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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Train Yourself in Godliness
Text:1 Timothy 4:8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-01-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,3                                                                    

Ps 119:38,39

Reading – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 4

Ps 19:3,4,5

Sermon – 1 Timothy 4:8

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 37:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, some of us try hard to stay in shape. You get in a workout at the gym a few times per week. Or you play a couple different sports. You take a brisk walk or go for a run each morning. These things are good, when you take care of your body with exercise and nutrition. For in our body, God has given us a precious gift. And we need to look after it well.

Receiving God’s good gifts, we must never forget the Giver. Daily we should thank him for every blessing that we have. Daily we should seek to draw closer to him through knowing his Word. Yet this is one activity that is so easy for us to neglect. From day to day, we have a lot on the go, we’re stretched for time, so maybe it happens that our personal devotions receive less attention, or none at all. We seem to be doing fine in many respects, but we really struggle to get into Scripture.

That’s the question to think about: How are we going with the study of God’s Word? Do we treat this activity with the same dedication as all our other good pursuits? For instance, have we made reading Scripture as much a part of our daily schedule as our exercising, or even our eating?

These questions arise out of the words in 1 Timothy 4:8, where Paul writes, “Bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that is now and of that which is to come.” This will be our theme for this morning,

Godliness is profitable for all things:

  1. we must train in godliness
  2. we must exercise our godliness

 

1) we must train in godliness: When a young pastor enters the ministry, there are days that he has more questions than answers. The work of caring for a church has many tough scenarios, and it can sometimes be hard to know how to handle them.

This was the situation that Timothy found himself in. Timothy was young and just getting started in the Christian ministry, working in the city of Ephesus. And what made things really hard were the false teachers in his congregation. There were some who were spreading lies and wrong teaching among the members. What’s more, they were opposing Timothy in the work that he was doing. He was intimidated by these false teachers, and it seems that he began to wonder if he was really cut out for this job of being a minister. 

But thankfully, he wasn’t doing the work alone! God was on his side. And God gave him needed encouragement and instruction—He gave it through one of Timothy’s senior colleagues. That’s what we have in these two letters to Timothy, lessons in how to be a minister.

Timothy’s instructor was none other than the apostle Paul. That was good, because Paul knew first-hand the various difficulties and challenges of ministry. So he urges Timothy to persevere in his struggle, and also to be cautious in dealing with the false teachers. Paul warns him not to fall prey to their deceptive words.

So what were they teaching? We don’t know exactly, but for some reason they were obsessing over obscure myths and old genealogies, and arguing about miniscule points of the law. At the same time, they were insisting that the body be treated harshly, saying that to be holy you had to deny yourself the basic comforts of life. In short, as Paul puts it, they were carrying on about all sorts of things that weren’t important for the Christian life.

Paul assures Timothy that this kind of thing should not come as a surprise: “The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (4:1). Shocking as it is, it’s to be expected! In these last days, Satan is going to recruit false prophets who will try to sow confusion among Christ’s people. Jesus always said that it would happen.

“All right,” we imagine Timothy saying to his older colleague, “but what do I do about it? How do I handle their false teaching, and also counteract the harmful example they’re setting to the congregation?” Paul’s answer is quite simple. He says that the first and most important thing that Timothy can do—the most important thing that any Christian can do!—is to grow in personal godliness, to become more Christ-like every day.

There’s a lot of useless knowledge that you can waste your time acquiring. And there’s a lot of empty debate you can get involved with—like the false teachers showed, you can always make a theological mountain out of a molehill. But you’ll be best equipped as God’s servant, most effective as a Christian, and most focused on God’s glory, with a straightforward and prayerful study of God’s Word. Like the Spirit says, “Reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness” (4:7).

Already in that verse, you can hear where he’s going. Notice that he’s using an athletic image: “Timothy,” he says, “you’ve got to get exercise.” This was a good comparison for Paul to make, for athletic training was a key part of Roman culture. A young man of any standing needed to have this kind of training. Besides being instructed in philosophy and logic and mathematics, a young man would also receive instruction in sport. You’d go to the gymnasium for intense lessons in sprinting and long-distance running, for lessons in javelin and discus and wrestling. For having a strong body was closely connected to having a strong mind. Anyone who hoped to advance up the social ladder would make sure he was physically fit!

This was the world in which Timothy was a minister. Timothy himself was of Greek descent, so in his earlier years he may have spent time in the gym for training. But he has to know that all that outward exercise has only a limited and temporary benefit! “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things” (4:8).

Let’s think about what Paul is saying, and why he’s saying it. Is he giving Timothy a free lesson in healthy living, like when he later suggests that Timothy drink a little wine because of his stomach ailments? (5:23). Is the apostle looking to recommend daily exercise? He has no need to talk about such things, because everyone understands that there’s value in physical activity. Regular exercise increases your energy levels, it burns off calories, it releases stress, gives endurance, and so on. Sometimes it’s even enjoyable!

