Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
On Sunday mornings in the multipurpose room, Derek Johnson and I are co-teaching a book by Donald S. Whitney entitled Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. It is a very challenging book based on Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7-8. The NAS renders it, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
First, notice Paul’s emphasis on discipline. It is from the Greek word that gives us our word “gymnasium.” It suggests training and exercise or, as Louw-Nida defines it, “to experience vigorous training and control, with the implication of increased physical and/or moral strength” (466). We are to vigorously exercise ourselves in pursuit of godliness. Godliness is a key word and concept in this letter, found eight times in these six chapters. Godliness is the aim of life (2:2), the result of right doctrine (6:3), the fruit of contentment (6:6), and the evidence of being a man or woman of God (6:11). It is something that must be pursued.
Notice the benefits that come when we discipline ourselves unto godliness.
We find our purpose (7). The phrase “purpose of godliness” is actually the translators way of rendering the form of godliness in this verse. Literally, the idea is “train yourself for godliness” (ESV). Godliness is our purpose. We are here in this life to live like God. It’s the idea of showing God the awe and respect He deserves. We are not following the myths of this world. We are bowing down to the Great I Am with our lives. It’s why we’re on this earth!
We enjoy a profit (8). I try to exercise every day, to stave off the effects of old age and to stay in some semblance of shape. But my running times get slower and the amount of weight I can lift decreases. I may be delaying the inevitable, but they call it inevitable for a reason. Paul contrasts bodily exercise (and any other earthly discipline) with godliness. The difference with godliness and everything else is that only godliness is profitable “for all things.” That speaks to totality and entirety. No phase or aspect of your life can fail to be blessed and improved by the exercise of godliness, every relationship, activity, thought, word, and deed.
We realize God’s promises (8). Godliness is the gateway to a better life here and eternal life hereafter. The word for promise is a legal word, denoting a contract, agreement, or summons. It is a promissory note written on the integrity and character of God. Pursue godliness and have your best life now and then!
What’s the opposite of godliness? Paul uses it once in this letter (1:9). It refers to violating God’s rules and our relationship with Him. It’s “living without regard for religious belief or practice” (Swanson, np). That approach to life misses our purpose, our own profit, and God’s promises. It’s the way the world counsels us to live, but so many have discovered that it’s empty and unfulfilling.
What then? Let’s strive to live godly lives! We were made for such a life!