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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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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