I Timothy 4. Train Yourself.

Key Notes: Abstinence. Physical vs. spiritual training. Program for a Christian leader. The literature of the Christian life.

In the first part of the chapter, Paul instructs Timothy to avoid asceticism; in the second part, he exhorts Timothy to hard personal effort.

4:1–6 The Holy Spirit makes it clear that false teaching will emerge in later times----deceitful spirits, doctrines of demons, the pretensions of liars with seared consciences. The teachings mentioned do not sound very bad-- forbidding to marry and abstaining from some foods. We would expect him to say the oppposite--denouncing gluttony and sexual indulgence.

Certainly, God ordained marriage in the Garden of Eden (Gen.2:21–25) and blessed it at the Wedding at Cana (Jn.2:1–11), and God filled the earth with food for humans to enjoy. (Psa.104:14–15). But Christians at various times have thought it better to be vegetarian, to abstain from alcoholic beverages, or stay away from carbohydrates. And Augustine was so repelled by his sinful sexual life as a single man, that he thought marriage was to be avoided. There must be more here than mere asceticism.

I suspect that Paul is anticipating the emergence of Gnosticism as a major, and demonic competitor with Christianity. Elaine Pagels thinks it was a close call. (The Gnostic Gospels. Elaine Pagels; Random House,’79). For the Gnostic, abstaining from sex and various foods was part of the salvation process. So we should look carefully at religious groups that require special acts or abstinence on the path to holiness.

Godless myths and old wives tales are folklore. There is little information from Scripture of the folklore of ancient times, except perhaps Jacob's unusual husbandry practices (Gen.30:37–43) and his wives' use of mandrakes (Gen.30:15–1). American people of a hundred years ago had superstitions about prenatal influences, birth-marks, black cats, the evil eye, witches and hob-globins. Farmers let the moon influence their planting practices. Some people still use divining rods, carry the rabbit's foot, and throw salt over the left shoulder. Paul would shake his head.

4:7–16 In the second part of the chapter, Paul gives a series of instructions to Timothy. He makes an analogy between physical training and spiritual training, giving Timothy ten verbs (underlined) to emphasize the point that he must work and train himself in the spiritual life.

4:7 Train yourself (Gr."gymnazo") invokes a formal exercise program in godliness, for bodily exercise. (Gr."gymnasia") profits somewhat but godliness is of enduring value.
4:10 We (Paul and Silas) toil (grow weary), and strain (Gr."agonizometha") because our hope is in God.
4:11 Command and teach these things.
4:12 Be an example to the believers....
4:13 Attend to public reading of Scripture, preaching and teaching.
4:14 Do not neglect your gift....
4:15 Practice these duties.
     Devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.
4:16 Take heed to yourself....
     Hold to that....

Notes in passing.
4:10  "God is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." The verse does not mean that salvation is universal, but that the offer is universal, applying especially to believers.

4:16 If you do these things, "You will save both yourself and your hearers.” Timothy was to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil.2:12), and in the process bring his audience with him.


In our society, physical training has become popular; for some, all-important. We have developed a special vocabulary for physical culture.

The subjects: couch potato, fitness freak, hard body, six-pack abs, biggest loser
The coach: personal trainer, pilate coach
The costume: Adidas, sweats, lycra shorts, sport bra, headband
The slogans: no pain, no gain; pump iron; cross-train
The diet: Dr. Atkin's; low carbs; Lipitor; 1.8L of water/d.
The tools: fitness center, octopus, step trainer, rowing machine, tread mill, balance board, track, weights
The cost: minimum $500/yr.
The activities: walk, swim, run, bike, tennis, golf, climb.
The events: race-walk, 5K race, marathon, triathlon, pentathlon, iron man (run 25 miles, bike 100 miles, swim 5 miles).

