Charles Naylor, 1918
"Having a form of godliness but denying its power." 2 Timothy 3:5
We read in the Bible of the form and the power of godliness. When we look about us in the church, we see more of the form than we do of the power. There seems to be so many people who are merely playing religion. They attend services and go through the form of worship. They are sometimes very strongly devoted to their creed and greatly attached to the organization of which they are members; but when you look for the power of godliness in their lives and the power to render acceptable service to God—you do not find it. This make-believe religion may ease the conscience for a time. But it will not bring us into a position where we can render acceptable service to God and where our own souls will be satisfied to their depths. People may manage to get along with such a religion in this world, but it will not stand the test of eternity. Of course, it will not stand the real test for this life. The soul who has the form without the power of religion, can never have that satisfaction and peace that true religion gives.
There are many people who go through the forms of religion and try to serve the Lord, but who never know whether their service is acceptable or not.
I was once talking with a lady who had professed to be a Christian for many years and had prayed often. Speaking to me on the subject of prayer, she said, "I cannot say that God has ever answered my prayers." Think of it! Twenty years of praying and never a prayer answered! Still, there are many who would have the same confession, if they would honestly open their hearts. Their religion has so little of reality in it, that it seems almost nothing to them. It is natural for such Christians to testify that they "make many crooked paths for their feet" and that they "serve God in their weak way and manner." Such people are not usually weak, when it comes to serving self and the world.
The religion of too many people is like that of a man whom I once knew. Two religious parties had been holding their regular services in the same church. At last a strife arose among them as to which should have complete control of the church. This man who was leader of one faction told me that when they came together one day for a final decision of the case, he took off his coat, threw it down upon the seat, and said, "You lie there and my religion with you—until I whip these people out of here."
Religion that can be put on with the Sunday clothes and taken off as easily, never goes very deep into the heart or life. The service of such people is always weak, because there is no heart in it. While they profess to worship God, their hearts are far from him.
A certain religious professor went to work with a gang of men upon a public contract. He worked with them several weeks and then came home.
A friend asked him, "How did you get along working with that gang of wicked men up there? What did they have to say about your religion?"
"Oh," replied the other, "they didn't find out anything about it. I didn't tell them."
It is just that way with many people. You would never find out anything about their religion—if they did not tell you about it. There is no manifestation of it in their lives or characters. It does not show out in their words nor deeds. In fact, you would never suspect they had any religion—if you did not see them in church.
Sometimes people will rise in testimony-meetings and say, "I know that my Redeemer lives." In this they often turn the truth into a lie, for they do not know that their Redeemer lives—for they are not redeemed. They are the same old creatures that they always have been. They have no personal knowledge of God whatever, unless it is of his condemnation resting upon them.
Ezekiel speaks of this class of people and says of them, "My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain!" (Ezekiel 33:31). Isaiah, as quoted by Jesus, says of the same class, "This people honors me with their lips—but their heart is far from me" (Matthew 15:8). Of what religion they have Jesus says, "In vain do they worship me" (verse 9).
Acceptable service to God can never be rendered with the lips alone. It must come from the heart. It is the condition and the attitude of the heart which matters most in everything. If our hearts are not in the service, then our service is vain. Service to God, to be acceptable, must be the most real of all things. It must be the great outstanding fact of life.
God hates the mere form of religion. It is an insult to him. He knows whether we are in earnest or not, whether our service is just form or not. Modern ritualism is a curse to the church. A true Christian heart needs no such form. When we draw near to God with our hearts, the Spirit within us makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. It is from a heart thus in earnest that true worship and devotion comes. It is forth from such a heart that true service flows.
Acceptable service can come only from a holy heart. God's standard for his worshipers is "that you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God" (Philippians 2:15).
Lost sinners cannot do that which is pleasing in the sight of God. Repentance is the one thing upon which God centers their attention. To repent is the first thing for them to do. God loves to receive the service of the holy. We may be weak and faltering, but our service is acceptable to God none the less—if our hearts are right in his sight. As long as we are living in known disobedience to God, however—we might as well not try to serve him. That disobedience will stand between us and God as a barrier, and he cannot receive anything that we do, no matter what it is, as being a righteous thing. Our hearts must first be righteous, before our lives can be so.
Service, to be acceptable, must always be willing service. God forces no one to serve him. He lays down the principle that "if there is first a willing mind—then it is accepted according to that a man has" (2 Corinthians 8:12). Our service is not judged by our ability to do great things. A child can serve as acceptably as a man; the ignorant as well as the learned.
The soul who serves willingly—takes God's way gladly. He does not ask to choose for himself; he only asks what will please the Lord, and, once knowing that, he gladly does it. Paul said of preaching the gospel, that if he did it willingly—then he had a reward. It is only the willing service which has the reward. Willing service does have both a present and a future reward. Oh, for more willing workers who will not choose their own way or their own place or their own time—but who will give themselves into the hands of God and let his will be that which guides them from day to day, and thus find their pleasure in doing what is acceptable in his sight. God finds his pleasure in the willingness of the heart.
To be acceptable, our service must be sincere. Sincerity is the foundation of Christian character. Hypocrisy in anything, is an abomination to the Lord. Deep sincerity and earnestness, characterize every true Christian. Without these, there can be no true Christian character and no Christian service.
Many people are not sincere with themselves, with others, nor with God. They are not satisfied with their lives, and they know that God is not—and yet they go on professing to be what they know they are not. They try to appear outwardly, what they really know they are not. They desire others to believe them to be something that they know they are not in reality.
The people around us who gaze upon our lives, who listen to our words, and who see the play of emotions upon our faces—know whether we are the true and sincere, or not. God, who looks down from Heaven and reads the very secrets of our hearts, knows also. God wants us to serve him with a true heart, or make no pretense of serving him.
