The word of the day is “training.” In our reading of 1 Timothy 4:4-8, 16, St. Paul motivates Timothy to train vigorously in piety and holiness. He states, “For bodily exercise profits a little but godliness is profitable for all things…” (vs. 8).
In our reading, Paul recommends exercise to combat the depravity that his opponents are fostering through their “old wife’s fables” (vs. 7). The Greek term for “exercise” refers to vigorous training for the Greek games (Strong’s #1128, 62). But the workouts that Paul promotes are spiritual, not physical. As professional athletes develop their body, so Paul’s understudy should develop his mind and spirit so that he can rebuff the misleading myths and fables of his challengers.
Godliness: An Inner State of the Heart
Accordingly, the apostle teaches that his charge’s training should be in “godliness.” This term combines the term “well” with that of “devotion.” It means an attitude that directs one’s whole being to God and to pleasing Him (Strong’s #2150, 106). Godliness is not outward but an inner state of the heart. One can display an outward and visible “form” of godliness, (2 Timothy 3:5). But those who seek to be admired for their religiosity lack its spiritual dynamism (2 Timothy 3:5). The spiritual power of godliness is a gift of God as the apostle writes in 2 Peter, “His divine power has given to us all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Timothy is to train himself in godliness because it is profitable. It offers the “promise of the life that is now and of that which is to come” (vs. 8). Paul expresses the same thought in his second letter to Timothy. He writes, “according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:1). Why is this promise both “now” and “to come?” Paul’s thought is that believers have the hope of eternal life in part but they will have it in its fullness when Christ returns.
The Routine of the Spiritual Workout
What then is the workout routine for “training in godliness”? Paul promises that if Bishop Timothy delivers the teachings that Paul gives to his flock, he will be a “good minister of Jesus Christ” (vs. 6). The apostle adds that the young overseer will be “nourished in the words of faith and of good doctrine” (vs. 6). The word “nourished” is in keeping with Paul’s metaphor of training. In the original Greek, its basic meaning is “to bring up.” It refers to “rearing,” “feeding,” and “training” (Strong’s #1789). In other words, by handing on Paul’s teachings, Timothy himself will grow spiritually.
Accordingly, Bishop Timothy is to train himself in the words (logoi) of the faith (vs. 6). In the plural, logoi (words) means statements of the faith (Strong’s #3056, 152). And “the faith” refers to the sum of the message of salvation. Besides immersing himself in the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68), Timothy also should develop himself in “doctrine” (vs. 6). The word in the original Greek means “teachings,” especially official instruction (Strong’s #1319).
Paul affirms that Timothy has “followed” this training closely. The word “followed” in Greek has the sense of conforming to instruction (Strong’s #3877, 196). Thus Paul notes that Timothy has already practiced what he has been taught. But now he should redouble his efforts to conform his life to what he has learned.
Today we overhear Paul’s urgent instructions to his pupil Timothy. But this teaching is meant for us as well. Thus our reading should motivate us to commit our time to “training in godliness” in this season of Advent. The apostle in 2 Peter sums up the goal of our spiritual exercise stating that God has provided “all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” In conclusion, as we prepare for Christmas, we should dedicate our time to “learning Christ” as Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:20.
In the Philokalia, St. Philotheos of Sinai writes: “With all our strength let us hold fast to Christ, for there are always those who struggle to deprive our soul of His presence; and let us take care lest Jesus withdraws because of the evil thoughts that crowd our soul (cf. John 5:13).” “Above all,” the saint urges, “let us unhesitatingly trust in Him and in what He says and let us daily wait on His providence towards us. If we do all these things, we are not far from God; for godliness is ‘perfection that is never complete,’ as one who was divinely inspired and spiritually perfect has said” (G.E.H. Palmer 1981, “Forty Texts on Watchfulness” [VE 3] 24).
Palmer, et. al. Trans. 1981. The Philokalia: the Complete Text Vol. 3. New York: Farber and Farber.