1 Timothy 4:7b-16
Train yourself for a holy life! While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come. This saying is reliable and deserves complete acceptance. We work and struggle for this: “Our hope is set on the living God, who is the savior of all people, especially those who believe.” Command these things. Teach them. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Instead, set an example for the believers through your speech, behavior, love, faith, and by being sexually pure. Until I arrive, pay attention to public reading, preaching, and teaching. Don’t neglect the spiritual gift in you that was given through prophecy when the elders laid hands on you. Practice these things, and live by them so that your progress will be visible to all. Focus on working on your own development and on what you teach. If you do this, you will save yourself and those who hear you.
Sometimes your entire understanding of a passage can hinge on one little word and that is the case for me as I approach 1 Timothy 4. When I first began thinking about this passage my mind was on the need to continually do things to “exercise spirituality”. Then in reading about the passage I discovered that the tiny Greek word πρὸς does not mean in the passage what I assumed it meant. I thought the verse was saying “training in holy living” meant “do things to make yourself more godly”, but that is not the advice being given here. Rather, the verse means exercise the godliness inside of you. This is not advice to read your Bible or have a devotional prayer time, so that you can grow to be like God (those are wonderful disciplines and should be done); these verses are about exercising the Spirit of God present in you. These verses are about interacting with and in the world so that you strengthen God’s presence in you. I realize this can be a subtle distinction but for me it is an important one. I often focus my attention on cultivating the fruit of the Spirit through disciplines like Bible study, prayer, or corporate worship. Each of these concepts is good and necessary but each are about taking something into myself. These verses are not about taking something into myself, they are about exercising what is inside me so it can grow stronger.
To begin to understand and unpack these verses we must remember that God’s Spirit is in each of us, but does not necessarily fill us. Working with the Holy Spirit is like learning to work with a new tool, at first you are clumsy and awkward because your muscles have not developed a sense of what is going on. Watch a child with a baseball bat or trying to catch a ball, they do not have the motor skills to use the equipment to its best. It is only as the child practices using the equipment that they develop fine motor skill and muscle to use it well. This is the message of 1 Timothy exercise the Spirit in you, this foreign piece of equipment that you are not used to using but desperately want to be good with.
How then do we exercise the Holy Spirit in us? There are any number of ways, but the ones I find most commonly needed are– forgiving others, showing compassion, showing hospitality, being generous, being kind, etc. Why is it so many people seem to mature when they have kids? Because the traits associated with the Holy Spirit are naturally developed in these people. Parents see a helpless child, who is completely dependent on them and begin to show love, grace, forgiveness, and so much more to the child. With practice the harsh parts of the parent’s character begin to mellow some. The problem is that with most people this natural development is extremely limited as the scope of the parent’s desire is limited. This is like a baseball player only using the bat to learn how to bunt.
The goal of the Christian is to be major league level with the Holy Spirit and that means being much more well rounded. The advice of Timothy is to exercise those qualities of the Holy Spirit that are not natural to us, to extend in areas where we have to learn and grow. This is going to be awkward at first We are not used to showing the love of the Holy Spirit in the world. learning to bring healing to a world of hurt is not easy. I think one of the most beneficial but most difficult steps to take on our Christian journey is to walk up to a hurting person and to say, “Please can I pray with you” and truly sit in the hurt that individual is suffering. Intentionally walking into the pain of another with a mindset to bring wholeness to the situation takes a great deal of faith and we will struggle at first. But with consistent practice working in the power of God’s Spirit we can strengthen and grow in our relationship with God to the point where we can be true saints who bring great healing to the world.