Summary: re you working on your own personal spiritual walk with God? Are you training yourself to be more loving, more joyful, more peaceable, more patient, to show more compassion, more humility, to be more self-controlled, more content?
I want to talk to day about how we can be spiritually healthy. We'll come back to the first few verses later but for now just notice what he says in v6: “6If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed.” The first thing we need if we're to be spiritually healthy is to make sure we're being nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that we receive from God's word. But good food isn't enough. On its own it'll just make you fat. No you need to use the food productively. So he says: “Train yourself in godliness, 8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.”
Training in godliness is something that begins when you first become a Christian and continues for the rest of your life.
That's because godliness is the sort of characteristic that needs constant work. You don't just reach a certain stage of godliness where you can sit back and coast along. It isn't like learning to ride a bike. No, training in godliness is a lifelong task for the Christian if we're to remain spiritually healthy.
Have you noticed how often a football or cricket commentator appears on TV, someone who used to be sleek and fit, but they've now developed a paunch or are looking a bit chubby in the cheeks. What's happened, you see, is that they've stopped training. You see it in those nostalgia games that we get every year with stars of the past dusting off their creams or their footy boots and trundling around the field trying not to make a fool of themselves. What those games show, apart from how age catches up with all of us, is that if we stop training we quickly lose our fitness and skill levels.
So Paul's warning Timothy here to keep up his training in godliness for the same reason. If we get out of training our fitness level, or in this case, our godliness, will fall off.
What is Godliness?
Well, what is godliness?
At its simplest, godliness is taking on God's character. It's imitating God. This has been the essence of godly living from the earliest times. The Old Testament law was premised on this injunction: “Be holy for I am holy.” In the New Testament it's the same. In Eph 4:24 God tells us to clothe ourselves “with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In Col 3:12 we read: “As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
The result of us believing in Christ is that Christ's Spirit comes and fills us, enabling us to bear fruit according to his nature. And what is that fruit? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23)
These are the sorts of characteristics that Paul's talking about when he talks about training ourselves in godliness: love, joy, peace, patience, compassion, humility, meekness. Later on in this letter he links godliness with contentment. In 6:6 he says godliness with contentment is great gain. Why? Because contentment indicates that we're willing to trust God to look after us whatever our circumstances; and godliness shows that we're preparing ourselves to meet him in his kingdom.
So if that's what we're aiming for, how are we going to achieve it?
The first thing to notice is that it involves personal responsibility. He says “Train yourself!” Do you remember those ads on TV for electronic machines that'd help you tone up your muscles? You connected probes to your muscles and the machine sent electric pulses through your skin to make your muscles contract, so you'd develop muscle tone without expending any actual effort. Wouldn't it be great if we could get the spiritual equivalent of one of those? Something that would automatically make us more godly. But that isn't how it works, is it? We actually have to practice being godly. The psalmist says “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.” Now this isn't new age meditation. You know, the eastern style of meditation where you pick a phrase and say it over and over again until your mind stops thinking about the troubles of the day and is freed up to connect with the universe. No, this is meditating on God's word; thinking about what he expects of us, working out what God is like, so we can imitate him; letting his word go deep into our subconscious. And having understood what he's like, and how he wants us to be, we can then work on those characteristics that fit with godliness.