Training for Godliness (1)

Training for Godliness (1)

In his first letter to his young protégé Timothy, the apostle Paul writes this instruction:

Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:7-8 ESV)

The word ‘godliness’ is a bit of an unusual word. In one sense, we cannot be like God; we cannot be all-powerful or all-knowing or three in one. But in another sense, we can be like God; we can have our characters become like God’s character. This means that we start to see the world the way God does, loving the things God loves and hating the things God hates. If you are godly, you will be gracious towards others, you will be patient, you will be just, and you will hate sin. None of us will ever become perfect in these things, but we do pray that we become better at them over time.

The question then becomes: how do we grow in godliness? Is this something that just happens? Should we expect that the Holy Spirit will zap us and infuse us with patience, or that love for others will grow in us as we are busy doing other things? I think that many Christians act like this is the case, even if they wouldn’t put it so bluntly. We come to know Jesus, and after an initial flurry and rapid growth in understanding and godliness, we settle into everyday life and hope our progress in godliness just, well, happens.

Look a little more closely at the quote at the top of this post from 1 Timothy 4. Paul encourages Timothy to train himself for godliness. In case we are wondering what this word “train” means, the comparison in the following verse is to physical training. According to Paul, growing in godliness has some comparison with growing in fitness or physical strength.

This comparison is very helpful if we would only stop and think about it.

The point Paul makes in v8 is that physical training is inferior to training in godliness. The reason is that although going to the gym is a good thing, it is only of value in this life. Training in godliness matters for eternity. If we are looking forward to serving our God forever, let’s start now. Let’s prepare to do this well with the time we have in this life.

What does training in godliness look like? If the comparison to physical training holds, it has to include hard work, focus, and consistency. You don’t prepare for a marathon by doing one long training session. You train for a marathon by a long series of training sessions. If you want to be more like God, it will require effort. Not waiting for a zap, but intentional, ongoing effort.

I intend to unpack this with practical examples in future blog posts, but for now, think of your Christian life like training for a marathon. Do you have a plan for becoming more like Jesus? Have you ever even thought of making a plan? People who want to get fit and start running sometimes sign up to programmes like the couch to 5km plan; you start small, and by consistently going further and further, you end up running 5km. Think of it like that kind of programme. You want to grow in godliness? Well, work on one aspect of it consistently. Read the Bible a little every day. Encourage one person tomorrow, and another the day after. Baby steps done consistently will change you over time.

Don’t be satisfied having a plan to get fit, a plan to save money, a plan to get an education, and a plan to build your career, but no plan to become more like Jesus. Plan for eternity. The investment will be worth it.

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