God's Gymnasium

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Timothy 4:7-10

Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

1 Timothy 4:7-10 rsv

“Keep yourself in training for godliness.”

A lifelong interest in athletics makes me perk up my ears when I hear words like these: “Train yourselves in godliness” or “keep yourself in training for the practice of religion.” The Greek verb here in 1 Timothy 4:7, you see, is gumnadz?, from which we get words like “gymnasium” and “gymnastics.” Paul is encouraging Timothy to be a kind of spiritual athlete, a gymnast in godliness. He wants him, in other words, to “stay in shape” for the living of the Christian life.


Most of us have experienced various kinds of training. By that we usually mean a program of teaching, of drill and discipline. Parents train their children, seeking to inculcate in them good habits. They teach them to be obedient to authority, to say “please” and “thank you,” to respect the rights of others. Teachers train their students, coaching them in penmanship, going over with them again and again the principles of arithmetic and grammar. Sergeants in the army are forever training new recruits, drilling them in the service code, in marching and the use of weapons.

Athletic or gymnastic training is a variation of the same thing. Athletes are schooled by their coaches and trainers. Their bodily powers are developed in a strenuous regiment of exercise, diet and practice. They’re expected during the course of their athletic careers to “keep themselves in training.”

All of this training has a goal in view. Parents discipline their children in the hope of seeing them become honest, considerate, responsible adults. Teachers train their students with a view to developing their potential, enabling them to be capable, productive citizens. Army officers want to make of these raw recruits a disciplined, effective, fighting force. And those who work with athletes seek to prepare them for competition, to have them at their very best at game-time, fit to make a contribution to the team effort.

The aim of all this imposed discipline is finally to produce self-disciplined human beings, those who are equipped and inwardly motivated to stay in training, to live out what they have been taught, even when their teachers are no longer present.


Paul urges Timothy that he train himself, keep himself in training for godliness. That’s the goal he has in mind. Do you know what godliness is? Someone says it’s “living a good, upright life.” That’s certainly close. Godliness surely has to do with character and conduct. But perhaps a more precise, biblical term for that would be “righteousness.” Another suggests that godliness consists in performing various religious duties. Again, these are surely involved. Godliness does take practical forms. But the genius of it lies in something deeper. Godliness at root, at heart, is a reverent awareness of God. Sometimes people can live lives that conform to a certain moral standard without being deeply conscious of God. They can perform various religious functions without that vital awareness. But godliness is a way of living your life and expressing your religion in which, as Brother Lawrence once put it, you “practice the presence of God.” You have Him in your thoughts. You walk with a consciousness that you are under His eye, that you are accountable to Him, and even more deeply, you live with the joyful realization that you are loved by God, redeemed and guided by Him, and that He is always with you.

Now the apostle Paul, himself a veteran in the Christian life, is writing to his young friend about training himself in that “reverent awareness of God,” about becoming more and more a God-conscious, God-centered person.


How would he go about doing that? How can a person train himself or herself in that high art?

The apostle, in writing to Timothy, is obviously assuming several things. The first is that his young friend has already come to know God. Paul is assured that the sincere faith that lived first in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice is living also in him. Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith. He had brought to this young lad the wonderful good news of the gospel. Timothy with all his heart had believed in Jesus Christ. Through Christ he had come to know God in a new and personal way.

Timothy, therefore, had also received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the risen Lord, had breathed His own life into the young man’s heart. Timothy was a man in Christ, vitally united to the Lord. He had begun to experience the life-giving, transforming power of the Spirit.

Those are vital realities for any of us who wants to make progress in godliness. First, we must come to know God through Jesus Christ. We must receive the good news of His salvation with a believing heart. We must repent and commit our lives to His lordship. We must receive the promised Holy Spirit who makes the presence of God a living, bright reality in our experience. We must first of all be people who, by the new birth, are alive to God.

But now let’s say that’s true of you. You’ve heard the gospel of Jesus Christ: how the Lord of glory came to share our life, how He obeyed the Father perfectly, how He died for our sins and rose again to bring us life. You have trusted Him as your Savior, inviting Him to take the throne of your life, and now you know that He lives within you by His own Spirit, making of your body the temple of the living God. You, like Timothy, have the new life and the spiritual resources to train yourself for godliness.

All right, the first exercise involved is a regular listening to God as He speaks to you in His Word. Growing in the awareness of God in our lives means simply coming to know Him better. In that there’s no substitute for the marvelous revelation given in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Listen to Paul’s own words to Timothy about what the Scriptures can do in our lives, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, nrsv). Did you notice that: “training in righteousness.” The Bible is the Lord’s godliness manual. It’s the means which the Holy Spirit uses to create and nurture within us a vital knowledge of God.

