Passage: 1 Timothy 4:7–4:10
I Timothy 4:7-10
October 21st, 2007
Way of Grace Church
I. Training Like Lance
There is hardly anyone who would disagree that Lance Armstrong is one of the best athletes in the world. As the winner of the 23 day Tour De France cycling competition, not once, but seven times in a row from 1999 to 2005, he is an incredible example of physical efficiency, strength, and endurance.
But like every other athlete, Armstrong only achieved his goal after years of training. What did this training look like? Well for the 23-day race, Armstrong trained 180 days a year. What did he do each day for half a year? He rode his bike for six hours every day and ate only two carefully measured meals.
Add to this his obsession with gathering data for his races: the exact slope of every hill, the rate of his pedal rotations, the timing of this or that turn. Every part of his race was carefully measured and improved upon.
That's how a champion trains: a complete commitment to peak performance.
This morning, we are, once again, looking to God's word and considering some of the athletic imagery we find there. Our goal is not to think more about this or that game. Our goal is to think more about God. We've been talking about the idea of victory. We all know what victory looks like on the field. But what does real victory look in life.
Let's continue our study this morning by turning together to I Timothy 4:7-10 (page 992).
II. The Passage: Train Yourself, Timothy! (4:7-10)
Listen to what the Apostle Paul tells his younger, co-laborer, Timothy, about victory in life:
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Like the coach of an athlete who is pursuing victory on the field, we see very clearly in this passage, that the Apostle Paul points Timothy to the importance of training in the Christian life. The key phrase here is right there at the end of verse 7; do you see it? "Train yourself for godliness".
Now, this would be a good point to go back and think about the last time we talked about Paul's use of athletic imagery. Two week ago we looked at Philippians 3:14 where the Apostle Paul talked about pressing on for the prize of God's upward call in Christ. He was talking about real victory, wasn't he?
And I think it would be fair to say that his striving for that prize was directly related, just as it would be an actual athlete, with his own training in godliness.
But what is "godliness"? That's one of those words that sounds kind of antiquated in our day and age. Well, the Greek word that Paul uses here is the word eusebeia. He actually uses this word 8 times in this one letter and once in II Timothy. The basic meaning of this word, especially as Paul uses it in this letter, is "one's complete commitment to God"; one's devotion or consecration to God; and along with that is an emphasis on what that looks like in one's life.
So we could say that godliness is "living for God in all aspects of one's life".
Now, that sounds a lot like the prize that we talked about two weeks ago. Paul was pressing on for the prize, that we discovered, from the context of Philippians 3, was "knowing Jesus Christ in the everyday".
That's real victory, isn't it? To be reconciled to, to be restored to our Creator through grace, because of the cross of Jesus Christ, and to live life fully committed to his loving purposes. That's true victory!
So whatever language we use, what Paul is telling us here is that living for God through Jesus Christ requires training. Now training is not a word that we typically think of when we think about spiritual things or living in faith. Maybe that's because the word
"training" brings to mind things of sports rather than things of the Spirit.
The word training may also offend some of our modern Christian sensibilities. Aren't we simply supposed to "let go and let God"? Isn't walking by faith something that just happens; something mystical?
But we cannot escape the fact that Paul states it clearly here: "train yourself for godliness". So now the questions is: "What does it mean to train for godliness?"
III. Are You in Training?
Well the difficulty with answering that question is that Paul doesn't immediately follow his command with a specific training regimen ("OK I want 50 spiritual squats and new heart workout for 30 minutes a day! So drop to your knees and give me 100 prayers!") . But, right here in verse 7 we have our first clue of what Paul has in mind.
Notice how Paul's encouragement to Timothy begins: Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness...
So Paul's call to training is in contrast to this issue about irreverent, silly myths. These were the kind of tall tales and legends that were popular with the masses and inspired gossip rather than godliness.
Paul actually mentions these myths at the very beginning of his letter to Timothy. Listen to how these verses reveal Timothy's mission in Ephesus where he was serving:
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussions...
I want you to see there that there is a contrast between what should be taught and what shouldn't be taught. Listen to the verse just before our main verse, chapter 4, verse 6:
If you put these things [that is, the truths that Paul has been teaching] before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.
Now the word "training" there is not the same word as "train" in verse 7, but given the context, they are certainly related ideas.
What I hope you see there is that "the words of the faith" and "the good doctrine (or teaching)" stand in contrast to these "irreverent, silly myths". So whatever it means to "train yourself for godliness", it is completely connected to being trained in, being nourished by, by brought up in or raised in the word of God.
Our second clue to what Paul has in mind here when he writes "train yourself in godliness" comes just after our main passage. Listen to what Paul writes to Timothy and think about that phrase, "train yourself for godliness". Look at verse 11:
11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. [Now listen especially these last two lines] 15 Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Now given that this is the context, couldn't we say that all of these were ways that Timothy could train himself for godliness? Couldn't we say that in light of this that "training [oneself] for godliness" means "a careful consideration of and commitment to living intentionally for God according to His word."
Listen, the word "train" in verse 7 is no mistake. It is the Greek word gumnadzo. It's where we get our English words gymnasium and gymnastics from.
What Paul is trying to do here is remind Timothy that living for God calls us to become like the athlete in some sense. Remember what we learned about Lance Armstrong's training? Six hours a day for half a year! Every great athlete follows that same kind of regimen. If they want to win, everything they do has to fall in line with their goals: when they sleep, what they eat, how they spend their time, their priorities.
