An ember left alone will soon grow cold, but embers set close together will continue to glow, to burn brightly, and even to set others ablaze. Christians resemble embers, for we, too, must be set close together to thrive. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” (Proverbs 13:20), which means that those who walk with the godly become godly.” In fact, whoever longs to be godly must walk with the godly, for God has decreed that godliness will not be attained in isolation, but in community.
Today we continue to look at “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness,” a series of instructions to lead us into ever-greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. The seventh rule is this: Fellowship with godly people.
Seasoned by the Seasoned
“You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus to his followers. “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13). We Christians are the salt of the earth. But in what way?
Though salt has many purposes, it is most commonly used for flavoring and preserving. Salt flavors food, enhancing its natural flavor. It also preserves food, preventing it from rotting. Christians, then, are to season this ungodly world with the flavor of godliness and to preserve this decaying world from fully following its destructive course. We do this by being in but not of the world, by displaying godly character that contrasts with the surrounding ungodliness.
But there is an ongoing challenge here, for we are prone to conformity—conformity to the world instead of to Jesus Christ. As we stop being salty, we begin to neglect our God-given calling. Though salt cannot actually lose its salinity, it is prone to contamination and, in that way, can become ineffective or even dangerous for either flavoring or preservation. Likewise, Christians cannot actually lose their salvation, but they can slip into patterns of neglect or ungodliness and, in that way, become ineffective or even dangerous in carrying out the mission God has given us. Thus, we must be salty, we must maintain those qualities that make us distinct from the world around.
This saltiness also has an important function within the community of Christians, for believers begin their Christian life lacking in the distinctions that will flavor their lives with godliness and preserve them for a lifetime. Much of their seasoning comes from the instruction and imitation of those who are already seasoned, those who have long experience of putting sin to death and coming alive to godliness. Christians must be seasoned if they are to grow and endure, and this depends upon fellowship with godly people. One of the ways we grow into conformity with Jesus Christ is by growing into conformity with those who love him most and serve him best.
This is why Paul instructs older men to first pursue godliness and then to disciple younger men, teaching them to imitate such godly character (Titus 2:2, 6). He also instructs older women to be godly and “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (4-5). It is the responsibility of all Christians to fellowship with godly people, first to be taught and then to teach, first to follow an example and then to set an example.
What We Lack, What We Need
New Christians set out conspicuously lacking in a number of important qualities. To that point in their lives they have trained themselves to think as unbelievers rather than as believers, and they have accumulated patterns of depravity rather than godliness. They have much to learn and unlearn. As Christians, they must now labor to stop being conformed to the world but to instead be transformed by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). To the degree that their minds are renewed their actions will follow suit.
To experience this kind of renewal of mind and behavior, Christians need the counsel of seasoned saints. They have much to learn but little knowledge of God’s works and ways. They have important decisions to make but little wisdom to draw upon. They have brothers and sisters to serve but little love for God or man. So they must depend on those who have greater knowledge, greater wisdom, and greater love, who can guide them in the way they must go.
Christians need the prayers of seasoned saints. God chooses to work through the prayers of his people. Christians must pray for one another and with one another, committing their way to the Lord individually and corporately. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working,” and none have greater need of prayer than those who are just being established in their faith (James 5:16). Prayer is better caught than taught, and the best school of prayer is hearing others seek the Lord in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication.
Christians need the zeal of seasoned saints. Christian zeal is exercising the fruit of the Spirit at a high level, engaging the whole self in glorifying God by doing good to others. Zeal can be developed or undeveloped, mature or immature, helpful or harmful. Believers learn from one another both the importance of zeal and its right exercise. Zeal is contagious, so they become righteously, helpfully zealous as they surround themselves by zealous people.
Christians need the example of seasoned saints. Christians are people of The Book, who deliberately immerse themselves in the Word of God, trusting that it is both sufficient and necessary to guide them into all godliness. Thus, they read it, study it, hear it preached, and meditate upon it. Yet inevitably, many of its truths are learned by imitation, which is why Paul would tell young Timothy to “set an example” and often tell others, “Imitate me” (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1). It is in the Christian life that we see truth lived and godliness displayed. No matter how old we are or how far along we are as Christians, we still need the example of others to show us the way to endure trials, to live righteous lives, and to die godly deaths.
If we are to become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, we must be in close fellowship with Christ’s people. We depend upon their counsel, their prayers, their zeal, and their example. We depend upon their love. Ultimately, we trust that just as Christ has worked in and through them, he will work in and through us. For that reason we must deliberately be among godly people, fellowshipping with them first in the context of the local church. For it is in the local church that we stir up one another to love and good deeds, here that we love and are loved, here that we live together in community as we await the day of the Lord’s return (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Having committed to local church fellowship as a matter of first priority, we can also pursue other Christian relationships with friends or mentors, and we can even fellowship with the saints of old through their books and sermons. Through it all, we love, appreciate, and pursue the tremendous blessing of fellowship with the godly. We cannot expect to grow in godliness without it.
The “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness” are drawn from the work of Thomas Watson. Here are the words that inspired this article: “Be often among the godly: they are the ‘salt of the earth,’ and will help to season you. Their counsels may direct, their prayers may quicken: such holy sparks may be thrown into your breasts, as may kindle devotion in you: it is good to be among the saints to learn the trade of godliness, Prov. xiii. 20. ‘He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.’”