“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying it’s power…” 2 Timothy 3:2-5
That is quite a list. Sounds like our world today, doesn’t it? Ever noticed how disobedience to parents is on the same level as abusive or reckless…I guess Paul wanted to drive home a point…we are all guilty. The phrase that really stuck out to me was “having the appearance of godliness, but denying it’s power…” What about godliness requires the acknowledgment and use of power? Have you ever thought about godliness as a power source? Why does godliness need to be powerful? How is it powerful? These are interesting questions. Perhaps we should answer the how first. The power that godliness provides is the power to be godly. How does this work? Our godliness only comes from one source, that being Jesus, the Son of God. Our godliness, and therefore, the power to remain godly, is through our connection to Jesus Christ. He used an analogy of a vine and it’s branches. Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. We receive our strength, our power to produce fruit from Him. Our godliness is not our own. We receive is from Jesus. So then, the good fruit we bear (godliness) is dependent upon its power received from the vine (Jesus). Without the power we would not and could not be godly. The answer to the why question becomes self-evident. There must be a power within godliness, or ultimately, we would not be godly.
So what was Paul getting at? If one can’t be godly without the powerful connection of Christ, what was he condemning? Notice that Paul uses the word “appearance”. The greek the word is morphosis. I’ve decided I do not like the translation here. The word means form or semblance. I think a better rendering would be “having a semblance of godliness…” Now my reason for this is the definition of semblance. It means to appear to be something in form when reality is something different. That’s what Paul meant here. Most likely, appearance is chosen over semblance, simply because more people know what appearance means than they do semblance. However, I think semblance is a more precise rendering of the text. Paul was trying to emphatically state that their godliness was merely external. It is very possible that Paul is saying the same thing Jesus did when he challenged the Pharisees. Repeatedly, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, using strong words at times. The reason for the rebukes was their blatant hypocrisy. He called them “white-washed tombs“, “blind guides” and “brood of vipers.” He admonished them to “clean the inside of the cup.” The problem with the Pharisees was that their hearts were dirty and disconnected from God. They had a semblance of godliness. The externals were more or less there. But Jesus knew their hearts. They did not believe in Him. They denied the very power by which they might be truly righteous…truly godly.
This is what Paul is getting at. There will be a time (and I believe, is now here), that people will show the external acts. They will appear to be godly. They will perform these acts to be seen as godly…not because they are. They will love the praise of man over the praise of God. They will have denied the true power source and become a sham and a hypocrite.
May it never be said of us that we had a semblance of godliness. Let us be godly. Let us hold fast to the one power who can change us and make us godly. Hold fast to Jesus and you will never be left powerless!