In all the discussion today of methods of evangelism, one rarely hears mentioned “godliness and dignity.” But consider 1 Timothy 2:1-4,
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (ESV)
Paul, in writing his first epistle to Timothy, tells him to pray “for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority” (1 Tim 2:1-2). Paul wants Timothy to pray for “all people” so that they can live an undisturbed life with them, which fosters the godly and dignified religious spirit. In other words, if the Christians are being persecuted by their government officials, they will be much more likely to restrain the outward demonstrations of their piety. If they pray for these government officials, however, peace will result, and thereby the Christians will much more likely (Paul assumes) to live their “godly and dignified” lives unhindered in the open for all to see. This is ultimately done, it would seem, for the sake of God’s glory (2:3), which He in turn will use in saving all kinds of people before whom the Christians lived (2:4-7). The salvation of all kinds of men is largely in view in the context of the passage, e.g. the church is to pray for all men (v 1), God desires all men to be saved (v 4), and Christ gave himself a ransom for all (v 5). Thus the purpose of the prayer for all men, that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life,” which finds its purpose in our living “godly and dignified in every way” before the world is evangelistic.
The word which the English Standard Version translated “dignified” (the Authorized Version translates this word “honesty”) is σεμνοτητι from σεμνος and means “worthy of respect, honor, dignified, or serious” (BDAG); one Apostolic Father attributes this quality to an angel. Paul uses the word again in Titus 2:7, there translated “gravity”: “in all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity” (BDAG).
The other word, “godliness,” is an important word in the Pastoral epistles, which speaks of “awesome respect accorded to God, devoutness, piety, godliness.” Lest we think this “godliness” is merely “internal,” Paul affirms that it has an outward form in 2 Timothy 3:5 where he condemns certain men for “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” and warns Timothy to stay away from them. In our present day, most seem to have reversed this problem, thinking that they can have the “power thereof” while shunning the “form of godliness.”
All of this is not to say that Paul is advocating some kind of “lifestyle evangelism.” He affirms that preaching and teaching are essential to evangelism in verse 7 when he describes his own ministry to the Gentiles as including these elements.
Yet we should take note that Paul believes that living in a “godly and dignified way” is an important aspect of the Christian’s witness. The contemporary American evangelical church (speaking in the broadest sense) is abandoning for the sake of evangelism these two very things Paul gives as a means to evangelism–godliness and dignity! We seem to believe that we will “win more” if we are ungodly and undignified. How often is our worship characterized by “awesome respect accorded to God,” “piety,” “dignity,” or “gravity”? The words of the apostle are clear–he not only assumes that the Christian life in its outward form will naturally show these hallmarks, but also that the Lord will use these very sensibilities in his “desire” “to save all men.”