Spiritual Fitness

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Have you ever known someone who was intrigued with extreme health plans, like eating eucalyptus bark in the vicinity of a Himalayan monastery? 

Fruitarianism is a diet of nothing except fruit. Fruitarians believe their diet is what God originally desired according to His command to eat “every plant yielding seed” and “every tree which has fruit yielding seed” (Gen 1:29). God’s people sometimes get ensnared in a similar approach in the pursuit of authentic spirituality, becoming involved in things that are too esoteric to have genuine value. Subsequent to the warning with regard to apostasy (vv. 1-5), First Timothy 4 (vv. 6-16) then reveals how to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” To summarize these verses with contemporary terminology, one could regard this section of Scripture as a 5-part spiritual fitness program.

First, exercise ambitiously (1 Tim 4:6-10). What a believer needs is a proper focus upon godly living: “discipline [exercise] yourself to godliness” (which is living in such a manner that one’s life is a reflection of God’s character). Society today is preoccupied with physical fitness and beauty, which makes it all too easy for believers to become enamored with exercise regimens that have limited value, and thus become distracted from the pursuit of godliness. The active pursuit of godliness profits a believer now and for eternity.

How does one pursue godliness? According to verse 7, one must “exercise” to achieve it. The word “exercise” in the Greek is gymnaze, from which is derived the words “gymnastics” and “gymnasium.” The word includes the idea of rigorous training intended to improve a person’s fitness or skill. As it applies to the pursuit of godliness, a person must exercise with the commitment of an athlete in the pursuit of godliness.

Secondly, live consistently (vv. 11-12). A consistent walk with the Lord makes a believer spiritually healthy. Scripture suggests that a believer can establish credibility by being “an example . . . in word, in conversation, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” One does not demand respect; rather, it is earned by godly living.

Third, diet faithfully (v. 13). A healthy believer focuses upon the Word of God, and is not distracted by less significant matters. Reading the Bible aloud is important, and has always been a regular habit of God’s people. “Exhortation” focuses upon understanding the Bible’s relevance. The word for “teaching” suggests systematic study of biblical principles, for the purpose of developing a resolute, skeletal system of truth, which will anchor one’s faith and provide discernment to protect from error.

Fourth, serve actively (vv. 14-15). A healthy believer is an active participant as a member of the body of Christ, not just a passive spectator. Regard it as imperative to know the eternal contribution that God intends for you to make. Commit yourself to the diligent use of the resources that God has assigned to you.

Fifth, evaluate your life carefully (v. 16). A person who is engaged in a disciplined physical fitness regimen will naturally monitor his or her own progress. Similarly, a believer should monitor his or her spiritual fitness. In your personal evaluation, daily ask yourself whether you  (1) are strengthening your walk with the Lord, (2) pursuing spiritual growth, (3) maintaining doctrinal integrity, and (4) are influencing others to become devoted worshippers of God, by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

“For as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (v. 16). Believers in Jesus have a responsibility to pursue spiritual growth! God will bring the results.

(1 Tim 4:1-5) Subsequent to the triumphant hymn of 3:16, is a warning to be on guard against those who “in later times . . . will fall away from the faith” (v. 1a). “Later times” is not a couple of years; rather, it is the entire timeframe between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. Apostasy (departing from belief in God) has been a threat for as long as human history. When “some . . . fall away from the faith,” they abandon the essential teachings of Scripture. The Bible repeatedly and unequivocally gives warning with regard to the dangers and results of apostasy (e.g. Heb 6:4-8).

The necessity to address false teaching decisively is explained in light of the origin of such beliefs: “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1b; cf. 1 John 4:2-3). False teaching found receptivity in those who are hypocritical liars, whose conscience is seared “as with a branding iron” (v. 2). Hypocritical liars are those who willingly embrace falsehood to justify their pride or sin; it also refers to those who claim to believe the Bible, yet distort it to support their own agendas or ideas. A seared conscience is one that would have convicted a person not to depart from the truth, yet now has become unresponsive.

Furthermore, false teaching is contrary to God’s creation order of marriage and His giving of food as a gift (vv. 3-5). The insidious nature of false teaching is that it subverts God’s plan. The simple call to faith in God’s Son—Jesus Christ—is frequently abused either through legalism (emphasis upon strict adherence to moral codes as a means to gain divine favor) or libertarianism (emphasis upon personal rights).

In the time in which 1 Timothy 4 was written, the tendency was toward legalism, which is described in verses 3-5. Obviously, moral codes are not bad, but they become disastrous when adherence to them becomes an attempt to placate God or to earn divine favor. The only manner in which a person can be reconciled to God and maintain a relationship with Him is by grace through faith in Christ.

(1 Tim 4:6-16) Apostasy in these “later times” should not be unexpected, for it is prophesied (vv. 1-5). Nevertheless, there are positive directions to overcome the influence of false teaching. “A good servant of Christ Jesus” is one who is “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (v. 6). Ongoing spiritual nourishment is essential, because it is the wellspring for life. One’s effectiveness and strength for spiritual service will falter whenever spiritual development is neglected.

Not everything promoted as spiritual is helpful. Some things are better avoided entirely, such as “worldly fables fit only for old women” (v. 7). There are many curiosities, spiritual movements, and worthless theologies, which are godless myths of the sort that “old women” with too much time available to them like to proliferate. Be aware of distracting and misleading ideas and practices that are presented as spiritual, yet produce ungodly results. To discern the truth, a believer must be disciplined “for the purpose of godliness.” In contrast to the legalism or libertarianism of false teachers, authentic godliness is focused upon a life lived by biblical truth.

Christians do not discipline themselves for greatness, but rather for godliness. Such discipline arises from a biblical understanding of God’s grace, for He is the one who transforms a heart of stone into that of flesh, with new affections and desires. Believers discipline themselves not because of duty; rather, because of delight in the Lord God. Christians depend upon the Holy Spirit for their labor and strive, because their hope is fixed “on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (v. 10). Godliness is the goal, the motivation, and discipline is the means to that end.

The discipline of an athlete is what is needed (v. 8), but not mere physical exercise of the body, which has some value. Physical training is not to be despised, but its benefits are trivial in comparison to “godliness [which] is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Who we become in this life goes with us into eternity!

Spiritual development and maturity, in addition to discipline for the purpose of godliness, do not exist in a void. “A trustworthy statement” follows the importance of this observation; namely, that labor and struggle for the purpose of godliness occurs by fixing one’s “hope on the living God” (vv. 9-10). Believers trust in a God who is active, living, and present in their lives. The desire to please God in all of life is because eternity will be in the presence of the Lord.  Moral codes are helpful for discipline but not for godliness (v. 11).

Chronological age does not guarantee spiritual maturity (v. 12; cf. Heb 5:11-14), which is why the issue for spiritual leadership is never youth or adulthood; rather, it is being an example of godliness, which involves a person’s words (“speech”), actions (“conduct”), “love” for people, trust (“faith”) in God, and moral “purity.” How can you improve your ability to serve in a spiritual manner? First, “give attention” to the Word of God, the Holy Bible, and actively seek “exhortation and teaching” from Scripture (v. 13).

Second, do not neglect God’s working in your life (v. 14). Third, “take pains with these things” (i.e., authentic biblical living) (v. 15). Lastly, “pay close attention to yourself” and what you believe (v. 16). Persevere in life (your conduct)—as one who is empowered by the Holy Spirit—and do so with a relentlessly biblical faith (true doctrine) for the present and in view of eternity. You will then delight God, and produce goodness and godliness in all you do.

Midnight Call - 04/2022

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety