Would you accept someone else setting a New Year’s resolution for you?
Most of us would not. We rightly prefer to set our own goals for physical, relational and financial well-being. After all, who knows what is best for us than, well, us?
For Christians, though, that last question has a different answer. God himself knows what is best for us, and he’s boldly and plainly given us a resolution for this year, and every year, that promises to bring us joy and the life purpose we crave.
“… Exercise yourself toward godliness,” God says in 1 Timothy 4:7-8. “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”
That means in addition to going to the gym to lose weight and gain fitness, God would have me willingly join the gymnasium of faith where true character is gained, selfish tendencies are shed, knowing such resolve produces the best life possible.
The human author of that letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul, deliberately uses a term – exercise – that a lot of us tend to think about this time of year. It translates a word that also gives us the English word gymnasium; it suggests exercising without restraint.
If I’ve a true desire to be more godly, Christ-like, in the months ahead, then there are clearly some restraints I need to get rid of and so do you. However preachy this may sound, friend, it’s also intensely practical and personal.
I have a dear friend who is unfortunately known to be something of a curmudgeon. Her vibe in relationships tends sharply toward the negative; she’s always able to point out what’s wrong, broken, imperfect. She doesn’t like this about herself, and even sees where it’s crippling her relationships.
Yet she also refuses to let go of past hurts which have profoundly disappointed and wounded her. And that bitter, unforgiving spirit restrains her from growing in hope, joy, contentment – in other words, godliness.
Most of us Christians nod our heads in agreement with this idea of growing in moral character. We like the idea of narrowing the gap between what we say we believe and who we really are. Clearly, those who know us need this gap to narrow, if our faith is to be credible and real to them.
But we tend to cling to destructive attitudes and habits that keep us from growing to be more like Jesus. Don’t you think?
I know it’s true in my own life; unfortunately, I sometimes preach a better sermon than I actually live. And I’d like that to be less true in the coming year.
Interestingly, Paul says, “exercise yourself …” No one can go to the health club for me and improve my health and fitness by proxy. The same is true spiritually. This call to spiritual discipline is aimed right at me.
It will be up to us, as individuals, to spend more time meditating on God’s truth, praying, serving others, forgiving, encouraging … no one can do that for us.
The negative aspects of exercise – cutting out bad habits – also are intensely personal. No one else can stop the sinful tendencies we might have to shade the truth, elevate ourselves over others, overindulge, bear grudges, procrastinate, etc. That’s on us.
Paul’s encouragement to Timothy is that his entire life would be a season of exercising toward godliness. We’re never done growing spiritually; God’s design and desire is that we always be moving toward a deeper relationship with him, and a brighter reflection of his nature.
As I read those four words, exercise yourself toward godliness, I can hear God calling me to a different kind of exercise this year.
How about you?