Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
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?
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!
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.
“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!
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:
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.
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!