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A GODLY PERSON LOVES THE SAINTS
by Philip Owen

 

            To the extent that many people think about it at all, the concept of what defines godliness is very subjective. The truth is that we could have no accurate view of godliness unless the Lord had deigned to reveal it to us in His Word. But having called us to godliness, God does not leave us to determine on our own what He means by that concept. From beginning to end, the Bible unfolds what God means when He calls us to godliness. And one thing that is made clear continually is that spiritual qualities are not meant to be ethereal, philosophical, and impractical. Godliness is a quality that has hands and feet. To be godly—to know God and live for Him—regularly entails getting dirty, and sweaty, and tired. Today’s characteristic—a godly person is one who loves the saints—clearly exemplifies that truth.
 
            We could illustrate this idea of godliness as being manifested in loving the saints from many angles. We could speak of the Lord Himself: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). And we would see that the godly character that evinces itself in loving the saints often demands difficult or unpleasant things of the one doing the loving. We could turn to the example of Christ on earth: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Lk. 13:34). And we would see that godly love involves great burden and frequent rejection.   We could recall Epaphras, about whom Paul told the Colossians, he is “always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you” (Col. 4:12, 13a). Or we could illustrate this aspect of godliness by taking several of the many examples from Paul’s life.
 
            One element of loving the saints is a desire to enjoy the company of others who love the Lord. Those who gravitate to the world and prefer the companionship of sinners and the carnal are not godly. The Psalter begins with that truth: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psa. 1:1). Such a desire for wholesome spiritual fellowship with those of like precious faith is a blessed and defining characteristic of godly love. Writing to the Philippians, Paul said, “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels [“affections”] of Jesus Christ” (1:8). Later he refers to them as “my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown” (4:1).
 
            But another element of loving the saints is not so sweet to the flesh. Loving the saints may cost the godly person dearly. Writing to Philemon about the slave who had robbed him and fled, Paul said, “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account . . . I will repay it” (vv. 18, 19). Loving the saints may mean loving those who are not altogether lovable.  No church was more carnal and troublesome than the church at Corinth. “O ye Corinthians,” Paul cries, “our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged [“wide open”]” (II Cor. 6:11). And in the same letter he made this promise: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (12:15). Paul asked the Galatians: “Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (4:16). Calling them “my little children,” he assures them, “I [will] travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (4:19). Godliness is expressed in a love for the saints that will put their best interests ahead of our own, that will do what is right before God for the sake of others regardless of whether it is fully understood or appreciated.

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