There’s no question that physical exercise is advantageous: it “profits a little.” But the point is, there’s another activity of far greater importance. There’s another kind of training that we all need in a far more urgent way: training in godliness! It’s as if Paul says, “Timothy, look at those young men, running around the track, lifting weights, wrestling each other to the ground. They’re so devoted to their physical activity. They pour themselves into it, because they believe in its good effect on their life and future. As a servant of Christ, that’s exactly what you need to do: to train—not to be the best or the fastest or strongest, not to feel good about yourself. But train yourself to be godly!”

After all, human strength will always fade: “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall” (Isa 40:30). You can be as strong as is humanly possible to attain. You might be renown on the soccer field or at the hockey rink. Your well-toned body might be the envy of those around you, and you spend a lot of time on your image and appearance. But it doesn’t last, for the decline will come! There’s never been a person on earth who didn’t come face-to-face with the limitations of his God-given body. Everyone will at some time “faint and be weary, even fall.” Paul is right: “bodily exercise [profits only] a little.”

So what about this “godliness,” which the Spirit says “is profitable for all things?” First of all, we should understand that godliness is a life that is consecrated to God—it’s when a person’s whole existence is devoted to the Lord. Godliness isn’t just an inner commitment to God—something between you and him, in private—but godliness is obvious from the activities of each day. People hear it in your words, when you’re godly. They see it in your relationships. They experience it in your kindness.

Like the word suggests, true godliness comes from somewhere: it comes from a love and commitment to God. Because of who God is and what God has done, we want to act and speak in a way that pleases him. We’ll try to live in a way that imitates him.

This godliness is a heavenly gift coming to us from the Holy Spirit. But it’s also a calling and demand, for we have to develop our devotion to God. Put it this way: godliness takes work, striving and intentional effort. “Exercise yourself toward godliness!” Or like Paul says in chapter 6, “Pursue… godliness” (v 11). So this is what Timothy must do, and it’s the objective and priority for any child of God: to train for living a more God-pleasing life.

And there’s no question what this kind of training program will involve. You find hints throughout this chapter. Look at 4:6, where Paul says to Timothy, “You will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.” What makes us able servants of God? What makes a person ready to take action for the Lord? Essentially this: one who has been well-nourished by the truths of the faith, sustained by a regular diet of Scripture.

Again in 4:13 Paul exhorts, “Until I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” This needed to be Timothy’s daily exercise regime: giving attention to the Word, kept in shape by the daily training of the gospel. That’s not just for ministers and pastors, but for every Christian. Only working with Word will give us godly muscle and spiritual endurance! “Exercise yourself toward godliness!”

We’re not surprised that a key ingredient in godliness is God’s Word. For godliness, we said, is a life that humbly reflects who God is. Godliness is a continuous response to what God has done for us. So to increase in godliness, we must visit that place where we learn about God so deeply and thoroughly! Take Scripture and meditate on his works. Be reminded of his promises. Hear his commands. Write his Word on your heart.

Pursuing godliness,” as Paul says, means that there’s no easy way to do it. You don’t have to pursue something that’s just going to fall into your lap without you trying or asking. No, growing in faith requires you to exert yourself spiritually. And in this regard too, increasing in godliness is a lot like physical exercise. If you want to get into shape, lose weight and tone up your muscles, you’ll have to put time into it. Walking the dog once a day isn’t enough to make you fit. For good results, you need a program, a daily schedule of training.

Can it be any different for spiritual training? We need to be deliberate about it, and self-disciplined. It can’t be occasional—whenever we think about it—but it has to be built into each day. Maybe every morning, before breakfast. Every morning, on the bus or the train. Every lunch hour at work. Perhaps you’ll want to follow a program for reading through the Bible, or get hold of a book that helps you study Scripture more closely. Bottom line: it takes an effort, even a plan.

For we should all admit that Scripture easily gets laid aside. There are always other things to do, things more urgent, or more enjoyable. Or when we do get around to reading the Bible for our devotions, we might take an overly casual attitude; we might read wherever our eye happens to land on the page (or on the screen), give it a quick scan, and off we go. I fear that this approach is kind of like doing ten sit-ups per day: it won’t really make a difference. It’s not a way to grow in godliness.

Really knowing the Word takes effort, energy, and time. You know that if you want to make time for something enjoyable or important, you will. You drop one of your other commitments, you become more efficient—you find a way. The Holy Spirit says to us, “Do that. Find a way. Train yourself in godliness.” Like Paul emphasizes to Timothy in 4:15, “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.”

So what will our training involve? There’s no secret. I’m afraid there’s no special trick to getting spiritual muscles “in less than five minutes per day.” The things that I’ll mention are as fundamental as push-ups and lifting weights and running.

In the first place, training in godliness calls us to be in church to hear God’s Word. Two times per Sunday we get to do some heavy lifting. Under the Holy Spirit’s direction, we have a workout together as congregation, one that’s different than anything that you’ll have all week. If you want real training, you’ll be here—and you’ll be here in the right spirit. Not nodding off because of four late nights in row. Trying hard not to be distracted by whatever joys or troubles are on your mind right now. But in worship, and as we hear the preaching, we ought to be humbly attentive, for what we hear is God’s own Word. Keep your Bible open during the sermon, and refer to it. Take notes if you need to. Make the most of this time for God’s glory, and for your own benefit.

