Spiritual Discipline has Value for the Present Life and the Life to Come

By Aaron Nicholson

If you look at the lives of world class athletes and artists you’ll find they all have something in common. Starting at age 14, Michael Phelps would swim for 6 hours every day; Larry Bird would show up two hours early and shoot more than 300 practice shots before his games; and by the time Mozart was 28, his hands were deformed because of the many hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose. Mozart said, “People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I.” These individuals teach us that if you want to be the best, you must have self-discipline.

Feats of the will like this are fascinating and inspiring. Who doesn’t want to be the best of the best? But should this be the ultimate goal in our lives? When we come to God’s Word, we find that physical discipline is certainly profitable but it is also severely limited.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul is writing to Timothy, his young son in the faith. Paul is charging him to point out false teaching to his flock and to saturate his own mind with sound doctrine. A good pastor must be an excellent student of Scripture.

In verse 7, Paul says “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” In other words, be constantly and diligently training yourself toward a godly heart and life. Why? “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 Tim 4:8).

Paul was saying that there are two types of discipline. One is temporary but the other is timeless. Bodily discipline is clearly necessary in order to succeed in life on earth. You cannot be healthy, have a good job, or raise a family without some level of bodily discipline. However, spiritual discipline affects your life on earth and in heaven. Studying God’s Word, praying, evangelizing, sharing in fellowship, and cultivating a heart of godliness by the power of the Spirit will both keep you from sin on earth and store up a rich and imperishable treasure in heaven (Matthew 5:20). Isn’t a holy life and an eternal reward worth the sacrifice of our time today? Will we really gain anything of lasting value from the time spent on earthly pleasures?

If world class individuals can devote a stunning amount of time and focus to their craft in a life that fades; how much more can we, and should we, as Spirit-empowered Christians, devote all our time and focus to eternal and important things.