A Disciples’ Spiritual Fitness Course
Study Guide, February 5, 2023
Pastor Clay Olsen
1 Tim 4:7-9- “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. This is true, and everyone should accept it.” NLT
Spiritual Fitness: What an inspiring and practical way to think about the Christian life and what we are supposed to be doing as disciples of Jesus Christ! Notice again: “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness”. You mean like a ‘fitness course’ that a Disciple of Jesus Christ could use to train and strengthen his or her spiritual health something like they would with their physical health? “Yup!” Paul even says we are supposed to have such a plan, and he went on to say we should even be striving and laboring and faithfully exercising in our Spiritual fitness program.
Sounds like a plan, right? So let’s talk about it. I read, as of this last year of 2022, Americans spent around 264 billion dollars on physical fitness. That’s right, 264 billion dollars! And actually, we could say, “Hey, money well spent!” The Scriptures even concur that physical fitness has genuine value. God even calls us to care for and to faithfully steward, or to manage with God honoring oversight, these physical bodies for His sake. Remember, the body of a Born Again child of God is actually a ‘living temple’ in which the Holy Spirit indwells. So when you seek to take good care of your body you are also taking good care of God’s temple. Look at what the Apostle Paul said about that: 1 Cor 6:19-20- “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” NLT
Isn’t that amazing…and inspiring? Plus, God promises to reward all our stewardship over everything in our lives…everything that honors Him. So next time you take your fitness walk or run your course or swim your laps or bike your trail or lift your weights, think about God encouraging you on and promising you great returns for your efforts, not only in health benefits, but also in kingdom rewards! That ought to ‘pump you up’! Physical exercise has real value and genuine importance. But don’t stop there…rather, put that same effort and focus and energy into your spiritual strength training and spiritual conditioning because your spiritual fitness has great value and eternal importance!
Again, it is great how many people are committed to striving and laboring and training in order to be physically fit. Across the country, the Wellness Centers, and the Community Centers, and Cross Fit Centers are filled with people trying their best to stay physically fit. And we ought to say to those people, “Well done”. It’s a good thing, a noble thing. And it also shows that people can be very disciplined when they set their mind and their will to it all.
But Paul would also say, “You are half-way there to true fitness!” “Half-way there”, you say? Well, of course! Since a human being is both a physical and a spiritual being why would you strengthen one without the other? And what truly is being accomplished if one is being cared for and the other is being neglected?
Again, physical exercise is great, but why just exercise one half of your life? But even more, why just exercise the half that Paul says does have value, but neglect the other half that has the greatest value? Why not give the lion’s share of your attention to exercising the half that has the greatest value and reward for both this life and for life in the Kingdom of God? And the answer is: Yes, why not?
Now, here’s another really great thing. Certainly, there comes a time when some brothers and sisters are not physically able to have a physical fitness program. These mortal bodies just don’t hold up indefinitely, no matter how much we try to care for them or exercise them properly. (I did recently hear of a woman in Japan that lived to 119 years old. When asked about her nutrition habits she said she did enjoy her cola soft drinks and chocolate! Go figure! The chocolate’s healthy for sure though, right?) But here is the great part: Since our soul is immortal, even when we cannot carry out a physical fitness program, we can carry out a spiritual fitness program.
Okay, but some might say; “I didn’t know there was such a thing as a Spiritual fitness course for the Christian life.” Well, the Apostle Paul didn’t lay it out in one chapter, like Five Steps to Spiritual Fitness, but there really are Five Spiritual Disciplines that are laid out for Disciples of Christ to practice in order to develop strong spirits and be active players in something even more valuable than any physical discipline in life. The event is called “The Great Commission.” And every believer can participate, and is to participate in the events of the Great Commission. Matt 28:18-20- “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” NLT And notice, that the Great Commission covers the whole of the Christian life – from becoming a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ through the New Birth into the family of God, to living life as a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ in learning and obeying His words, and then passing it on to others…passing it on to all the nations of the world. How great is that? It’s not called ‘The Great Commission’ for nothing!
Now, the Great Commission can seem a little daunting, like running a Marathon race. But it really just requires a commitment to training and practicing spiritual fitness. And in one sense, it is like a Marathon in that even though Paul called it ‘the race of faith’, it’s not a sprint, nor is it a contest, rather, it’s a lifestyle of a long obedience in the same direction. And we can all take part in that!
Okay now, before we get to the Spiritual Fitness course itself, just look at some of the terminology the Scriptures use in describing the Christian life:
Heb 6:1: “…Let us press on to maturity…”
Heb 5:14: “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained…”
Heb 12:1-2: “…Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…”
Rom 15:30-31: “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me…”
1 Cor 3:8: “Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” NASU
These are ‘spiritual work-out’ words, aren’t they? And they reveal that living the Christian life involves training, effort, purpose, a focus on goals, and striving to meet those goals, much like in physical fitness training. God wants His children to spiritually exercise in such a way as to be spiritually conditioned and spiritually strong disciples of His…both for the purpose of blessing others for God and for God’s blessings for us.
Okay, so now think about this: What do coaches say to those who have not been physically training? They say something like, “You’ve gone soft!” Ouch! Athletes do not want to hear that! “You’ve gone soft?”
What would our Master Coach, God the Holy Spirit, say to you about any of the following Five Disciplines of the Christian athlete, the Christian Disciple? Here’s what you would not want to hear Him say?
“You’ve gone soft in your Bible study training.”
