“Having a Form of Godly Devotion”
WHAT motive prompts our religion, our form of worship? Is it love for God, for what he is and what he has done for us? Is it done because we want to praise and honor him? Or is it based on what we hope to get out of it, because of some material benefits we hope to receive, such as being thought well of by others? Are we worshiping God with spirit and truth, or are we having only “a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power”?—2 Tim. 3:5, NW.
To deceive ourselves along this line is very easy because, as the prophet Jeremiah expressed it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Why should this be the case? Because original sin has caused the heart of man to be bad from his youth. That is why we are told that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” We can deceive ourselves, and many do, and we can deceive others, which many also do, but let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we can deceive our Creator, Jehovah God, for “there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Jer. 17:9; Prov. 22:15, RS; Heb. 4:13, NW.
And, as if it were not enough that we have this tendency within us to go the wrong way, we have to contend with one who would abet us in our wrongdoing, none other than Satan the Devil. Why should he be interested in having us take a foolish course? Because he would rival the Creator Jehovah God by drawing all men away from God through appeals to selfishness. He being extremely selfish himself, it is inconceivable to him that others act from unselfish motives. That is why he not only impugned the motives of Job but did all he could to weaken Job, to prove himself right. If he cannot cause creatures to refrain from worshiping Jehovah God, he seeks to vitiate their worship by having it deteriorate into only a form of godly devotion. So well has he succeeded that the Bible states he has misled the entire inhabited earth.
Having to contend with both inherent selfishness as well as with Satan the Devil and his willing agents, no wonder the prophet of God prayed: “O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Because of this God in his loving-kindness provided man with his Word, the Bible, to serve as a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. By taking counsel from His Word we shall not be overreached by Satan nor come to grief because of our inherent weaknesses.—Jer. 10:23, AS.
Cain might be said to have been the first one who manifested a form of godly devotion but proved false to its power. Had his offering been made in good faith he would have imitated his brother when he found God did not accept a vegetable sacrifice, and also would have offered a sacrifice requiring the shedding of blood. But his form of godly devotion being not genuine, he murdered his brother who did have Jehovah’s approval.
The nation of Israel furnishes another striking example of having a form of godly devotion while proving false to its power. With the passing years they drifted farther and farther away from God’s righteous principles of justice, love and mercy while continuing to make sacrifices, offer prayers and celebrate festivals. No wonder Jehovah said to them: “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; . . . Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you.”—Isa. 1:11, 14, 15, RS.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day fell into this same snare. They deceived themselves and many others but they did not deceive God or his Son, Christ Jesus. They made a “good thing,” that is, a profitable thing of their religion. Jesus tore off their masks, showing that all the works they did were done to win the approval of men; that outwardly they appeared righteous but inside they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. They showed many forms of godly devotion but proved false to its power, or they would never have murdered the Son of God.
Since the apostle Paul stated that “having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power” was one of the signs marking the last days, and since Bible prophecy shows we are living in the last days, it should not surprise us that today we see this condition more widespread than ever before. For example, consider a certain “prophet” of Detroit, Michigan, who claims to be a Christian minister and healer. Now Jesus told his followers not to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven and “stop being anxious . . . about your bodies as to what you will wear.” (Matt. 6:25, NW) But the Detroit “prophet” has amassed a fortune as a result of his claimed following of Jesus, including such things as a $12,900 mink coat, 400 suits of clothing, countless jewels and luxury automobiles. Obviously he has a “form of godly devotion,” but where is the power of unselfish service?
Another example is the manufacture and sale of religious articles. Thus Time, November 15, 1954, under the heading “Devotions by the Dozen,” had the following to say: “A salesman carrying his sample case arrived at the gift shop of a Roman Catholic shrine and demonstrated ‘the hottest item this year’: a picture of Jesus in a small plastic frame. By slightly moving the picture, the salesman explained, the bearded face of Jesus could be transformed into the beardless face of Our Lady.” Among other items were “a $100 medal of a veiled woman, praying, with a race horse and jockey ‘immortalized’ below. The inscription reads: ‘Saint Anita, make me a winner.’ Luminous Sacred Hearts that glow in the dark. ‘So comforting for the sick,’ says the manufacturer’s circular. ‘Hot traffic builder—always in demand.’” Clearly the gift shops that handle such items, as well as those who supply them and those who patronize them, are concerned only with the ‘forms of godly devotion.’ And what forms!
The same is also true of the Hollywood motion-picture industry. It also has found the ‘forms of godly devotion’ to be a “good thing.” It grinds out one religious spectacle after another, not because of its interest in religion or in the peoples’ morals, but because of the “box office magic of the Christian tradition.” Its lack of any sincerity is apparent from the way these pictures glamorize “the spectacular fleshpots and cruelties in the Roman background of early Christianity.”
Popular clergymen and particularly evangelists betray their worship is only a form of godly devotion by the praise they heap on successful businessmen and nations, such as one evangelist’s lauding Germany’s rapid economic recovery, to compare with France’s lagging economy, as though Germany were a more godly nation than is France.
Religious organizations that finance themselves by gambling devices such as bingo furnish another example of having a form of godliness but proving false to its power. For material gain they encourage laziness and dishonesty in their members and strengthen the power of underworld racketeers and corrupt government officials. Proof for all this was strikingly presented in the article “Is Bingo Getting Too Big?” in Collier’s, December 10, 1954.
Dr. Frank Crane, one of the foremost psychologists of the United States, highlighted this glaring inconsistency, saying, among other things: “What did Jesus do when He entered the ancient Hebrew temple and found the money changers running a somewhat similar ‘gyp’ racket on the worshipers? The Bible says he drove the money changers out of the temple and even upset their tables.” “If the churches don’t offer our youth a different code of ethics than the taverns or race tracks, how can they hope to appeal to eager, idealistic youth?”
A current aspect of having only “a form of godly devotion” is the stress placed on the practical aspects of prayer. Parade, a U.S. national weekly, October 10, 1954, told about “Today’s Big Religious Story: Prayer at Work. America’s hard-headed businessmen and practical politicians are asking God’s help to solve problems in the H-bomb age.”
It told of President Eisenhower’s beginning his secret cabinet meetings with a minute of silent prayer, and of one of his cabinet members’ starting each day’s session with his top staff members with prayer. Congress now has a “prayer room” and “a dozen religious breakfast groups now meet regularly in Washington—one for Senators, another for Congressmen,” etc., and we are told that this is also taking place in big business, in fact, “all over America today,” and that a thousand times over.
However, in spite of all this trend toward religion in business and politics the fact remains that never has the United States seen so much political corruption, so much sexual immorality and such a lack of integrity in business. The National Council of Churches of Christ admits the facts: “When we consider how little it costs to be counted among church members in our country today, we are troubled. The average church member is not conspicuously different from the non-member. . . . Our crime rate appears to rise alongside our membership increase.”
Obviously it is a case of having “a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power,” or such bad fruit would not be produced, and constitutes one of the signs that we are living in the last days.
Men deceive themselves when they read the Bible, when they pray, when they go to church, for psychological reasons, for success in business and in society, and think that is applied Christianity. By viewing gain as godliness they show themselves to be men of corrupt minds. And men are also deceiving themselves when they go through the outward forms of godly devotion and by their actions show that they lack the true power of godly devotion. Such is, in fact, nothing less than hypocrisy.
Applied Christianity and genuine godly devotion are free from both desire for selfish gain and hypocrisy, being concerned only with the gaining of Jehovah’s approval. Yes, “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”—John 4:24, NW.