1 Timothy 4
No pain, no gain! Cape Town is a city renowned for it scenic beauty. It attracts many thousands of visitors each year, some of whom enter our famous cycle-tour race and Two Oceans marathon to experience that scenery firsthand. But even if you’re not the ‘sporty’ type, you know that much training and exertion is required if you are to finish, never mind place well, in these races. The Apostle Paul writes to Pastor Timothy and uses this athletics’ training principle as an analogy to make an important theological point. Athletics was popular enough in the ancient world of Paul’s day that the point of the analogy would be readily understood.
1 Timothy 4:7-9: ‘ Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 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. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.’
‘Train yourself to be godly!’ Godliness, that is, living your life as a believer in a God-honouring way, is a process that takes time and effort. But all the effort is worthwhile, because godliness has value both for this present life and the life to come. Paul contrasts this with physical training which is ‘of some value’ [NIV] or ‘profits little’ [KJV]. The ‘couch-potato’ probably prefers the KJV translation! Be that as it may, we can all understand Paul’s point: Godliness is more valuable than any physical exercise or training because that only has value for the present. But like the ‘training of the body’, godliness requires sustained effort and training. Indeed, without this focused training, godliness will elude you. To reinforce the point, Paul immediately adds: ‘The statement is trustworthy and deserving of complete acceptance’ (1 Timothy 4:9). And lest we think this directive is aimed only at Pastor Timothy, Paul exhorts him to ‘Command these things and teach them (to the church)’ (1 Timothy 4:11).
We live in an age that advocates ‘spirituality’, but not godliness. You see this in the popular magazines and even the physical fitness publications. Perhaps this is the modern equivalent of the ‘myths’ Paul mentions in the context. ‘Reject‘ them, commands Paul; they are ‘worthless’ (1 Timothy 4:7a)! Godliness should be a priority in your life; that’s Paul’s point. But growth in godliness is hard work; it requires time and effort. You therefore need to train yourself to be godly!