What is piety, really? One dictionary defines it as the quality of being religious or reverent. My Bible dictionary calls it “holy living.” Various Bible translations identify it with “the fear of the Lord” or “righteousness.” It’s not a word we use much anymore. In fact, it’s gotten a rather bad name because it’s so much easier to recognize false piety (in other words, hypocrisy) than true piety. Often we think of truly pious people as “goody-goodies,” prudes, or those who are “so heavenly minded, they’re of no earthly use.” Or maybe we regard piety as an unrealistic goal for most of us — something a few great saints might possess, but not attainable for most of us. Maybe we don’t even want to try to be pious because in our culture, it would set us apart as strange or different.
Here’s what Philip Spener, a German Lutheran theologian who has been dubbed ‘the Father of Pietism’ has to say:
“Students should unceasingly have it impressed upon them that holy life is not of less consequence than diligence and study, indeed that study without piety is worthless….whoever grows in learning and declines in morals is on the decrease rather than the increase … everything must be directed to the practice of faith and life.”
or as James, the brother of Christ puts it:
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” James 2:26
Christian study, worship and fellowship should lead to a life that is increasingly pious, or holy. Lutherans (and I’m sure lots of others) call this process sanctification, and although we’re never finished, it’s not a pie-in-the-sky goal either. Piety is what the Christian life is all about. I look forward to exploring it further with our authors and readers this month.
According to John Trent in his book, The Blessing, encouraging and loving words are also an important component of blessing. The Bible speaks over and over about the importance of our words:
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Proverbs 25:11
“if we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at ships also; though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also, the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.” James 3:3-5
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue …” Proverbs 18:21a
Words can help or hurt; they can guide; they can change the course of a life. Yet often, we say the wrong words, or even no words to the people we love and others around us. Why? There are many excuses: We’re busy, we’re tired, we don’t want them to become vain or puffed up, or they already know we appreciate and value them.
How much effort does it take to say, “Good job!” or “I love you” or “Thank you for all that you do.” Don’t make excuses; speak a word of blessing to someone today.
The Bible not only tells us to continue in brotherly love, it gives us instructions on how to do that. I’ve heard them called the “one anothers”:
- Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
- Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21)
- Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you (Romans 5:17)
- Instruct one another (Romans 15:14)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
- Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
- Be patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2)
- Be kind and compassionate with one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Pray for one another (James 5:16)
- Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
Then there are some “do nots.”
- Don’t pass judgement on one another (Romans 14:13)
- Do not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
- Do not slander one another (James 4:11)
- Do not grumble against one another (James 5:9)
How do you do with this list? If you’re like me, you fall down quite a bit. I have to admit patience and not grumbling are areas I really need to work on; serving and submitting deserve extra attention as well. What about confessing sins to one another — I would really rather not go there!
It boils down to this: brotherly love requires humility and sacrifice. It involves imitating the one who loved us like a brother — Jesus. He did all these things and did them perfectly. He’s the one who teaches us to love.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18
Michele’s last post highlighted how difficult it is to maintain peace, especially during these turbulent times. People are angry and unwilling to see any virtue in those with whom they disagree.
My devotional reading a few days ago was taken from Psalm 34:
“Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Easier said than done, right? People make us mad. The folks we deal with every day in our workplace, family, even church can be irritating, insensitive, rude and more. They have political views we don’t understand. They don’t do things the way we want them done. They don’t seem to care how their actions and words affect us. How do we deal with this?
Well, the only person I can really control is me. If I want to get along with others, I have to make decisions that allow me to do this. I have to pursue peace. My devotional, and some other readings from Romans and James have a few good suggestions I’d like to share.
- Try to understand, through prayer, the motivation of others. I have often found, after praying for someone there are things in their life that cause them to behave the way they do. It may not make their behavior right, but it does help me accept it without anger.
- Outdo one another in showing honor.(Romans 12:10) Sometimes one person’s calm, respectful manner will create a change in the environment.
- Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. (Romans 12:17) Seeking revenge causes a bad situation to escalate.
- Love one another with a brotherly affection (Romans 12:10). When we love someone we are willing to make allowances for them.
- Think before you speak (James 1:26)
- (Most important) Always give others the benefit of the doubt. How many relationships would be saved if we followed this simple rule?
I wish I could say I always follow my own advice. Unfortunately like Michele and everyone else, sin is my default position. I have my own particular buttons that when pushed result in a stubborn, angry, unforgiving response. However, God doesn’t give me what I deserve. He gives me grace; that’s what I should extend to others.
“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15