If you explain these things to the brothers and sisters, Timothy, you will be a worthy servant of Christ Jesus, one who is nourished by the message of faith and the good teaching you have followed. Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.
Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.
Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. (New Living Translation)
There are several metaphors throughout the New Testament illustrating the nature of the Christian life and Christian community.
God’s people are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the house where the Lord dwells; the Body of Christ, a group working together and strengthening one another in faith; the army of the Lord, advancing with the shared purpose of proclaiming good news and extending God’s benevolent rule – just to name a few.
All the metaphors are embedded with the need for training, for spiritual disciplines and practices which strengthen faith and promote spiritual health.
Just as an army of recruits needs intense basic training and ongoing discipline; and just as the body needs hourly movement and daily exercise of its muscles; so, Christian communities require spiritual development with a variety of forms and functions to elicit and establish a solid godly life.
The curriculum in the school of faith; the liturgy within the spiritual temple; the boot camp for the Lord’s soldier; and the repetitions for Christ’s Body, all involve reading and listening to Holy Scripture. And furthermore, to do so with rhythms of personal and corporate integrity, confident faith, steadfast love, encouraging words, and virtuous behavior.
If we dedicate ourselves to these things, there will be no room for entertaining wacky stories which have no basis in truth. Instead, there will be lush spiritual growth, teachable spirits, humble service, supportive beliefs, compassionate ministry, and open fellowship.
The high values of the worthy servant of Christ need to be both used and guarded. With all of our treasured earthly possessions, whatever they may be, we handle them appropriately and carefully – keeping them in a secure place when not used – and using them with care when out.
Our faith, our life and doctrine, is both a precious possession to be guarded, as well as a necessary tool to do the will of God.
Just as our bodies have physical muscles, so the Body of Christ has spiritual muscles.
Faith is a muscle which needs to be stretched, exercised, rested, and supplied with plenty of protein and necessary nutrients. Overtaxed muscles will fatigue and can be damaged through too much exertion. And underused muscles will wither and atrophy, unable to handle even the smallest of strain when we need them.
So, it is best to have proper spiritual hygiene and exercise through a regimen of tried and true practices designed to improve and maintain healthy faith. If you want to build your faith, consider the following 10 ways:
- Increase your amount of reading. There is no substitute for daily repetitions of reading the Bible. Supporting a growing faith will require more voluminous reading.
- Focus on listening to the biblical text. Reading is only as good as our listening skills. For the Christian, paying attention to the Holy Spirit’s gentle whispers is a must.
- Decrease your media time. For all the good stuff out there, a lot of media information is based in myth, half-truths, and opinions masked as facts – not to mention all the hack and huckster preachers.
- Pray more. In fact, pray continually.
- Practice gratitude – not complaining. Need I say more?
- Snack on good spiritual reading. Consuming a good book before bed keeps the faith muscle fed longer.
- Rest! When God created and instituted seven days, the first day was a day of rest; the workdays came after. Don’t flip-flop the divine order.
- Supplement with good spiritual conversation. Half-baked theological ideas come from remaining in one’s own cave-like head. Consultation, collaboration, and fellowship help create a rich and full faith.
- Don’t overtrain. Good idea: Read the Bible in a year. Bad idea: Read the Bible in a month. Good idea: Digest the contents of ecumenical Creeds and church Confessions. Bad idea: Stuff a bunch of knowledge down your gullet without any love to wash it down. Savor the meal. Don’t be a pig.
- Don’t lift too heavy for your faith muscle. The ancient desert fathers spent years developing their faith and could do incredible feats of spiritual strength. Christianity isn’t a competition of keeping up with the Francis of Assisi’s and Martin Luther’s of history. Use the measure of faith given to you and focus on those small daily decisions of trust.
Christianity is a marathon, not a 100-meter sprint. We persevere to the end, not flame out after taxing ourselves with expectations and responsibilities God never gave us.
Be safe. Be strong. Be smart. Be spiritual. We are all in this together.
Gracious God, fill your Church with truth, the truth with peace, and the peace with love. Where our faith is weak, make it strong; where it is misguided and in error, correct and direct it; where it is amiss, reform it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it, for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen.