I have spent a lot of hours of my life in fitness-related regimens. Actually, I’ve spent a lot of time even in the last week in exercise, biking 74 miles on Monday, for example. So it is a bit discouraging to read in today’s passage that physical exercise is only “of some value.” But that’s actually not as bad as the old King James Version which translates it by saying it “profiteth little.” Literally the words mean “for a little time.” Ain’t that the truth! I fear that all it does is make me twice as hungry and twice as fatigued!
But the idea here is to compare the temporary worth of physical training that has value only for this life, versus spiritual training that has value for both this life and eternity.
As we will see in several passages in these three letters we are studying for this series, false teaching is nothing new. It was rather pervasive in the early church era. A tendency at that time was to mix Jewish teachings, certain Greek religious ideas, and the gospel message all together and to come up with something that sounded very authoritative. Paul was constantly battling these false teachers and urging his disciples like Timothy and Titus to combat these errors and stand firm in the truth. In chapter 4 of 1 Timothy, Paul writes …
4:1 – The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
The latter times that Paul mentions were events that happened even in his day. The entire church era is often seen in Scripture as the last days. He is combating here a prevalent teaching that mixed Judaism and Greek philosophy together, and it involved a lot of rules and regulations, along with the belief that anything material or pleasurable was evil. If matter is evil, that cuts out a lot of stuff! But Paul calls out these teachers as errant frauds who even knew they are wrong. And he relates the proper use of material things and relationships like marriage to the good gifts of God dating back to creation.
So Timothy should be a good minister and teach truth – the message he has known and followed. He should avoid the foolishness of this wrong teaching and not be involved with it at all …
6 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.
The word for “physical training” in the Greek language is that from which we get the English words gymnastics or gymnasium. Paul uses athletic metaphors several times in his writings, apparently having this as an interest. It would seem that Paul often looked at athletes and considered the time and training that went into being a top competitor for a prize that was very temporary. And he must have other thought that if people only worked as hard at being spiritually connected to truth and God as these athletes were to their training, that such folks would be well-equipped for both this life and the next.
The story here is really the old one of the value of the temporal versus the value of the eternal. It is easier than ever to find our lives invested in things that are morally neutral, but that can have such demands on us that it crowds out the more important spiritual components of life. The story here is one of priorities. God … things eternal … timeless truth … the gospel message to be proclaimed … these are the things of eternal value, and eternal consequence.
The Gaither Vocal Band had a song many years ago with this line in it: When the house is burning to the ground, there’s just no time to stand around arranging all the pictures on the wall. But that is what we do with our affections for so many things in this transitory wall. They are not wrong things; they just aren’t the most important things.
So do work at being spiritually fit.