One writer quipped that the word piety has become devalued about like the Canadian dollar. In all fairness to the Canadians, I think you could say that about the U.S. dollar as well.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary correctly states that “Pious has a bit of an image problem. From the beginning of its use in the 15th century, this Latin descendant has been used to describe those who are simply very religious—that is, who are deeply devoted to their religion—but it has for centuries also described those who make a show of their religiousness and use it to assert their superiority.
Indeed, the word “piety” has almost become synonymous with the stereotypical “Holy Joe,” who parades his religious convictions before others pretending to be something he is not.
Sadly, the world too often identifies pious with pompous and prideful, like sanctimonious Sally, who’s smug, snobbish, and self-righteous.
Warren Wiersbe’s warning and clarification regarding piety are helpful.
“Many people think that a ‘spiritual Christian’ is mystical, dreamy, impractical, and distant. When he prays, he shifts his voice into a sepulchral tone in tremolo. This kind of unctuous piety is a poor example of true spirituality. To be ‘spiritually minded’ simply means to look at earth from heaven’s point of view. The spiritually-minded believer makes his decisions based on eternal values and not the passing fads of society.”
Our English word “piety” has its roots in the Latin word “pius,” which means “dutiful.” Truly pious people are not pretenders or phoneys, but deeply devout disciples of Christ, who would humbly echo Jesus’ words about the faithful servant. ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” (Lk. 17:10).
The Bible uses the word piety to describe the obligation of children and grandchildren to their family in 1 Timothy 5:4.
The word is used to speak of one’s devotion to worship in Acts 17:23.
The same root word was used to define the character of the first Gentile convert, Cornelius, who’s called “devout man.” His devotion or piety is described this way: “one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.”
Peter uses the word rendered “godly” regarding those who sincerely seek to find deliverance from temptation (2 Pet. 2:9).
Pious people “take their duties seriously,” reminds Gary Henry in his Daybook Series “More Enthusiastic Ideas.” Gary further observes that “the pious are not the pretenders but the truly devout — they reverently hold themselves to high standards of virtue and morality. So if we are pious, we may not always be solemn, but we are never anything less than earnest. Matters of obedience are important to us — we regard them respectfully, studiously, carefully, wholesomely, and delightfully.”
Piety is not just well-sounding words, but a life well-lived. Its principles applied. Precepts practiced. And its scruples seen daily in our sense of duty, devotion, and dedication.
It may be well to remember that a lack of piety to one’s profession and its attendant hypocrisy is not just reserved to criticize Christians.
Quintin Morrow tells about the annual meeting of the American Heart Association several years ago attended by several thousand doctors, nurses and researchers.
They met in Atlanta to discuss, among other issues, the importance of a low-fat diet in keeping our hearts healthy. Yet during mealtimes, they consumed fat-filled fast food—such as bacon Cheeseburgers, and fries—at about the same rate as people from other conventions.
When one cardiologist was asked whether or not eating high-fat meals set a bad example, he replied, “Not me, because I took my name tag off.”
While as God’s pious people, we ought not to pompously “wear our religion on their sleeve,” let’s don’t take off our name tags either.
William M. Taylor was right when he wrote, “Without true piety, the finest qualities of character and the highest position in society will utterly fail to make a true and noble man.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman