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?

Resolutions Reinforcements—#5

Neal Pollard

If this is not one of your resolutions, it is a part of all of them. It is almost a dirty word, if we ponder what it demands. “Self-control.” We call it will power, self-discipline, or restraint, but it invokes those difficult life principles like commitment, duty, and drive. It’s doing a little bit more of what it takes or doing a little less of what you want in order to reach a goal (paying off debt, 10 more minutes in the workout, passing up cake, choosing Bible reading over social media or TV, etc.). The Christian understands that God has called him or her to a life of self-control. In what is really God-control—submitting our hearts and lives to God’s will—we are to live lives that call for self-denial and lead to discipleship. Our resolutions probably take that central truth into consideration.

The word used in the New Testament can seem daunting. The word ἐγκράτεια (enkrateia) means “to exercise complete control over one’s desires and actions” (Louw-Nida 750).  It is daunting because it is exhausting (“exercise”),  exhaustive (“complete”), and extensive (“control over desires and actions”). It leaves no part of me unexplored and unchecked. It takes in the internal and the external.

Yet, it is a mark of the redeemed. You find it in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). You find it in the Christian virtues, which speak of all that is gained or lost depending on whether those things are incorporated into our lives (2 Pet. 1:6). You find it attached to judgment and eternity (Acts 24:25). So, it is something God calls for in our lives anyway.

Pray for self-control. Identify the saboteurs of your self-control and eliminate, avoid, and address them. Be intentional, thinking specifically about the area where self-control is lacking (tongue, temper, tastebuds, etc.) and considering ways to improve there. Acknowledge times when you have succeeded or are succeeding and appreciate how good that feels.

What follows the exercise of self-control is almost always tangible results. Be patient. If you stumble, get back up and keep trying. At the end of that road is success!

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Before You Type Or Talk Today

 

Neal Pollard

A pick, a poke, a controversy,
Hit and run, a verbal grenade,
We may see it as clever, though without mercy
And own it like an accolade

But are we making people think
When what and how we say it scars?
If it causes a stir, a strife, a stink
Instead of edifying it maligns and mars?

People should be thinking anyway
And what they think should be of good report
Let’s meditate on what we say
Not load up on sarcastic, sardonic retort.

The world already knows that tactic
And uses it at the drop of scarf and hat
It brightens no story, dresses up no didactic
But stokes the fire and escalates the spat

Here’s something requiring greater skill
You won’t find it in general practice
Restraint and kindness, grace and good will
Be a rose in a field of cactus.

When entering today the public sphere
And the marketplace of varied ideas
Let the Jesus in you shine bright and clear
So they can look at you and believe He is!

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The Eye Test

Neal Pollard

We covet those parking spaces close to the store, whether because we think we will save a little time or several steps by nabbing them.  Yet, we are in “competition” with others who are seeking the same spaces. No one rushes to the back of the parking lot to grab up those spots. But at a Costco in Canada recently, this vying turned violent as two middle-aged couples literally fought over a parking space. As in, it came to fisticuffs. As of this writing, police are still investigating and there may be fine details to be added to the story. Basically, however, as a YouTube video shot by a local realtor shows, anger over who should put their automobile in that space escalated to foul language, pushing, shoving, name-calling, and thrown punches. Four people who might otherwise be respectable, dignified contributors to society now share an infamy that may dog them for a long time. All because of a failure to conduct themselves properly in a public place.

We shake our heads at this animalistic behavior, but in our self-righteous sense of superiority we might do well to examine how exquisitely we execute our example before the eyes of the world. Consider some places where Christians can be oblivious to the watchful eyes of others:

  • Social media brawls, whether over matters clearly addressed in Scripture or matters of judgment and opinion.
  • Bible class discussions, where visitors, new Christians, and weak Christians might see the redeemed’s  inhumanity to the redeemed.
  • Public arenas, from the retailers to the restaurants and from the grocery store to the department store, where subpar (or even adequate) customer service evokes an unChristlike response from a disciple of Christ.
  • Arguments between spouses or parents and children, members of a “Christian home,” who resort to the tactics of their worldly counterparts as they wage war before such witnesses.
  • At ball fields, concerts, movie theaters, and the like, where something displeasing to us provokes an impatient, harsh, and retaliatory response that eclipses any view of Christ.

Certainly, these are just a few ways and places where we might forget ourselves and squash our precious influence by allowing the flesh to dominate our presumed spirituality. It is good for us to consider that those things cannot come out of us unless we are allowing improper things come into us. We must guard against the things that might creep in—“immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Col. 3:5), “…enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions…” (Gal. 5:20, which are a bulk of the works of the flesh specifically identified by Paul), and more (cf. Mark 7:22-23, etc.).  We must work to control what comes out, harnessing the tongue (Jas. 3:2ff) and controlling the temper (cf. Eph. 4:26). We must strive to cultivate thoughts and feelings that, when expressed, build up and draw others to Christ (Col. 3:12-13; 1 Pet. 3:8-11; Gal. 5:22-23; etc.).