Although Paul says Timothy should invest in spiritual training, it has not attracted much interest except for desert monks starving themselves, refraining from bathing, standing up all night in prayer--asceticism, in fact-- something Paul decries. Most of us are both physically and spiritually flabby.

An ancient philosopher (Isocrates) said "Train yourself by submitting willingly to toils so that when they come on you unwillingly you may be able to endure them." (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. W.Barclay; Westminster,’75, p. 97). It is a defensive motive to get in shape to protect ourselves in emergency. That is good advice for spiritual training as well as physical.

A minimum program advocated for Christians is
•daily quiet time: 30 minutes of Bible reading and prayer
•church attendance on Sunday
•participation in some small group activity during the week.
But this could hardly be called training. It is a subsistence program.

A person in medicine with 12–14 years of medical training  after high school, must be prepared for life-long learning. doing the following in order to keep up with the times:
•read 3–5 journals weekly or monthly.
•read in a variety of books. This is directed reading, intended to answer questions.
•attend courses and lectures-- at least 30 hours/yr.
•practice. One must work at least 20 hours a week in order to be adept.
•submit to re-examination every 5 years. This requires about 200 hours of additional study.

One glaring defect of Christian leaders is the failure to read. One of our elders read his first Christian book after he finished his term. Another elder had never been in the church library in his six years as chairman. A survey of 30 missionaries during their annual field conference revealed that no one had read a book--any book--during the previous year.

A proposed program for a Christian leader:
*Prayer. This is hard work and help is needed. Any prayer more than five minutes will take training and effort. Prayer is enhanced with a partner. "Operation World" is recommended as a resource to focus prayer on the nations on the world.

*Bible study. Goal-directed study is reading ahead whatever is being studied by the group. It enhances our learning and usefulness in the group whether we are leading or not.
*Books. More of this later.
*Journals. Subscribing to a regular Christian journal helps to understand the times. "Christianity Today" and "World" are two popular papers.
*Courses. Outside speakers teach us ethics, apologetics, evangelism and  missions--topics that are not covered in preaching.

*Evangelism. We must develop a method that works for us and practice it.
*Social work and counseling. We need to give out to those in need. This takes training and practice, as seen in the  “Stephen's ministry” or working with autistic children.
*Teaching. Rightly understood, we are all teachers. Our interaction with children, work colleagues and fellow church people communicates whether we have planned it or not. We put too much emphasis on the formal classroom experience.

Books can be sorted into the disciplines of the Christian life. They include:
•Ancient languages. A one-year course in NT Greek (3 hr./wk) opens a door to the Bible.
•Apologetics. How do I defend the Faith to a skeptic?
•Archaeology. What do the digs and ancient stones reveal?
•Bible: commentaries. What do the experts say about Isa.7:14, for example?
     Bible history, OT, NT
     Individual books
     Character studies; Life of Christ, Peter, Paul, David, Moses
•Church history: We have 2000 years of accumulated information about
•Church music worship, art.
•Christian literature (100 Great Books), poetry.
•Pseudo-Christian religions--at least 25 in the USA.
•Cultural criticism. What philosophers, sociologists, scientists, Christian thinkers and teachers of other religions say about us and about our culture.
•Devotional books. This is a rich area, and easy reading to start with.
•Evangelism. History, methods.
•Ethics. How do I make responsible decisions?
•Missions. History, practice, problems.
•Non-Christian religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Animism and Paganism.
•Theology. There are six (only 6) large topics that the Bible teaches.
     God: Nature, work and attributes
     Scripture: inspiration, sources, interpretation
     Human nature and humanity's problem--sin
     Christ's person and work--solution to the sin problem
     Church--believers in groups
     The Future: Resurrection, the Return of Christ and the Golden Age.

Is your Christian life drudgery? Is it dry and uninteresting? So is your routine for physical fitness. Do not be dismayed by the lack of excitement. If you want to play the piano in Carnegie Hall, be prepared to practice for ten thousand hours.

Go on with your training. God will lighten your way.