Discipline Yourself For The Purpose Of Godliness

Neal Pollard

Two weeks ago today, Wes Autrey and I decided to hold each other accountable for eating better and losing some pounds. The daily check in that accompanies this requires me to pay attention to how much and what I eat and pushes me to make sure I go work out. The single most difficult element of this challenge is the discipline.

It’s interesting that the word translated “discipline” in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 literally means “to train.” The Greek word is the one from which we get our English word “gymnasium.” The adjective form is translated “naked,” the figurative sense meaning “manifest” or “unconcealed” (Kittel-Bromiley 133). While the Greeks would exercise naked, the verb form came to mean “to concentrate” (ibid.). So when Paul says, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (4:7), he is calling for utmost concentration and conscious training in order to achieve godliness. Louw-Nida remind us that godliness refers to “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers” (530). It is driven by a profound respect for God because of who He is and what He deserves.

The motivation Paul gives the Christian for exercising godliness is the unsurpassed value it gives us.  He contrasts the value of godliness with bodily exercise. I do not believe Paul is saying it’s a total waste of time to exercise. After all, it does do “a little good.” It helps us function and feel better for a good while in these bodies God gave us. But by comparison, godliness is far superlative. People can look at our lives and see the fruit of it while we live on this earth, but it also leads us to eternal life.

Godliness is the goal, the motivation. Discipline is the means to that end. In context, Paul calls for discipline to be built through proper diet (“being nourished on the words of faith and of…sound doctrine,” 4:6), proper exercise (“labor and strive,” 4:10), proper focus (“we have fixed our hope,” 4:10), and consistency (“show yourself an example,” 4:12; “give attention,” 4:13; etc.).

Wes and I hope that the results of our herculean efforts “will be evident to all” (cf. 4:15). It will require us to “take pains” and to “be absorbed” in our goal (cf. 4:15). Certainly, it means paying close attention to ourselves (4:16). Much more than that, you and I must direct our attention to the proper beliefs and practices that will get us to heaven and influence those who are around us (4:16). Remember that discipline is about training, a process that must be repeated, perfected, and continued. But, the payoffs cannot be matched! How’s your discipline?

Rebuke Requires Relationship

Neal Pollard

  • A child scolded by an austere stranger may get frightened or bullied, but not persuaded or “reached.” A parent, grandparent, a sibling, or good friend will be much more effective.
  • A church member reprimanded by an aloof elder with none of the skill and instincts of a shepherd will get offended, hurt, and angered, but will likely ignore the admonition. A caring, involved elder, even if what he says is difficult and narrow, will prove much more effective. Jesus makes this clear in John 10:5.
  • A preacher who isolates himself from the members, though golden-tongued and 100% right, will cause rankling and roiling rather than remorse and repentance when dealing with sensitive, “hard” subjects. Yet, a man people know cares about them will be given a hearing on even “hot button” matters delivered in loving conviction. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 makes this clear.
  • A brother or sister bringing a criticism or dispensing blunt advice, who has done nothing to establish rapport and relationship with the object of their censure, will have zero impact for good and most likely widen the distance already existent between them. Galatians 6:1-2 implies one who has worn the yoke with the one approached about the trespass.
  • A “Facebook friend” or social media connection, who does a drive-by, verbal “shooting,” devoid of real life connection and bond, is seen as an obnoxious oaf at best and more likely as an impertinent intruder. That forum is not typically going to work for effective exhortation, especially if the dressing-down comes from one who has established no meaningful link. Remember, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). That’s a real friend; not a virtual one.
  • A neighbor who has taken no time to be a friend or neighborly delivers hollow requests, suggestions, or demands. Without benefit of time and shared experience, this is received as bad manners and bad form. One who takes the time to demonstrate care will be much better heard (cf. Prov. 11:12).
  • A co-worker or schoolmate will be unpersuaded by someone who makes no time for them or takes no time to get to know them but who gets in their business is wasting their time. But, one who proves genuine concern will much more likely get a thoughtful hearing.

It’s just the way we are. We bristle at cold, heartless interference from the seemingly disinterested party. But we are open and receptive to people who take the time to get to know, understand, and care about us. The same thing said the same way will make a big difference, depending on the presence or absence of a relationship. We would do well to strive to build more and better relationships, especially if we desire to help people grow closer to Christ and go to heaven. May we first work on the connection before we attempt the correction.

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Adorable Children

Neal Pollard

We are blessed to have quite a few young children in our congregation. Little boys and little girls, with unexpected observations, expressive faces, and humorous behaviors, make sure there is not a dull moment when they are around. Inspired writers use terms like “inheritance” (Prov. 13:22) and “gift” (Psa. 127:3) to impress us with their value. Jesus demands imitation of them (Mat. 18:3). Parents get so proud of their children, displaying their cuteness in pictures on social media. While so many kids reflect the good looks of their parents, it’s not looks that most make children adorable.  What makes children adorable?

