Saturday Nov 05, 2022

The Spiritual Life - Part 1 - Spiritual Disciplines

     The more I understand God’s Word and the further I advance in my walk with the Lord, the more I realize the Christian life is a disciplined life. Discipline is doing what I ought to do, whether I want to do it or not, because it’s right. Christian discipline is living as God wants me to live, as an obedient-to-the-Word believer who walks by faith and not feelings. The proper Christian life glorifies the Lord, edifies others, and creates in me a personal sense of destiny that is connected with the God who called me into service.

     Paul, when writing to his young friend, Timothy, said, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7).[1] Paul does not deny the benefit of bodily discipline, but, when compared to godly discipline, says it “is only of little profit” (1 Tim 4:8a). Godliness (εὐσέβεια eusebeia) denotes devotion to God and a life that is pleasing to Him. Paul prioritizes godliness, declaring it “is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8b). The word discipline in 1 Timothy 4:7 translates the Greek verb γυμνάζω gumnazo, which we bring into the English as gymnasium. In secular use, the word originally meant “gymnastic exercises in the nude: to exercise naked, train.”[2] It referred to how athletes trained in the ancient world. However, in the New Testament, the word was used figuratively “of mental and spiritual powers: to train, undergo discipline.”[3] The focus is on inward development of mind and character rather than the outward discipline of the body. And the discipline is to be ongoing (present tense), carried out by each believer (active voice), and executed as a directive by the Lord (imperative mood). The training is for godliness. According to Wiersbe, “Paul challenged Timothy to be as devoted to godliness as an athlete is to his sport. We are living and laboring for eternity.”[4] For Paul, godliness does not happen accidentally, but is connected with “the teaching that promotes godliness” (1 Tim 6:3 CSB). It is learned and lived on a daily basis.

     Disciplined Christians develop over time, as biblical thinking leads to wise actions, and wise actions develop into godly habits, and godly habits produce godly character. This brings Christians to the place of spiritual maturity, which is God’s desire for His children (Heb 6:1). The writer to the Hebrews references mature believers, saying, “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb 5:14). Maturity (τέλειος teleios) in this passage denotes one who has attained a level of spiritual growth, which glorifies God, edifies others, and is witnessed in the one who daily learns and lives God’s Word. Concerning maturity, Thomas Constables states, “A person becomes a mature Christian, not only by gaining information, though that is foundational, but by using that information to make decisions that are in harmony with God’s will.”[5] According to Wiersbe:

  • "As we grow in the Word, we learn to use it in daily life. As we apply the Word, we exercise our “spiritual senses” and develop spiritual discernment. It is a characteristic of little children that they lack discernment. A baby will put anything into its mouth. An immature believer will listen to any preacher on the radio or television and not be able to identify whether or not he is true to the Scriptures."[6]

     Baby believers can be spiritual because they are rightly related to the Holy Spirit and operating by God’s Word to the degree they know it. However, because of limited knowledge of God’s Word, they often default to human viewpoint in many situations and fall under the control of the sin nature, thus making them carnal Christians (1 Cor 3:1-4). In contrast, mature believers have a greater depth of knowledge concerning God’s Word and utilize it often as the Spirit leads. The word practice (ἕξις hexis) refers to “a repeated activity—practice, doing again and again, doing repeatedly.”[7] The daily practice of learning and living God’s Word will train Christians to discern good and evil, which allows them to make good choices. God’s Word is the standard for right thinking and conduct, and learning and living His Word by faith is the key to spiritual advancement.[8]

     As a growing Christian I want to be wise in the ways of God and His Word. But this requires commitment and many choices throughout my life. I realize the wise are wise by choice and never by chance. That is, no one is accidentally wise. This is also true for being just, loving, gracious, kind, and merciful, for these and other godly virtues are the product of many good choices over the years. Some of our spiritual disciplines include Bible study (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), meditating on God’s Word (Josh 1:8; Psa 1:1-3; Phil 4:8-13), managing our thoughts (Isa 26:3; Prov 3:5-6; 2 Cor 10:3-5; Col 3:1-2), living by faith (Prov 3:5-6; 2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38; 11:6), devotion to prayer (Col 4:2; 1 Th 5:17), controlling our speech (Eph 4:29; Col 4:6; Jam 1:19), encouraging others to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), committing ourselves to Christian fellowship (Heb 10:25), serving others (1 Pet 4:10), worshipping God (Heb 13:15), doing good (Gal 6:10; Heb 13:16), expressing gratitude (1 Th 5:16-18), living a simple life (1 Th 4:11; 2 Tim 2:4), and making time for rest (Eccl 4:6; Mark 6:31).

 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, published by the Lockman Foundation.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 208.

[3] Ibid., 208.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 226.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Heb 5:14.

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 295.

[7] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 511.

[8] The Bible is a special book, as it gives me insights into realities I could never know, except that God has spoken; and what He has spoken has been inscripturated and is available for personal study. Furthermore, I have God the Holy Spirit as my teacher, who helps me to understand biblical truths, and recalls it to my mind when I need it (John 14:26; cf. John 14:16-17; 16:13; 1 Cor 2:10-15). Sometimes the Spirit illumines my mind immediately when I’m reading the Bible. At other times, He works through the agency of gifted teachers He’s placed in my life.

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