Spiritual Exercise Program

I Timothy 4:7

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2012

The heading in my Bible calls this chapter “Instructions to Timothy”. Paul is giving Timothy some instructions about how to be a pastor. What is the first thing Paul tells Timothy to do in this chapter? Point some things out to people (4:6). What things? That would be verses 1-5. What Paul wanted Timothy to tell people in his day, pastors need to tell their flock today.

What’s the message? Paul gives a prophecy here. This prophecy he says comes from the Holy Spirit. Paul is not making this up and the prophecy is very clear. There is no doubt about it and the prophecy has been fulfilled. What did Paul predict would happen in the latter times?

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”

Paul’s Two End-Time Predictions

1. People will abandon the faith.

Paul predicted that people would give up the Bible and leave Christianity. This is called apostasy. These people once believed the bible, went to church, claimed to be Christians but now have given it up.

They may be people who discipled you. They may be former Sunday school teachers or small group leaders. (cf. II Timothy 4:2-4). Notice what happens when you reject the truth, you open yourself up to lies and myths.

2. People will begin to follow false teachers.

And Paul even tells us what some of these false teachers believed (I Timothy 4:1-5) but he also makes an amazing statement. What does he call their teaching? Doctrines of demons (“things taught by demons”).

Some doctrines are not just false, they are demonic.  Some teaching is demonic in origin. It comes from demons. (cf. I Cor. 10:18-22). Pagans thought they are worshiping Zeus or some other pagan deity but they were actually worshiping demons.

There are millions of gods worshiped in India but there is a demon behind each one. Some major religions are based on the appearance of a so-called angel. In 610 AD the angel Gabriel supposedly appeared to Muhammad in Saudi Arabia and revealed a book which contradicts the Bible (Koran).

In 1823 the angel Moroni supposedly appeared to Joseph Smith in the US and revealed another book of Scripture which contradicts the Bible. But these religions were not started by angels but demons posing as angels. (II Corinthians 11:13-15).

Here we learn something interesting about Satan. He’s very smart. He knows how to trick people. He doesn’t go around as an ugly red devil with horns but as “an angel of light”. Just as God has ministers, Satan has ministers.

They have a ministry of deception and error. His ministers pose as “servants of righteousness”. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They don’t go around as wolves. That is why Paul calls them in I Timothy 4 “seducing spirits”.

Paul says that these false teachers are actually hypocrites (morally wrong, as well as doctrinally wrong).  They have a seared conscience. They did not have a clear conscience or even a weak conscience, they had a seared conscience. What is that? Your conscience is the voice inside your head that tells you the difference between right and wrong.

When you sin so many times against your conscience, you can permanently damage it and sear it. People can get to the point when they can kill someone and don’t feel any remorse. The fanatical Muslims who chop off people’s heads are at that point. They commit the most barbaric acts and don’t think they have done anything wrong, because they have a seared conscience.

In I Timothy 4: 3 we see what these people actually taught in Paul’s day and it is a bit surprising. They taught a super spirituality. “We don’t need marriage or food. Sex is for weak people”.

They thought they were more spiritual for denying themselves what God allowed and for being stricter than the Bible and people do this today. How would a doctrine like this come from Satan? Satan does not want us to enjoy what God has given us to enjoy (4:5).

Now there’s nothing wrong with being single. Jesus was single and so was Paul. But there is something wrong with forbidding marriage. God created marriage. In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with following some rules that are not in the Bible (e.g, no fish on Fridays). There is something wrong with demanding that everyone else do so as well. Then we become like the Pharisees and try to impose a bunch of man-made rules on people.

Train Yourself to be Godly

In I Timothy 4:7 we get Paul’s second instruction to Timothy. One was negative (avoid godless myths and old wives’ tales) and one was positive (train yourself to be godly). I want to focus on that second part – train yourself to be godly.

Notice, he doesn’t just say, “Be godly” but “train yourself to be godly”. Godliness requires training, which is the word γυμνάζω in Greek (from which we get the word “gymnastics”). Godliness  doesn’t  happen by itself. What does it mean to be godly?

Jerry Bridges says that in twenty-five years of ministry, he has met many gifted Christians but few really godly Christians. What does it mean to be godly? What is the difference between being good and being godly?

To be good means to be moral; to be godly is to be spiritual. It is someone who not only knows God but is close to God and, like Enoch, walks with God.  So all of us need to train ourselves to be godly. It’s our responsibility. What does Paul compare this training to? Exercise. He compares spiritual training to physical training.

The Value of Physical Exercise

Physical exercise is popular today. Everyone is talking about “getting into shape”.  Paul lived in a day in which people worshiped the body. The Greeks were preoccupied with physical training. The Olympics began in Athens, Greece. If you notice, Paul was not against exercise. He said that physical training “has some value”.

Physical exercise has many benefits (relieves stress, build muscle, helps with weight loss, strengthens the heart) but it doesn’t help you spiritually at all.  Paul was not against exercise. He did NOT say that physical exercise had no value. He said that it has some value but is limited in scope and duration.  Physical Exercise – helps the body and is good for this life only.

The Value of Spiritual Exercise

How does godliness help the body? This has been proven by science. Studies have shown that people who are religious and attend church live longer, healthier lives. They have lower mortality rates. Guess what? The Bible says the same thing. If you live a godly life, you live longer as a general rule. Exodus 20:12 says “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

You may think this just applies to Israel, since it mentions the land of Canaan which God gave the Jews but the Apostle Paul applies this command to Christians in the NT. He generalizes it in Ephesians 6:1-3.

