Commentary

We grow strong in the areas in which we exercise! If we exercise thanksgiving, we grow in gratitude. When we embrace the discipline of prayer, we grow in prayer, and intensify our sensitivity to God’s presence. When we give, a heart of generosity grows within us. When we love, we become more loving. When we forgive, we experience the joy of grace and mercy and our hearts are purified. Forgiveness is so powerful. It stands on the line of love and truth that has been violated and it offers grace. It is love, without denying the truth of the error. It is truth wrapped in grace.

These are not easy things to do. And the tougher they are, the more costly, the greater their benefit! Exercise is at times, at least for some of us, a nasty necessity. The English word “exercise” occurs in the multiple translations of the English Bible an amazing number of times, translated from a variety of terms. With the beginning of a new year, we find ourselves making resolutions, many times that includes more exercise!

At times the Scripture’s use of exercise is an “ascetic mortification of the flesh, the pushing back of personal gratification for a higher goal.[1] Seventy-one times the term “practice” is used in a similar way.[2] The term “walk” which in scripture is behavioral occurs 315 times.[3] “Training” is meant 17 times- to form by practice or exercise and discipline.[4] And “discipline” is intended 63 times.[5]

Paul gives some straight-talk to Timothy, suggesting that he forget what some worthless men and old women are saying, and “exercise himself to godliness” (I Tim. 4:7 KJV). What a line – “exercise himself to godliness!” The idea seems bizarre. And yet, even these “older men” in the church are reminded “to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect” (NLT Titus 2:2).

Exercise engages “the duty” dimension of a calling, in order that one might “fully discharge the obligations of your office” (Weymouth – II Tim. 4:5). Our modern focus is almost exclusively on the “delight” of faith, not its “duty.” Peter would urge a similar thing, “Think clearly and exercise self-control” (I Pet. 1:13 NLT).

Surprisingly, the Weymouth translation even calls for our “exercise of His power that is at work within us.” In doing so, we will arrive at a spiritual place “infinitely beyond all our highest prayers or thoughts” (Weymouth – Eph. 3:20). Paul refers to the same concept – “the exercise of His power within me” – in Eph. 3:17 (Weymouth). Motivational gifts come by grace, but they require “exercise” accordingly to Rom. 12:6 (NAS).

How many Christians have signed up to become disciples – but they never go to the gym. They never “exercise” – righteousness, godliness, spiritual authority or power. Often they don’t exercise self-control. If we call ourselves Christians, but we continue to exercise and practice bitterness, anger, complaining, unforgiveness and similar things, we will discover that our anger will grow. Our bitterness will deepen. The frequency of our complaints will increase. Unforgiveness will degenerate to hate. Christian discipline cannot be a seasonal thing, something we do to shed a few extra pounds, the embrace of a new prayer-fad, a new fasting regiment. It must become a lifestyle. Whatever we practice, we grow in! “Can a fountain bring forth sweet and bitter water?” James 3:11.

There is such a need for authenticity in Christians, for integrity, for congruence between the values we talk, and those we live out. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (I Cor. 8:9 NIV). When we exercise liberty and freedom at the expense of sacrifice and dedication, we risk imbalance. We train ourselves in bad habits. Even our conscience requires proper “exercise” to avoid offense toward God or men ( Acts 24:16 – Geneva Bible). This exercise demands “habitual self-control” and the rejection of a “self-indulgent life.”

Are you a Christian? Are you a disciple? Under discipline? Ready to engage in a disciplined pursuit of godliness?

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1] Exercise (35 Occurrences; 20: Exercised; 5 Exercising) in Easton’s Bible Dictionary. To exercise, bodily. (1 Timothy 4:8). An ascetic mortification of the flesh and denial of personal gratification. See the reference section at www.Biblos.com. Entry: exercise.htm

[2]Practice (71 Occurrences) of a similar kind; usage; habit; custom; as, the practice of rising early; the practice of making regular entries of accounts; the practice of daily exercise. See: www.biblos.com. Entry: practice.htm

[3]Walk (315 Occurrences) To move or go on the feet for exercise or amusement; to take one’s exercise; to ramble. www.Biblos.com. See: refbible.com/w/walk.htm – 39k

[4]Train (17 Occurrences) … 3. (vt) To teach and form by practice; to educate; to exercise; to discipline; as, to train the militia to the manual exercise; to train soldiers to the use of …refbible.com/t/train.htm – 15k

[5] Discipline (63 Occurrences). To educate; to develop by instruction and exercise; to train. Exercise yourself toward godliness (See NAS). www.Biblos.com. See the Reference Bible section: refbible.com/d/discipline.htm – 25k

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