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Train Yourselves in Godliness

  • October 13, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 13 October 2019

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             1 Timothy 4.4-16; Psalm 111; Luke 17.11-19

Title:               Train Yourselves in Godliness

“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 Tim 4.7-8).

My friends, what does it mean to train ourselves in godliness? And what is your daily spiritual training regimen?

Is there anyone here this morning who is a fan of physical training? Anyone besides me? Because I certainly am. I sure hope most of you know this by now.

And what did this passage say? Physical training IS of some value. Did you notice that? It IS of some value. The Bible recognizes the value of physical training!

It’s really tempting for me to launch off of this passing recognition and make a full-blown argument for the benefits of physical training.

And there is a lot to consider along this line. Did you know that there was a movement known as Muscular Christianity which developed in the middle of the Nineteenth century in England?

This movement arose at the same time that sports – or simply SPORT, as they say throughout the British Commonwealth – the same time that sports became a mass movement in Western society. And this is when sports became integrated into schools and educational curriculum.

This is the same period that gave birth to the YMCA movement. And did you know YMCAs built the first modern-day gymnasiums?

AND, do you know that THIS word, gymnasium comes from this text? Right here in First Timothy! The word for training in Greek is gumnasia, and this is the only place it is used in the New Testament.

These Young Men’s Christian Associations sought to provide both physical and spiritual training.

And, one more thing, did you know that in 1881, a staffmember at the Boston YMCA coined the term “body building” and developed exercise classes that inspired the mass movement of today’s fitness workouts?

Wow – body building was born at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Boston, right after the Bible study!

OK, that’s probably enough on that topic (although there is SO much more that could be said!) To be sure, an emphasis on physical training can be exaggerated, and can become extreme, but there IS value in that process of discipline, practice, teamwork, dedication, and perseverance.

All of this is very good, but clearly the call to SPIRITUAL TRAINING supercedes all of this. After all, this kind of training has “promise for both this life and the life to come.”

My friends, pause and think about that claim for a moment. This scripture says that training ourselves spiritually, in godliness, leads to a better life here on this earth, and also to a better life after death!

How profound is that? What could we possibly pursue that holds more promise than this? Seriously, what could be more worthy of our limited time in this life?

But what exactly does it mean to train ourselves in godliness?

I have never been to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. I hope to make it there one day. The museum includes the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated on the second floor balcony.

I’ve been told that the National Civil Rights Museum displays videos that show how civil rights activists were trained in non-violent resistance in the 1950s and 60s.

It can be argued that one of the reasons this movement was eventually successful is because they were organized and they were trained.

Those who were preparing to sit-in at a “Whites-Only” lunch counter had to go through extensive training that simulated what they needed to expect in real life.

The trainers spit on them, shoved them, poured coffee on them, got into their faces and shouted all kinds of nasty insults at them, dragged them off the stools and onto the ground.

And what was the task of the activists? It was to do nothing. To not respond in any way. To maintain equanimity in the face of vileness and hatred and downright evil.

If they were going to succeed, they had to maintain a positive posture of nonviolence.

Can you imagine how difficult this is? This why their training had to be as realistic as possible, to be as close to the real thing as they could make it.

Because one mistake, one mess-up, one hothead who threw a punch in self-defense – well, that meant that the whole lot of them would be whipped by the local police and thrown into jail. They were just looking for an excuse to discredit these resisters, and to lock them up.

Do you know what we can call that kind of training? That is training in godliness. THAT is spiritual training.

Now, what is it that Timothy was called to do in this passage?

“Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4.12).

That is precisely what those brave souls were attempting to do – to set a positive example in speech and conduct, in love and faith and purity.

A little further on, this passage tells Timothy to “Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim 4.15).

We are accustomed to thinking of the visible outcomes of working out in the gym, but the reality is that both physical training AND spiritual training have visible consequences.

However, the wonderful and amazing part of spiritual training is that it does NOT require hours of exclusive time like working out in the gym.

Because you can do it while you are at work, while you at school, while you are cooking dinner or cleaning the house, or even while you are shopping!

It’s true! Once you get the hang of it, spiritual training is a bit like a having a program continuously running in the background while you do the everyday stuff of life.

Now, I cannot prescribe your spiritual training regimen for you, because I do not know what the Spirit is calling you to work on – where YOU need to make progress.

But I’ll bet you already know where your gap is, where you need to change and grow.

And we need to be crystal clear about one thing. I have a suspicion that each one of us harbors a secret fantasy about changing someone else. I think it’s true. I think we all say to ourselves, at some point, “you know, my life would be so much better, so much easier, if so-and-so – whoever that person is – if this person would just change the way they act.”

Maybe it’s your teacher at school, maybe it’s your spouse, maybe it’s your child, maybe it’s your boss, maybe it’s someone you see all the time in the news – whoever it is, I suspect that each one of us carries this little fantasy that predicts a better life, a better future … if only THAT person would change.

But let’s be clear that this fantasy is a lie. If you haven’t figured this out already, let me disabuse you of any notion suggesting that YOU can change another person – whoever it is.

Because you cannot! Never, ever, will you be able to change another human being. But what you CAN do is to change yourself. THAT is the power given to each one of us.

The ancient elders in the desert used to say that no one is able to love Jesus if that one does not first love toil. (ApSys 21.56)

First love toil. You see, one some fundamental level, we all need to have a measure of ambition. Some drive. We need to have a desire for something more. To not simply be content with our lives the way that they are, or with our world the way that it is.

If you have this kind of drive and desire, then you will naturally be drawn to the way of Jesus, to this path of spiritual discipline and training.

Perhaps you are like the lepers in today’s Gospel and you need to grow in gratitude, and in your everyday awareness of God’s blessings in your life. You can design a training program to keep track of all the things for which to be grateful.

Perhaps you need to change your thoughts toward someone who really gets on your nerves. You can do this by using a mantra of kindness every time that person enters your consciousness.

Perhaps you just need more spiritual content in your heart and mind to counter-act the flood of advertising and media that swamp us daily. You can do this, you can develop a program of daily scripture reading to address this.

Whatever your gap is, there is a way to grow and change in the midst of your daily life. And when this is done spiritually, when your efforts are “sanctified by God’s word and by prayer”, there is sure to be fruit that is positive and effective, change that holds promise for this life and the life to come.

“Train yourself in godliness”, my dear friends.

So, I wonder, what is your daily spiritual training regimen? And what will you do now moving forward to grow in godliness?

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