“Train yourself toward godliness (piety), [keeping yourself spiritually fit]. For physical training is of some value (useful for a little), BUT godliness (spiritual training) is useful and of value in everything and in every way, for it holds promise for the present life and also for the life which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8–Amplified Bible).
I can listen to fitness experts everyday telling us how unfit we all are in America. They can write informative books with images in ‘shaping-up’, enlist us to join a local health club, watch “The Biggest Loser” on television, all to better ourselves physically. But in order for us to see any personal results, we must make a “personal response”. We won’t see any benefits unless we do it; walking, jogging, exercising to a video, join a health club. The list goes on but we “just have to do it!” The same is true in our spiritual fitness response.
A PERSONAL RESPONSE ~ 1 Timothy 4:7
Training yourself is a reflexive pronoun: “Expressed action directed or turned back on oneself”. It’s good to have godly mentors (‘trainers’ or ‘coaches’) but ultimately, each believer is responsible for his or hers own spiritual training. No one can do it for us so we have to be diligent and disciplined, not sporadic in our doing.
Jay Adams asks, “What is the secret of godliness?” In a word, DISCIPLINE! Discipline is God’s path toward godliness. We Christians may be very disciplined and industrious when it comes in our business, our studies, our home and even our ministry. But we tend to be ‘lazy’ when we exercise our own spiritual lives. We much rather pray, “Lord, make me more godly.” We expect Him to “pour” some godliness into our souls in some mysterious way. God does in fact work in a mysterious way to make us godly, but He doesn’t do it apart from the fulfillment of our own personal responsibility.
Gumnazo [detective word study] is from gumnos; “naked, bare, unclad or minimally clothed.” It is descriptive of the common practice of males in Greco-Roman “gymnasia“; the English “gymnasium” and “gymnastics” is derived from. It meant literally to exercise “naked” in the palaestra (school in ancient Greece or Rome for sports). Now there is a picture!
Gymnastic exercises were highly esteemed by the Roman-Greek world but of little worth, short duration and refered only to this life and the applause of men.
Godliness involves a promise (will deal with the promises later) for the life to come; something we can stand on,the life that reflects the heavenly life shaped and controlled by it bears to impress. Godliness is profitable in all things:
1. Makes people happier.
2. Makes people more prosperous.
3. Makes people more healthy here and now.
4. Prepares for the life to come.
R. Kent Hughes wrote:
No discipline, no discipleship!
No sweat, no sainthood!
No perspiration, no inspiration!
No pain, no gain!
No manliness, no maturity!
GETTING INTO SHAPE
“Gumnazo” figuratively means to exercise; to discipline oneself (in the moral or ethical “gym” so to speak); to exercise vigorously in any way, body or mind.
It word conveys the picture:
1. To be rigorous.
2. To be persevering.
The “self-sacrificing” training of an athlete for a perishable prize and the Christian “athlete” willing to undergo for an imperishable prize (I Cor. 9:24-27).
In the present context, “godliness” is the prize that’s profitable for this life and the life to come. Just as our physical muscles grow stronger through exercise, also the “muscle” of our will is strengthened by exercise (discipline) in doing right.
PAUL’S COMMAND TO TIMOTHY (and to all who seek to be “vessels of honor” like Paul and Timothy)
The command is in the present imperative voice, calling for this to have a Christian “soldiers” lifestyle. In other words, no time off because of our enemies; the world, the flesh, and the devil don’t take time off. If you let down your guard, you will make yourself vulnerable to attack. Failing to “keep yourself fit” or training yourself spiritually is like ceasing to pedal when riding on a bicycle. Cessation results in loss of stability and serious injury. First to one’s spiritual life and then on the bicycle!
THE VITALITY OF YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE
Your “vitality” in the spiritual life depends on your “diet”:
“But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law” (Hebrews 5:14).
Wuest renders this verse: “But solid food belongs to those who are (spiritually mature). To those who on account of long usage have their powers of perception exercised to the point where they are able to discriminate between both that which is good in character and that which is evil.”
The vitality of your spiritual life depends on your “diet”. Are you taking in solid food yet? So you will be able to recognize false teachers?
Christian author Jerry Bridges says, “It is impossible to practice godliness without being constant, consistent with a balanced intake (food) of the Word of God in our lives.” Donald Whitney says, “We don’t grow in grace if we fail to use the God-given means for growing in grace.” Read those last two statements again to yourself and let the words sink in. Are you getting hungry yet?
Fitness advocate Jhannie Tolbert tells us, “you don’t need a treadmill or specialized equipment to get a great physical workout at home.” Mr. Tolbert uses a toolbox for stepping exercises, lifts soup cans to work shoulder muscles; he uses common household items in his daily training.
The same principle holds true in spiritual fitness. Bible dictionaries, commentaries and other books are all helpful. I personally use all of those ‘helps” in preparing for a daily blog. We can begin spiritual training with nothing more than the Bible and then guidance by our own God-given spiritual Trainer, the Holy Spirit. Many times in reading the Word of God every day, I keep a notebook and ink pen close by to write down some insight that the Holy Spirit gives me. We just need to begin where we are and what we have access too, RIGHT NOW!
WHAT DISCIPLINE “IS” AND “IS NOT”
First, discipline is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. You can never say you’ve arrived. Staying in shape physically for 25 years then one day you quit, you start to get “flabby”. You have to keep at it, for it is a lifetime process.
Secondly, discipline involves hard work. It is something in which God and you must be involved in the process. “Self-control” is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:23). Are you willing to pay the price? If athletes put themselves through years of hard work and training for a silly gold medal, shouldn’t we pay the price to be godly?
Next, discipline means discarding hindrances; be unencumbered in exercising. Remember, discipline comes from the Greek word for “discipline” = gymnazo. It came from the word meaning “naked”. Greek athletes would strip off their clothing, not to be hindered from the purpose of winning their event.
The point is training ourselves for godliness. There are hindrances we have to strip off; we have to say NO to things that hinder us from our purpose. Of course that includes all sin, but it also includes things that may be all right in and of themselves; yet don’t help you grow toward godliness, like controlling the TV set. That is the wrong “diet” plan to apply in your growth to spiritual maturity
Discipline is managing your time in line with your goals. An athlete works his schedule around his goal; he says NO to many good activities so he can say YES to his daily workout.
As Annie Dillard has pointed out, “How we spend our day is, of course, how we spend our lives” (Reader’s Digest, [7/92], p. 137). The goal of godliness demands that you spend time each and every day alone with God, in His Word and prayer. It’s not a question of having a “schedule”, you have one! We all have the same number of hours in each day. We all make time to do the things we want to do. The question, “Is your schedule in line with your goal of becoming a godly person?”
PART 2, (which I hadn’t plan to do), will address the promises that come from Keeping Yourself Spiritually Fit! The promise for this present life and also for the life which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8).
Get off the spiritual “Lazy Boy” and start getting spiritually fit. Don’t just sit there, Do it NOW!