Like it or not, we’re hilltop cities and lighthouses (Mat. 5:14-16). Let us keep our behavior excellent among the “Gentiles,” as they observe our deeds, so that they will see Jesus at work in us (cf. 1 Pet. 2:12). Our attitudes, speech, and actions may not become a viral video, but we are still being watched. Let’s take care to display ourselves in a way that would not embarrass (or condemn) us were we to see it again, played by the Lord, at the Judgment Day.

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Carrie Fisher Wisdom: Do AND Deny

Neal Pollard

Social media is abuzz about both the caustic criticism of fans commenting on how poorly they think Carrie Fisher has aged and her withering response to their mean, thoughtless remarks. Barely in her twenties when she appeared as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars in 1977, she reprised her role 38 years later almost in her sixties. You will inevitably add some wrinkles and lose some tone in four decades. Fisher gave an interesting interview to Good Housekeeping that appeared just before the debut of the historic blockbuster earlier this month. Apparently, she felt she had to lose a significant amount of weight for the movie. How did she lose the 35 pounds? She says, “I did it the same way everybody has to—don’t eat and exercise more! There is no other way to do it. I have a harder time eating properly than I do exercising. It’s easier for me to add an activity than to deny myself something” (Good Housekeeping UK, staff, 12/7/15).

Most of us can relate to her insight. Being active and doing something takes some resolve and endurance, but withholding or removing what does not belong often challenges our appetites, desires, and cravings much more. This battle rages on an infinitely more serious front than weight-loss, though. Jesus makes self-denial a salient ingredient of discipleship (Luke 9:23).  BDAG indicates this word for deny means, “To refuse to pay attention to, disregard, renounce (oneself in this passage)” (Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : n. pag. Print.).  Restraining myself from saying a sarcastic, bitter, angry word is harder than lifting my voice in song or prayer. Fighting the urge to give in to a temptation requires more effort than doing something kind or necessary for someone in need. Our relationships are not just damaged through neglect or omission, but also by failing to conquer unhealthy and unwholesome attitudes, words, and actions.

Doing and denying are dual elements essential to overcoming this world. God wants obedience, but He also wants self-control. It was a staple expectation of Paul’s gospel preaching (Acts 24:25). It is listed among the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). It is among the Christian graces (2 Pet. 1:6). But as we regularly master it, we will shine Christ to those around us in a memorable way! As we do God’s will, let’s also deny ourselves.

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INSTANT GRATIFICATION

Neal Pollard

I am probably one of the few fans in “Bulldog Nation” unhappy with the firing of Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt.  It’s not primarily because I believe him to be the most decent, devout role models in all of coaching, though that it significant. It’s because of why he was fired. He leaves as the second winningest coach in Georgia history, winning nearly three-fourths of the games he coached, taking the team to a bowl game every year of his tenure, and getting them within 10 seconds of playing for the National Championship just three years ago.  However, he had not ever led the Dawgs to hoist the big trophy and lost some “spotlight games.”  Angry fans can produce some statistics that show perceived shortcomings, but fans of most all other college programs (minus your Alabamas, Ohio States, LSUs, and a very short list of others) would gladly trade for the success Mr. Richt brought so far in the 21st Century.

Certainly, many of you would rightly point out how relatively trivial sports are and how inordinately its fanatics obsess and exude over it. But, as that fanbase represent a significant part of our current culture, observing their mindset and worldview helps us understand a lot of other things going on in this culture.  It is seen in the way we spend money and accumulate material things.  It is seen in the impatience and impulse in relationships that leads to wrongs from sexual immorality to divorce. It is even seen in the road rage that comes when we feel somebody is slowing us down or keeping us from getting to our destination as quickly as we possibly can.  No doubt, you could help me build an impressive list of other ways society is bent on the instant gratification of its wants and longings.

It Is significant to read about how God wants His people to behave.  I cannot imagine He cares about who coaches what team except when passion turns to sinful words and actions.  But, in a general way, He has spoken in His Word about the mindset Christians should adopt in every circumstance of life.  He commands His people to be patient in this life, when dealing with everyone in this life (1 Th. 5:14) and when living in view of the end (Js. 5:7-8). In fact, Paul tells the Colossian Christians, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). Reconcile that with a spirit of impatience that demands its wants and wishes immediately. We must be careful to incorporate principles that show a self-disciplined life like Paul’s who could be content whatever the circumstances (Phil. 4:11-12).

I’m not worried about Coach Richt and I’m still a UGA fan. I know that weight rooms, stadiums, and memorabilia will be in the big bonfire at the end of time.  What we all need in our lives is a spirit that clearly demonstrates to the world what Christlike patience, endurance, and self-control looks like in our daily dealings!

