Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 19 2013 - 1 Timothy 4:1-16 – Don’t neglect the gym

It's not unusual for people to take out a subscription to the local gym in a fit of enthusiasm. Such enthusiasm may last a few weeks, often less than the length of the subscription. The intention to become slimmer, fitter, faster, stronger often remains just that – an intention. I speak from experience.

They may not have had gyms, but the Greek world of Paul's day knew a thing or two about physical exercise – after all, they invented the Olympic Games. The Greek verb from which we get the word gymnasium means to give yourself to the vigorous exercise or serious training necessary for an athlete. The word is used by Paul in 1 Timothy 4:7 when he encourages Timothy, "Exercise yourself in godliness / train yourself to be godly." Paul goes on to draw a contrast between such spiritual training and that of the human athlete; "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" (4:8). Spiritual training brings the benefit of spiritual fitness, spiritual strength. It makes us fit for the life to come – it makes us now more like what we shall be then.

But, of course, it’s not about developing a magnificent spiritual physique for our own sake. Paul’s words to Timothy are set within the context of encouraging him to be a “good minister of Jesus Christ” (4:6). Timothy needs to be strong in the Lord that he may minister well and strengthen others in their faith and godliness.

The same is true for us. We are to be serious about spiritual exercises not simply for our own sake but also that we may bring the blessings of Christ to others. Paul writes, “That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe” (4:10). Again, it is this vision that there is one God and one Saviour of all that drives him on in the work of the Gospel – and that should drive us. We need to be fit and prepared for the work God has for us to do.

What are the spiritual exercises that Paul, the master trainer, would set for Timothy? He mentions several in this passage: the public reading of Scripture (4:13); prayer and thanksgiving (4:5); the ministry of preaching and teaching (4:13); avoiding endless arguments and speculations – the wrong kind of food (4:7)...

Towards the end of this passage Paul writes, "Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress" (4:15). I am a member of a gym and try to go there regularly. But I have to say that I do not seem to make a lot of progress. Certainly my progress is not visible to others; I'm not becoming a Mr Atlas! But what of my spiritual progress? Am I serious about training myself in godliness, and is my progress in godliness visible to others? Perhaps it's time to devote more energy to the Jesus gym.

Living God, you are the source of all good things and we give you thanks for family and friends and our daily food. But best of all, you have given us your Son and have given us eternal life in him. Help us to be serious about our spiritual exercises and our training in Christian discipleship. Teach us more of Christ and strengthen us by your Spirit so that we are fit for your service and ready for whatever work you may call us to do for you.

Oct 19 2019 - Isaiah 51:17-52:12 – Wake up!

The Lord calls upon his people to wake up from the lethargy of their despair (51:17). He had made them drink the cup of his wrath because of their disobedience. He is now taking that cup away from them. They will not have to drink from it again (51:22). That cup of God's judgment has now been passed on to those who have tormented them; Babylon will now feel the weight of God's judgment.

The city of Jerusalem, or Zion, had shared in the fate of the people of God. When God's people had been taken off into captivity the city had been abandoned and reduced to rubble. Now it is called to wake up from its dusty slumbers and put on garments of splendour. It is to be filled again with a people who know, love and worship the Lord (52:1).

In 52:7 we read of messengers being sent running to Jerusalem to proclaim the good news that God is about to save and restore his people:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

The city is pictured with watchman standing on its fallen walls, seeking to guard the ruins from further attack and destruction. They will be the first to see the Lord himself leading his people back into their inheritance; they will shout with joy as they see the Lord returning to Zion (52:8; see also the lovely picture in 52:12 of the way the Lord leads and cares for his people – as in the days of the Exodus). What God is about to do will transform the mockery of the world into worship:

The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. (52:10)

But how is this mighty act of salvation to be accomplished? The Lord will raise up a Saviour for his people, one who will not save by military power but by giving himself for the salvation of his people (more of that in our next reading from Isaiah). It is the Suffering Servant of the Lord who will amaze the nations with his saving power.

During the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote a book entitled The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. He was aware that the church of his day needed God to visit it again with his salvation, waken it up to its own dire state and lead it out of captivity. We are surely aware of the need for God to visit us again in our day. Many church buildings stand as empty, or all but empty, monuments to the glories of a past age. Others are crumbling to dust or have been converted for other use. Numbers of those who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus seem to be diminishing. It is easy to lose heart.

But God has not changed. What he has done in the past he can do again in our day. We need to shake off the dust of discouragement and realise afresh that our God is able to do more than we ask or imagine. We need to clothe ourselves with strength – a strength that comes from him and not from ourselves – and to proclaim what God has done in Christ for the salvation of the world, that "all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God."

Father God, many still mock your name, pointing to the ruins of your church and dismissing every suggestion of your power. Yet we rejoice that you are God and that "Our God reigns!" Awaken us with the joy of your salvation and open the eyes of the world to see your saving power in the Lord Jesus Christ: power made perfect in weakness; life given to the dead; light shining upon those who sit in darkness; hope given to those who languish in despair. Give us beautiful feet to run with the good news of your salvation. Equip us by your Spirit to call upon the world, "Awake, awake!"

Peter Misselbrook