and out of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

And that is also how you are to do your work. Do not set aside the grace of God but live and breathe that grace. You need to be broken before God before you can minister to the brokenness of others. You need to live out of the grace of God yourself before you can minister in that grace to others.

But what then about godliness? Sometimes Christians can get a little bit concerned with all this talk about grace, worried that the result is that you become too soft on the law. And it is true that in some areas you will be less black and white with how you think about and speak about the Christian life. But if a focus on grace leads you to be soft on godliness and holy living, then you have misunderstood what grace is all about! Living in the grace of God will make you long for holiness and long to be godly. And this longing then will also drive you to train for godliness, to "exercise yourself toward godliness" (1 Timothy 4:7). To exercise yourself toward godliness requires great and ongoing dedication and concentrated energy. In 1 Timothy 4:7 Timothy was called to strive to be godly, to train himself for godliness in the same way that a sportsman strives to excel at his sport and win the prize.

Training yourself for godliness involves striving to be godly in what you say and how you say it. Godliness calls us to pray everywhere, "lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling." (1 Tim. 2:8) Godliness calls for right conduct where we consistently strive to walk in God's ways not just in the public office of minister elder or deacon but also in our personal lives and in front of our families. And godliness calls us to strive for purity. Strive to be men of integrity. Practise godly discipline in what you think or dream about, what you look at, what you say and what you do.

And so you are to train yourself for godliness. But even as you train yourself, you will be confronted once more with weakness of your human flesh, of your inability to be truly godly. And this in turn must drive you to your knees in prayer, imploring the LORD once again for His grace and the Holy Spirit. And God will give this to you, and His Holy Spirit will also teach you how to exercise yourself toward godliness. And the chief was He does that is through His Word. So take God's Word, read it and meditate on it. Do not just read it for others, for the sake of your family or those whom you are visiting but read it for yourself and be nourished by it. Meditate on it and ask God to enable you to live in and through His Word.

From my own personal experience and from what I have read and observed, I believe that one of the greatest dangers that office bearers in the church face is that they stop exercising themselves towards godliness. One of the greatest dangers is to let the busyness of work, the pressures of life, the demands of ministry block out the call to take heed to your­selves and your own godliness. But if you are an office bearer you cannot and you may not do that! For it is only through a godliness that is grounded in the grace of God in Jesus Christ that you are able to fulfil your ministry. And hence my plea: pray that your leaders might be godly. But more than that, pray that they might train themselves for godliness. For then not only will they be blessed, but you will be blessed through them as they minister in the grace and the godliness that is given by God through His Holy Spirit.

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