1 Timothy 4:7-8
Sermon preached on February 7, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
This past week Marg had to go to the ER twice. Although it was no fun during one of the visits I had to smile. Shortly after we arrived at the ER the doctor came in to find out what was wrong with her. As soon as he came in the room and sat down he said to Marg,
"How do you feel?"
"My heart is racing, I'm breaking out in cold sweats and I'm starting to have panic attacks."
The doctor replied,
"When did all this start?"
"When I started thinking about having to get a needle (shot)."
The doctor said,
And Marg said,
"I really don't like getting needles."
The doctor smiled and said,
"No, no. I want to know why you're here at the ER."
They were on two different wavelengths, talking about two different things. The doctor was wanting to know why she came to the ER and Marg was telling him about the anxiety that being in the ER was causing her. He was talking about something much more important while she was focused on the pain that would come from getting the IV put in her hand.
What are you focusing on in your life? Are your priorities correct? Are you focusing on the really important things—or are you focusing on things that Paul describes here as only being of little value. Paul wrote,
"Have nothing to do with godless myths
and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
For physical training is of some value,
but godliness has value for all things,
holding promise for both the present life
and the life to come."
Today is Super Bowl Sunday and many people are focused on it. Now there's nothing wrong with sports—unless of course you use it to gamble, or you put too much of a priority on it. Indeed, Paul tells us here that physical training is of some value.
But it's not something that you should become consumed with. Dean Karnazes wrote a book called, "Ultra Marathon, Confessions of an All-night Runner". He's a fitness nut. He runs these 100 mile races and to train he sometimes runs all night. He will leave work at five and run all night, just stopping in time to have a shower before his 9:00 a.m. meeting the next day. He has run in the Badwater Ultra-marathon. It's a 135 mile race that goes through Death Valley. It's so hot that he has to run on the white line on the side of the road or otherwise his sneakers would melt. Dean is really fit but it is like running has consumed him. Because of his running he has much less time to spend with his wife and family. But has decided that that's what he wants to do. His story reminds me of the movie Forrest Gump and the running stage of his life.
Physical exercise is of some value. It can help you live longer. But it's not as sure thing. Some people who exercise and take care of themselves get cancer and die from it. Some people who exercise have heart attacks. Jim Fixx, was the author of the 1977 best-selling book, The Complete Book of Running. He helped start America's fitness revolution and popularized the sport of running. He preached about the health benefits of regular jogging. However, on July 20, 1984, after his daily jog, Fixx had a massive heart attack and died. He was super fit—but heart disease ran in his family and all the exercise he did didn't save him.
I love watching the Tour de France and because of that I check a cycling website every once in awhile. One thing I soon noticed is that it's a dangerous sport. I learned that some of the cyclists whose names I became familiar were killed. They were either hit by cars or trucks or had a horrible crash. I just read this week on Lance Armstrong's twitter where he replied to someone who asked him the fastest he had gone on a bike. Lance's reply— around 75 miles per hour. Wow. Can you imagine? It's no wonder that some of those guys get killed.
Nevertheless, by and large, statistically, if you exercise you'll live longer and have a healthier life.
But what Paul tells us here is that there is something far more important for you to do than physical exercise—
godliness is much more important than physical exercise.
Godliness is much more important. You need that to be a priority in your life rather than sports or physical exercise. I once saw a funny saying that said,
"Golf, it's not a matter of life or death, it's more important than that."
But no, people may joke about it—but matters of life and death are far more important than golf. What we see from our text is that godliness is one of the things that is indeed more important than life or death. You'll remember that Jesus said to His disciples, (Matthew 10:28)
"Do not be afraid of those
who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather, be afraid of the One
who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
So it's important that we take to heart what Paul is saying here.
The main point that Paul makes is that
you are to train yourself to be godly.
The figure of speech that Paul uses here comes from the physical training that Greek athletes went through. We have a similar teaching in 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. Paul wrote,
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one gets the prize?
Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Everyone who competes in the games
goes into strict training.
They do it to get a crown that will not last;
but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
Therefore I do not run
like a man running aimlessly;
I do not fight like a man beating the air.
