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"Are You in Training - or Tyranny?"

Feb.9, 2014 1Tim.4:1-11


11 years ago this month, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock undertook an experiment. For a 30-day period he ate his meals solely at McDonalds, sampling every item on the menu. He estimated his daily intake amounted to 5,000 kcalories; over the month he gained 24.5 pounds, hence the name of the accompanying documentary: Super Size Me. He experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver. Afterwards, it took him 14 months to lose the weight gained from his 1-month experiment. He convincingly made the point that unwise choices in diet shape our future in a most undesirable manner!

Currently the winter Olympics are underway in Sochi, Russia until the 23rd. We will be watching the fittest athletes in the world compete for gold medals in all kinds of winter sports that require a combination of strength, stamina, and dexterity. Now, how many of these athletes do you suppose follow the same eating habits that super-sized Morgan Spurlock?

What would you like YOUR life to be - Olympic-sized or super-sized? What if we looked at your current spiritual diet - how would it stack up? Is your soul eking out an existence only on "junk food"? Or when it comes to the spiritual life, do you have a motivation and discipline and enthusiasm that would match an Olympic athlete's? To put the comparison another way - do we want to be super-sized or sanctified?

In last Sunday's benediction I referred to Rev 5:10, "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." The work of priests is to deal with holy things, to be a deity's representatives. Does God really expect us to be involved in sanctifying things here on earth? Paul writes in 1Tim 4:5 that things God created are to be received with thanksgiving because they are "consecrated [sanctified] by the word of God and prayer." We're to be about the business of sanctifying our world. That's an Olympic-size goal! To do that will take what every athlete knows she or he needs: the right goals, coach, diet, and workout.


Do you suppose the Olympians got where they are as a sideline, or because their aim was to have the biggest biceps or to impress the opposite sex at the gym? No, to compete at that level they have to be very focussed on their goal - to become the absolute best in the world at that particular sport.

Paul's letter to his protege Timothy lists some inferior goals that were leading people astray in their spiritual life. Watching the Olympics can turn some people into couch potatoes, while it might inspire others to become health nuts, obsessed about their physical condition, driven to spend all their spare time at the gym or even become anorexic in pursuit of the perfect body. V8 "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." Paul says, "Physical training is of SOME value..." The translators are being generous there; more literally it's "little value" / small value - the contrast is with godliness being of value for ALL things. To focus only on your physical condition (whether athletic prowess or knock-em-out beauty) is to limit your life to being one-dimensional, and it's really a short-term goal. Don't get me wrong: I'm not 'dissing' the value of physical exercise, it's essential for health. In 1Cor 6(19f) Paul insists, "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit...Honour God with your body." According to Romans 6(13) we are to "offer the parts of [our] body" to God "as instruments of righteousness". Christians should have a very integrated theology of their body, being the best stewards of their physical equipment that God has entrusted to them. But physical training alone falls short on two counts: it neglects the other aspects of being human (e.g.our spiritual, intellectual, and social selves); and its benefits last only for this lifetime. Remember Bruce Wilkinson's analogy of the dot at the end of the line? Our life is the dot at the start of a line that goes on forever; our eternal existence is the rest of the infinite line.

What should be the goal of our life, what are we to be striving to develop according to vv7&8, if not just a buff physique? "Train yourself to be GODLY...GODLINESS has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." Not 1-dimensional but spirit-soul-body; not just temporary for a few decades, but eternal.

Another wrong goal is implicit in v3: "They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods..." These false teachings may have had their roots in an early form of Gnosticism, which viewed the material world as inherently evil. Consequently these warped teachers advised people not to marry and restricted their diet. By such self-imposed harshness, people attempted to manufacture their own form of 'righteousness', trying to impress God and other people by their strict asceticism. That's trying to earn your salvation, your right standing with God, by your own effort; there's a focus on externals, what's superficial not what's really going on in your heart. So Paul in v2 refers to "hypocritical" liars - putting on a show, but not genuine.

So if we're not basing our confidence or hope in our own efforts and accomplishments, what's the RIGHT goal to be aiming for? If this were say the biathlon, what's the right target to shoot at? Look closely at vv9-10: "This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe." Another way to put this is: "The reason why we labour and struggle is BECAUSE we have put our hope in the living God..." So, the RIGHT goal is just that: hope in the living God...the Saviour of all [people]... THAT'S our motivation, the reason we labour and strive, the goal that makes all the hardships, the straining of the competition, worthwhile.


An Olympic athlete values quality coaching. Having top-notch, experienced trainers is essential for those who'd like to "win the podium". In the spiritual life, there is an abundance of wrong coaches who would just love to enlist you to their program! In vv1-2 Paul reveals what's behind these errant coaches: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron." The forces of Satan are at work - "deceiving spirits": Jn 8:44 Jesus said of the devil, "there is no truth in him.When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." The devil wants to deceive you, trick you, make you think things are other than as God tells you. Last week we were watching a generally positive and heartwarming movie except a lead character at one point stated, "There is no sin" - meaning that religion had just invented the idea in order to hold power over people. That's just like the serpent's lie to Eve back in Genesis 3(5), "when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God..."

V2 describes these demonic teachings as being channelled through "hypocritical liars" with consciences "seared as with a hot iron": similar terminology to the medical procedure of cauterization, burning nerves so there's no more feeling, one has become desensitized. Or Paul may have in mind the way criminals were branded with a hot iron, their crime emblazoned onto their forehead. Are the messages you're taking in through the media drawing you to become Satan's slave, his 'dummy'? 2Tim 2:26 "...that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."