Or, “You’ve gone soft in your Intercessory prayer habit.”
Or, “You’ve gone soft in your Body life and service commitment.”
Or, “You’ve gone soft in your Sowing of the seed of the Gospel.”
Or, “You’ve gone soft in your Giving, of tithes and offerings.”
No, that is not what you want to hear from God the Holy Spirit. But essentially, the only way to not hear “You’ve gone soft” in any of these areas is to get spiritually fit and to then stay spiritually fit in each of these areas, these Five Disciplines of Spiritual Fitness. So let’s set up our Spiritual Fitness Course by examining what the exercises are for each of these disciplines. And let’s identify each of them again so you’ll have them. And we are then going to unpack them in the weeks ahead.
- The Discipline of Bible study training.
The Discipline of Intercessory prayer.
The Discipline of Body life and service.
The Discipline of Sowing the seed of the Gospel.
The Discipline of Giving; tithes and offerings.
So there we are: five areas of discipleship in which we focus and train, in order to gain spiritual fitness for the purpose of being useful and fruitful to our Lord and Savior in our worship and service for our God. Let’s discuss the first one: The Discipline of Bible study training. You know, physical exercise programs usually include ‘days off’ for recovery and muscle repair and such. But that’s not the case in the exercise of Bible study training. This is your food, your very bread of life. This is your manna for each day. The one thing you do not want to do is to try to live off of yesterday’s manna. Remember the old saying that we recently said? “One week without the Word of God makes one weak (W E A K!)” A person cannot be physically fit and strong and be physically malnourished at the same time. It’s the same spiritually: A Christian cannot be spiritually fit and strong and be spiritually malnourished at the same time. Your daily intake of Bible carbs and proteins and healthy fats are essential to building strong spiritual thoughts and emotions and character! Brothers and Sisters…feed your soul each day on the Bread of Life. It is the most important thing you eat every day!
And remember something else, the Christian life is not just about how much you know about the Bible, but about how much you do about the Bible. It’s about how much of the Bible is growing in you. Remember the Apostle Peter called for us to “…Grow in the grace (the practice) and knowledge (the insights) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18 NASU That’s also what the Apostle James reveals to us, that Bible knowledge is not for our information, but for our transformation. It’s not just about what we know, it’s about what we do about what we know, you know? Remember James words? “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James 1:22 NASU
But, yes, before we can do, we do have to know. So let’s talk about “Bible Study”. Did you know that you never graduate from the School of the Bible? Disciple means “Learner”. Christians are born again into the Student Body of the Church. None of us are really Bible graduates, rather we are Bible students…we are life-long learners. We are students of God’s revelation about life; about the past, the present, and the future. By the way, although in academics they break up the Bible into the categories of Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets, Gospels, History, Epistles to Churches, Epistles to Friends, and General Epistles, you don’t need to get overwhelmed by the structure of it all. All we need to do is to just get into the Bible for the sake of learning just what the Owner’s Manual of Life says about what we need to know about life and what we need to then do about it.
What our life-long goal in Bible study is, is this: To know our Creator and Savior more and more in order to worship and serve Him better and better as we develop our relationship with Him deeper and deeper. Plus, we are to be trying to find out everything we can about what God wants us to know about the ‘Past’, His created order and His dealing with people and nations; and trying to find out everything we can about what God wants us to know about the ‘Present’, as to how life is supposed to work, and how we are supposed to then work; and then trying to find out everything we can about what God wants us to know about the ‘Future’, like what is God’s plan for us, and for other people, for this world, for His Kingdom, for the destinations and the destinies of people, and so on. What the Bible really represents is everything that God wants you to know about your God, and about the past, the present, and the future…in order to what, what is the purpose? Well, let’s let Paul answer that, too. (We looked at it last week, lets look again) 2 Tim 3:16-17- “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” NASU This God-breathed revelation of God represents what God wants you and me and everyone on Earth to know, first about our God and how to have a relationship with Him, and also about the past, the present, and the future, so that we’ll be ready to do what we need to do about it right now. That’s how we are supposed to be studying and learning about and then doing what we learned in our Bible study.
Well, guess what? we’re going to have to get into some ‘how to’ exercises in our next study on this, so we’ll have to wrap it up now and hit the showers…figuratively speaking, of course.
As we have clearly seen, the Apostle reveals that Spiritual Fitness is the great priority in our life. He calls for every Disciple to practice the disciplines that make us spiritually fit. What is also encouraging is that even when Paul was older, and his physical health had broken down, he was still spiritually fit. We have all known loved ones and friends that were spiritually fit even though their bodies were weakened over time and from the struggles of ill-health. But as for their soul and spirit – they were spiritually fit and strong.
All God is looking for from us is our commitment to prioritizing and then practicing the disciplines of His revelation and His instructions for us…as in the five disciplines that lead to Spiritual fitness. And all of these ‘disciplines’ for us are ‘do-able’ by us. If we will simply supply ‘the will’, God will supply ‘the power’. We just need to be willing, for our God is able. But it must be our highest priority.
Physical fitness is great. It is of real value. Again, being a good steward of the temple that God has given you honors our God, and your efforts will be rewarded. But Spiritual fitness is of even greater value. It is of eternal value. In fact, it is required of a steward to be found faithful, faithful to practicing the disciplines of Spiritual fitness, for the sake of being equipped and ready for every good work as a Great Commission player for God. And God has promised great rewards and privileges to His children who strive to be spiritual fit for His sake and for His use in this present world and the world to come!