What Does 1 Timothy 4:8 Mean?

Neal Pollard

“The Battle of the Bulge.” It was not just a crucial conflict in a world war. It has come to describe America’s battle with its expanding waistline. Obesity is a national problem. Weight gain often seems inevitable.  “Dunlap’s Disease” is many man’s (and woman’s) problem.  Solomon is rebuking many of us when writes, “Put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite (Prov. 23:2)! A Christian’s body belongs to the Lord and must be properly maintained (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2; 6:19). One’s body can be harmed by overeating and being overweight as it can with alcohol and tobacco.

One tried and true way to prevent disease and bodily harm stemming from being overweight is exercise. Doctors say that no diet is complete without it! Proper exercise aids in the prevention and management of heart problems, diabetes, cancer, and several other serious conditions.

Many times, perhaps defending their own inactivity, well-meaning people cite 1 Timothy 4:8: ” For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Their basic position seems to be that, since exercise “profiteth little” (KJV), they are justified to live out a couch potato’s life. Let us consider Paul’s statement.

THE VERSE IS SPEAKING COMPARATIVELY. The “little” in the first part of the verse is contrasted with the “all things” in the second part of the verse. Compared to godliness (i.e., God-likeness), which impacts one’s earthly and eternal existence, bodily exercise pales in importance. The same can be said of retirement efforts (Matt. 6:19-21), recreation (1 Tim. 5:6), household chores (Luke 10:41-42) and even work (John 6:27).  Yet, all of these are legitimate, even necessary, pursuits. So it is with bodily exercise.

THE VERSE REVEALS THAT EXERCISE DOES PROFIT. What does it do a “little”? It profits. It benefits. It gives advantage. The healthful benefits of exercise are well-documented. Some would contradict Paul and say it does no good at all.

THE VERSE WARNS AGAINST EXTREMISM.  The fitness craze can become fanaticism. Some seem to have made bodily exercise their god! They are obsessed. The Greco-Roman culture, to which both Paul and Timothy were regularly exposed, were extremists on this point. The Greek Games were the original Olympics. The gymnasiums and other venues showed it to be a constant obsession. Paul says such extreme devotion is ludicrous. So it is today!

THE VERSE WARNS AGAINST POOR PRIORITIZING. Anything put before service to the Lord is in the wrong place. It is possible for exercise (and gluttony, TV, video games, etc.) to come between one and putting God first. To this extent, any activity or pursuit is sinful (Matt. 6:33). If you spend several hours per week exercise and only a few minutes studying the Bible, visiting the sick and needy, praying to God, evangelizing, and doing Christian service, your priorities are wrong! If some gave as much devotion to godliness as they did bodily exercise, our churches would be much stronger!

But let us avoid abusing this–and any–passage! Paul is not denouncing exercise. To the contrary, exercise will improve us physically and mentally. It can improve our attitude and performance as a Christian. It must, however, be kept in its proper place. If we are going to be fanatical about anything, let it be our service to God as Christians (Rom. 12:1-2). That is the key to making everything, well, “work out”!

Laying Aside “Every Weight”

Neal Pollard

I try to write very seldom about my favorite hobby, running, which I picked up when our baby, who Pooh Duke has dubbed “Carlnormous,” was still in the womb (This is Carlnormous).  Running produces so many wonderful benefits, physically, psychologically, and mentally.  Yet, as I have heard said, exercise is only about 20% of weight management.  Therefore, until I have recently begun beefing up my “push back” exercises from the dinner table, I have been running at over 200 pounds for much of those 17 years.  I am 15 pounds lighter than I was this time last month, and Strava does not lie.  Today, I logged a 10K at a pace of 8:19/mile (Strava is cool), while listening to a mellow “Fleet Foxes And More” playlist from Amazon Music (Will Fleet Foxes reunite?)—not exactly heart-pumping exercise music.  This time last month, I was about a full minute slower per mile.  Since today I’m inevitably older than I’ve ever been, the difference has to be the fewer pounds I’m dragging around.  Hopefully, I’ll drop more weight, and if I do I anticipate that my pace may quicken and I’ll feel even better doing it.

New Testament writers use the running analogy on several occasions, but consider what the writer of Hebrews says:  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:1-3). The NASB says “encumbrance” (NKJV, “weight”), and the word means “that which serves to hinder or prevent someone from doing something—‘hindrance, impediment’ (Louw-Nida, 13.149). While the implication is “of an athlete stripping himself of clothing which would impede his performance” (Ellingworth, NIGTC, np), how much more does something like 15 pounds “impede”?

