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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Build That Wall!

Neal Pollard

The partisan vitriol ramps up whenever subjects like border security and immigration are mentioned. It is a subject as much a part of the political divide as “Russian Collusion,” tax reform, and affordable health care. Let the politically passionate debate all those topics, but did you know Scripture talks about the importance of having a properly-built, fortified wall? There were walls erected around a city to protect it from external dangers. If the citizens inside were righteous, they were kept safe even against all seeming odds (2 Kings 18-19). If the citizens inside were wicked, no wall, however seemingly impregnable, would hold (Joshua 6).  But, I’m referring to a different kind of wall.

Scripture tells us that the individual must build a wall and properly maintain it, too. The way Solomon put it is, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Prov. 25:28). Words flow without restraint, many of which wound, offend, and separate. Anger and even rage can erupt over even the slightest or even perceived infractions. Personal conduct that indulges the flesh, from overeating to pornography to fornication, can be impulsive and destructive of self and others. Indecent thoughts, fed and fueled by the thinker, can crumble this vital hedge.

What a challenge for me on many levels! How easily do trials and setbacks in the normal functions of life, from standing in line to driving in traffic to dealing with customer service, set me off in unrestrained thoughts, words, and actions? How do I handle words of opposition, face to face, by written correspondence, or through some form of social media? How strong is my wall when I disagree with my mate, children, neighbors, or brethren?

Solomon teaches me that I can have control over my spirit. No cop out or blame game changes that. Whatever sinful thing I allow over that border into my life is guaranteed to be harm me! So, I must build a wall that preserves my spirit. My eternity literally hinges upon it.

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The Tactics Of The Tactful

Neal Pollard

“To ensure people listen to you, insult their race, politics, and intelligence. Be sarcastic. Be close-minded. Don’t attempt to hear what they have to say. Do not gently reason and certainly do not be patient and thoughtful. Courtesy should be thrown to the wind, along with assuming the best and thinking before speaking. Inflammatory statements are sure to win the hearts of people on the fence or on the other side of the issue from you. When they disagree or offer a dissenting view, really let them have it. Call them names, make baseless assumptions and accusations, and angrily dismiss them. Persuade them with harsh, rude, coarse, crude words and phrases, and even resort to cursing to strengthen your point.”

I don’t suppose I’ve ever seen anyone give the advice above, but an incredibly large number of people seem to have adopted those very tactics through social media to promote their own points of view and to attack those of others. Beyond the right and wrong of specific issues, there is the attitude and demeanor the Christian is to maintain. The late Wendell Winkler would often tell us “preacher boys” that “you can be right and still be wrong.” How sad to lose the moral high ground of an issue because we yield to the fleshly tendency to rip, tear, and insult “the other side.”

Scripture counsels this approach instead: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other” (Eph. 4:32); “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a); “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21); “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6); “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

Oh, sure. People will rationalize their ugly, insulting speech through distorting the words and actions of Jesus, Paul, and others. People often rationalize their sin and disobedience. How many have done the same thing in the face of Scripture commanding baptism and teaching the singular nature of the church? But, make no mistake about it! Venomous, hateful, insulting speech is not the way of the faithful Christian.  The source of that is from a distinctly different direction!

Be convicted and courageous, but cloak it in Christlike kindness! In addition to being right, it will be far more successful. May our goal be to win hearts and souls and not just arguments!

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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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FORGOTTEN FRUIT

Neal Pollard

Paul especially urges a particular quality that seems rarer these days. However, this is not a trait disappearing only with those in the world, but one that seems harder for us who claim to be disciples of Christ. He uses a word in Galatians 5:23, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Timothy 6:11, among others—James does, too (1:21; 3:13). The word, πραΰτης, means “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1996, n. pag.). They suggest the word includes “always speaking softly to or not raising one’s voice” (ibid.). Another Lexicon, in defining the word, speaks to what may prevent one demonstrating gentleness, namely “…being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (Arndt, Danker, et al, 2000, n. pag.). Yet, surely there are other impediments to our bearing the fruit of gentleness.

We struggle to be gentle, don’t we?

  • With our children’s weaknesses and mistakes.
  • When responding to our spouse, whether in impatience or aggravation.
  • With rude fellow-shoppers, incompetent cashiers, or pokey or inattentive drivers.
  • Being at odds with a brother or sister in Christ in a clash of personalities or purposes.
  • Having thoughtless or rude neighbors.
  • Engaging in a disagreement with a faceless, nominal acquaintance on social media.
  • Dealing with customer service, especially if we get an ESL representative.

This is just a sampling of situations which tempt us to abandon a gentle spirit. Aristotle called this quality “the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason…and not getting angry at all” (Zhodiates, Dictionary, 2000, n. pag.). The New Testament does not tell the Christian that we cannot defend ourselves, protect our rights, or get what we pay for, for example. But, in addressing concerns, needs, and problems, how we do this makes all the difference.

For many of us, gentleness needs to be intentional. It doesn’t come naturally.  We need to pray about it, prepare ourselves for it, and practice it. Our passion needs to be harnessed. Our speech needs to be tempered. Just making the need for gentleness a conscious priority in our lives will greatly improve our performance, with family, friends, brethren, and strangers. It is a powerful tool to win hearts and shape lives, beginning with our own.

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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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ROUGHING UP THE REFEREE

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen the video of two John Jay High School football players targeting an official late in their loss last Friday to their Marble Falls, Texas, opponent.  Marble Falls was running out the clock to preserve their win.  Details have not been divulged to explain why the players were angry or why they took apparent revenge by blindsiding the unwitting official. It does not take too much discernment to conclude they must not have liked something this referee said or did prior to their inappropriate response.  Whether or not the official provoked these young men to anger, all would have to agree that whatever moral authority they might have had disappeared after their vicious tackle of the defenseless man (Read and watch here).

Umpires and referees exist to keep order, to enforce and interpret the rules, and make judgments about whether the game is being played as it should be. They are not a popular lot, as attested by the heckling they can receive and the jokes made about them. We may even wonder what draws a person to take on such a job.  They make an easy target for those who often know less than and have a worse view than the one on the field or the court who must execute their judgment in real time.

While as a preacher and the son of a preacher I have seen and experienced ministers blindsided by angry hearers who confused the message with the messenger, I see a much more maligned, misunderstood, and marked group whose judgment and decision-making has occasionally been unfairly attacked.  No wonder Peter promises faithful elders that they will receive a superlative reward (1 Pet. 5:4). There is certainly such a thing as bad leadership and decision-making, and elders are fallible human beings. Yet, I have never yet seen an eldership practice church discipline without at least a few members taking a cheap, undeserved shot at them for trying to follow and get God’s people to follow His “rules.”  Whenever they are faced with a difficult decision in the realm of judgment, like eliminating an ineffective ministry or starting a challenging one, a change or alteration to the place of meeting, letting a preacher go or hiring another one, or the like, they may get figuratively roughed up.

The New Testament urges a different attitude from the spiritually mature.  Paul says appreciate and highly esteem them in love (1 Th. 5:12-13). The writer of Hebrews tells us to be the kind of sheep that bring our leaders “joy and not grief” as grievous fellowship isn’t profitable even for us (Heb. 13:17).  Be careful what you say about elders (cf. 1 Tim. 5:19). In fact, why not let them know, out of the blue, how much you appreciate their efforts to shepherd the flock (cf. Acts 20:28).  That may knock them off their feet, but it will be in the good way!

“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.

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.