Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Train Yourself for Godliness

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. – 1 Timothy 4:6–8

The desired outcome: to become a good servant of Christ Jesus

We all want to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” from our Lord. But what does that mean for each of us? What do we need to be doing that will make it possible for us to hear those words?

Obviously everything we do is by grace, through faith and in God’s power. But we are still expected to be responsible stewards of the gifts and skills and training that God has given us.

We spend a fair amount of time in training new missionaries talking about this subject. Many of our missionaries come to the field with unrealistic expectations. They expect to accomplish great things for God, but find out that because they are still limited in their language ability, and are not trusted by the local people, they are just getting started in ministry even after 4 years. They may go home feeling like failures.

Paul wanted Timothy to be a good servant of Christ, and so he gives him some advice on what he needs to do to become a good servant of Christ.

The road to the desired outcome: training

God wants to commend us. He wants us to become good servants of Christ Jesus. He wants us to finish well. And he has mapped out a road for us to get to the finish line.

This road is not the same for everyone. Many people, particularly in other parts of the world, become the people that God wants them to be by going through suffering. The tests that they endure are imposed by others – through persecution, through poverty, through hardships of many kinds.

But for us in the West, our road to spiritual maturity often does not go through persecution. Instead we are sent along a road that involves training. Ask any successful athlete, and you will realize that training is hard, with a fair amount of pain and exertion along the way. Yes, we can control how much pain and stress we endure at any one time. But that does not make it easy, nor do the positive results of training happen without intentionally stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zone.

It requires effort.

No one gets trained automatically. Paul knew that Timothy would have to be very intentional and committed to reach his goal. He tells him to train himself for godliness. The word “train” is “gumnazo” in the Greek. Our word gymnastics and gymnasium comes from it. The verb was originally used to refer to the the training of young athletes for participation in the Olympic games of that day.

What does training for the Olympics require?

  • Commitment – a clear goal and a willingness to pay the price of getting into the athletic form that will win a gold
  • Practice – hard work, getting up early, pushing oneself each day for years on end.
  • A coach.

Training for godliness and to become a good servant of Christ requires the same things.

  • Commitment – a willingness to pay the price, to take up our cross and follow Christ
  • Practice – regular habits of Bible reading, prayer, and Bible memorization. Repeatedly sharing the Gospel, teaching, and preaching even when we make mistakes in the language.
  • A coach or a mentor – the Holy Spirit is our primary coach, but often another person who walks alongside can also be a great help in our pursuit of godliness.

It is based on knowing the Scriptures

In order to be a good servant of Christ, we must know the Scriptures well. Paul says, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.” “These things” refer to the truths earlier in the book of 1 Timothy. We can only put before others what we personally know and understand.

Paul goes on to say that a good servant of Christ is characterized as one is “being training in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.” Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother, and then spent many years travelling with Paul on various missionary journeys. He was well trained in doctrine and the Gospel. But the verb “being trained” is in the present tense, inferring that Paul expected Timothy to be a lifelong learner of God’s truth. It was not good enough to have gone through Grandma’s Bible School and Paul’s Missionary Internship. Timothy needed to be a lifelong student of the Word.

It involves identifying and avoiding distractions

Paul warns Timothy, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.” People in the first century churches found it easy to get wrapped up in these myths. And it was only going to get worse.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3–4

Apparently these myths were fascinating, but they were silly, frivolous, and even deceptive. They did not advance God’s work.

We probably deal with a lot of myths today as well, but I would like to expand the warning to everything that serves as a distraction from the discipline of training ourselves for godliness. There are lots of distractions for missionaries these days — Facebook, Twitter, English movies, cable TV, online games, shopping of Amazon.   None of these distractions were available for me when I went to the Philippines in the ’80s. Obviously we had many other distractions, but it seems that we have so many more today. I am not saying that these things are sinful in themselves, but done to excess, they become distractions.

If we want to become a good servant of Christ Jesus, we need to be able to say “No” to the many distractions that crowd into our lives.

It results in godliness

Good training, the right kind of biblical training, does not just make people smart or give them degrees to put on the wall. It results in godliness.

Of course, training results in other things as well. People get saved, churches get planted, leaders are developed. But if training does not produce godliness in those being trained, then it is not the type of training that Paul was talking about here.

What is godliness? It is our personal devotion to God that results in a life that is pleasing to Him. Jerry Bridges says godliness is made of two traits – God-centeredness, which he calls devotion to God, and God-likeness, which he calls Christian character. Godliness is what goes on in the inside, not generally the stuff we write about in our newsletters.

Godliness cannot be assumed just because you are a missionary. I cannot assume that missionaries are regularly reading their Bible. I cannot assume that missionaries are spending time in prayer. I cannot assume that missionaries are avoiding pornography on the Internet.

In SEND U, God has led us to put an increasing priority on making sure that missionaries are growing in their relationship with God, and know how to keep growing and feeding themselves through regular times of intimacy with God. If we do not nourish our souls with a growing intimacy with Christ, how can we expect to have a fruitful ministry to others?

It is worth the effort. Training is not easy. It requires commitment, hard work, and a teachable spirit. It helps to have someone point out where you could improve, someone to keep you accountable and ask you tough questions.

But it is worth the investment. Paul says that godliness “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” It doesn’t make our bank accounts grow bigger. It will not build you a dream home, or provide you with a dream vacation in the Caribbean. But it pays off big time – for all of eternity.

Getting the training to be a brain surgeon takes a long time, and once you have the training, you get paid really well. But it is still only training for this life. You will not be doing any surgery in the next life. None of the money you have earned in this life gets wired to your bank account in heaven.

But training in godliness – getting to know God intimately, becoming a good servant of Jesus Christ will bring rewards both now and for all of eternity. This training never becomes obsolete. It is never wasted. It always pays off.

Paul tells Timothy to “train yourself”, but he does not just let Timothy figure it out himself. This is very, very important to Paul, and he wants Timothy to understand how important it is.  So in verses 7-16 of this chapter, we find 12 imperatives, commands to Timothy like “devote yourself”, “practice these things”, “immerse yourself in them”, and “persist in this.” Timothy bears personal responsibility for his own spiritual growth, but Paul is going to do everything he can to make sure that Timothy does not ignore that personal responsibility

Like Paul, we in SEND U want to help our missionaries train themselves for godliness.


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1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Ken. I'm so glad our Heavenly Father does not leave us the way He found us, but desires that we grow in godliness. He cares about us from the inside out. Recently I had an experience which showed me God cares about my motives. I had the chance to sing with my husband and son at an event. I noticed one mike wasn't working so well for the prior performers. I, also, felt that my part needed to come out loud and clear. So what did I do? Give the bad mike to my hubby! God has His ways, and I'm glad, though I came away disappointed at the time. My mike wasn't even turned on, so my part didn't carry! I didn't know it wasn't on until I went to turn it off as I handed it back. So I confessed my sin of pride to the Lord and asked His forgiveness, and thanked Him for caring about my motives. Praise the Lord we have the privilege of living for Him and His glory. Praise Him when He shows us our motives are not right.

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