A Spiritual Workout
One of the best things anyone can do for themselves is to exercise. Every doctor, every nutritionist and every "expert" on good physical health will tell you of your need for exercise. Sadly, in spite of the incredible amount of information available about working out, only a very small percentage of people regularly participate in exercise. We all know it is good for us, but many fail to do it.
The same process is taking place in the spiritual realm as well. We live in a time in which the Bible is readily available to all of us. Moreover, there are more Christian books, magazines and online information available than ever in history. Yet, once again, many people are badly out of shape when it comes to their walk with God. How can we all get in better spiritual shape for the Lord?
Paul writes to Timothy and gives him advice on this subject.
For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
Paul writes these words at a later stage in the first century, when the church was functioning and active. Yet, it faced the same problems we do today. There were believers who were growing tired, who were not keeping up, who were losing their edge as they lived their daily lives. So Paul offers some spiritual exercises that would build up the preacher, Timothy. These exercises would then build up other believers as well.
YOU MUST BE ACTIVE
One of the great principles of exercise is that you must do it yourself. You can read all about it, you can know all about it, but until you get up and do it, it will be of no benefit. All that knowledge is worthless if you are not getting up off the couch and doing something yourself.
Paul tells us that our faith is more than just what we know, it is what we do. He says we fix our hope on God (that is, our faith and confidence), but he also says that we must labor and strive because of that hope. In other words, Paul says that knowing about God and His will motivates us to labor for God.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
James echoes Paul's words by saying we are merely deceiving ourselves if we fail to be active in the service of God. Too many are content in their walk with God because they know all the right answers to all the questions and issues. Others are self-satisfied because they know the scriptures that prove this doctrinal point or that one. But knowing the word and not acting on the word is self-delusion. So James and Paul both say we must do more than merely know about the word, we must apply the word in our lives. James offers some ideas on this spiritual exercise.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James says how we talk is a real test of our faith, not just what we know. James says how we respond to those less fortunate is a real measure of our spiritual health, not just how much we understand.
Paul adds some things in our first text. Paul mentions faith, conduct, love and purity are places every Christian can begin working out. When that takes place, our spiritual health will strengthen and we will know what is right, and we will do what is right.
YOU MUST TRUST THE WORD
Making the decision to exercise will make you healthier and happier. But it is a foolish person who just gets up one day and starts exerting themselves. All experts on exercise will tell you to consult a doctor before you start and will encourage you to use appropriate techniques as you try to improve your physical health. That is, if you are going to work out effectively, you must know what to do to get in shape. This was true for Timothy as well.
Paul tells Timothy to "command and teach these things." Timothy was the preacher in this situation, but Paul knew that several things would happen when the word was taught. He knew Timothy would grow in the word himself. One of the great reasons for teaching others is that it forces the teacher to learn. In the process of building up the faith of others, the teacher always finds his/her faith built up as well.
But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.
In his second letter Paul explains more about this process of building the teacher while building the hearers. Timothy was to avoid arguments, quarrels and such. These did not accomplish God's will and instead would sidetrack Timothy from his real purpose, teaching and preaching the word. Further, Timothy would have to learn patience and gentleness, even with those who were in the opposition.
The purpose was to change others, but also to keep Timothy from straying as he tried to teach. If we are going to get in better spiritual condition, we must know what we are to do and believe and we should be active in sharing that with others.
YOU CAN WORK OUT WITH OTHERS
One of the principles most fitness gurus talk about is a workout buddy. That is a person who walks or jogs with you. It is someone who will push you a little, motivate you to do a little more, someone you can encourage and who will encourage you. A workout buddy can make the process of getting in physical shape easier and more pleasant.
God tells us the same thing in terms of getting in better spiritual condition. So Paul tells Timothy, "give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." This is obviously referring to the public assemblies of the body of Christ. We are to assemble so we can get in better shape for the fight with Satan. The reason we assemble is not merely to worship God, although that will improve our spiritual condition. We do not come together just to say we made it to church. We assemble to improve our condition so we can better serve God in our daily lives.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another.
Our goal when we assemble is to stimulate each other to more good works. Our times together help us encourage each other. If you want better spiritual health, start attending the worship services of the church on a regular basis.
This last point, regular, is critical. Too many ask "how many services must I attend to go to heaven?" This is like asking, "How little exercise can I get by with and still be in great shape?" The question is backwards. If you want to be in good physical shape, you will regularly run, jog, walk or work out in some way. If you want to be in good spiritual condition you will attend the assemblies as much as you can. Instead of getting by with as little as possible, you will do as much as possible to achieve good spiritual health.
YOU CAN DO IT
There are many ways to get in shape physically. You can run or swim, you can jog or
walk, you can lift weights or climb stairs. You have many options. There are many ways to get in spiritual shape as well. I have discussed only a few principles. You can pray more, you can study more, you can look for people to help, you can give more time or money to the Lord. All of these exercises will make your spiritual health stronger. But the bottom line is - you must do it yourself.
No one can be saved for you and no one can keep you saved after you are in Christ. You had to believe. You had to repent. You had to be immersed. In the same way, you will have to study, to pray, to assemble and worship. No one can do this for you. Just as no one can physically work out for you, no one can spiritually work out for you either.
But, you can do it! The best news is that spiritual conditioning has even more resources and help than physical. God Himself will strengthen your faith when you get up and start working out spiritually. So, if you are on your spiritual couch, get off it! Learn what God wants and go at it. You can do it!
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.