…Exercise thyself rather unto godliness.
— 1 Timothy 4:7

At the time I am writing this book, our apartment in Moscow frequently looks like an athletic club. Our three sons and their friends regularly fill our living room to do pushups, sit-ups, and weightlifting to develop their muscles and attain the form they desire. As a result of their hard work, commitment, and consistency, their muscles are getting bigger and bigger, and their bodies are nearly the ideal for young men their age.

Every morning, my wife gets up at the crack of dawn to walk up the seven flights of stairs in our Moscow apartment building a minimum of six times. Once she reaches the top, she takes the elevator back to the first floor and starts up the 210 steps to the seventh floor once more. Multiply that times six, and you’ll find that Denise walks up 1,260 steps every morning of her life. When she finishes those 1,260 steps, she comes huffing and puffing into the apartment with a look of elation, thrilled that she accomplished her goal. Needless to say, she is in super shape!

We don’t own an automobile in the city of Moscow where we live, so I walk many of the places I need to go. Because it’s difficult to take care of an automobile in this massive city, most people in Moscow don’t own automobiles, so I fit right into the crowd as I walk and walk. As a result of continual walking through the streets of this gigantic city, my lower legs are muscular and strong.

*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]

bookmark2It takes hard work to get in good physical shape, and it takes a commitment to maintain a good physical condition. In the same way, it also takes hard work and commitment to maintain a good spiritual condition. Anyone who wants to get into good spiritual shape has to be diligent to exercise himself spiritually. This is why the apostle Paul told Timothy, “…Exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

The word “exercise” is the Greek word gumnadzo, and it literally meant to exercise while stark naked or to exercise in the nude. It is a word that was developed from the word gumnos, the Greek word that is literally translated naked. It is from these words that the English words gym or gymnasium are derived.

I realize that it may seem strange to our minds that Paul would use such a word, but to Timothy, this was a very powerful and graphic picture. You see, the word gumnadzo (“exercise”) was only used to describe the professional athletes of that day. By using this word, Paul was conveying a message to Timothy that was absolutely clear to the younger man.

As noted earlier (see November 4), Timothy was the senior pastor of the world’s largest church during the first century. As pastor of such a massive church, he was working very hard. Nevertheless, Paul urged Timothy not to fantasize about things ever getting easier but instead to joyfully dive into the work with all his strength and might.

This may not have been the message Timothy wanted to hear. But instead of falsely telling the younger man that a day would come when things got easier, Paul admonished him to “exercise unto godliness.” And when Timothy saw the word “exercise,” he knew exactly what Paul was telling him. Professional athletes and their activities were quite famous in Timothy’s day.

The word “exercise” (gumnadzo) was only used to describe the professional combat sports of boxing, wrestling, and pankration (see June 9 to read more about these ancient athletic sports). These athletes wanted the freedom to move their muscles without hindrance, and they didn’t want to wear any items of clothing that an opponent could grab hold of to take them down. For these reasons, they exercised and competed naked.

These combat sports were so ferocious that when each competition ended, one of the competitors was usually dead. Knowing that a stiff, life-or-death battle awaited them, these athletes exercised and exercised and exercised to get themselves into the best possible physical condition. This included submitting themselves to self-imposed hardships in order to make themselves tougher. For instance, because the actual games usually occurred during the blistering hot temperatures of summer, the athletes trained in extremely hot temperatures so they could become acclimated to intense heat. And in order to become hardened to brutality, they would deliberately ask other athletes and trainers to viciously beat them. In this way, they could learn to take as much abuse as possible without allowing it to affect their performance in case they were wounded during the actual games.

Rather than look for the easy way out, these combat-sport athletes stripped off all laziness, all comfort, and even all their clothes so they could energetically exercise and drive themselves nonstop toward physical perfection. Only those who were the most fit would survive and win the games, so they approached hardship as a positive occurrence — an opportunity to develop their mental resilience, their stamina, their courage, their physique, and their staying power. To these professional athletes, hardship was a good thing, for if they properly responded to it, it could only make them better and, in the end, help them live a longer life!

This was exactly the message Paul was giving to Timothy when he told him to “…exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” Paul was telling the younger minister, “Don’t run from the challenges before you or spend your time hoping to find an easier route for completing a very difficult task. Instead, strip yourself of all mentalities that would hinder your growth, and embrace this difficult time as an opportunity to spiritually exercise and to develop yourself in the Lord.” Paul knew what would happen if Timothy stripped wrong attitudes from his life and approached these challenges with the right attitude: The hardships he faced wouldn’t hurt him but rather would assist in developing him and making him stronger.

But notice that Paul said, “…exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” The word “godliness” is the Greek word eusebeia, a Greek word that describes piety, godliness, or a radical, fanatical devotion. In other words, Paul was telling Timothy, “Don’t do just the average that others would do and get an average result. Put your whole heart and soul into developing yourself to the maximum level.”

Our commitment to spiritual development is to be so intense that we literally exercise and exercise and exercise ourselves to the point of a radical, fanatical devotion to God. We must be as committed to our spiritual development as those professional Greek athletes were to their physical development.

Just as physical muscles are developed only through exercise, hard work, training, and commitment, it takes exercise, hard work, training, and commitment to become fit spiritually as well. This is why Paul urged Timothy to take his moment of hardship as an opportunity to stretch, develop, exercise, and make himself stronger.

Do you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you today? Is He telling you to change the way you are looking at your current hardships? You don’t ever have to be depressed and defeated by the affairs of life. Just change the way you’re looking at the challenges you face. Determine that you are going to use this time in your life to exercise your faith and become stronger in the Lord!

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, I ask You to help me change the way I’ve been looking at the hardships and challenges in my life. Yes, it’s true that I don’t enjoy them, but since I’m in this time of my life, help me use my time to the maximum by strengthening my faith and exercising myself spiritually. Rather than be broken by this difficult season, I want to come out of it stronger than ever. Holy Spirit, please help me today to change the way I am looking at life. I want to make a firm commitment to exercise myself unto godliness until I am so strong spiritually that nothing in life can stop me from fulfilling the dreams God has put in my heart.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that I am getting stronger and stronger in the Lord. I have made the choice to use everything that comes into my life as an opportunity to exercise my faith and develop myself spiritually. This is not a one-shot reaction, for I am making this my lifetime passion and devotion. I will exercise, train, and do everything I can to become stronger and stronger in the Lord.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Questions to Answer

1. What is the single most difficult issue you are facing in life right now? What is the second most difficult challenge you are facing on a regular basis?

2. How are you responding to the challenges in your life? Are you being paralyzed or broken by the hardships you face, or have you been using them as opportunities to learn, to spiritually exercise, and to develop yourself into a stronger, more resilient believer?

3. What thought processes do you need to change in order to receive great benefit from the hardships you face in life instead of being destroyed by them?