I am a Philadelphia Eagles Fan. This means that when it comes to Superbowl weekend I don’t generally get a chance to cheer for my team. But because I am an Eagles fan I know I can always count on next year. And if not next year, at least the year after next. Right?
In football the goal of every team is to win the Superbowl. It is one of the biggest stages in all of sports and it is incredibly difficult to get to. To get to and win the big game requires dedicated training. Teams and individuals that simply go through the motions all week in practice but try to “turn it on” Sunday afternoons can’t succeed for long. This is one of the reasons why I believe Eagles coach, Chip Kelly, has been so successful in turning around the Eagle’s organization in his first year. One of his core beliefs and emphases is “Win the Day.” This means that to win on Sunday you must “win” each day of the week. That is true whether you are to be resting, recuperating from injury, training in the weight-room, watching film, or whatever. If you work harder than the other team at each facet of your game each day than you have a much higher probability of winning on game-day. Win the Day!
I probably love that because I love Philadelphia – the town that gave us Rocky. And Rocky, if nothing, is about the underdog working and training harder than his competition so that when the big fight comes, the underdog wins. And Rocky always out-trains his competition. Don’t Believe me? Check out this training clip from Rocky 2.
If you watched that video, you probably feel like running. Go for it. I’ll wait…. Okay, so just in case you were wondering, someone did go through the trouble of tracing out his running route. All in all, Rocky ran 31.1 miles and had enough juice at the end to sprint up the Art Museum stairs and celebrate with the kids who had been running with him. And according to that clip, those kids ran something like 12-13 miles with Rocky (kids today are such lazy bums, right?). No wonder Rocky outlasted his opponents!
So what does this have to do with Christianity? Barely anything at all up to this point really. At least until Paul counsels Timothy to “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV).
We can understand the importance of training ourselves physically – especially in our body-obsessed culture – but training for godliness doesn’t get much attention. I think we all too often fall into the habit of thinking that godliness is something that you are born with or something that you turn on – like a good performance by an athlete during the game. Another popular idea is that any pursuit of real godliness probably will cause you to become legalistic and so you shouldn’t try it neither encourage others to attempt it. But godliness is something that we must train ourselves in. Thus godliness is both a journey that we progress on and a discipline that requires effort – much effort. I think Kevin DeYoung nails it on the head in his book The Hole in our Holiness when he describes this pursuit of godliness as requiring “Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort.” Each of those descriptions is necessary for true training in godliness.
And notice that in Paul’s letter he wants Timothy, and by extension us, to see that there are benefits, both temporal and eternal, for training in godliness. That ought to encourage us because once the Superbowl is over the stadium lights will be turned off, the confetti swept up, and everyone will begin thinking about next year. But the promise of winning the day as we train for godliness is eternal.
God help us to pursue this.