For many of us, social and physical distancing has had many negative effects on us. As the weather has improved we have a natural desire to go outside and be more active. As a diabetic, being active is important. I need to get physically healthy but to do so requires discipline and opportunity. That being said, I do have things in the house that I can do. I have a Bowflex and a treadmill in the basement and even a few free weights and other equipment. So what is the issue? It is getting motivated and disciplined to get going.
But it is not only my physical health that needs to be maintained and improved. My spiritual life needs work. I was reading 1 Timothy this morning and one passage stood out. In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul says, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” This verse took on a whole new meaning for me even in light of my physical needs. It tells me that I need to make the most of this opportunity of being “alone” to grow in my relationship with God.
I know other passages in the Bible teach discipline, but this is the classic one and has the most impact on me. The word “train” comes from the Greek word, gumnos, which means “naked” and is the word from which we get the English word, gymnasium. In Greek contests such as the Olympics, the participants participated without clothing. Why? So they would not be encumbered. We can see that in modern athletics with the advent of new more streamlined materials to minimize wind or water drag.
Therefore the word “train” literally means “to exercise naked.” By New Testament times, it referred to exercise and training in general. But even then it was as it remains a word with the smell of the gym in it – the sweat of a good workout. “Train yourselves, exercise, work out, for the purpose of godliness” is basically what Paul was saying.
In a word, Paul is calling on us to exert some spiritual sweat. Just as the athletes discarded everything and competed for gumnos, free from anything that could hinder them, so we must get rid of every encumbrance, every association, habit, relationship and tendency that impedes godliness. If we are to excel, we must strip ourselves to a lean spiritual nakedness.
The writer of Hebrews put it this way in 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. We will never get anywhere spiritually without a consistent divestment of the things that hold us back. What things are weighing us down? The call to discipline demands that we throw it off. Do we have the courage?
The call to train ourselves for godliness also suggests directing all of our energy towards that goal. Paul pictures this elsewhere. In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
This is about intense, energetic sweat! We should note that a little after Paul’s command to “train yourself for godliness,” he comments on the commands in 4:10 saying, “for to this end we toil and strive”. The word, “toil” means “strenuous work” and “strive” comes from the Greek word where we get “agonize.” Toil and agony are called for if one is to be godly.
When one seriously trains, he willingly undergoes hours of discipline and even pain to win the prize, running ten thousand miles to run one hundred metres at one’s best. Boxers will often go into seclusion for months from their families to perfect their craft before a big fight. Even in team sports, athletes will sometimes stay in hotels with teammates and coaches to stay focused rather than the comforts of their own families and homes. The successful Christian life is a sweaty and focused affair.
Godliness is about commitment. Maturity will be out of our reach without effort and sacrifice. No disincline, no discipleship. No sweat, no sainthood. The formula is simple on paper, but a great deal of effort in reality. May God grant us strength and focus as we discipline our lives to become the men and women God desires for each of us.