“But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 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 4:7-8). Self-discipline is one of the keys to being a strong Christian, as our Lord Jesus showed us throughout His life. He encouraged His followers to turn the other cheek when faced with an enemy, to reject unrighteous anger and revenge, and to transform their lives into His image – never just the kind of hollow conformity that is expected of worldly institutions. Christ was God in bodily form, but Philippians 2:8 makes it clear that He showed self-discipline to the point that He did “regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
With such an example of restraint and good will, what must we do in response? It is only natural for us to emulate that same attitude of willpower, displaying humility, restraint, and moderation in all things. We must learn to control our words, our thoughts, even our physical appetites so that we can make a good showing of the wonderful grace of God in our lives! If I truly want to make myself a reflection of Christ, I must “Have this attitude which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
To help us understand the subject of self-discipline, I want to consider 1 Timothy 4:7-8 and make some applications to our own lives. First and foremost, we must remember that self-discipline is a very broad topic, and there are many aspects of the subject that will not be covered. We must always be aware of our own personal experiences and applications, and bring the following scriptures with us wherever we go – in every arena of life, we can show ourselves to be Christians by our meek and modest nature!
Fables Fit Only For Old Women
“But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women…” (Ephesians 4:7). It seems to be the popular practice in religion today to indulge human fancy in worldly fables. We like to hear stories, especially miraculous or inspiring tales of heroism and conversion. Many preachers use more personal anecdotes in their sermons than scriptures, exemplifying a steady and powerful drift toward completely unbiblical and subjective preaching. Turn on any religious broadcasting station and you will hear preacher after preacher, reverend after reverend, babbling for hours at a time about personal stories of conversion, miracles, visions, dreams, fables, tall tales, and the ever-popular testimonials. “Paul calls the opinions of these heretics mere abstract speculations, without any connection with the historical realities and practical tendencies of Christianity” (The Two Epistles Of Paul To Timothy, Oosterzee, 53). The problem with basing our sermons on entirely subjective stories of personal conversion, or even visions from God, is that there is no objective proof in any of it. A fable does not need scriptural backing, nor does it even need plausibility. All a false teacher needs to push his strange doctrines is a trustworthy face and a convincing story.
But what is so bad about “worldly fables,” and what does this have to do with self-disciplines? Indeed, it has a great deal to do with how far we let ourselves get carried away by foolishness or outright error. What ends up happening with these fables is that people begin to, over time and by continual exposure, consider them accurate. We sometimes get so caught up with the thrill of stories or midnight conversion accounts, or seemingly God-ordained events in life and begin building doctrine around them. For example, a friend of mine had heart troubles and need a new heart, so he obeyed the Gospel and was blessed with a new heart a year later. Well, he fell away shortly after that, but died when that new heart was rejected by his body. Most any Baptist would jump on a story and cry, “The work of God!” But is irony enough to build an entire doctrine around? Also take a look at 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. Because these people did not have an adequate “love of the truth,” they got carried away with themselves in the establishment and practice of strange doctrines. They did not see the simple truth of the Gospel as interesting or exciting enough to please them, so they preferred wickedness and falsehood.
It seems that some false preachers were going around sweeping up confused women in 2 Timothy 3:6-7. “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Here lies the inherent problem with allowing ourselves to get excited about the latest fables and religious fashion trends – there is no forethought or knowledge of the truth involved. The unbiblical methods of worship are sweeping across the nation and so many brethren are joining the throng. But when we join popular religious movements, we do not realize how foolish it may look to unbelievers. Apostates and swindlers like Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton do not realize that the kind of perverted, emotionally-dependent, anecdotal preaching is the laughingstock of unbelieving intellectuals! They have forgotten the point behind Colossians 4:5-6. When a false teacher begins babbling about visions he has seen (ala Pat Robertson and Tim Lahaye) it presents Christianity in the most unseasoned way, with neither grace nor sound wisdom. Unbelievers are not converted by personal anecdotes and suspicious “healing,” but they are converted by the pure, simple Word of God!