This passage encourages endurance with at least three ideas.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Meaningful. It helps one with endurance as it helps eliminate obstacles to a successful run.  It shows up in a better quality of life. It impacts more than just the run you are on that day.  The effects are enduring and they impact such vital areas as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.  So it is spiritually.  This is about defeating sin, staying faithful, endurance, and overcoming.  In line with the thrust of the whole letter of Hebrews, it is about not falling away and leaving Christ!  We do not want to hang on to anything that interferes with that eternal prospect.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Measurable. I can tell the difference in myself when I have or have not lost that extra weight.  Certainly, the same is true spiritually.  When something is weighing me down, distracting, depressing, deceiving, or drawing me away, I can tell.  I can see it in my devotional life, it shows up in my speech, my attitude, my ethics, and countless similar ways. Other people can see it, too.  I know that God sees every bit of it!

Laying Aside The Weight Is Motivational.  By laying aside the encumbrances and entanglements, I feel better and improve my physical quality of life. The Hebrews’ writer tells us about a transcendent motivation which follows lightening our spiritual loads of sin problems.  Removing the impediments, I am better able to fix my eyes on Jesus and His example while not growing weary or losing heart.

Past experience tells me that weight can be picked up even easier than it can be laid aside.  This is an ongoing discipline.  But it is so worthwhile!  Oh, that I can remember that as I run the course of earth toward eternity.

Diversions, Distractions, Or Deviations?

Neal Pollard

All the following are legitimate outlets, kept in proper perspective:

  • Social causes and needs.
  • Politics.
  • Sports, recreation, leisure and fitness.
  • Wholesome forms of entertainment.
  • Family events.
  • Social media.
  • Socializing and fellowship with fellow Christians.
  • Church buildings.
  • Addressing controversial issues and false teaching.
  • Material possessions.
  • Hobbies.

But our common struggle is allowing these to eclipse our purpose on this earth as Christians.  Interestingly, they all can be utilized as part of our mission, but none were ever meant to replace it.  These activities can easily hinder our faithfulness and usefulness to the cause.  Will you pray for me to keep seeking and saving the lost at the top of my “to do” list of life?  I will do the same for you, if you let me know.  Let’s pray for courage, focus, discernment, resolve, and encouragement to take the gospel as we go about each day.  This is what energized the church in its infancy (cf. Acts 8:4).  They had access to the same distractions and diversions we do, but they could not be diverted from the prime objective. Consequently, we read throughout Acts of their exponential, if unlikely, growth.  May we help each other imitate their spirit and service!

“Marathon Heart”

Neal Pollard

A protein called “troponin,” indicating heart damage, is typical with the majority of runners tested after running a marathon.  Malissa Wood, a Harvard-affiliated cardiologist who has competed in four marathons says that the danger comes in not training enough, running forty-five miles or more each week.  Her pithy summary was, “Use your head when you use your heart” (William J. Cromie, Harvard University Gazette, 12/18/06).   Elite distant runner and hopeful Olympic marathoner, Ryan Shay, died November 4, 2006, from an apparent enlarged heart aggravated by intensive athletic training.  The month before, an amateur running a marathon in Chicago, also dropped dead with heart-related problems.

It is no news flash when heavy smokers or extremely overweight people die of heart disease and heart attacks.  It is expected.  Yet, most of us are shocked to get the news that athletes capable of running ridiculous distances dropping dead.  That just seems to defy logic.  Aerobic exercise is supposed to be good for the heart.

The Bible uses the heart to refer to the center of a person, his or her feelings, thoughts, desires, will, and more.  We expect that people out in the world have spiritual heart problems.  The world’s world-view has self at the center, with no regard for a higher standard or authority.  So, it thinks, says, and does so much that naturally and destructively follows spiritual heart problems.

As Christians, we need to be careful to monitor our hearts.  That applies to even those who are regarded as spiritual giants, leaders, and ones seemingly impervious to heart problems like those seen in the world.  No doubt, David is the greatest Bible example of this.  As you recall, he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).  What a strong heart!  Yet, he had a nearly fatal fall while running his course (2 Sam. 12ff).  Have you ever known Christians who you never dreamed would commit adultery, be arrested on child pornography charges, abandon the church, steal money from a company or organization, be jailed, or something similar?  What happened?  They developed heart problems!