  • Obedience to parents
  • The practice of good manners, courtesy and respect for others
  • A pleasant demeanor and general good mood
  • Avoiding the pattern or habit of tantrums and ill-temper
  • The ability to speak and make eye contact when spoken to
  • Laughter that reflects a genuine joy of living
  • Engagement and interest in worship and Bible class
  • Serving especially the elderly—visiting them, making cards or little presents for them
  • Speaking respectfully to adults

The qualities above reflect an attractiveness of godly parenting and an appreciation for biblical principles of conduct that will make them adorable adults one day.  It reflects the “others before self” mentality Christ wants to see in God’s children (Phil. 2:1-4). It reflects the humility and service that causes greatness in His Kingdom (Mat. 20:25-28). It reflects the thoughtful consideration that ought to typify Christians (Col. 3:12; Rom. 15:1ff). It reflects the spiritual mindset necessary to be winsome, attractive ambassadors for Him (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20; Rom. 12:17ff; etc.). Sometimes, much greater emphasis is given to the style of their clothes than to the strength of their character. We cannot put fashion before faith, image over integrity, or sophistication above spirituality.

I want to thank so many parents who get this ideal and are striving toward it. No one’s children are perfect, just like none of their parents (or critical adults) are. But, parents who are trying to instill quality inner qualities in their children deserve highest honor! Keep rearing adorable children. You’ll have a lifetime to be grateful that you did.

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MY FAMILY TREE

Neal Pollard

Years ago, for a school project, I was asked to trace my ancestry and make a family tree. In the process I learned some things I did not know about my heritage. Some of that made me proud, and some of it did not. I also learned that a family tree is always living and growing. Now that I am a husband and father, I appreciate that my children (and, one day, grandchildren) will be affected by how I lead my family.

You are nourishing your family tree, too. How are you caring for it? That is called a legacy. It will affect those who live after you are gone. Consider some things every family tree has, and ask yourself what kind of tree you are growing in your home.

Your family tree has…

  • ROOTS. Something is central to your home. It is what drives and motivates you. It is where you have your primary interest and investment, measured in dollars, energy, and time. For your family tree to survive, you must be “firmly rooted and…built up in [Christ]” (Col. 2:7).
  • BRANCHES. Your home is an influence on the larger community surrounding you. Every facet of your life, your job, your friends, the church you attend, and your community, is impressed, positively and negatively, by your home. You have a reputation. You are seen. As your family branches out into the world, what impact is it making for Christ? Remember, “If the root be holy, the branches are too” (Rom. 11:16).
  • NUTRIENTS. God made the tree to eat and drink, and by such it lives. If the nutrients are cut off (via drought or disease or damage), the tree dies. Likewise, our family tree must be nourished properly to keep each member of it alive. We must keep “constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).
  • FRUIT. It may be acorns, cones, blossoms, or edible fruit, but trees bear fruit. When a fruit-bearing tree ceases production, it is a sign of trouble. At best, such a tree has lost its value. Our family tree will be known by its fruits (cf. Mat. 7:16,20). Failing to bear good fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) or bearing bad fruit (Luke 6:43) is condemned by God.
  • PREDATORS. “Dutch Elm Disease,” beetles, ants, and termites can all prematurely end the life of a tree. Sometimes, what kills the tree cannot be readily seen. Trees can be eaten from the inside out, and by the time the damage is visible it is too late. How like the damage predators do to the home! Three are so many! Tragically, sometimes the damage comes from within—what we do or allow to happen in the family. Satan is the predator of the home, but he works through human agency.
  • LEAVES. There are evergreens, conifers, and pines, but hardwoods are the most fascinating to me. I like their annual cycle. In Spring, the trees are in bloom and put on their leaves. They flourish in Summer. In Autumn, they are vibrant in color and beautiful. In Winter, they die and leave the tree. Parents, think of your children as those “leaves.” From birth, they bud and grow. Hopefully, in the teen years after trial and tribulation they begin to absorb and emulate the good principles we have taught. It can be a beautiful time. Then comes the time for them to leave. Remember that they are going to leave home some day. Make sure they leave spiritually and eternally prepared.

