Discipleship

Train Yourself

by John Wohlgemuth

Lead Teaching Pastor, Henderson Hills Baptist Church (Edmond, OK)

As a former athlete, I am drawn to the passages in Scripture that refer to a sports motif. Maybe it is my internal bias, but due to the number of times the apostle Paul mentions athletics, I tend to think the apostle Paul was either a pretty good athlete when he was younger, or he was a sports fan at some point in his life. (Or he may simply be very good at finding illustrations inspired by the Holy Spirit!)

The passage under consideration today is 1 Timothy 4:6–10, which in the ESV translation reads, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

Notice first that Paul had “trained” Timothy in the good doctrine of our faith. The Greek word Paul uses there connotes the idea of feeding someone, of nourishing them on the inside. And it was because of that sustenance that Paul then shifts to calling Timothy to avoid the old wives’ tales of their day—the humanist superstitions made up by uniformed people. Instead, Paul writes, Timothy must discipline himself for the purpose of godliness, similar to how Paul had Trained Timothy earlier. Like an athlete training at the gymnasium (which is the Greek word used in v.8 for “train”), Timothy should focus his energy, time, and effort primarily on his spiritual life.

Paul writes here of our focus, where we spend the resources of our lives. Unfortunately, many people today immerse into godless ideas and unhelpful opinions (see cable news networks, talk radio, and social media feeds, for example). Rather, we should focus our energy and time on growing in godliness. I thought of this passage as I watched the 2020 Summer Olympics get postponed for a year. I felt for those Olympians who had planned their entire training regimens around this August. Their discipline got interrupted and they were forced to adapt. According to God’s Word here, though, a similar kind of focus should sustain our spiritual training even more.

But shouldn’t we want the kind of godliness that results from the spiritual discipline Paul describes here? Of course. We should want our lives to look more like Jesus’s did. And that desire should be enough to compel us to train spiritually. But in v.8 Paul adds a further reason: because it actually does improve our lives here, plus it lasts into the next life.

Now, this reality of pursuing eternal benefit does not mean we simply write off our bodies like the Gnostics did. I love that even God’s Word says here we should work out and not “Elsa” our bodies (“let it go…”). However, we must not allow physical training to become our primary focus. Because no matter how many times I do CrossFit, or eat less sugar, or bike, or whatever…I am still dying! So I should prioritize my spiritual training, with benefits that will last into eternity. I must grow in godly obedience first and foremost. That pursuit is how I store up treasures in heaven and how I point others to Jesus as they see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven.

One further reason that Paul gives for this spiritual training is due to his final trustworthy and acceptable saying—that our hope is on the living God who is our Savior. That truth is why we “toil and strive,” v.10 says, because we place our trust in the risen Jesus who is good on His promise.

Those two words in v.10, though, remind us that this pursuit remains practically difficult. We pursue the mission of God and the spiritual training in our own lives by working hard and continuing to struggle (agonizo is the Greek word here). I remember from my physical training in football that discipline and hard work are difficult, and I often wanted to give up. Spiritual training is possibly even harder, though, because the enemy’s headwinds stand against us. So, we must continue to strive and give every effort, knowing that like physical training, spiritual training takes a long time to build the muscles needed to sustain the long haul, to “run with endurance the [long] race that is set before us.” We get that strength, though, by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

May God strengthen us to pursue Him with our hearts, promote Him with our lives, and proclaim Him with our lips.

Discipleship

The Church is Full of Orphans

by John Wohlgemuth

Lead Teaching Pastor, Henderson Hills Baptist Church (Edmond, OK)

I remember the wide range of emotions that accompanied becoming a father for the first time. The overwhelming joy of seeing my son face-to-face. The awe for my wife who endured twenty hours of active labor. The fear in facing the reality of taking our son home (“You trust us enough to send us home?! You mean you’re not coming with us?!”). I knew, though, that because we loved our son, we would do everything in our power to help him grow up into the man God has called him to be—through all of the highs and lows in the process.

A similar process shows up spiritually (apart from the Father’s fear, of course). The New Testament gives us an understanding of the “life cycle” of a Christian—from birth through maturity. First Peter 2:2 calls us “newborn infants” longing for “the pure spiritual milk” that helps us “grow up into salvation.” Of course, that imagery applies to us as individuals. Growth is to occur where a believer should not act the same years after their new birth. But also think about that picture of spiritual growth in the context of the church. If new believers are similar to babies, we then must begin to think about the healthiest way for them to grow up and to be nurtured.

Our world is full of physical orphans (one estimate puts the number at 153 million, or roughly half the population of the United States). Thankfully, many Christians and others have organized funding and support for orphanages and other support ministries around the world. But everyone understands that an orphanage is not the best nurturing environment for a baby. If no other option exists then care and nourishment in a group home is better than nothing (that’s why James commands true Christians to care for vulnerable orphans in 1:27), but a nuclear family is the God-ordained best means for a child to mature, to be provided for, to be instructed, and to be loved. If that child is parentless, the best scenario remains for non-biological parents to adopt that child into their loving family.

This reality is no different in the church. For comparison’s sake (and don’t push this too far), we could compare the large church gathering on Sunday to an orphanage. Here’s how this idea has shown up in the past and even still today: a person trusts Jesus as his or her Savior and Lord, and what do we often do with them? We invite them to “attend church” (meaning, the Sunday large-group gathering). We hope that they will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love that they need, but that abundant provision often does not occur. That person receives enough to stay alive, probably, but gets lost in the crowd and never really flourishes in what they were created for. They feel more like a number than a family member, even though they may have an important task to accomplish to maintain the organization.

Now compare that scenario to a different (seemingly more biblical) approach. Say that same person comes to trust in Jesus. Instead of inviting them to an event, we invite them into our lives. We invite them into our “family,” so to speak, where there are just a few of us in intimate relationship sharing life together. What I mean by this is a group of a few people not only meeting to study the Bible and to pray and to hold each other accountable, but people who go on errands together, eat meals together, serve the community together, etc. As these elements of life are shared, then questions are asked, theology is clarified, and obedience to Christ in every area of life is modeled. There is no doubt that the new believer will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love they need. Not only do they get enough to stay alive, they flourish and mature as a member of a family. And they grow up into maturity more readily.

Does it not make more sense to raise up a “child” in this “family” way rather than in an “orphanage”? My challenge to us, church, is to take all of these orphans (physical orphans too!) into our lives and make them a part of a forever family, where they will receive all that they need to live the abundant life that Jesus has promised His children (John 10:10).

Though you may not believe that you can really make a difference, you can. All the Lord is looking for is a willing vessel. Although you may not be the next Billy Graham yourself, you might be the one with the opportunity to disciple him, to “parent” him spiritually. And all it takes is one who God can use to change the world; so, who is your one?

John Wohlgemuth has served as the Lead Teaching Pastor at Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, OK since 2018. Born in Enid, OK and raised in Fairview, OK, he is married to Emily and they have three sons, ages 11, 8, and 6. They met at Oklahoma State University in the engineering classroom and while participating in OSU’s athletic department.