Training in Godliness
I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'—Muhammad Ali
"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 Timothy 4:8
Can you imagine pushing through a 25-hour-per-week training regimen of swimming, biking, and running for an entire year with no particular goal in mind? Why would a guy do that? Most wouldn't, I'm guessing. But anyone serious about competing in the Ironman Triathlon just might. When the day of the big event arrives, you're facing a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon run of 26 miles and 385 yards. That's the goal—to compete, finish the race, and possibly even win. Only one person can win, of course, but even to just finish would yield a moment or two of personal accomplishment and glory. Indeed, physical training has its rewards. But (there's always a "but") what about your heart, mind, and soul? What about the part of you that is eternal?
One | Right Comparisons in Training
"Bodily training is of some value," Paul writes to Timothy, "but godliness is of value in every way."
Don't get me wrong. I will always advocate taking good care of your physical body, practicing good health habits, eating right, and getting a decent amount of sleep and exercise. We come in assorted shapes and sizes and all manner of imperfection, but God calls us to be good stewards of everything He's given us, and that would include our "earth suits." After all, God's Holy Spirit dwells there.
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."—1 Corinthians 6:19-20
It's not that we should neglect our bodies to focus our attention exclusively on spiritual health and growth. It is, however, a matter of priorities. Take care of our bodies, yes, but even more, nurture our hearts and exercise our minds to know and love God better and better. The benefit is long-term. There is real eternal value in a spiritual investment.
Two | Right Balance in Training
There is, in the comparison, some implied extremism. Caring only for the body and not the spirit is to miss the point of the passage. To be a fitness fanatic is to turn fitness into a god and to miss the real thing, God Himself. But caring only for the spirit and not the body is reckless and irresponsible. True, there are physical maladies, frailties, and limitations we can't prevent or control. But it just makes sense that we can maximize our effectiveness for Christ when we pay proper attention to our physical health. So how does one strike the best balance between physical and spiritual training?
It's a matter of daily discipline. We must do both. And if we're really creative, we can combine the two. Pray while you jog. Dig into God's Word while you rest. Share the Gospel over a nutritious meal. You get the idea. This is entirely doable, guys.
Three | Right Priorities in Training
It is possible to overdo almost anything, of course—be it food, friends, finances, fitness—the list goes on. It's all about our priorities. But there is one thing that is absolutely impossible to overdo. And it's the key to everything. Here it is—are you ready for this? The key to ensuring that our priorities are in order is our complete and total focus on God. Call it an obsession if you will. When we are meditating on God's Word or kneeling in prayer, He is our focus. And when our primary motive in going for a jog or lifting weights is the care and maintenance of God's temple, He is our focus. Why do we make it so hard when it really is as simple as that?
So we train both physically and spiritually. Both are important—both matter. If we err to one side or the other, let's err to the spiritual side. But through it all, let's keep the main thing the main thing. God must remain our focus. Period.
At the end of the race waits a forever paradise with the King of the universe. And the big win is not that we finish first. The big win is that we break that yellow tape arm in arm with as many fellow human beings as possible.
So ready, set, go—see you at the finish line.
Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 18 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God's Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men's Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org. See his latest book and small group study Called to Act: 5 Uncomplicated Disciplines for Men.