As a parent, I believe it is important to teach our children about discipline. I can remember many times where I have had to correct them and then teach them why I had to correct them. Throughout these last thirteen years of being a father, I have learned a lot and grown a lot. However, the most valuable lesson in life that I have learned has been from my children. My children have taught me that I need to live a life of example. They have taught me that the same rules that I have taught them should also be followed. This develops a consistency that I have needed as a father to be trusted and listened to when I speak, and in turn, this has thought my children to live by the rules that we lay down.
This profound lesson came to me when I once told my children that it was too late for them to have desert and yet, later that night I myself had some dessert. One of my children woke up and simply looked at me, and said that they could not wait to become an adult and do what they want to do.” This was a sobering reminder that if I do not teach my children how to live a life of example, how can I expect them to do the same. You see, they processed my unwillingness to follow the same rules that I imposed on them as a scapegoat to do whatever they please to do as an adult. Even though this is the opposite of what I was trying to teach them, my actions and my words did not align and it caused a lot of confusion for them. To keep this problem from reoccurring, I had to learn to be more disciplined than what I can expect my children to be so that they can follow my actions instead of just my words.
Like me, the Apostle Paul had spiritual children that he wanted to emulate him. So, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write to one of them as a grandparent that was teaching their child how to be a parent for the first time. With love and elegance, Paul wrote, “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 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. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers,” (1 Timothy 4:6-10, NASB).
In this piece of Scripture, Paul is not only teaching a valuable lesson to his spiritual child but to all Christians, especially those called to share the Gospel with someone. In understanding Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20), this lesson also goes out to every single Christian in this world since we are all called to minister in one way, shape or form.
Paul is teaching that any outward acts of self-denial are a profit to no one. What is the point to crucify your body for everyone to see but to never crucify your sin nature and what really counts, your soul. It is like me telling my children to not eat dessert because it is too late, however, later on, the night I have some dessert myself. Even though I was not sinning against my children, even though they believed I did, I was not forcing myself to have the same discipline that I was expecting them to have. You see, such action is fruitless. As I confused my children and lost some of their trust that night, so are Christians that are not living a life of example.
Whether or not you like to admit it or not, every single person that knows you are a Christian is watching and examining you. They want to see if you are living a life of godliness or if you are simply another person sneaking dessert at night alone in the bedroom. Godliness comes from within yourself. It comes from feeding and strengthening your spirit before you impose a burden on someone else that you cannot uphold yourself. This truth is the same whether you are a parent trying to teach your children to live a life of discipline or example, or if you are a Christian that is trying to impact their community. As a child, every minute of your day must count for something. It does not matter what you project into this world (bodily discipline) as Paul teaches us, but what you have inside that truly counts.
When we can all come to understand this lesson, then we can learn to actually do it. The promise for godliness is to be able to grow closer to Jesus Christ which allows us to be a beacon of light for those around us in the darkness. Without this understanding we cannot be a servant to Christ, we cannot be an ambassador for Him, and we cannot be an example for others to follow. This is why it is so important to live out this truth. If all Christians can come to this same conclusion and live as the “New Creation” that we claim to become in Christ, then the world could come to learn the fullness of Jesus Christ through us. Not what we say but what we actually do. Even when we are alone and in the dark, God sees and the world will eventually catch this blemish in our character.
So take this message from Paul as a call to action. Let us live a life of example and work on our innermost self. Let us not make the mistake of thinking it is ok to work on just the outside (what people see) but what really counts the inside! Let us discipline the inside not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us. They deserve it, and most importantly, Christ does.