How to Train in the Sport of Godliness
1 Timothy 4:6-10
Starting this week, the Winter Olympics in South Korea will showcase a group of athletes who will compete for medals.
Have you ever worked to get better at something? If so, you soon realized that the cliché “practice makes perfect” is true. Olympic Athletes seem to succeed with effortless grace, but their performances aren’t as easy as they look. The average Olympian trains four hours a day at least 310 days a year for six years before succeeding. Getting better begins with working out every day. By 7:00 a.m. most athletes have done more than many people do all day. How well an athlete performs is often attributed to mental toughness. But performance really depends on physical capacity to do work.1
As Christians, we are called to train in the sport of Godliness. I want to share with you from 1 Timothy 4:6-10 about how a Christian can train themselves to be Godly. What exactly is godliness? Paul defined godliness earlier in the book:
“And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16, CSB)
Jesus is the essence and wellspring of godliness. He lived in godliness, and now as ascended Lord he gives us godliness. Godliness is not external but is the inner power to live a godly life. For example, you can see the connection between godliness and power for living.
“holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.” (2 Timothy 3:5, CSB)
“His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3, CSB)
The mystery of Christ makes godliness possible.2 Since Jesus is the essence and wellspring of Godliness, then following Jesus leads to Godliness. A Christian therefore, will be godly when one follows Jesus. That is why Godliness and following Jesus are connected with training. It is why Paul uses the sports analogy. The meaning of Godliness is measured against physical exercise.3 If we can compare Godliness to physical exercise, then this text shares five practices for every Christian. These practices are similar to practices that athletes use in order to be ready for the Olympics to play their sport. Instead of a one-time competition of their sport at the Olympics, a Christian can train themselves in Godliness.
FIVE PRACTICES TO TRAIN IN GODLINESS
The first practice is ingestion. This kind of training deals with what goes inside of you. The first practice deals with the energy source or the metabolism of your training.
Practice #1: Ingestion (1 Timothy 4:6-7)
“If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that you have followed. But have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths…” (1 Timothy 4:6–7, CSB)
Paul speaks about having the correct nourishment. An athlete will eat the right foods to have the energy to compete in sports. A Christian lives on the Word of God. Athletes don’t eat at McDonald’s. They eat good food, not junk food. Christians eat the “words of the faith” and the “teaching.” Elsewhere, growing as a requires eating “milk” and “meat.”
“I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, since you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready,” (1 Corinthians 3:2, CSB)
“Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.” (Hebrews 5:12–13, CSB)
“But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14, CSB)
Milk is for new Christians. However, there is a point when one should be eating meat. When you are at this point, you should be able to teach others. So one indicator of growth is whether you can teach others what you have learned. Jesus said that He has food that no one else knew about. He ate the Word of God. He knew that if He was going to keep His strength up, He had to eat God’s word.
“But he said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”” (John 4:32, CSB)
As Christians, we eat God’s Word. We eat doctrine. We receive strength from God’s Word. The nourishment that feeds a Christian is in contrast to the “spiritual junk food” of pointless and silly myths. We have to reject that because it is junk food. False teachers feed people junk food.
“But have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths…” (1 Timothy 4:7, CSB)
“For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3, CSB)
The second practice deals with the manner of your training, or how hard you train yourself.
Practice #2: Perspiration (1 Timothy 4:7)
“…Rather, train yourself in godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7, CSB)
Paul compares training in Godliness to the training for an athlete’s body. We train and it is hard work. To be Godly means to be more like Jesus Christ. We don’t listen to myths and other stories. Instead, we listen to Jesus. Athletes sweat as they work out. We work out our salvation with fear and training.
The word to “train” comes from the word “gymnazo”, where we get our modern word gymnasium. Originally, the word meant to work out “naked” because in athletic contests, the participants competed without clothing, so they would not be slowed down. We see the word training in other places in the New Testament:“But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14, CSB)
“No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, CSB)
“They have eyes full of adultery that never stop looking for sin. They seduce unstable people and have hearts trained in greed. Children under a curse!” (2 Peter 2:14, CSB)
Paul is saying to “train themselves.” “Gymnasticize (exercise, work out, train) yourself for the purpose of godliness” conveys the feel of what Paul is saying. Run until your feet are like lead, and then choose to sprint. Pump iron until your muscles burn, until another rep is impossible, then do more.
“Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12, CSB)
I have to sweat out the toxins of sin and push through my fears. I have to perspire to aspire. The third practice speaks of the measure of your training, or about how often you train.
Practice #3 Repetition (1 Timothy 4:8)
“For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8, CSB)
The discipline of training 10,000 hours enables some of us mortals to run 100 meters in 10 seconds. Years of memorization and study of German may free us to speak Deutsch with the best. Hours watching game films can free a defensive back to play with utter abandon.4
The limited benefit for normal training is the fact that it has an ending. You repeatedly train for an event and then that training ends. The benefit of godliness is that it repeats for now and for eternity. As a Christian, I train to become more like Jesus Christ. That takes repetition. It takes a daily effort of prayer, and contact with the Holy Spirit in order to be prepared for what God wants me to do. That is what Paul means with “the present life.” My training is a repetition for Godliness that God can use in my life. Godliness is not passive but active. As physical training develops the body and as aerobic exercises improve the function of the heart, so a godly walk has its beneficial effect on one’s character.5
Practice #4: Preparation (1 Timothy 4:9)
“This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.” (1 Timothy 4:9, CSB)
Another practice for the Christian to train in Godliness is preparation. This practice shows the meaning of the training for the Christian, or why the Christian trains. The saying from the previous verse is true. The reason it is true is that Godliness is more beneficial than the training of the body. The body is trained for a temporary contest. The contest lasts for a short time. Then it ends. So the training of the body has a short-term effect. However, the training of Godliness in the Christian will last forever.
The training helps me as a Christian today, tomorrow, and each day thereafter. Jesus helps me every day. But every day prepares me for eternity. That is what Paul means by “life to come.” Physical exercise does have “some value.” It pays off health-wise. For this reason, people jog and lift weights and minimize their intake of doughnuts and Twinkies. But the value of physical exercise is limited. Arnold Schwarzenegger will not take his massive biceps or cannonball deltoids into eternity—or probably even to the grave. But there is no doubt that physical exercise has profited him. But training for godliness has unlimited benefits both in this world and in the coming world—because the Christian life is one life. The godliness that comes from training in God’s Word has unlimited value for every environment.6
Practice #5: Expectation (1 Timothy 4:10)
“For this reason we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10, CSB)
The fifth practice is expectation. Expectation is the motivation behind the training.
Athletes train with the expectation that they could win the contest. Yet, they have no guarantee that all of their training will be successful. On the other hand, as Christians, we know that we have a hope that in the end, we will win. We will go to a place called Heaven for eternity. We can live life securely knowing that we will arrive at the end of our race as a victor. Because of what Jesus has done, He has secured our place on the winner’s platform. Christians train in godliness knowing that our efforts will be successful.
1 Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002). John Troup, USA Today, July 29, 1992, 11E
2 R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 106.
3 Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 302.
4 R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 108.
5 Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 162.