Working Up a Spiritual Sweat

I was recently reading through the new, updated version of Kent Hughes’ Disciplines of a Godly Man and was struck anew by the Bible’s call that we strive and labor for godliness. While his intended audience is primarily men, the message is equally applicable to women.

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The statement from Paul to Timothy regarding spiritual discipline in 1 Timothy 4:7—“train yourself for godliness”—takes on not only transcending importance, but personal urgency. There are other passages that teach discipline, but this is the great classic text of Scripture. The word train comes from the word gumnos, which means “naked” and is the word from which we derive our English word gymnasium. In traditional Greek athletic contests, the participants competed without clothing so as not to be encumbered. Therefore, the word train originally carried the literal meaning “to exercise naked.” By New Testament times, it referred to exercise and training in general. But even then it was, as it remains, a word with the smell of the gym in it—the sweat of a good workout. “Train yourselves, exercise, work out (!) for the purpose of godliness” conveys the feel of what Paul is saying.

Spiritual Sweat

In a word, he is calling for some spiritual sweat! Just as the athletes discarded everything and competed gumnos—free from anything that could possibly burden them—so we must get rid of every encumbrance, every association, habit, and tendency that impedes godliness. If we are to excel, we must strip ourselves to a lean, spiritual nakedness. The writer of Hebrews explains it like this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Men, we will never get anywhere spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are holding us back. What things are weighing you down? The call to discipline demands that you throw it off. Are you man enough?

The call to train ourselves for godliness also suggests directing all of our energy toward that goal. Paul pictures this elsewhere: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Cor. 9:25–27). Intense, energetic sweat! We should singularly note that a little after Paul’s command to “train yourself for godliness,” he comments on the command and the intervening words, saying “for to this end we toil and strive” (1 Tim. 4:10). The word toil means “strenuous work,” and strive comes from the Greek word from which we get “agonize.” Toil and agony are called for if one is to be godly.

When one seriously trains, he willingly undergoes hours of discipline and even pain so as to win the prize—running ten thousand miles to run one hundred meters at one’s best. The successful Christian life is a sweaty affair!

No manliness, no maturity! No discipline, no discipleship! No sweat, no sainthood!