The wicked live a short life (smoke, drink, over eat, do drugs, sexually promiscuous). Their sins kill them. Anna Nicole Smith is a classic example. Dead at age 39 tragically. Would she have lived longer if she had lived a godly life, instead of the lifestyle that she chose? There’s no question about that.

Spiritual exercise helps the body and soul.  It is good for this life and the life which is to come.   Where do we spend most of our time and energy?  Do you focus on physical or spiritual exercise?  Which do you spend more time on throughout the week?

We often do all kinds of physical exercises to help the body but not too many spiritual exercises which help the soul and the body.  We give ourselves a physical workout but rarely give ourselves a spiritual workout.  Some of us may be in great shape physically but are spiritually fat and out of shape.  Many of us are spiritually obese.  We exercise our physical muscles but do not exercise our spiritual muscles.

How Do We Become Spiritually Obese?

1. We eat the wrong things spiritually.

Some of us may need to change our physical diet.  We eat too many cheese burgers.  Others of us may need to change our spiritual diet.  Some Christians eat spiritual junk food.  If all we read are devotional books and never study any deep theology, we become spiritually fat.

2. We are too sedentary spiritually.

We need to use our spiritual muscles.  We need to get up and use our spiritual gifts.  If sedentary lifestyles lead to physical heart attacks, what happens when we become spiritually sedentary?  The effect can be just as deadly.

3. We do not apply what we know.

We get fat physically by taking in more than we burn up.  We eat more calories than we burn.  We become too sedentary.  We come, sit, take it in and don’t use what we learn every Sunday. If we study the Bible for information without application, we become spiritually fat.  We become “bible fatheads”, as James MacDonald says.

Paul goes on to say that spiritual exercise is far MORE VALUABLE. Physical exercise will help in this life but that is all it will do. Spiritual exercise is good for this life and the life to come. Godliness is good for this life. That seems like a strange statement but it has been proved scientifically. There have been all kinds of studies that say that people who are religious and attend church live longer lives and are healthier than those who do not. They have lower mortality rates.

Personal Application

Godliness requires training. It doesn’t happen by itself. What are we doing to train ourselves to be godly? What type of spiritual exercise program are we on (consistent prayer, Bible study, Scripture memorization, one-on-one accountability, small group, church attendance, fasting)?

This is a little convicting. This leads us to ask two important questions. All of us should ask ourselves two questions. Are we doing anything to train yourself to be godly? (remember it doesn’t happen by itself) and if so, What are you doing?, What type of spiritual exercise program are we on (prayer, fasting, bible study, scripture memorization, one-on-on accountability, small group membership, etc.). If we are not on one, we need to get on one.

If you are just beginning a spiritual exercise program, you should start slow (as with a physical exercise program). As with a physical exercise program, you will start to see the results almost immediately.

“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance  (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.”

If Christ is the Savior of all men, then why don’t all men go to heaven? Why isn’t the doctrine of universalism true? Christ is the Savior of all because He died for all (cf. 2:4), not because all people will eventually be saved. I Timothy 4:10 is a good verse AGAINST five point Calvinism. Jesus died for all people, not just the elect.

“Command and teach these things.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”

Christian leaders are to be an example in five areas (speech, life, love, faith and purity). Why would people look down on Timothy because of his age? This is a cultural thing. Timothy lived in the east, rather in the west. In the east, people respect older people. Unfortunately, they do not do the same in the west. Timothy was considered young, even though he was probably around thirty at the time.

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”

In I Timothy 4:13, we see Timothy’s three jobs (teaching, preaching and Scripture reading). It was important to read Scripture in the services because not everyone in the first century was literate and there were very few Bibles.

Are Teaching and Preaching the Same?

While the two words can be used synonymously, there is a slight difference between the two concepts.  They involve slightly different spiritual gifts.

Teachers Instruct

Teachers convey information and explain things.  Teachers tend to stimulate the intellect.  Teachers explain what the Bible means.  They interpret what it says and often answer objections that critics raise.

Teachers generally do not shout and scream.  If you listen to a teacher, you will learn new things about a topic.  John MacArthur is an example of someone who has the gift of teaching.  He is known for his expository bible teaching

One of the advantages of verse-by-verse expository teaching is that it exposes the congregation to the whole counsel of God.  One of the main problems of the contemporary church is the problem of biblical illiteracy.

One of the reasons that the sheep do not know God’s Word is that their shepherds are not feeding them.  There is no in-depth teaching of God’s Word in most churches today.

Preachers Motivate and Challenge

Preachers stimulate the emotions and the will. They generally tend to raise their voices a little more than teachers.  They do not so much explain the Word as apply it. The goal of the preacher is not for the sheep to know some things but to do some things.  The goal is life change.

Preachers are more interested in transformation than information.  They focus on what we need to DO, not what we need to know.  James MacDonald is more of a preacher than a teacher.  He says that his primary gift is exhortation.  He often quotes Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones who once said, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.”[1]

People tend to gravitate toward one or the other. If you are a left brain person and are very analytical, you will like teachers. If you are a right brain person and are less logical and analytical, you will like preachers more.

All pastors should do a little of both.  When you preach, you should teach.  When you teach, you should preach but the reality is that most are either preacher or teacher types. The gifts are slightly different.

[1] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, p. 97

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