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“Nomophobia” 

Neal Pollard

That’s not a typo for another popularly-used term.  It’s actually a “thing,” at least according to a 2010 study by the UK Post Office.  It is short for “no-mobile-phone phobia” (Tim Elmore, psychologytoday.com). There’s even a website called nomophobia.com, and they identify “the four fears of Nomophobia”—broken, lost, stolen, or useless smartphones. While that site operates “tongue in cheek,” there are a bevy of experts more than ready to talk about how this is an epidemic impacting especially youth in our culture.  University of Connecticut School of Medicine’s Dr. David Greenfield has done much work in this study. He points to the problem of a dysregulation of dopamine, “meaning that it motivates people to do things they think will be rewarded for doing” (clever, cutting, or flamboyant Tweets, posts, pics, etc.) and that it can foster people’s addiction to the internet and technology (Madeline Stone, businessinsider.com). Greenfield adds, “That feeling you’re going to miss something if you’re not constantly checking is an illusion — most parts of our lives are not relevant to our smartphones. What happens on our devices is not reflective of what happens in real life” (ibid.).  There are even digital detox programs, in the United States as well as other countries around the world.  Psychiatrist Dale Archer gives this advice, “Stop texting while you’re driving. Don’t take it into the bathroom with you. Have a rule not to use your phone when you’re with your friends. If you’re on a date, make a rule that you’ll both check your phone for a maximum of 5 minutes every 90 minutes. It’s all about setting simple rules that you can follow” (ibid.).

Amateur psychiatrists and specialists everywhere can quickly diagnose this condition in their spouses and significant others, their children, and their friends, but they may be myopic to their own inordinate practice (see every airport, doctor’s office, restaurant, etc.).  Addiction to, or at least habitual abuse of, smartphones and similar technology is simply the latest and a more obvious example of a long-standing human tendency.  Paul told Corinth, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). In context, Paul is beginning a discussion of the sin of fornication after having talked about Corinth’s generally sinful past from which they had been forgiven.  Paul’s desire was not to be “mastered” (ruled, reigned over, Louw 37.48) by anything.  He later writes about the self-mastery and discipline necessary to live the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Cell phones are just one possible impediment to this.  There are so many other possibilities we must keep aware of, things which can derail us from our purpose and focus in this life.  So many of them are fine in balance and moderation, but we can allow them to consume and even overtake us.  A fear of being without those things is only one of the attending problems.  Being ruled by anything or anyone other than Christ is the overriding concern.  We are all served well by looking carefully at the things in our lives and make sure we have no master other than Christ.

TAKE A PILL OR EXERT YOUR WILL?

Neal Pollard

They are currently touting a diet pill that is a normal size when one takes it, but it expands up to 100 times its original size when taken with a 16 ounce glass of water before a meal.  This is to give the one who takes it the exaggerated feeling of being full.  Then the pill eventually reduces in size afterwards.  Some are calling it the answer for those who are severely overweight but who have a harder time cutting back how much they eat.

Ours is an age prone to offer easy alternatives to what the Bible calls self-control (2 Pe. 1:6). This word is defined as “‘to hold oneself in,’ ‘to command oneself,’ ‘to be a chief of oneself,’ ‘to make one’s heart be obedient,’ ‘to command one’s own desires,’ ‘to be the master of what one wants,’ or ‘to say No to one’s body'” (Louw & Nida, np).  Few of us excel at this all the time, but the Holy Spirit through His inspired writers call it a characteristic of the sanctified.  Paul preached it to individuals like Felix (Ac. 24:25) and to congregations like Corinth (1 Co. 9:25).  Perhaps some limit their understanding of “self-control” to sexual matters. While that is certainly an important area, all passions and desires must be kept in check.  Paul told Galatia, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).

That applies to diet and exercise as surely as it does tobacco, alcohol, and various lusts.  If one looks to a pill as a substitute for portion control and healthy food choices, he or she is bypassing the exertion of a trait that is supposed to be a sign of faithful Christian living. How many of God’s people have eaten themselves into health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and the like?  It is often easier to excuse our unhealthy lifestyle by pointing to stress, heredity, metabolism, or busyness than to exert the necessary discipline needed for us to better care for our bodies.

Some of us may have to work harder at this than others thanks to genetics, age, or the other factors just mentioned, but that is what self-control is all about.  It is about exerting the effort required to master our wants and say no to our bodies.

This may be an unpopular subject to address, but in our ever-expanding society that has eaten its way into weight problems and obesity God’s people are to lead by example.  That means demonstrating self-control not only by what comes out of our mouths or from our deeds, but by what we put into our bodies.  We don’t do that by taking a pill, but instead by exerting our will.