Week of March 20: Preparing for leadership through spiritual training


Rev. Doreen Smalls
Scripture Lesson: 1 Timothy 4:6-16
   According to a study on New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent of Americans said they actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions. As we know, and this study shows it, it is often easier to make New Year’s resolutions than it is to keep them. One of the most popular resolutions is to become more physically fit or more physically actively.
As we examine the condition of our physical health, we should not overlook the state of our spiritual lives as well. Just as constant training that is needed to improve our physical health it also needed to develop our spiritual strength. 
 The Pre-training Assessment
Our lesson starts with a conditional statement, “If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, [then] you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus nourished on the words of faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed” (1 Timothy 4:6). While the desired goal is to be a good servant is obvious in this verse, we must look at the first five verses to understand the instructions.
1Timothy 4 begins with an admonition that certain believers will turn to false doctrines. Paul states, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars, whose consciences are seared with a hot iron”(1 Timothy 4:1-2).  Behind this image (seared with a hot iron) is the practice of branding slaves. Branding symbolized ownership; one who belongs to another or who is enslaved to another. When an individual denies the faith he or she becomes a slave to sin and falsehood.
The false teachings mentioned are abstinence from marriage and certain foods (1 Timothy 4:3). Celibacy and a proper diet are not “bad things”. But to indicate that marriage is strictly prohibited is to refute the sacred union created by God (Genesis 2:18; 21-24). Paul directly counters the food asceticism by explaining, “everything created by God is good”(1 Timothy 4:4). This draws on the traditional logic that all food is clean because of the its Creator (Acts 10:19).  
The false doctrines presented a dilemma because Christians were replacing the “truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). And Paul told Timothy he must point these things out to the church in Ephesus.  Are there any untruths in your life that need pointing out? If so, what are they?
Motivation: The Goal of Training
People are motivated to start a training program for various reasons. The reasons can include weight control, muscle strengthening, stress relief, etc. Whatever the benefits or motivation may be, it is not an easy task to commit to a new routine.   In physical training one must work out consistently in order to maximize their results. 
 In 1Timothy, Paul compares physical training to godliness. While he applauds physical training, he describes godliness as far more value. He writes, “Train yourself in godliness for 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” (1 Timothy 8).  
A fitness plan is good for a healthier body for the present life but engaging in spiritual disciplines is good for the present and the future. Prayer, Bible study and worship are all spiritual disciplines that benefit an individual not only in the present but also for eternity.
Timothy was called to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness”(1 Timothy 6:11). Training ourselves in godliness provokes us to transform our lives to life of Christ. How do you remain motivated as you pursue godliness? What encourages you to become more like Christ?    
 Guarding Against Neglect
N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, gave this profound statement on a problem many churches face today:  “We expect and want to be told ‘spirituality’ is simply the sense I have of being in God’s presence, being surrounded by his love… It comes as a shock to be told that it’s something you have to work at…something…which will take the same kind of hard works as going into training for athletics.”
Training denotes diligence that Christians must endure to as they build their spiritual strength. Paul maintains that we “put these things into practice, devote yourself to them so that all may see your progress”(1 Timothy 4:15).  Godliness is a general term for religion that was used by the early church to talk about piety. “Piety is more than a passive devotion to the things of God; it involves actively putting them into practice-that is, dutifully living out the rigors of faith.”  
What spiritual disciplines are you actively practicing? What spiritual disciplines are you neglecting?
Rev. Doreen Smalls is an associate director at the Office of Connectional Ministries and she serves as Conference Secretary to Global Ministries. If you have any comments or questions, you may contact her at doreen@sgaumc.com.