The Lord’s Gymnazō (γυμνάζω)

Hebrews 5:12-14

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

1 Timothy 4:7-8

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather 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 Corinthians 9:24-27

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Many of us have gym memberships and don’t go to the gym.  We continue to pay homage to it every month yet receive none of its benefits.  This same homage is paid to God at a weekly church service yet is of little importance to us during the week.  I know Christians that go to church faithfully, however, have little knowledge of the Bible and even less of its application in everyday life.  I am not trying to be mean or judgmental.  I am, however, trying to motivate us to train in godliness, to exercise our spiritual muscles and activate our hearts toward what God has called us (the Church) to do.

Paul used the Greek games to contextualize spiritual truths to the Corinthians.  It is debated as to whether Paul actually participated in the viewing of the games[1] but he most definitely had knowledge of the them, those who participated in them, and what the victor would receive.  His use of this analogy in this cultural time period is genius.  Samuel L. Hoyt expounds on Paul’s use of this analogy:

There is little doubt that Paul is making reference to the local Isthmian games which were so well-known to the Corinthians…In order to participate in these events certain conditions were required.  The applicant was required to be a citizen.  He had to demonstrate that he was of pure Greek parentage…No immoral men nor criminals could enter the games, but only those who were above reproach.  Thus citizenship, freedom, and purity of life were requirements, and bodily strength and expertise were essential.[2]

I find this fascinating.  When we accept the work of Christ and receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts the righteousness of God is imputed to us (2 Cor. 5:21).  We have become pure citizens in the Kingdom of God.  His race begins at salvation and culminates in our glorification, whether this glorification happens when we die or at the resurrection is highly debated.  In reality, the finish is not the most important part.  The race is.  For the race will determine the finish.  I know that I do not want to escape through the fire on the Day when my works are judged (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

So, one might ask; How do I train in godliness?  Simple, spend time with God.  This may not be as simple to you as I am implying.  Jesus made the equation simple, he did not, however, make it easy.  God told the Israelites, “You will seek me, and you will find me when you seek with all of your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  Jesus told us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Mat. 6:33).  Just like with physical exercise (gymnazō), one must discipline him/herself to go and do the exercise.  I cannot just will my body to get into shape.  I have to will my mind to tell myself to go to the gym or go for a run.  It is the same with spiritual gymnazō.  For this reason, Paul states, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).  Believe me, I have been in the place of homage to God on Sunday and homage to self on Monday!  It is only through practice and exercise of my spiritual self that the sanctification process begins.  Reading your Bible and praying are great but there must be a connection.  I can memorize the entire Bible and still be doomed.  Even the Devil knows the Word of God and as a matter of fact, used it against Jesus during his tempation ( Luke 4:9).

A friend of mine, Mike Grubbs, whose book Broken Chains brought significant impact on my relationship with God, gave me a wonderful look at what this connection means.  He calls it “The Chair.”  Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  The throne of grace is where we find this connection.  Through the work of Christ we have the ability to walk into the throne room and sit down in front of Jesus and God and let them download revelation, comfort, wisdom etcetera.  Sometimes we need to use our “sanctified imagination” and see ourselves entering that throne room, placing a chair in front of the throne, and sitting in the presence of God.  This, together with the practice of reading and meditating on the Word, praying in the Spirit, and fellowship with God should be the daily regimen of any Christian who wants to run the race and have his/her works survive the crucible.   

All that being said, God is not upstairs with a stick waiting to smack you when you mess up.  His desire is to fellowship with you and train you up in the knowledge of God.  It is through the knowledge of God that all godliness flows.  He gives us grace to empower us to move from the milk to the solid food that will enable us to further the Kingdom of God and receive that imperishable crown.  God is for you!  He wants nothing else but for you to become mature in action, thought, deed and emotion.  We must stay in the Lord’s Gymnazō.  The training and practice in the things of God will help you in all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

[1] Hoyt, Samuel L. The Judgment Seat of Christ: A Biblical and Theological Study. Duluth, MN: Grace Gospel Press, 2015, 39.

[2] Ibid., 40.

1 comment

  1. As usual, right on. Jesus is Perfect Theology: He told us He didn’t do or say anything He didn’t first see ‘Poppa God’ say or do. That’s close relationship right there. Also, thanks for saying ‘sanctified imagination’….imagination is a tool of faith God gave us, but many in the past have tried to give us a ‘lobotomy’ to our souls and spirits, and suppress our imaginations. Pretty ridiculous. Again, right on about imagination as an important part of meditation…in fact, without it I could never crawl up into God’s lap and have everything be alright if I didn’t have it. Speaking of ‘have it’, Jesus said whatever we are sure we have, we will see manifested. He could, in my opinion, only meant faith + imagination…and of course, THANKS, JESUS!!

    Liked by 1 person

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