But though the Scriptures have this remarkable power to make God’s presence real to us, His will and character known, we need on our part to expose ourselves regularly to their witness. It’s possible for God’s servants to neglect the reading, the careful study of the Scriptures. We all live in a hectically busy age, with many demands upon our time. If we aren’t careful, we can let our spiritual condition deteriorate by neglecting the Word. We may find that the sense of God’s reality and presence grows dim for us because we are not renewing it in meditation on the Scriptures. But when we come back to the Word, our spiritual health is restored, our vision cleared. We find ourselves enabled more and more to set the Lord always before us, to have Him in our thoughts.

But notice I said “listening to God as He speaks to you in His Word.” It’s not simply reading. It’s reading with an openness to what God is saying, with a heart that says, “Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.” It means using Scripture as the means of grace. We don’t read the Bible for “x” number of minutes in order to gain points somehow with God, as though this were a meritorious performance. We read as those who are eagerly receiving a message from the God who loves us and leads us.

Another essential in this training for godliness is prayer. The apostle Paul is constantly urging that upon His fellow Christians. They are to pray always, to pray without ceasing, to pray for him and for all the saints. P.T. Forsythe, a great theologian of the early twentieth century, has written that “prayer does for our religious life what original research does for science. It brings us into direct contact with reality.” If our goal is to live our lives in the reverent awareness of God, there’s nothing which so directly contributes to that as communion with Him in prayer. This is the great end of all our praying, whether we praise God or give thanks to Him, whether we confess before Him or commit ourselves to Him, whether we ask for His good gifts, intercede for others or plead for His coming kingdom, all the expressions of the life of prayer serve to make God Himself real to us. When we ask and seek and knock, the responses we receive may be many and varied, but the great blessing behind all others is that the Lord gives Himself afresh to us as we pray.

A third way to train ourselves toward godliness is in fellowship with our fellow Christians. We are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but rather to stir one another up to love and to good works. In that mutual stimulation, when Christians are worshiping and serving together, their awareness of God is wonderfully enhanced. But here again, it’s a discipline. Regular attendance at worship is a habit to be developed. To forsake that discipline usually means a weakening of vital godliness. We cannot be truly close to God if we shun the fellowship of His people.

We train ourselves for godliness also in persistent well doing. We can develop the habit of assisting the infirm, of caring for those in need. We can build patterns of integrity in our business dealings, of courtesy in our relationships with others, of kindness in all our speech. And, as with athletes, our training for godliness means avoiding self-indulgence and excess, keeping ourselves from everything that hinders conditioning.

Now I’m not going to tell you that all this is easy to do. It isn’t. It’s not easy in the sense that it requires no determination, no effort. You don’t slide into godliness. You don’t drift into top-notch condition in any discipline, do you? You have to rouse yourself to the task. Any kind of training takes exertion. You have to put forth energy, overcome inertia. Sometimes you have to make yourself get out of bed for your devotions, hold yourself down, as it were, to read the Scripture, keep yourself at the discipline of prayer. Sometimes you need to go to a church service when there may be a lot of attractive alternatives or do the thoughtful thing, even at personal cost. It keeps you on the stretch.

Every type of training involves repetition as well. You do the same things over and over again until they become like second nature to you. You might think that all this Bible reading and all that praying and all that worship and service would be wearying, but strangely it is not. When you enter into these things with the desire to know God and respond gratefully to Him, you are again and again refreshed. But that only happens for people who are not afraid of routine, who are willing to keep at it, even though the day seems to be dry and difficult. Herschel Walker, star running-back for the Minnesota Vikings pro football team, has told recently of his own physical regiment which consists of thousands of situps and pushups every day. Talk about repetition! Talk about taking time! And that to be a top-notch football player.

My hat’s off to the Herschel Walkers of this world, who train themselves with such discipline and dedication. But as Paul reminds us, that kind of training profits only for a little while and only in limited ways. The pursuit of godliness, he says, is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. All your physical exercise routines are valuable for this present life and especially in your younger days, but the disciplines that lead to godliness keep on bearing more and more fruit. They bring richer and richer benefits the further along you go in life, even when physically you may begin to decline; and to live a life here in the reverent awareness of God’s presence is to prepare also for that blessedness which we cannot even imagine, which the Lord has prepared for those who love Him. May that be the strong hope that sustains us as we “keep in shape,” as we work out in God’s gymnasium, as we train ourselves for godliness.

Prayer: Lord, we pray for that. May the goal of being a truly godly person call us to give our very best for Christ and His kingdom. Amen.