Last time we looked at 1 Timothy 4:7, where it says, “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…”
Discipline, in the original Greek, is gymnazo. We get our English word gymnasium from that word. It simply means to exercise, so we could say, in 1 Timothy 4:7, “Exercise yourself to become more godly.” The athlete who is unwilling to discipline his or her body by regular exercise and eating right isn’t free to excel on the field, is he? The undisciplined businessman won’t grow, and neither will his business. Similarly, the undisciplined Christian won’t grow.
Jesus expects us to grow, and the only road to maturity and godliness is through the practice of the spiritual disciplines. What are these spiritual disciplines? Prayer, worship, fasting, giving and serving are all disciplines. There’s no such thing as spiritual unemployment. No spiritual discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word.
Peter said, “…desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby…” Jesus said, “Man shall not live by [physical] bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” The Word; the Bible. David said the Word of God was “…sweeter than honey…” in Psalm 119. Job said he treasured God’s Word more than his daily food, in Job 23:12. We have to take in God’s Word, just like eating.
We can’t know God apart from his Word. Let’s exercise ourselves for the purpose of godliness. Our flesh doesn’t want to exercise in God’s gym and become more spiritually healthy. Our flesh doesn’t want habits that are godly to take the place of deeply embedded sinful habits, but we have to get to gym.
There are five workout machines in this gym that are going to make us spiritually stronger. The five are hearing God’s Word, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, and meditating on it. The first workout machine is easy.
1. Hearing the Word. Go to church. Listen to a radio program. Download a podcast. Listen. Hear the Word. This is a discipline because if there’s no intentionality, we may only hear the Word accidentally, or never. Romans 10:17 says, “…faith comes by hearing…” Another reason it’s a discipline is because it has to be active listening, active hearing, not passive. In Luke 11:28, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear and observe the Word.” We have to get ready to listen with a desire to obey. Preparing to listen takes a little bit of work, but it pays off. Okay, let’s move on to the next workout.
2. Reading the Word. Researcher George Barna said less than 18% of born-again Christians read their Bible daily, and a whopping 23% who say they’re born-again Christians never read the Bible. Wow. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” Or, in the original Greek language, “breathed out by God.” God used fallible men to produce his infallible Word, miraculously. Jesus assumed his followers read the Scriptures.
So find a time. For me, it’s early in the morning, right before facing the temptations of the day. Find a plan. There are a bunch of reading plans on the Internet and in Christian bookstores. Read the Word.
3. Study. What’s the difference between reading and studying? Maybe it’s just a pencil and paper. Maybe it’s just slowing down. See, if reading the Word is like a motorboat crossing a quiet lake, studying is like crossing that lake slowly in a glass-bottom boat. We get beneath the surface for more clarity and detail. We read for breadth, and we study for depth.
Pick up a good Bible dictionary. Look up that word you don’t understand. The Bible says the Bereans were more noble than those at Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures daily. They studied. They dug in, in Acts 17:11.
Here’s what R.C. Sproul said. He said, “We fail in our duty to study God’s Word, not so much because it’s difficult to understand, not because it’s dull and boring, but because it’s work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we’re lazy.”
Don’t be lazy – get to God’s gym regularly. Build spiritual muscles. Grow in godliness. We’ll be back with exercises four and five soon, and in the meantime you can listen to the full podcasts on this topic here.