Godliness is Great Gain
“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV. Other scriptures from RVIC unless noted otherwise.)
— Len Griehs
Women’s athletics have gained in popularity over the past fifty years. From challenging beginnings, today, forty percent of organized sports participants are female, according to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota. Both men and women now can display their athletic talents. In our theme text, Paul admonishes Timothy that for Christian men and women, godliness is more beneficial than fitness because it is eternal.
Bible dictionaries define godliness as “reverence for God and a life of holiness.” Psalms 4:3 explains another benefit of godliness: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him” (ESV).
Sanctification — being set aside for God’s work — is a great and eternal reward. But there is a cost: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). Adversity will be a way of life for anyone who wants to live by God’s principles in a sinful world. Here we discuss four women, all examples of godliness, who were willing to endure adversity.
(1) Deborah (Judges 4-5)
(2) Naomi (Ruth 1)
(3) Esther (Esther 1-4)
(4) Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:56)
“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at the time” (Judges 4:4).
Deborah was the wife of an obscure Hebrew, but she became a judge of Israel. During the 450-year period of the judges, she was selected by God to awaken His chosen people at a time of lethargy and oppression. She was the only woman chosen for this task.
“The object of raising up judges was a gracious and beneficent one: it was to deliver and bless the people, not to condemn and punish them. In view of the office of a judge, how precious is the promise that our blessed Lord Jesus cometh to judge the world in righteousness” (Reprint 1869). Besides being a deliverer, Deborah was a counselor, bringing godly advice to the people (Judges 4:5). However, when the call came for deliverance from their enemies, Deborah inspired an army and its leader to battle 900 iron Canaanite chariots (Judges 4:3). What faith she must have had! Perhaps her godly example entered Paul’s mind when he said that the word of God is stronger than any carnal weapon (Hebrews 4:12).
Barak, listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:32, would only enter the battle if Deborah agreed to be with him where the army could see her. “And Barak said unto her, ‘If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go’” (Judges 4:8). This is one of the most unusual requests recorded in scripture by a man to a woman, a testimony to how much the people revered Deborah. A similar occurrence during Israel’s wilderness wanderings reflected Moses’ godliness when his mere presence on the mountain gave Israelite warriors confidence that God would bring victory over the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16). Upon agreeing to go into battle, Deborah prophesied that Barak would not receive glory for the victory, but credit would go to a woman (Judges 4:9). As predicted, when the battle was over, and the Israelites claimed victory, Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army was killed by the Kenite woman, Jael.
Judges 5 records Deborah’s victory song in which she gives credit to Jehovah:
● “I, even I, will sing unto Jehovah; I will sing praise to Jehovah, the God of Israel” (verse 3).
● “My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people: Bless ye Jehovah” (verse 9).
● “So let all thine enemies perish, O Jehovah: But let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might” (verse 31).
Thirty-one verses of Judges chapter 5 echo Deborah’s courage and faith in her song which doubles as her prayer to God. As a final testimony to her leadership and godliness, verse 31closes with the words: “And the land had rest for forty years.”
Naomi (Ruth 1)
“And Salmon begot Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begot Obed of Ruth; and Obed begot Jesse; And Jesse begot David, the king” (Matthew 1:5, 6a).
Ruth, an immigrant from Moab, became a key figure in the genealogy of Jesus and could be extolled as a woman of godliness herself. However, it was Naomi, her mother-in-law, whose shining example of courage and faith convinced Ruth to take a risk and a course of action that would propel her into the ancestry of the savior of the world.
The opening verse of the book of Ruth places the time during the days of the Judges, likely when Israel was in apostasy and oppressed by Eglon, king of Moab (Judges 3). “And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged that there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1). Many passages indicate that a lack of rain, failed crops, and famine was connected to periods of moral decay and idol worship. (For example, see Deuteronomy 11:13-17.) Despite the hostility, Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, took his family and settled in the fertile highlands of Moab, east of the Dead Sea. Archaeologists have uncovered a plateau east of the Judean hills where reliable precipitation allowed rain farming like that practiced by poor communities in developing countries. It was apparently not affected by drought, and the family was able to travel during a time of submission under Moab. (Perhaps the eighteen years mentioned in Judges 3:12-30.)
During the decade of the family’s tenure there, Naomi’s husband and her two sons, who had wed Moabite women, died. Naomi would later relate her experiences with the nickname Marah, meaning “bitter” (Ruth 1:20). About the same time, Israel’s oppression ended with the deliverance by Ehud (Judges 3:30), and the rain returned to the land of Judah. It was Naomi’s signal to return to the land she loved.
First, she commended her childless Moabite daughters-in-law to return to their own people and remarry because she had no other sons. Why would she tell them this? Naomi showed her faith by respecting the Levirate law of Leviticus 25, which would later play an essential role in her life with Ruth.
