Bodily exercise and godliness
A gym membership may be useful for a year but has limited use if it is used for the first month only. Regular workouts have numerous long- term benefits, though their usefulness is restricted to our current time on earth.
Interestingly, the sacred Scriptures known as the Bible, teach that ‘godliness’ has ever-increasing blessings and is immeasurably worthwhile.
Physical and Spiritual Exercise
The athlete will train hard and improve through gradually increasing the frequency, duration and intensity of their training. They will pay attention to their diet, be careful to whose advice and expertise they consider and weigh carefully concerning how it will affect their performance. They must incorporate rest to avoid overtraining and burnout. Similarly, the spiritual life taught in the Bible shows us how to train for ‘godliness’, through fellowship (meeting with like-minded people), prayer (communion with the Creator), Bible meditation & study, and self-examination for the purpose of pursuing godliness, that is to seek to emulate the character of the one in whom is found our ultimate purpose, Jesus the Messiah.
Whilst we should be careful not to make a mechanised religion out of physical fitness, care for one’s body does have an honourable place in the sacred Scriptures and the body of a believer in Jesus is called the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19).[i] Moreover we should avoid neglecting, overindulging or idolizing our bodies.[ii]
One of the early followers and apostles (‘sent ones’) of Jesus, Paul, walked the Roman roads throughout the Roman Empire and encountered the people of Ephesus (in Turkey). The Ephesians were a people given over to games and athletics.[iii]Rather than dismissing the value of sports and athletics, Paul challenged Timothy to be devoted to godliness as an athlete is to his sport.[iv] In essence, this helpfully reminds us when we see squads or teams in action that there are spiritual exercises that we should be doing (Heb. 5:14).[v]
A discerning sportsperson will avoid ridiculous gimmicks that make outrageous claims to raise one’s game without putting the work or the practise in. In 1Timothy 4:7, the good servant of the Lord is wise to refute profane, and mythical stories, and is encouraged to exercise towards godliness. In a similar way to how in Matthew 24 this passage precedes with ‘take heed that no one deceives you’ (Matthew. 24:3; Mark 13:5; Luke 21:8 ), we are taught before embarking in spiritual, godly activity to avoid getting caught up, as the Amplified Bible expounds, in ‘godless fictions, mere grandmother tales-and silly myths’.
It is important to read the Bible for ourselves and check what someone teaches that it is accurate, and that we grasp what the author was actually saying, not what we would like it to mean.
This may mean avoiding spurious ideas that have limited historical credibility or developing an unhealthy preoccupation with spiritual fads that fall flat as quickly as they gain a following. The settings in which these distractions arise are all too often easily based on hearsay, have no substance and are theories involving conjecture that are not rooted in the sacred Scriptures. They consist of misguided interpretations which are either forced upon the text or added to it. These ideas are succulent to those who have itching ears or who want to hear the latest thing and for those who are ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.
Nourish yourself on God’s Word
There are unhelpful diversions that steal time and energy and need to be nipped in the bud quickly. They are the equivalent of spiritual junk food. They taste great, have an incredibly short life span and fizzle out more quickly than fireworks. Prevention is better than cure and 1Timothy 4:6 teaches us to be nourished in the words of faith and of good teaching.
The dedicated athlete needs to eat a balanced diet and reject unwholesome fodder. Exercising in godliness involves maintaining fellowship, feeding on God’s word (the Bible) regularly, praying and reading Scripture daily. Working through Scripture systematically (work through a book of the Bible and learn about the context and setting) and becoming familiar with it makes it easier to recognise profane fables for what they are. Memorising Bible verses helps us to be able to apply truth positively and to detect fanciful theories swiftly. If we were to substitute fifteen minutes TV or social media usage a day, we could read the Bible through in a year and be much the wiser for it.
Spend Time with God’s People
An athlete often has a training circle of friends, coaching staff, physios and a nutritionist. Fellowship (meeting with like-minded worshippers) is essential (Hebrews 10:25). Being with like-minded people who worship God helps us to encourage, learn from and serve one another. This can easily be facilitated with groups that meet to study the Bible and support one another. Keeping company with godly people is something everyone will benefit from.
Do remember to rest
Finally we must schedule time to rest. Though the training regime of top sportspeople invariably involves a relentless quest, we must factor in rest. No rest at all is inevitably and simply counter-productive. Ironically but also encouragingly; a scheduled necessary amount of rest enables more to be carried out constructively. Though we are sustained by God, we are mortal. Jesus taught about the Sabbath rest:- “…the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). From the eternal perspective there remains therefore a rest for the people of God (Hebrews. 4:9).
[i] David Stern Jewish New Testament Commentary (Jewish New Testament Publications Inc, Clarksville; 1992), p645
[ii] Ibid, p645
[iii] J. Vernon McGee Thru The Bible Commentaries First and Second Timothy Titus Philemon (Thomas Nelson, Nashville; 1991), p64-65
[iv] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary NT (David C. Cook, Colorado Springs; 2007), p760
[v] Ibid, p761