It must be a reverent service. The Psalmist says, "Stand in awe, and sin not" (Psalm 4:4). Hebrews 12:28 says, "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." When our souls sense the greatness of God—we are then filled with a feeling of reverence toward him; and it is only when we have this feeling of reverence, that our service comes to have the quality of acceptable service. We cannot treat the service of God with careless indifference—and have this reverence for him. We must feel this before we can truly worship him—before our worship will have that quality of genuine adoration that makes it acceptable to God. If his fear is upon our hearts—then we shall be very careful about our conduct. The question will be, not "Does this please me?" but "Will it please God?"
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." Matthew 6:1, 2
Our service to God must be an unostentatious. Service which springs from true love to God—never desires to display itself. Genuine service is not done for the eyes of men to behold; it is done as a loving tribute to God, the object of its love.
The principle here set forth is that what is done with the purpose of being seen by men, brings only the reward that men give; in other words, it is not accepted by the Lord as service to Him. Judged by this rule, much of the service of some so-called Christians is never, I fear, recognized in Heaven at all. Our good deeds are to be done—not that men may see—but that God, who sees in secret, may see, and reward according to His own will, and that He may regard them as service done to Himself and not for the reward of men's praise.
It is simple, single-hearted service which pleases the Lord.
"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:3-4
Paul tells us the kind of life and service that pleases God: "That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2:2, 3).
We are told that a meek and quiet spirit is a thing of great price in the eyes of the Lord. Loud and ostentatious conduct is not in harmony with the Spirit of Christ, nor with the true Christian character. Paul said, "Study to be quiet, and do your own business" (1 Thessalonians 4:11). There is a quiet dignity about the work of the Holy Spirit, and if we are indwelt and filled by the Holy Spirit, there will be a quiet dignity in our lives that will count vastly more than any self-assertiveness. It is not the showy bird, that sings the sweet song. It is not the noisy and showy man, that makes his mark for God. The man who is truly godlike has no desire to put himself upon exhibition. He thinks, "Not I, but Christ," and not only thinks it, but feels it in the depths of his heart.
Another thing contained in the text quoted above is that we should not meddle in other people's business. We are commanded not to be busybodies (1 Timothy 5:13). Speaking of certain religious people, Paul says, "They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to." Such things are no mark of the Christian. It shows a serious defect of character. Unless we take heed to this, we cannot be God's, nor truly represent him before the world. If you are going to please the Lord, you must not be a tattler nor a busybody. Your religion must get into your walk as well as into your heart; and if it gets really into your heart, it will manifest itself through your tongue.
Paul says also that we must be peaceable. We cannot be peaceful, without being peaceable. Inward content comes only from a quiet and peaceable spirit, and, having such a spirit, we shall manifest it toward those around us. We are told that as far as lies in us, we should live peaceably with all men. We are also told that we should not be violent. A Christian will not stir up strife in his community. We are told that God is not the author of confusion but of peace. It is not strange, therefore, that his Spirit in us should be a peaceable Spirit, and should make us peaceable to those around us. The command is, "Live in peace," and the promise is, "And the God of peace shall be with you" (Philippians 4:9).
The strife and the contention sometimes seen among those who profess to be God's, do not come from the Spirit of Christ, neither do they spring from a Christian character—but from an evil principle in the heart, from a lack of godliness instead of from the presence of it. A true Christian spirit is one of kindliness, gentleness, meekness, forbearance, and mercy, manifested toward all.
Service, to be acceptable, must be honest. Sterling honesty is a characteristic of true Christian character. We must be honest with ourselves, with God, and with others. We must be honest in our business, and in all the details of our lives. The kind of honesty required, does not admit of any questionable practices—no short weights or measures, no misrepresentations of goods or prices. Christianity bears just as real fruit in business, as it does in worship. The man who leaves his religion at home when he goes to business, is no Christian. The true Christian has a conscience toward God in his business. He speaks the truth; he is honest; he does that which he ought to do; he does not stoop to underhanded practices; he does not take advantage of those with whom he has business dealings. He is a godly man in his business, as well as in his profession.
True Christianity knows nothing of the days of the week: it is just as good on Monday or on Friday, as it is on Sunday. It will stand the test of the store, the bank, the farm, and all of everyday life—any time and anywhere. If the religion we have will not stand that test, it will not stand the test of the final judgment.
The sincerity of a true Christian is manifested in truthfulness. He speaks the truth in love. Sometimes people speak truths in a malicious and vindictive way. As the Christian feels neither malice nor vindictiveness—he does not speak in that way. We are told that we must give an account of our words at the judgment-seat of God. We cannot serve God with an untruthful tongue. We cannot serve God by practicing deceit. We are to commend ourselves to every man's conscience, by manifestations of the truth (2 Corinthians 4:2). The Bible is truth. God is truth—there is no lie in him. If we partake of the nature of God and the Bible—then we are truthful, and there are no lies in us; we do not speak lies, nor act out lies.
Another thing every Christian ought to learn is to be silent, when he ought to be so. Silence is often more important than speech. Silence is golden, but it is only the wise man who knows how to get this gold.
The quality of our service is rated by the amount of love we put into it. It is not so much the acts that we do, nor the consequences that flow from them—but the amount of love there is in the service. Love is what renders it acceptable to God—that is what makes it precious in his sight. It is the love of our hearts poured out to him in service, that he counts worth while; therefore the more we love him, the more acceptable and pleasing our service will be in his sight.
If we serve him well, he will not let us be in ignorance of it. He will give us the testimony of a good conscience. Enoch had "this testimony, that he pleased God," and we also may have it if we please him. God is not slow to recognize what we do for him, when it is prompted by right motives and pure purposes. Let us, therefore, walk humbly before God and serve him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.