No, I beat my body and make it my slave
so that after I have preached to others,
I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
Godliness doesn't come on its own. You must train yourself to be godly. Paul referred to, 'strict training'. One aspect of training is practice. Jerry Bridges comments on what Paul is telling us here. (The Pursuit of Holiness, p. 99)
"We must correct, mold, and train our moral character."
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examined some very successful people tried to determine why they were so successful. One of the characteristics that stood out was just plain hard work. A chapter in the book is called, "The 10,000—Hour Rule". Whether they were hockey players, musicians or computer programmers—he found that the people at the top put in at least ten thousand hours of practice. He wrote, (p. 39)
"the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."
I know from experience that this is true in hockey. Are you familiar with the expression, 'rink rats'? When I was growing up that was an expression I heard hundreds of times. It didn't refer to literal rats—but to the boys who hung around the hockey arena all the time and worked cleaning the ice. This was before the days of the Zamboni's and the ice was cleared by hand. The guys who did that were called rink rats. I don't think they got any money for doing it, if they did it was just a token amount. Rather they were given free access to the forum. Any time there was skating or a hockey game, or anything going on at the rink—they didn't have to pay to get in, they were admitted free. They were always at the rink. Whenever the ice needed to be clean they were on the ice. They pushed those ice cleaners and became strong. Any time the ice was free, they would be on it, skating and playing pick-up games of hockey. And you know what—those guys could skate! Those guys could play hockey! It was all about practice.
So this means that you need to put time into godliness. There are not short-cuts. As Jay Adams writes, (Godliness Through Discipline, p. 3)
"You may have sought and tried to obtain instant godliness. There is no such thingÖ We want somebody to give us three easy steps to godliness, and we'll take them next Friday and be godly. The trouble is, godliness doesn't come that way."
Patrick Fairbairn writes of the athletic imagery used here, (Pastoral Epistles, p. 179-180)
"implies that… the work of practical piety or godliness, requires, when properly cultivated, the full bent and strenuous application of the mind."
How do you become godly? You work at it. You think about how to do it. You come up with a plan, a method of accomplishing it and you pour yourself into that plan. You sacrifice other things in your life so that you can accomplish this.
How do you become godly?
There are lots of ways that you can go wrong here.
Just last week I heard that Pope John Paul II used to beat himself with a belt and sleep on a bare floor to bring himself closer to Christ. According to the book, "Why he is a Saint: The True story of John Paul II", the late pope had a specific belt for self-flagellation that he used very often.
It is true that in 1 Corinthians 9:27 the apostle Paul wrote,
"I beat my body and make it my slave
so that after I have preached to others,
I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
It's also true that Jesus said, (Mark 9:43–47)
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter life maimed
than with two hands to go into hell,
where the fire never goes out.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter life crippled
than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
It is better for you to enter
the kingdom of God with one eye
than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,"
But of course those things are not meant to be taken literally. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and are to be treated with respect and honor. We are to honor God with our bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
You'll remember last October two or three people died after going into a sweat lodge at a "Spiritual Warrior" seminar. They paid something like $9000 to be part of a physical and spiritual cleansing ceremony that involved hot rocks and steam to create a sauna-like experience. They thought that that would help them become more spiritual. Two or three people died. But that's not the point—that's not the way to become more spiritual.
There are other Christians who will tell you that you have to be super-organized and that's the key to being spiritual. I had a friend at seminary who used had been in the Marines and one day we were talking about our study habits and he pulled out his study schedule. He had every hour blocked off. I remember his Saturday schedule. It went something like this: From 7-8 he would study Greek, from 8-9 he would do Hebrew, from 9 to 10 he would study Systematic Theology, from 10-11 he would do Hermeneutics, from 11-12 he would do Church History. I was astounded. I could never do that. Don't get me wrong, I'd study all day Saturday too, but not like that. I'd do church history when I felt like it. I'd do Greek when I felt like it. I'd do Hebrew when I was in the mood for it. It was a much more laid back approach. I think my study time was just as intense—but it was much for flexible.