It takes a great deal of self-discipline not to let ourselves get caught up in religious fads. But we must hold fast and keep to the traditions set forth in the Bible. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:15, it takes work to keep those traditions, but it is worth it because it is what the Lord wants – solid Biblical preaching, not “worldly fables fit only for old women.”
“On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). There are so many ways that self-discipline aids us in life, beginning with our assurance of reward. With the discipline comes spiritual maturity, growth, humility, meekness and modesty in heart and body. In every sense of its use, self-discipline leads directly to godliness, because it is into the image of the disciplined Christ that we must conform ourselves (Ephesians 5:1-2). To understand a few things about godly self-discipline, take a look at 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” First, the kind of attitude that is expected of a Christian is one that is not timid. Think of it in terms of a soldier in the heat of battle – an analogy used often by the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 2:4, 1 Corinthians 9:7). A soldier with a timid spirit will not effectively serve his cause in the most dangerous and intense moments. He lacks the self-discipline to conquer his fears and obey his orders. But the spirit that is in each of is one of action, motion, and precision. When we are told to work, we work. When we are told to fight for the spiritual cause of Christ, we wage war. The work of the church is dependent upon the solid, effective discipline of its members. Second, that spirit is one of power, and it is not surprising that great power takes great self-restraint to operate properly. It reminds me of what one Air Force commander said with regard to today’s airborne weapons. Only one small mistake with a modern airplane causes more devastation than what was possible with warplanes seventy years ago! The more powerful and potent warplanes get, the more self-discipline is necessary to use it. As for the Gospel, it takes concentration and study to use it properly – it, too, can be abused in inexperienced hands. Finally, the discipline must apply to a spirit of love, as well. We must always be careful who we love, because there are agents of the devil all around who can deceive the unsuspecting and gullible (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). We cannot love everything in this world because the love of some things only leads to death (1 John 2:15-17).
I like the way one verse describes the state of the world, “For the Lord humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had brought about a lack of restraint in Judah and was very unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:19). The result of this lack of self-restraint was misery for the people in the form of Edomite and Philistine invasions.
Self-discipline is how we separate ourselves from the rest of the world. Look out at the people of this wicked generation and see that restraint and moderation are usually the last things on the mind of a sinner. Our country, in fact, is characterized by gluttony and greed, self-abasement and superfluity. This is a “full speed ahead,” “super-sized,” instant gratification, sex-loving generation. On almost every television program, adultery and fornication are topics of humor and enjoyment. There is often no room for self-restraint when it comes to graphic scenes of sexuality, even in public, as well as the proliferation of vulgar language. Suppression of discipline is, in fact, encouraged! Food is consumed so amazingly in this country of waste, as well as alcohol and cigarettes. College campuses celebrate the “kegger” and binge drinking. My point behind this is simply to show just how little this world employs self-discipline in almost every facet of life.
What makes a Christian separate, though, is his willingness to say “no” when everybody else says “yes.” “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). What a joyful sight it is to spend time with fellow Christians – there is no vulgar language or dirty talk, neither is there alcohol, and neither is there immodesty in speech or apparel. What sets a Christian apart is his “stability of faith” as a result of his self-restraint. There is no stability of faith amongst the countless throngs of opulent, vile drunkards.
So much discipline is involved in maintaining our bodies in a healthy manner – everything from what and how we eat to our physical desires and even to our grooming habits. It is clear from our text that “bodily discipline is only of little profit” (1 Timothy 4:8), which means that there is at least some good that can come through having a healthy and controlled body. We are not supposed to believe that only ripped bodybuilders are pleasing to God, but it does glorify God for us to maintain basic standards of fitness. If we can help it, we do not want self-inflicted bodily conditions to prevent us from serving the Lord appropriately. For example, having an appropriate sleep schedule will keep us alert and prepared throughout the day (Ecclesiastes 5:12), but if we do not sleep well at night, it can negatively affect everything we do. “In a study published this week in the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers… report that sleep deprivation can have some of the same hazardous effects as being drunk. Getting less than 6 hours a night can affect coordination, reaction time and judgment, they said, posing ‘a very serious risk.’ Drivers are especially vulnerable, the researchers warned. They found that people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent” (CNN.com).
