Today I want to emphasize Paul’s command to Timothy, where Paul said, “Keep on exercising yourself in godliness, pastor Timothy, because godliness holds promise both for this present life and for that which is to come” (4:7–8).
The English word “godliness” represents a Greek word used to characterize someone who was very concerned to respect things of great value in life and society. So a godly person prefers peace to strife, because he or she knows how much better things go when one makes friends instead of needless enemies. A godly person has great respect for the human body and its marvelous abilities, and so a godly person will not abuse it by substances and practices leading to early debilitation and death.
But the highest value a godly person will respect is Jesus’ great love for people. And Paul exercised himself in godliness by respecting this love so much that it controlled his daily demeanor. He said, “The life I now live I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” And we exercise ourselves in godliness as we continue to entrust what happens to us to the love of the faithful One who is alive forevermore.
Living daily by resting in the faithfulness of the Son of God involves spiritual exercise — a fighting the fight of faith, likened to the kind of exercise involved in wrestling. If we respect Jesus’ great love for us today, made so plain yesterday by his sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane, then we will keep rejoicing in the hope of the loving things he has in store for us in spite of present adversity or disappointment. In his great love He will work all things together for good to those who respect that love enough to entrust their futures to it. Such people believe Jesus will turn present stumbling blocks into future stepping stones of blessings, since we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).
Therefore if we respect and value Gethsemane love, we must fight back anxiety about the future by claiming the promise of 1 Peter 5:7 that everything that concerns us also concerns Jesus. Keeping anxiety quelled by attending to this promise requires an exercise in godliness; but we stick with it, for otherwise our failure to believe His promise will show great disrespect to Jesus. If we respect Jesus’ great love for us, we must also hold in check our impulsiveness and hurry, and must reflect a little on what is the best thing to do or say next. In this way we will be able to act wisely and sense opportunities his love has opened up for us, so that we can take advantage of them.
As we exercise ourselves in godliness, however, I must emphasize that this is not like a physical workout. It does not take place during a specific spiritual workout period that we schedule into our day, as we schedule time for physical exercise. You see, the spiritual exercise of godliness keeps happening throughout the day. We must always be on guard for those fiery darts of Satan that try to make us anxious or bitter, and quench them quickly with the shield of faith. We need to have verses memorized and quote them to contradict Satan’s lies. And we should always pause a little before entering a new time frame to be prayerfully sure that what we are thinking of doing during it complies with His loving command to be very careful about how we conduct ourselves.
This kind of spiritual exercise will obviously make one’s present life more profitable. By waiting to discover the wise thing to say, we will speak a timely word that will be a great blessing to people. Also we can be confident that when guided by Jesus’ Gethsemane love we will avoid burnout, that rather frequent affliction in today’s hectic life. Guided by Jesus’ great love we will have wisdom to prioritize and conserve our time, and as a result, we will get much more done that is truly effectual with much less stress.
By fighting this fight of faith we lay hold on eternal life — understood primarily as high-quality life — NOW, in our present circumstances. When we order our schedule according to Christ’s Gethsemane love, we have contentment along with godliness — the most desirable of all situations. And death will not deprive us of this, for going to be with Christ will be much more enjoyable than the greatest gain we can know in this life.
Paul told Timothy to persevere in this exercise of godliness “so that all may see your progress.” So, as we continue to make progress in respecting and replicating Jesus’ frame of mind, our lives will keep giving increasing credibility to all that we say and do as followers of Jesus. And when people see how our profit from it keeps growing, those with whom we live and work will listen more carefully to what we say, so that they might learn how to have a life like ours.
3 November 1996