Study 10 A CHRISTIAN’S SPIRITUAL EXERCISE
PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: 1 Timothy 4:7-16
The key verses to this study are 1 Timothy 4:7-9. The Apostle Paul frequently borrowed metaphors from the athletics track – see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 2:16. The picture here is the Greek gymnasium, with grounds for exercise, running, wrestling etc. It was a place for bodily exercise and competition. Now see what Paul says to Timothy: “You, as a Christian, must exercise your soul as carefully, regularly and rigorously as the worldly Greeks exercise their bodies. Their motto is body-culture. Yours must be soul-culture. Theirs is a physical exercise. Yours is a spiritual exercise. Theirs makes the body well and develops it. Your objective must be to keep your soul fit and to develop it into godliness” – in order that you may become a godly person, growing in spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness.
It is very important to notice that the apostle does not despise or dismiss bodily exercise and physical health. No Christian should neglect his body. On the contrary, every Christian should by wise living, sensible eating, and taking the right amount of rest, fresh air and exercise, maintain a body that is fit and well (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But having said this, notice Paul’s emphasis. He says, “physical training is of some value” – that is, for this life only. After all, the body is only the body, however much you exercise it. The body is not the man; it is only the house in which the man lives. Spiritual exercise, however, profits and benefits the soul, the person who lives in the body. Thus, Hendriksen renders 1 Timothy 4:7, “Train yourself for godly living”; and J.B. Phillips makes it read, “Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit.” Notice three things about this taking time and trouble to become and to keep fit:-
- (1) It is a Personal matter – the apostle says, “Train yourself.” This is something we must do for ourselves – compare 1 Timothy 4:16.
- (2) It is a Profitable matter – for it is, as verse 7 shows, “to be godly.” In verse 8 we are told that this exercise “has value for all things”, that is, in every way! Verse 8 also tells us that spiritual exercise is profitable in two special ways: (1) “in the present life”, and: (2) “the life to come”. How profitable it is to live a godly life! We receive the benefit in this life and in the life to come.
- (3) It is a Progressive matter – “Train yourself to be godly.” It takes patience, hard work and discipline to achieve godliness – look up 2 Peter 3:18.
All this leads us to ask the question: How are we to train ourselves for godly living? What are the exercises in which we are to engage in order to produce and maintain spiritual fitness? We are to exercise ourselves privately and corporately, that is, alone and in fellowship with others. Both are equally important, though some Christians can only exercise themselves privately because they are denied the privilege of corporate exercise, due perhaps to infirmity or age or circumstances.
1. WAYS IN WHICH WE ARE TO EXERCISE OURSELVES PRIVATELY
- (1) By entering the secret place of prayer. Look up Matthew 6:6, and notice that the emphasis is upon being alone. This should be the Christian’s first exercise, to be often alone in the presence of his Heavenly Father, communing with Him (Psalm 4:4); receiving His pardon (John 8:10-11); His cleansing (1 John 1:9); His rest (Matthew 11:28-30); and listening to His voice (Luke 10:39). Do you have a regular private prayer time?
- (2) By the devotional reading of God’s Word. If the athlete is to get strong, grow muscles and produce tone, he must have the right food – and so must we if we are going to become strong Christians. This is strikingly brought out in 1 Timothy 4:6 – notice the words “brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching.” Are you a well-nourished Christian, feeding on God’s Word? See what we read about the Bereans in Acts 17:11! Alone with God’s Word we hear Him speak to us (Psalm 85:8); we receive His guidance (Isaiah 30:21); His wisdom (James 1:5); His comfort (Psalm 23:4); His illumination (Psalm 119:18) and all we need for godly living.
- (3) By practising the presence of God. How are we to obey 1 Thessalonians 5:17? – by living in fellowship with the Lord, as Brother Lawrence did when he “practised the presence of God”. This is the way to true godliness.
2. WAYS IN WHICH WE ARE TO EXERCISE OURSELVES CORPORATELY
- (1) By attending Public Worship. According to Luke 4:16 it was the custom of the Lord Jesus to attend the house of God, and there is a danger of getting out of this good habit (Hebrews 10:25). Many Christians forsake the house of God. They attend infrequently and they do not recognise the privilege and benefit of meeting together with other Christians to worship the Lord (Matthew 18:20). We easily stay away for a variety of reasons or distractions. Little wonder that our spiritual life suffers! – look up Psalm 122:1.
- (2) By partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Look up 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. When we take the bread and the wine we exercise ourselves spiritually as we look back to Calvary and forward to the return of our Lord Jesus. If we neglect His Table we neglect the culture of our souls – look up John 6:50-51.
- (3) By engaging in specific service. According to Ephesians 2:8-10 we are saved to serve, and we are to serve in accordance with the specific plan that God has for us. Are we exercising ourselves by doing that service? – look up the solemn verse in Judges 5:23. Many Christians are lazy, and in consequence their spiritual lives suffer.
In conclusion, notice that if we are to exercise ourselves regularly and sufficiently three things are necessary:-
- (1) A holy resolve. Look up Philippians 3:13-14. Resolve that the spiritual exercises mentioned above will be the habits of a lifetime.
- (2) A willing sacrifice. Look up 2 Samuel 24:24 and Hebrews 12:1. To engage in these exercises will involve the sacrifice of time, pleasures and harmful things.
- (3) A continual discipline. Look up 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.
Will you “train yourself to be godly”? Will you really take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit?