For the most part, we as a culture have arrived at the “instant gratification” model of doing things. We want it now. I even find it difficult waiting the obligatory 15 seconds for my computer to boot up. Do you remember when we had to wait for 15 minutes for our computers to boot up? Instant meals, fast food, super-fast service, and no lines. We just don’t like waiting, and we seek after the minimal amount of effort. After all, if we save time, that gives us more opportunity to do those things we really want to do. Fast and easy.
Honestly, though, the easiest way isn’t always the best prescription; sometimes the more difficult road will yield the richer, longer lasting results. Paul paints this picture in one of his letters to Timothy:
1 Timothy 4:7-8, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”Paul is saying that we are to be pursuing godliness, Christ-likeness, holiness, or sanctification but that comes with some effort. The word that he uses for “discipline” is the Greek word for “exercise”; it is where we generate the English word for gymnasium. And we all know that to truly reap the desired results of a gymnasium, we need to apply plenty of effort, and for a sustained period of time.
Paul draws the comparison to physical exercise, and affirms that it is good in this world to take care of the body, but the benefits of a healthy body are isolated to this physical world in which we now live. When we discipline for the purpose of godliness however, that produces fruit which we enjoy in this world and for our future life. But again, it comes at a cost—with effort.
So, what does that look like? What does that kind of discipline look like? Well, I think for starters it means time in God’s Word. Paul writes again in 2 Timothy 2:15 “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Paul presents the picture of diligence to handle the Word well. That implies knowing the Word, which mandates a reading of the Word and meditation on the Word. Time spent in the Word of God.
Also, discipline is the obedience to God’s Word. In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul affirms, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” That means living it out on a day-to-day basis; this is where the rubber really meets the road. Our behavior is a demonstration of our faithfulness and our willingness to submit to the Lordship of our God, and at times it takes extra work to conquer our old nature. Work=discipline.
Yes, it takes effort, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but as we engage in those strenuous workouts of the faith, we allow God to “tone” our lives in the spiritual realm, both in this present life and the life to come.
Now, that is a workout plan with real promise!