Spiritual Discipline

I read I Timothy today. (Yes, the whole thing. It’s not that long.)

Among other things, I noted I Timothy 4:8. Paul writes, “bodily discipline is only of little profit.” Wait, what? What about I Corinthians 9:27? Paul wrote that too, right? “I discipline my body and make it my slave,” right?

Actually, the two passages say the same thing. They’re both contrasting our worldly ambitions with our spiritual ones. My wife and I went out running tonight, about two and a half miles. Not bad for us, about 20 minutes. I hate running. But I discipline myself to do it because I know if I don’t then my fondness for food will destroy my gut. But, that worldly discipline will be of little use to me in heaven - I’m pretty sure that my earthly waistline, whether 34 or 48 inches, won’t affect my new body when Christ comes in glory.

Paul’s use of a running metaphor works really well for me, because I have to discipline myself to run, just as we all have to discipline ourselves to spiritual things. I must discipline myself to pray, to read the Bible, to study it and memorize it and share it. None of those things come naturally to me, just as running (certainly) doesn’t come naturally to me.

If you read I Timothy 4:7, Paul writes to Timothy to “discipline [him]self for the purpose of godliness.” In I Corinthians 9:25, he writes that we work to receive an eternal wreath, rather than the perishable one awarded to athletes at the Greek and Roman games. I think that it’s interesting that we give our athletes at the Olympics gold medals - gold, by its inert nature, doesn’t tarnish or corrode as easily as most other metals, so it’s a symbol of lasting glory. But how long does the glory of the Olympics last? Hint: when was the last time you read an article about Michael Phelps? (Swimmers need not answer that, you’ll mess up my point). Even if you win Olympic gold four times in a row, that’s only sixteen years of glory. Anyone ever heard of Carl Lewis (before they clicked the link)? Didn’t think so. Bet it took him a lot of bodily discipline to get there.

It takes just as much spiritual discipline to lead a life in Christ. If you don’t believe me, check out I Timothy 3:2-10 - I bet that’s just the stuff Paul could think of off the top of his head. I know I don’t live up to that laundry list of qualities. But the rewards of that spiritual discipline don’t last just sixteen years. They don’t last just four, like Phelps’ massive triumph at the last Olympics. They don’t last just one, like the winning the World Series or the Rose Bowl. They’re eternal. Do you even know how long that is?

Don’t mind me, I’ll just be sitting here while you figure it out. Yep, carry the three, make sure your calculator is in scientific… multiply by Π squared e

Yeah, eternity is a really, really long time. I want to live out that time in a reward of glory. If I can have the discipline to run every other night to keep my soul’s temporary lodging looking passable, even though I know that it’s no use and my metabolism is bound to drop off any minute, surely I can have the discipline to pursue righteousness and the glory of Christ?