for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.1 Timothy 4:8(NASB)
Timothy was Paul's 'son in the faith' and the older apostle wrote his first epistle to this young pastor, who was ministering in Ephesus. Knowing that many strange doctrines had begun to infiltrate the Body of Christ, Paul wrote to warn Timothy that heretical teachings together with fleshly diversions had already been planted within the Church. He warned this young man that the 'end times' would be marked by apostasy, deception, fables, and false teaching, and that some would depart from the faith. Paul knew how quickly Christians could become adversely influenced by incorrect teaching and a distorted gospel as well as fleshly diversions or frivolous pursuits, and was anxious that Timothy would stand fast in the evil days.
The 'end times' to which Paul referred in this passage, started in the time of the apostles and continue to the present day. The apostle John wrote: "Little children, these are the end times, and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this, we know that it is the final hour." The apostasy, deception, and false teaching that John and Paul warned against, is flooding the Christian Church today, but it started its deceptive practice 2000 years ago, and Paul wanted to impress on young Timothy the eternal value of a life devoted to God, as opposed to the practices of the world: "For godliness is profitable for all things."
The elder apostle instructed Timothy to pay no attention to the foolish myths and traditions of his day that were circulating at the time. Like worldly ambitions of today, the pagans of Paul's time engaged in transient aspirations and pursued goals that were temporary. Often their hope was founded on a wealthy fortune, an esteemed lineage, one's position in society, and things like education, courage, academic debate, and physical fitness.
While there is nothing sinful in many of these temporal activities which tend towards empty, speculative discussion and unprofitable pursuits, Paul wanted to impress on Timothy the need to jealously protect doctrinal truth. He wanted Timothy to be aware that the systematic teaching of God's redemptive plan that operates by faith and a life that honours the Lord, is what is truly beneficial, for it produces an eternal weight of glory. Paul wanted to pass on some valuable instructions to Timothy on leadership within the Church, together with some important principles on interpersonal relationships and some wise advice on spiritual discipline.
Not only did Paul warn Timothy that in the latter times, deceitful spirits, demonic teachings, and apostasy would infect the Church, but some Christians would foolishly pay attention to worldly wisdom and become entrapped in temporal pursuits which, though not sinful in and of themselves, offered little advantage: "Bodily discipline is of little profit, while godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." He points out that while engaging in disciplined, physical exercise gives a little benefit during our time on earth, a life that is set apart for God is beneficial in every way, not only in this world but in the life that is to come.
Instead of arguing against false doctrines and becoming embroiled in these unbiblical teachings, Paul instructed the younger man to train himself up in biblical truth and godliness, which would require him to be self-disciplined and resolute in heart and mind. Rather than becoming entangled in futile disputes or attempting to disprove the worthless arguments being touted around by ungodly men, Paul advised Timothy to keep on faithfully teaching the truth of God's Word, always ready to point out any doctrinal inconsistencies a brother or sister in Christ may have adopted. And Paul wanted to impress upon Timothy, that developing spiritual self-discipline within this ungodly culture, is of far greater importance than excelling in the physical self-discipline which the Greeks valued so greatly.
Paul's teaching to Timothy about 'the end times' in 1 Timothy 4 has been of immense value to Christians, through centuries of time. If only we would expend the same devotional and commitment in developing godliness as an athlete does when exercising his body, we would lay up for ourselves eternal treasure. We should recognise that godlikeness is a noble pursuit that holds promises for this present life as well as the one that is to come.
While there are certain similarities between physical and spiritual development, like discipline and endurance, the earthy tribute is a crown that quickly fades. The wealth and success, fame and fortune, pleasures and achievements, honours and acclamation that the world offers, is but for a moment before it passes away forever. But the Christian that presses on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, through devotion to Christ and the pursuit of godliness, will receive a crown that lasts forever.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word and the wisdom it contains. Help me to remember that physical discipline is only of little benefit, but that godliness is profitable for all things. Help me to walk in spirit and truth, grow in grace, mature in the faith, and seek after godliness, knowing that it is not only beneficial in this present life but provides eternal benefit in the life to come. I pray that You would give me the strength and courage to live a life of godliness and to trust in You for all things. In Jesus' name, AMEN.