Personal devotions, and family devotions, are another key part of the program. These devotions are the daily core around which so much of our godliness can be built! Reading Scripture, thinking and talking about Scripture, praying about Scripture—these activities are absolutely fundamental to our spiritual health.

Thirdly, Bible study is a valuable way to train together, to help each other increase in godliness. Studying as a group is a way to gain new insight into the Word from each other. Discussing together motivates us to keep reading and studying on our own, because we know others are busy with it too. It’s also a chance to speak openly about how that Word applies to us.

Beloved, let’s understand that a thorough training in the Word is so essential to a living faith and a growing in godliness. It’s essential, because when the Word is open, we stand in the presence of the living God. On those pages, we see his glorious character. We see his great deeds. We hear his steadfast promises, and we’re directed by his holy commandments. Here are recorded the events of the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Scripture is the fuel of our godliness, the thing that will keep us going day by day.

 

2) we must exercise our godliness: So what are the benefits of such training? Maybe we don’t see it yet, and we wonder why it’s such a big deal to grow in godliness. Is it really going to be worth the effort? That’s what Paul explains next. He says: “Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that is now and of that which is to come” (v 8).

When we do physical exercise, we said, there are some advantages. If that’s true for our bodies, it’s even more true for our spirits. For when we train in godliness, we don’t just get a head-full of Bible facts, a collection of ancient truths that are far from the realities of daily life. No, Scripture is intensely practical! It gives spiritual muscles that we can put into immediate use.

Like Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training in righteousness” (3:16, NIV). If we’re properly trained in the Scriptures, this knowledge will have all kinds of uses. Godliness equips us for the daily business of life.

Just a few examples: When you’re drawn into the quicksand of anxiety and worry, God’s Word speaks to you directly, “The LORD is faithful.” We need to hear that Word, and we need to hear from God’s own mouth. Another example of the profit of God’s Word is seen when you’re wondering how to make a decision or set a path for your life—Scripture speaks with wisdom, teaches what is important to God our Lord. When we’re trained in godliness, we learn words to say to our neighbors when we’re sharing the gospel. Scripture sets a reliable pattern for our home-life, our marriages and friendships, our working, and our spending.

We could go on: the Word is useful because it teaches us about how we’re forgiven, it rebukes us when we wander into sinful ways of living, and it deepens our understanding of the world around us, giving a solid framework for understanding who we are and why we’re here.

In short, Paul says, with this kind of instruction, “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17). Godliness gave Timothy the tools that he needed to be an effective pastor even in challenging times.

And godliness gives us the tools to be faithful when our own times are challenging. For this is when we best get to exercise our godliness, not in the peace of a Sunday worship service or in the friendly atmosphere at Bible study, but in the difficult labours of everyday. That’s when our true godliness really shines, in the daily grind of work and appointments and relationships and decisions. Knowing and believing the Word guides our path.

And if there’s any doubt about its value, consider how long godliness lasts. All the benefits of physical exercise are temporary. Eventually, we lose our youthful vitality, as our hair falls out and our joints stiffen up. We might get sick and then we die. All that physical training, all that careful eating—it wasn’t a waste, but it sure didn’t fix life’s brokenness.

But godliness has value for all things, and it doesn’t just last for a while. If we needed any more encouragement to train ourselves for it, there’s this final thing the Spirit says, “[Godliness holds promise for the life] which is to come.” When we truly know God in this life, we’ll also know him in the next. When we’re fully devoted to him in this life, we’ll be devoted to him in the next. Training yourself in godliness is an eternally useful venture. Without hesitation, we can say that it’s time well-spent!

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul uses another comparison from the athletics world. He says, “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things” (v 25). He’s saying that an athlete has to be self-disciplined. Just like today, back then athletes would pour themselves into getting ready for the big show, the big contest at the stadium.

And they did this, Paul says, “to obtain a perishable crown” (v 25). In time the garland of Olympic champions withers, just as championship trophies and rings soon fade. Years later, few remember or care who won this race, or who got that trophy. These victories don’t achieve anything significant at all. No, the rewards of physical training—indeed, any of the earthly rewards that we can attain—these things are only passing.

“But we,” says Paul, “we [train ourselves] for an imperishable crown” (v 25). We train for glory! We work for everlasting joy! We’re getting ready for blessedness without end! So take this seriously, beloved. Don’t lag behind in the race. Don’t be flabby in spirit—don’t become soft and lazy because you’ve forgotten what you’re here for. God says: “Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize” (v 24). We want to finish the Christian life, and finish well!

You might be young and vibrant, you might be old and sore, but throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for you. In our spiritual training, in our godly exercise, in our running through the Word, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For when we’ve trained well, when we’ve run a good race, and put our heart and soul into it, we’ll see our Saviour at the finish line—standing ready to give us our crown!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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