By contrast, Paul points out the GOOD coaching Timothy has been doing and urges him to keep on training others in right technique. V6 "If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed." Verse 11 urges Timothy to use his authority when necessary: "Command and teach these things." NRSV "Insist on", BBE "Let these things be your ORDERS and your teaching." If you have a good coach and you don't pay attention to them, you're asking for trouble! Who do we allow to speak into our lives authoritatively, to give correction in sensitive areas? Who do you have being your "spotter", someone who's going to call you on your mistakes, so you can improve?

Paul noted in v6 Timothy himself had been "brought up in the truths of the faith..." Do you remember who Timothy's earliest "coaches" were? 2Tim 3:15 "From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures..." Who was coaching young Timothy then? 2Tim 1:5"I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." Parents - you have a vital role "coaching" your children!


The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will be actively involved at the Olympics, through its affiliate organizations. Doping (use of performance-enhancing drugs) has long been a problem in sport. In the "history" section of its website, WADA notes: "Ancient Greek athletes are known to have used special diets and stimulating potions to fortify themselves.Strychnine, caffeine, cocaine, and alcohol were often used by cyclists and other endurance athletes in the 19th century.Thomas Hicks ran to victory in the marathon at the 1904 Olympic Games, in Saint Louis, with the help of raw egg, injections of strychnine and doses of brandy administered to him during the race...By the 1920s it had become evident that restrictions regarding drug use in sports were necessary." Yes, I guess so!

You don't want to be a "dope" in your spiritual life - you don't want the wrong intake, the wrong diet. V7 Paul exhorts, "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly." Ingredients to avoid? "Godless myths", fables, such as speculative fabrications based on the meanings of the names in Jewish genealogies, or Greek or Roman or Persian religious legends. V3 off-track legalism forbade marriage and restricted diets unnecessarily. Countering the teaching of the Gnostics that anything material was 'bad', Paul states clearly in v4, "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving..."

What's the RIGHT diet, what are GOOD intakes for those who would 'go the distance' with God? V5 what are "sanctifying" agents that "consecrate" the everyday things of life? "...it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer." A prime intake in your life should be God's word, through regular Scripture reading. Combine that with prayer, talking to God, reviewing what He's saying to you in the Spirit and His written revelation. V6 What had been Timothy's "training diet"? "...Brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed." Here we have both Scripture ("truths of the faith") and theology or doctrine based on Scripture ("good teaching"). For example, I've enjoyed CS Lewis' and Francis Schaeffer's books and John Piper's sermons and Ravi Zacharias' podcasts because they're always Biblically-based. V9 refers to a "multivitamin" in v10: "This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance...we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men..." Isn't that the jist of the New Testament in a nutshell?


You might not guess it, but I come from a long line of health enthusiasts. Well, at least 2! My great-uncle Norman Christie, who lived in Mitchell 5 miles away from our home farm, could be seen well into his 80s riding his bicycle out in our vicinity. When he couldn't ride a bike any more, he walked instead. He lived to the age of 95. Nowadays, my 93-year-old father carries on the tradition by walking a mile or so up the sideroad at Munro - or, when it's too cold, using the treadmill in his basement instead. They both recognize the value of a regular WORKOUT. So, in the spiritual life, there are valuable disciplines that help us keep fit and "in shape" in our walk with God.

We see a wrong or inadequate type of effort in v3 - forbidding marriage and abstaining from certain foods. The Kingdom is NOT about food! Romans 14:17 "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit..." Likewise in v8, physical training "is of SOME value" - take care of your system and it will help your prospects for survival - but it's not the whole story.

What kind of workout or training do we really need, as far as living in the Lord is concerned? V7Bf "Train yourself to be GODLY.For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things..."

How do we train ourselves to be godly? It starts with BELIEF - accept that the living God IS your Saviour; v10 "the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who (what?) BELIEVE." Have you accepted it as rock-bottom truth in your life that you need Jesus, you can't defeat sin on your own, and your only hope to make it is by His sacrifice (to forgive you) and by His resurrection power? Are you resting in that, trusting in that foundational truth for your life and future? Else you're going to be building on sand.

What else for your daily routine, spiritual 'fitness' training? V5 "the word of God and prayer." Yes, it takes time and dedication and discipline, but there's a huge payoff! Else you'll remain a spiritual dwarf - if not a 'dope'.

What else, throughout the day? Vv3-5 talk about a certain attitude or conscious approach to life that will help us keep in shape moment-by-moment. Listen closely for a keyword Paul repeats: "They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer." It's a eucharistic attitude ('eucharist' from the ancient prayer of thanksgiving before communion) - consciously receiving everything throughout your day with thanksgiving. To give thanks requires having someone in mind to give thanks TO. So this is going through life with your prayer-line open, conversing with God intentionally about even the smallest things, thanking Him, praying without ceasing - never quite "ending the conversation". That could turn into a constant (and very joyful!) workout. 1Cor 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Maybe we could put a twist on Nike's slogan - "Just do it"... For the Christian that becomes "Do it ALL [for God's glory]", as unto Him, in a constant dialogue of thanks.

The Christian life is not easy. Forget any "prosperity theology" you may have heard; that too is false teaching, that's not what the New Testament suggests should be our expectation in this life. V10 "for this we LABOUR and STRIVE"; NRSV "to this end we TOIL AND STRUGGLE"; BBE "this is the purpose of all our work and our fighting" - WHAT IS THE PURPOSE? - "because our hope is in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and specially of those who have faith." That's winning motivation! Let's pray.