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The pursuit of godliness

Whoever pursues godliness and unfailing love will find life, godliness, and honor. — Proverbs 21:21

Benjamin Franklin, the wise and witty son of a Philadelphia candle maker, looked up after signing his name on the parchment and said, “Well, gentlemen, we must now hang together, or we shall most assuredly hang separately.” It was August 2, 1776. Franklin and the other members of the Continental Congress had just signed the Declaration of Independence, which they had passed on July 4.

Despite his jocular tone, Franklin was well aware that what he and his colleagues had done would be seen by many in the British government as an act of treason and rebellion, and they might well suffer deeply for their actions. But they were convinced of the rightness of their cause and the necessity of overthrowing the tyrannical regime of George III, in order that the men and women of the thirteen states might be free to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Everybody is pursuing something, with varying degrees of intensity and success. Most of them long for happiness. Sadly, for many happiness proves desperately elusive. As the modern world produces a vast array of toys for people to play with and assures people that being happy is their noblest goal in life, the pursuit of happiness has become a national obsession, and providing the means to attain it has become a lucrative industry. But in spite of it all, unhappiness abounds.

Proverbs suggests a better way. “Whoever pursues godliness and unfailing love will find life, godliness, and honor” (21:21). If we pursue “godliness” instead of “happiness,” the direction of the pursuit changes immediately. Godliness is the quality of life that seeks to please God. Happiness is often absorbed with pleasing self. While happiness is concerned with feeling good, godliness is committed to being good and doing good. This is a major difference, since it is possible to feel good while being bad.

Being good and doing good are directed, respectively, toward heaven and toward earth. Being good brings delight to the Father, while doing good brings blessing to the needy. Proverbs calls it “godliness and unfailing love,” and when they are pursued with diligence and perseverance, they bring their own reward: The pursuer actually catches up with what he aims for and he will “find life, godliness, and honor.”

While Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence of a God-given right to pursue happiness, the writer of Proverbs stipulated a God-given requirement to pursue godliness. Pursue happiness, and you may or may not find it. Pursue godliness, and you will find it—and much, much more!

For further study: Proverbs 21:17-31

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.