Now I'm not saying that my approach was better than his. I know it was better for me, but I have no doubt that his was better for him. Now there are some Christians who will tell you that their method is the best on only effective method for becoming more godly. They have all these rules, (legalisms) that they follow and they will tell you that in order to really grow as a Christian to really become more spiritual, you have to follow their method, their rules. That's nonsense. In fact, you'll usually find that many of their rules have nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible, but are rather suited to their personality or to their particular preferences. If you buy into their method it may do you spiritual harm.
So how do you become more godly?
Essentially it will have to do with applying the Scriptures to your life.
As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16–17,
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the man of God
may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
To train yourself in godliness means that you will make a great effort to apply the Scriptures to your life. Jerry Bridges writes, (p. 100)
"Disciple toward holiness begins then with the Scriptures—with a disciplined plan for regular intake of the Scriptures and a disciplined plan for applying them to our daily lives."
Training in godliness consists of using the means of grace and applying them to your life. You must immerse yourself in the Scriptures, be studying it daily, be meditating on it, memorizing it, thinking about ways to apply it to your life. You will be with Scripture like Jacob was with the angel he wrestled with. When daybreak came and the angel asked him to let him go, Jacob replied, (Genesis 32:26)
"I will not let you go unless you bless me."
Are you like that in your scripture reading? Do you read it, listen to it with a sense that it should change your life—your attitudes, your desires, your loves?
Do you seek out Christian fellowship and seek to learn from the good example and advice of other Christians? Our fellowship is to be like iron sharpening iron. (Proverbs 27:17) Others are to spur you on to love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24) Do you look at other Christians and see biblical principles in practice and seek to develop those characteristics in your own life.
Jay Adams writes, (p. 14)
"It is by willing, prayerful and persistent obedience to the requirements of the Scriptures that godly patterns are developed and come to be part of us."
How do you become more godly, train yourself to be godly—by applying the Scriptures to your life. That's what it's all about—by becoming more like Jesus Christ, in love, in holiness and righteousness. If you grow in godliness you will more and more exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.
The second element that we see in the word 'train' here is that of
getting rid of anything that would hinder us.
Again, the image that underlies this passage is that of the Greek gymnasium. It consisted of grounds for running, wrestling and so on. The name 'gymnasium' comes from the Greek word 'gymnos' meaning 'naked'. The idea is that when they trained they were unencumbered. If you look at runners in a race you'll see that they don't wear big, heavy, bulky clothes. Before the race they take off their warm up clothes. The clothes they wear for the race are shorts and a light shirt.
I think it was the last Olympics I saw a female runner from Iran who had clothing that was quite different from the other runners. She was fully clothed. She didn't win. That wasn't due solely to her outfit—but I'm sure it did put her at a competitive disadvantage compared to the other athletes.
Are you at a competitive disadvantage? Are their sins in your life that are keeping you back from godliness? Or are there other things in your life that are holding you back. Have you set your heart on certain things that you should not have, that you need to let go of so that you can become more godly? As the apostle said in Hebrews 12:1,
"Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run
with perseverance the race marked out for us."
You need to lay aside the things that would hinder you in your pursuit of godliness. As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:22–24,
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self, which is being corrupted
by its deceitful desires; to be made new
in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
You'll remember King Solomon. Solomon's downfall was his love of foreign women. In 1 Kings 11:1–6 we read,
"King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women
besides Pharaoh's daughter—
Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.
They were from nations about which
the LORD had told the Israelites,
You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely
turn your hearts after their gods.
Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth
and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.
As Solomon grew old, his wives
turned his heart after other gods,
and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God,
as the heart of David his father had been.
He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians,
and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.
So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD;
he did not follow the LORD completely,
as David his father had done."
What are the things in your life that is keeping you from progressing in holiness? Get rid of them. Turn from them. You need to put off the old self if you are going to put on the new self.
Lastly, we should see that
godliness is one of the most important things you can pursue.
"godliness has value for all things,
holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
Christians, make this a priority in your life. John Calvin tells us that when Paul says, 'train yourself',
"he means that this is Timothy's proper occupation, his main concern and chief care."
Stop pursuing the empty, worthless things of this world.
For those of you who are not Christians, you should see that you need this. In Hebrews 12:14 we read,
"without holiness no one will see the Lord."
You need Jesus to wash away your sins. You need the Holy Spirit in your life to help you become holy. Go to Jesus today.