Ruth clung to Naomi, begging to accompany her (Ruth 1:16). Ruth’s declaration in verse 16 is one of the most moving in scripture: “Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest, will I die; and there will I be buried: Jehovah do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16,17). Naomi reluctantly agreed and the two arrived in Judah just as the renewed fullness of the land began to be harvested.
As a foreigner, Ruth was guided by her love for Naomi and was willing to glean according to the Law (Leviticus 19:9) to provide for their sustenance. When Naomi learned of Ruth’s experience in the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:8-12, 3:1), she saw God’s hand at work and immediately recognized what He had set before them.
“And Naomi said unto her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he of Jehovah, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, The man is nigh of kin unto us, one of our near kinsmen’” (Ruth 2:20). Naomi instructed Ruth to dress as a bride (Ruth 3:3, compare Ezekiel 16:9-12) and go to Boaz in the field at night. Ruth’s actions would be interpreted as a request for marriage. Naomi’s moral integrity was never questioned, and Ruth’s respect for her is shown by her obedience, giving a beautiful picture of faith and godliness (Ruth 3:11). “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife; and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son … And Naomi took the child, and laid him in her bosom, and became nurse unto him” (Ruth 4:13, 16). Obed, the child, became a grandfather to David.
“For if you fail to speak up now, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from a different direction; but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14, Complete Jewish Study Bible).
Esther, the second book in the Jewish Testament to bear the name of a woman, shows how God used a beauty contest to deliver the people of Israel from extinction in Persia. It is a testimony to God’s overruling of worldly events to bring about His will.
The story is a familiar one. The young Jewish maiden had grown up in Persia under the tutelage of her kinsman, Mordecai. Selected by the king as his new queen, Esther was brought into the luxury of the palace without revealing her Jewish heritage. There, she found favor with her caretakers and encountered the evil Haman, a descendant of the Amalekite King Agag, the former enemy of Israel.
Like his ancestor, Haman hated the Jews, especially Mordecai, who had found favor with Ahasuerus by reporting an overheard assassination plot. In a jealous response, knowing the Jews would never conform, Haman convinced Ahasuerus to order death for any who refused an order to bow down to Haman, his righthand man. Although forbidden by Persian law to appear before the king except upon request, Queen Esther’s acceptance of Mordecai’s challenge in the theme text reveals a strength of character, faith, and dedication: “So I will go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
The outcome is well known. Esther’s fortitude saved her people and eliminated the threat that loomed over the Jews in the Persian empire. Jews celebrated their escape from death with the Feast of Purim (Esther 9:32), which still commemorates the actions of Esther, a godly woman, used by God to save her people.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him, ‘Rabboni!’ which means Teacher” (John 20:16). The name Mary appears in 51 passages of the New Testament and is connected to six women. One of those was Mary Magdalene, one of the first to witness the resurrected Jesus and a New Testament example of a dedicated and godly woman.
John’s account of the resurrection contains the stirring narrative of Mary’s early morning encounter with Jesus soon after his resurrection. Who was this Mary that she should be among the first to behold our risen Lord? John’s narrative suggests that Mary Magdalene had special qualities which aligned her closely with Jesus, and became the inspiration for others who could not believe Jesus had risen. The tender conversation between Mary and Jesus “in the garden” has inspired believers from that day forward.
Unfortunately, since medieval times, Mary Magdalene’s character has been maligned by associating her with the unnamed sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50. Her true and steadfast devotion is noted in the very next chapter, where she appears as a follower of Jesus from whom seven demons had gone out (Luke 8:2, 3).1
(1) While the casting out of these seven demons is attributed to Jesus in Mark 16:9, the authenticity of that passage is doubtful, at best.
Mary Magdalene is best characterized as a woman of great courage and devotion who never wavered, even when Jesus’ closest disciples could not comprehend (Luke 24:11). Her last recorded words were, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). It was undoubtedly her great faith and devotion that inspired the resurrected Jesus to share a great truth with her first: “I ascend to my father and your father, and my God and your God” (John 20:17). Imagine! Mary was among the first to see the resurrected Jesus face to face in his new nature (although his appearance was as a human).
The garden conversation is the last detail we read of Mary Magdalene. Perhaps she returned to Jerusalem or to her hometown on Galilee’s shore. Wherever she spent her remaining years, she was likely instrumental in encouraging others to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Unfortunately, Catholicism beatified her as the patron saint of sinners. In reality, Mary Magdalene was a godly woman who exercised great faith and never abandoned her teacher. We can only imagine her words, when raised with the sleeping saints to see Jesus face to face, now in his full glory. “Rabboni!” And the reply, “Welcome, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joys of my kingdom!”
Adverse circumstances are used to develop godly people. These four women were shining examples for all of us. When we face difficult circumstances which try and test our commitment and dedication, let us rise up and remember the words, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into this position for a time such as this?”