The good news is, spiritually, that intensive heart training will not result in catastrophe.  You cannot over-meditate on the Word.  You cannot be overly-engaged in prayer.  You cannot too actively combat impurity in your heart.  In fact, it is the way to spiritual survival.  There is likely still quite a distance between you and your finish line.  It is not a sprint.  It is more like a marathon, that race you are running (1 Cor. 9:26; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1).  Spiritually, at least, you need a marathon heart!



Neal Pollard

At the southern Illinois state track meet, Claire and Chloe Gruenke, twin sisters, were signed up for several races.  Chloe would even win the one mile race in 5:23 that day.  But in the 800 meter race, Chloe heard a pop in her knee and absolutely could not run another step.  Claire saw it happen and made an incredibly sacrificial gesture.  She put her sister on her back and carried her piggyback the final 370 meters of that race.  The crowd wildly cheered her on and gave her the encouragement she needed to do the difficult and finish the race with her sister in tow (via Fox4kc.com). It was a beautiful story!

The writer of Hebrews tells us we are running a race, surrounded by many witnesses (12:1).  It is easy to grow weary and lose heart (3).  God has given us Christ as a focal point (2). However, the Bible gives us the charge to help each other, too (Gal. 6:1; Heb. 12:13).  While no one can run the Christian race for someone else or make another person do what they need to do to be saved, we are encouraged to help each other run that race.  Paul talks of helping other “runners” and watching himself in the process (1 Cor. 9:27). He urges the Romans, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:1-2).

There are times when we feel strong and can make progress without the assistance of others on this earth, but at other times we will struggle.  How terrible if we do not have someone to help us make it through the struggling times.  Of course, we also have to think of ourselves as ones willing to aid the brother or sister who needs a spiritual lift—the carrier and not just the carried.  God has made the church as a unified body, each member helping the other when the need arises.  Many will not finish the race.  May we make sure that we do what we can to prevent our spiritual family from failing to successfully cross the finish line.

What You Can Do With A New Heart!

Neal Pollard

This morning while running indoors with Rob Sinclair and Bob Turner, we happened to notice a news story about a woman who just completed 52 half marathons in 52 weeks.  That alone is impressive, but then we learned that Aurora De Lucia had open heart surgery in 2010.  She was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White, a rare congenital heart condition. She had an extra pathway to her heart, and several complications that extended halfway through 2011.  With her repaired heart, she became determined to complete the incredible fitness goal and she reached her goal (via http://www.laketahoenews.net).

Most of us without the excuse of a serious heart problem will not ever be able to say we ran 52 half marathons in a year, but she did it under such adverse circumstances.  What a difference a “new” heart made for Aurora.  She proves the power of perseverance and wears the decoration of determination.

The Bible tells us that, spiritually, we can achieve even greater feats with a “new heart.”  From the time the exilic prophet Ezekiel foretold a time when Judah would have a “new heart” (36:26), Bible writers spoke of the possibility of a renewed heart and mind.  Paul spoke of it to Corinth as the renewed inner man (2 Cor. 4:16) and to Ephesus as being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:23).  He tells Colosse that this renewal process is brought about by true knowledge (3:10).

A “new heart” is pure (Mat. 5:8; 2 Tim. 2:22), honest and good (Lk. 8:15), glad and sincere (Ac. 2:46; Eph. 6:5), resolute (Ac. 11:23), open (Ac. 16:14; 2 Cor. 6:11), circumcised (Rom. 2:29), obedient (Rom. 6:17), believing (Rom. 10:9-10), enlightened (Eph. 1:18), compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient (Col. 3:12), loving (1 Pet. 1:22), and assured (1 Jn. 3:19).  The old heart is none of these things and described with words like lustful (Mat. 5:28), distant from Christ (Mat. 15:8), defiled (Mat. 15:18), hardened (Mat. 19:8; Eph. 4:18), Satan-filled (Ac. 5:3), uncircumcised (Ac. 7:51), not right (Ac. 8:21), darkened (Rom. 1:21), stubborn and unrepentant (Rom. 2:5), veiled (2 Cor. 3:15), unbelieving (Heb. 3:12), deceived (Js. 1:26), selfishly ambitious (Js. 3:14). and trained in greed (2 Pet. 2:14).

Thankfully, one can have his or her heart transformed from that wretched, latter condition with God’s help.  His Word, with its convicting and instructing power, can work on the heart (Heb. 4:12) and renew it!  With a “new heart,” we can impact lives and destinies–including our own. At the very end of all things, the Righteous Judge will note such as the greatest accomplishment of all time and eternity!  Oh, think what we can do with a new heart!