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.

Peter Misselbrook