It is for the sake of bodily discipline that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 that he buffeted his body daily to make it his slave. Like an athlete training for a race, or a boxer preparing for a match, he did things to keep his body and his mind healthy and alert. Surely, if we have neglected sleep, for reasons all our own fault, or if we have eaten poorly and brought on ourselves healthy difficulties, surely we have reversed roles and become the slave to our bodies! In the same way, too much sleep or food can end up making us sluggish and unresponsive (Proverbs 6:9-10), so moderation is the key to true self-discipline.
But that is not the only result of a lack of self-discipline, because we need to realize that how we look, eat, or groom ourselves will have an impact on our influence in the world. If we cannot show will power or restraint when eating, it will reflect poorly on Christianity (Proverbs 23:1-3). Gluttony is one of the most severe problems to hit this country in years. Some will think that homosexuality or divorce is the fight of our generation, but while we spend so much energy fighting those evil influences, wastefulness and greed have quietly slipped into our society. Speaking through Solomon, our Lord strongly exhorts us in Proverbs 23:20-21, “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.” I am certainly not condemning the eating of good foods, but we must be careful not to let our stomachs lead us into gluttony, and self-restraint is the key to all of it! Knowing when enough is enough is sometimes hard, but we must bear in mind that a lack of self-discipline will only lead to misery. “Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, lest you have it in excess and vomit it” (Proverbs 25:16). Truly, too much of a good thing can be very bad!
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In the end, we need to keep in mind that our bodies are not ours to abuse, but are given to us for the purpose of serving the Lord. It is only fitting that we keep them in pristine condition, always ready for the call of the Lord, prepared for any kind of service that is asked of us.
In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul concludes that bodily self-discipline has only a small amount of significance when compared to the greater and more fruitful practice of spiritual self-discipline – controlling our thoughts and words for the purpose of emulating our Lord Jesus Christ. It is for godliness that we do all of these things, and it is godliness that sets us apart from the rest of the world.
Godliness leads us to watch our tongues, the most difficult part of the body to tame. “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell… But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3:6-8). James goes on to write that with our tongues we have the power to bless God and man, but at the same time produce wicked curses. Our Lord tells us that it is “what proceeds from the mouth that defiles a man” (Mark 7:20). The wisdom from Proverbs would also lead us to believe that restraint and willpower play a very important part in controlling the potency of the tongue, especially when we are very passionate about something. It is most often when we are emotionally charged that we say regrettable things! “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27). There are just certain times when words are unnecessary, and we have to realize that our reputation as godly individuals depends on our ability to restrain ourselves (Proverbs 10:19).
In the end, the motivation for self-discipline should be a sincere desire to serve the Lord and please Him. There is no honor in indulgent, wasteful, rude living. There is no piety in immodesty and slovenliness. There is no godliness in following after “worldly fables fit only for old women.” It is very tempting to let ourselves get carried away in worldliness; it is pleasing and temporarily fulfilling. But let us dwell on the fact that true joy and contentment comes from a willingness to obey God’s Word and transform our lives into disciplined, well-mannered, and self-controlled individuals.
We derive a greater understanding of the subject by studying the Bible. In this book is contained all the things that we need to know for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). “I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy word. I have not turned aside from Thine ordinances, for Thou hast taught me. How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! From Thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:101-104). The best thing that any of us can do to show the Lord our resolve to live a restrained and self-disciplined life is obedience to the plan of salvation. If you have heard the message tonight, and believed it with all your heart – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (1 John 3:23); if you will confess that believe before God and man (Romans 10:9-10); if you repent and live a life that is renewed and in the strength of God (Luke 3:8); and if you will be baptized for the removal of your sins (Acts 2:38, Romans 6), then why will you not obey the invitation?
“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).