Spanking

Neal Pollard

With the high profile case of an NFL star putting the idea of spanking in the spotlight, it is proper to examine this practice more closely.  A sweet young mother asks a couple of questions about the practice of spanking in light of Proverbs 13:24.  First, “Is Proverbs 13:24 literal, meaning we are to physically discipline our children, or is it figurative meaning we are to discipline in general?” Second, “If it is literal, does it literally mean to use an implement such as a rod, belt, etc rather than our hands to inflict the physical discipline?”  These are vital questions young parents like her have to grapple with in light of a desire to properly train and mold the heritage given them by God, but do so in a world less accepting of biblical truth in general and passages like Proverbs 13:24 specifically.  To address this, let’s break the matter into three component parts.

Spanking and society.  Due to the prevalence of physical child abuse, society has reacted to any type of corporal punishment (i.e., punishment of or relating to the physical body; spanking).  While the principle of spanking is more widely approved than we may be led to believe (a recent ABCNEWS poll found 65% of all parents approve of it, abcnews.com, and a 2013 Harris Interactive poll with a sample size twice as large found that 81% consider spanking their children sometimes appropriate, harrisinteractive.com), the politically correct wing of society so often in charge of media and education most often rail against it in any form.   There are three revised statutes in Colorado, one civil and two criminal, that address spanking in Colorado (kidjacked.com includes the laws of all 50 states).  While the statutes are eerily vague, here is what they permit:  “Parent/guardian/ person with care and supervision of minor can use reasonable and appropriate physical force, if it is reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain or promote welfare of child” (Colorado Code Section 18-1-703).  The greater concern would be judicial interpretation or further revisions in the law that forbad corporal punishment altogether.

Spanking and scripture.  With our youngest now 16 years old, we are beyond the timeframe where spanking holds sway as a primary means of discipline.  When our boys were of that age (from toddlerhood up to the beginning of the teen years), we would resort to spanking (usually with the hand or a paddle).  This was undoubtedly the result of practices learned from our own parents’ regimen of discipline, but also our conviction (as it was our parents’) that scripture taught the necessity of this under circumstances where mere words did not remedy misbehavior.  The Bible clearly teaches it as an integral part of disciplining—Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, and 29:15.  Hopefully, we will never find ourselves in a place where our civil government absolutely forbids corporal punishment of our children, but if it does we would be compelled to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Spanking and sensibility.  Let us get to common sense issues, though.  This is especially the “how” but also the “where” and “when.”  Consider these suggestions for effective discipline—

  1. Do not spank in anger or in an out of control manner (this reflects your own lack of self-discipline and is not likely an attempt to assert behavior modification).
  2. Exercise restraint in how hard you administer physical punishment.  The idea is to impress upon the child that their words, behavior, etc., is unacceptable.
  3. Follow up the punishment with an explanation and teaching.
  4. Avoid administering discipline in public places.  Find a private room or wait until you get home to mete out the punishment.
  5. If restraint is used, it will not matter whether the hand or another implement is used.  Overall parental demeanor will determine whether the child is “scarred” or “shaped” by it.

Obviously, personal judgment and discretion are essential.  Yet, inasmuch as the concept originates in scripture, our good sense as citizen of the society will govern us as we prayerfully attempt to raise children that please and follow God.

LIZARD SPIT

Neal Pollard
It is not an interjection or obscure, Cowboy euphemism. It is one of the latest weapons in the fight for weight loss. In fact, it was approved a few years ago by the FDA to be used in the treatment of especially type two diabetes. The drug, exenatide, contains a chemical that is found is the saliva of the poisonous Gila monster. There are chemical explanations for why the reptile’s oral emission is effective in weight loss, but the result is that a growing number are clamoring for it to be made available for use in the battle of the bulge. To curb enthusiasm, one might want to consider the long-term effects of exenatide as there have been several reports of pancreatitis among users of the drug (for more info on this, see http://www.wgal.com/health/).
It is human nature to look for shortcuts and substitutes. Often, this can be a good thing as we look to be more efficient, better time managers, or discoverers of that which contributes to better quality of life. However, it can also betray a tendency to look for the easy way out rather than choosing a path that leads to the best, long-term solution. Whether it is in matters relating to finance, weight-loss, work productivity, or spirituality, the quick fix or easy substitute is not usually the best choice. In fact, it can even prove counterproductive.
Lizard spit in shot form might be easier than diet and exercise, but it does not sound like a good first choice. Getting “our Bible” only from the preacher is not a viable substitute for personal study. Letting man tell us that some other way leads to salvation will not take the place of obeying what the Lord says in His word about how to be saved. Self-reliance is no stand-in for prayer. Instant gratification is not the same as self-denial, whatever excuse or rationalization we make. No matter if it’s the old proverbial peddler of “snake oil” or the new medical expert promoting lizard spit, it is much the same. Remember that the path of least resistance is the quickest way to erosion. Do not accept substitutes!