Do you think about your faith in that same way? Oftentimes this verse is used to lead people to a list of spiritual disciplines that we should practice: reading your Bible every day, praying every day, etc. And those things are a huge part of this training.
But we can't stop with those things. Those things are the foundation. We need to see everything in our life as a spiritual discipline. Do you consider how where you go, what you say, who you see, what you watch, how you react, what you buy, what you wear, what you read, what you condone, who you believe, what you need, do you consider all these things in light of your faith in Jesus Christ and in light of what God tells us in his word?
Have all of these areas been affected by the fact that you are in "training"?
When someone's in training for, let's say, a marathon, things change, don't they? Men and women in training often say "no" to a lot of things they used to say "yes" to. Why? Because those things will not help them to achieve their goal. Staying out late will not help them win. A slice of German chocolate cake will not help them win. Getting good sleep will help them win. A healthy diet will help them win.
What is it that won't help you win when it comes to living for God in all things? What will help you win when it comes to living for God in all things? Responding to the answers to those questions is what it means to train ourselves for godliness.
IV. The Value of Godliness
But look at how Paul carries forward the athletic metaphor in verse 8. What he's trying to do here is motivate Timothy, just like a coach or trainer want to motivate the person they're training. He writes:
...train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
In using the word "train" in verse 7 and adopting this athletic language, Paul carries the idea farther by making a statement about the value of the investment.
Physical activity was a huge part of Greek culture. Remember Timothy's father was Greek. Physical education was a much bigger part of education in general than it is in our day. According to Plato, the ideal citizen was produced by an education emphasizing exercise and morality.
So when Timothy probably has in mind the image of an athlete in training, Paul wants to use that to call Timothy to go all out. And He does this by contrasting bodily training with training in godliness.
Literally, what we read here is that bodily training is valuable "for a little", while godliness is valuable "for all things". Everything the athlete does, and gives, and gives up has some value: temporal victory, some kind of prize, good health, maybe the admiration of others.
But being able to do more push ups won't help you be a better spouse or parent. Running ten miles won't give you wisdom to make important decisions. Bench-pressing your body weight won't help you to overcome temptation. Physical fitness won't lead to forgiveness. Lifting weights doesn't strengthen our love. A serious workout will not make us into the worshipers we were created to be.
Health and Fitness in this country is a 15 billion dollar industry that has doubled in the last 10 years. But how much do we invest in training for godliness?
My point, Paul's point, is not to disparage physical fitness. No, it has value. But how much more value does godliness have, and how much more should we pour ourselves into God's kind of training? Why? Because living for God through Jesus Christ is profitable in every part of our life; and not only now, but for all eternity.
Forget six hours a day for a half a year. That's nothing compared to the 24-7-365 kind of training to which God is calling us as followers of Jesus Christ.
What Paul is saying to Timothy here in verse 8 is, "If athletes invest so much time and energy into bodily training, how much more should we invest into training for godliness." Or as Paul put it in I Corinthians 9:25:
25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Our bodies will fade and fail, but our inner self is growing more and more spiritually fit every day if we are training ourselves for godliness.
V. What is Fueling You?
Often when an athlete is training physically, there is also a inner training that takes place at the same time. Listen to what Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael said about him:
"Lance Armstrong can be beaten at the Tour de France, but only by an athlete who is better prepared than he is. To accomplish that, an athlete would have to be more motivated than Armstrong, and I believe the depth and intensity of Lance's motivation comes from a place very few people can understand, let alone match."
The danger in what we're talking about this morning, the risk that comes with "training for godliness" has to do with our motivation.
The kind of consideration and commitment we're talking about cannot be motivated by a desire to establish our own sense of worth based on how spiritually fit we are.
Our training for godliness cannot be motivated by a desire to win God's love and approval. That's not the prize we're talking about. Pursuing that prize is completely unattainable for us as fallen, broken human beings. You cannot win God's love and approval. It's like someone whose broken every bone in their body trying to win the Olympic decathlon. It's not going to happen.
So what should motivate us? Look again at Paul writes in I Timothy 4:9, 10:
9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
"To this end". What end? Godliness, living our life everyday in every way for Jesus Christ. To this end we toil and strive. Why? Because we have our hope set on the living God.
What motivates us is the hope of God. Not just any God, but the living God. The God who is real and active, right here, right now. And this living God is active in the sense that He is the Savior of all people.
The word "Savior" here in Greek is a word that was often applied to kings or generals or rulers who delivered and/or preserved the people. God is the preserver and sustainer of all people. But that is especially true for those who have place their faith in Jesus Christ as their only hope. For them, He has not only preserved their earthly lives, but he has delivered and restored them spiritually.
What should motivate us is our hope that God is for us in Jesus Christ. What should motivate us is the hope that comes from knowing that God's love is given to us in grace.
If you belong to Jesus Christ this morning because you have personally placed your faith in Him as your deliverer and Lord, than you cannot be motivated by a desire to win God's love and approval, because you already have his love and approval because of what Jesus has done.
Sometimes you can tell that an athlete is competing simply for "the love of the game". Train yourself for godliness, brothers and sisters for "the love of God". Every day, live for Him in every way through a careful consideration of and commitment to live according to his word, because of gratefulness, because of hope, because of joy.
Real victory is not obtaining a trophy or a ring. Real victory is not simply being successful according to our measures of success. No, real victory is striving, because of God's grace, to know Jesus Christ everyday, in every way. Only that pursuit has value in every way, for this life and for the life to come.