Discipline in the midst of disaster

But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 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 Timothy 4:7, 8 NASB).

While teaching preaching students, Edwin Jones would say, “Your life is always full, choose carefully how you fill it.” We fill every moment with something. We may be productive or fruitless, contemplative or ignorant, but our time is never empty.

An interesting consequence of social distancing is that the amount of “free time” many people have has risen considerably. What do we do with that time we have? We will fill each available minute. With what will we fill it?

The Hebrews writer encourages us to “pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1 ESV). It requires little effort to drift away. Bad habits are formed easily. Difficult but valuable actions take effort. Good habits are only formed through persistent purposeful living.

The Holy Spirit implores us to “discipline” ourselves for the purpose of godliness. The word translated as discipline, train, or exercise is the same word from which we get gymnasium. A good athlete, Paul tells us, disciplines himself in training by exercising self-control for the purpose of winning something perishable (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Just as athletes trains their muscles, our senses are to be trained through constant practice (Hebrews 5:14).

Rather than a perishable medal, our goal is something far more durable. Godliness is beneficial today and for eternity. What is godliness? Jesus is the perfect embodiment of Deity. Therefore, Christ-likeness is godliness. Paul’s great desire was that Christ be formed within the disciples of Galatia (Galatians 4:19). What greater aspiration could man have than to be like Jesus?

What motivates us to be like Christ? When the going gets tough and the world starts calling, what causes us to keep pushing? Nothing will do except love. God wants us to desire him, to long after him. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1, 2). If we see God for who he is, and ourselves for who we are, then we too will thirst for God. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

The life of Jesus is compelling. His heart is on full display. It is his love that implores us to come to him and learn from him (Matthew 11:28-30). When he calls us to a life of self-denial and self-control (see Luke 9:23), the call is issued out of love. It is his love for us coupled with our love for him that controls our mind and body (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Discipline is typically not seen as a pleasant thing. Parents do not enjoy disciplining children. Christians do not revel in practicing church discipline. Nor do individuals adore personal discipline. But the value of discipline is indisputable. Therefore, the driver of discipline is love. Parents love children and discipline them. God loves us and disciplines us (Hebrews 12:5-13). If we love God, then we will gladly pursue self-control.

The blessings of self-control are tremendous. Remember, godliness “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” When we turn away from the world and toward God we are blessed, indeed.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3).

Use this time wisely. Fill your time carefully. Make habits now that will continue with you through the rest of your life. Your life will always be full. Fill it with things of God.

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