Timothy was the minister of the church in Ephesus. Paul thought of him as a son, and wrote to encourage and advise Timothy. In the middle of his letter, Paul warned Timothy that a time was coming when false teachers would attempt to corrupt the church. Paul told Timothy how to prepare for and handle the situation. His first comment was, “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.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8
If you read these two verses by themselves, you’d think Paul was giving instructions to pass along to new Christians. However, Paul was talking to Timothy, a Christian leader. No matter whether we are just starting our life of faith, or now serve as a Christian leader, the first key to protecting ourselves and our churches is to train ourselves in godliness.
John Ortberg comments, “Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely. This is what the apostle Paul means when he encourages his young protégé Timothy to ‘train yourself in godliness.’” The Life You’ve Always Wanted p. 43 I do not at the moment speak Spanish. I can try all I want to do so, but I will make no progress until I follow a consistent training program.
Paul wants Timothy to,
- Reject the world’s instructions.
Whenever we enter a training program, we’ll learn there are certain things we need to reject. For example, if I am training to be healthier, I need to examine my diet and stop eating certain foods. The world cannot guide us from an empty life to an abundant one, no matter what their advertisements say. Paul says we should recognize their teaching as an empty myth and reject it.
- Train for godliness.
Paul’s phrase “Train yourself” is a command. There are Christian exercises we practice in order to grow. This training program lasts until we reach our goal. Intermittent practice is of limited value.
* For godliness.
Every exercise program has a goal. Paul tells us godliness is the goal of Christian exercises. While practicing the disciplines is important, the purpose for which we use the disciplines is the most important. The exercises move us toward our goal of a changed life. This is a goal we’ll spend our entire lives pursuing. As a result, we devote every day to these exercises.
The disciplines are focused on God and his work in us and not as ends in themselves. They are not ends in themselves. For example, the Pharisees were great at practicing the disciplines. They could pray, fast and tithe better than anyone, but they were dead with no heart. They had a form of godliness, but denied its power (2 Tim 3:5). John Ortberg says, “It is possible to spend every waking moment ‘practicing spiritual disciplines’ but doing them in such a way as to make us less rather than more loving. In that case, of course, we would be better off if we did none at all.” (p. 45 The Life You’ve Always Wanted)
- Training is valuable.
In his comparison, Paul says physical training is good, but its value is limited. Training in godliness begins by working on the heart, and the resultant change is experienced in every aspect of our person.
- Pathway to God’s promises.
Paul tells us that “training in godliness has value for all things, holding promise for this life and the life to come.” Think of them as the pathway to opening our lives to receiving God’s promises. So we examine scripture to learn the promises associated with each exercise. For example, one of the promised changes associated with prayer is peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). You will never know the reality of this peace until you submit yourself to the exercise of prayer as given in scripture. We see this repeated throughout the New Testament. God’s promises are tied to offering ourselves to the Lord through these exercises.
Since we have this promise, why delay? Let’s begin right where we are today, and experience the reality of Paul’s word in our lives today.