In the 1st Century AD, Paul the Apostle wrote to Timothy, “Exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Timothy was the pastor of the biggest Church of that time, and it was natural that he communicated with thousands of people and had to deal with many problems. Paul the Apostle did not write to him words of self-pity or comfort, but gave a specific command, “Exercise yourself toward godliness”. In our days, each person who wants to keep the peace and balance of mind and heart, to stay holy and to have fruitful and productive life, must follow this advice. Unfortunately, many spare no effort to change others. They think how peaceful and wonderful life would be if this or that person experienced change. Only a few think that they are the ones who must change. Paul the Apostle, who had rich life experience, encouraged Timothy to exercise himself toward godliness, so that he could withstand any trial and difficulty, and instead of having unnecessary suffering, enjoy a life of love and victory with the Lord.
Let us study this sentence, “Exercise yourself toward godliness”, according to the original Greek text. The word ‘exercise’ is ‘gumnadzo’ in Greek, and at that time, this word meant to take out one’s clothes for training or exercise. This word originated from ‘gumnos’, which means ‘naked’ (and from that we have the English word ‘gymnastics’). In the days of Paul the Apostle, ‘gumnadzo’ was used only for professional athletes. Timothy knew very well what Paul the Apostle meant. The professional athletes were participating in three main sports: boxing, ultimate fighting and a sport called pankration (to understand this in more depth and to learn about these sports, please read my blog post for November 24, 2018, titled “Spiritual Warfare Is Real”. The athletes needed complete freedom of movement; that is why they were fighting naked, so that nothing could restrain them, and the opponent could not to grab them by their clothes and throw them to the floor. These sports were so cruel that the fights usually ended with the death of one of the opponents on the arena. Each athlete who went to the arena realized that it was a fight to the death, for their life. That is why they were training in very harsh conditions, and did it all day long. They were training not only to prepare their bodies for the fights, but also to develop endurance, because the fights took place in summer, when it was very hot. They were training in very hot rooms to prepare themselves for the fights. To endure the intolerable pain during the fights, they asked their trainers or other athletes to strike them very strong and severe blows at the different parts of their body. They were exercising their body and character not to be defeated in the arena during the real fight. They were training with enthusiasm and eagerness, because overcoming those terrible difficulties was what would give them both victory in the arena and life, after all.
With this command, Paul the Apostle wanted to teach Timothy not to be afraid of or avoid problems with people or any difficulties, because through such things godly character is formed in a person’s heart. He needed to quit thinking that there are easy ways for doing important and difficult things. The Apostle knew that if Timothy had the right approach to life situations, he would not only avoid difficulties, but also develop endurance.
This is very important, because only true godliness will help us to have right attitude in all our relationships and will give victory in any desperate situation. When God created man, He knew that man would not be able to resist the attacks of the devil alone, and no matter how much willpower they exercise, they will not be able to always overcome the desires of their flesh. That is why He has sent the Holy Spirit, and today we can change each situation and each character trait with prayer; one must only desire it and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Praying in the Holy Spirit will give us victory in any impossible situation. Those who pray in the Holy Spirit build up themselves, “…the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). Each person must allow the Holy Spirit to lead their body and soul and to show them what is right and what is wrong.
As a rule, people are led by their eyesight, hearing and the cunning desires of their hearts. They do not even realize how they paint an image of someone in their minds at the devil’s bidding or under the influence of their own soul or flesh, and by believing it they form a wrong attitude toward that person, to put it mildly. However, there are times when others really do wrong and destroy what is right and beautiful. How shall we act in such a situation? Again, we shall prayer in the Holy Spirit to develop the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). Situations will change only though manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. Even if the person who causes harm does not change, the one who manifests the fruit of the Spirit will be built up, will please God and will grow in godliness.
The fruit of the Spirit is not formed in a person overnight. It requires constant work. Just as a person sets time for washing themselves, taking a shower and otherwise observing their hygiene, they need to feel the necessity of building up their inner person by developing the fruit of the Spirit.
I make effort to have personal prayer time from 40 minutes to 1 hour a day. During my prayer, I give much time to praying in tongues of the Holy Spirit, in order to have the fruit of the Spirit manifested in my everyday life. I praise God that not only He helps me to exercise myself in godliness, but also clearly keeps me away from people who are slandering and fighting. In my ministry, I communicate with all kinds of people, who have different social standing and character. And I noticed many times that each person, both those who serve God and those who don’t, both rich and poor, both those who are led by the devil and those led by their own flesh, wants to exercise their will in my life and ministry. Only God’s mercy and grace keep me from conflicts, and only manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit helps me to solve each problem in a proper way. And it requires complete obedience to manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
During the recent months, when I pray in the morning and thank God for the morning, for His mercy and grace, I also ask Him to have only His PERFECT WILL done during my day. I tell Him, “Lord, I want to have ONLY Your perfect will today, according to Your mercy and grace”. Why do I stress “according to Your mercy and grace”? Because, like all people, I can unconsciously have thoughts or do things that are contrary to the perfect will of the Lord, and deserve punishment, because the Bible says that God will show Himself pure with the pure and He will show Himself shrewd with the devious (Ps. 18:26).
One day, the Holy Spirit reminded me about a person who created obstacles in my ministry. He clearly told me, “It is My perfect will that you shall say no bad word about that person”. I was astounded, because I was just going to inform certain people about that person, so that she could receive what was due to her. It was difficult for me to put up with that command, because if I obeyed the Lord, I would have to stay with the difficulties that person created on my way, and spend my time on the things that had nothing to do with me. Seeing my thoughts, the all-knowing Lord told me, “In order to do My PERFECT WILL in your life, I need YOUR COOPERATION”. I was stunned; in fact, it is easy to cast everything upon the Lord by thinking that He is almighty, and He can do good things in our lives all the time, whenever He wants. However, THE GOD WHO CREATED THE UNIVERSE NEEDS OUR OBEDIENCE AND COOPERATION.
I stood on my knees before Him and said, “Lord, I am so happy that You teach me, correct me and lead me. Help me to do Your perfect will and not to grieve You”. I promised the Lord not to tell anyone anything wrong about that person. To tell the truth, I thought that the Lord has already spoken to that person, and that she would change her working style as well. Months passed. I saw no changes in her character and working style. Instead, I experienced changes myself in my life and character. First I learned to respect that person. I think that for a godly person it is easy to love. Loving is not difficult for me, because it is the Lord’s command, and if we love Him, we love others as well. The difficult part is to see the positive traits of such people, to appreciate and to respect them. Some time passed, and I started to receive large financial and material blessings for all the ministry work I did instead of that person. And the most important thing is, the Lord gave me wisdom to change my own working style in order to avoid strife and nervous interactions between us two.
Praise to our God that all the people are equal in His sight. His love is inexhaustible, and He always shows us how to exercise ourselves toward godliness.