Gumnazo: God’s Training Program

Word of the Week

January 27, 2024

Gumnazō: God’s Training Program


 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 Tim 4:8 ESV


It’s January, and the gyms are crowded with people who have made a New Year’s resolution to start an exercise program.  Every January, sign-ups at fitness centers surge 50% above regular levels.  Of course, the urge to sweat soon fades, and the crowds clear out.  One research project shows that 80% of the new members quit coming to the gym within five months.

One key to success is building the right routine, choosing exercise that moves you safely toward your goals.  Should you spend time on the treadmill or use the weight machines to build muscle strength?  g

That’s why novice athletes secure the help of a trainer who can prescribe the most effective combination of activities.

As the apostle Paul points out, training for physical fitness is good, but training for spiritual growth is even more crucial (1 Timothy 4:8).

How does that work? The Greek word for training or exercise gives guidelines that will move you toward increased spiritual strength and stamina.

The Greek word for physical training is gumnazō, the root of our English word gymnastics or gymnasium.  It springs from the Greek word for “naked,” because athletes in the Greek/Roman world always trained and competed without clothing.

The New Testament speaks of literal, physical exercise only in 1 Timothy 4:8, where Paul acknowledges that physical fitness is profitable up to a certain point, or for the short term. [In this verse, he uses the noun form gumnasia, “bodily training.”]

The verb form, “to train, disciple, exercise” appears four times, giving us three kinds of exercise to include in our spiritual fitness program and one exercise to avoid.  Let’s look at each one:

  1. The discipline of godliness

Rather, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). 

Paul instructs his younger associate Timothy to avoid “worthless stories” and to pour his time and energy into the things that will promote “godliness” – a reverent attitude of obedience to God.  In verse 8, he points out that this exercise will produce eternal results, not only in the short term but also for the long haul, the eternal life to come.

  1. The discipline of discernment

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to distinguish between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

When I first taught our children to drive, they didn’t know all the hazards that they need to monitor.  I had to ride along and point out the dangers.  They were smart, but they had not experienced enough situations to recognize potential trouble when it appeared.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the children of God need training to tell the difference between truth and lies, hazards and help.  How do we gain expertise in recognizing good and bad?  Practice!  We build a track record of experience that enables us to avoid evil and steer toward good.

  1. The discipline of correction

For the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

Nobody enjoys correction.  Children dislike spankings or “time out.”  Christians do not enjoy it when God allows hard circumstances that force us to listen more carefully to His voice.  However, we always learn more from trouble than we do from tranquility.  The crisis that pushes us to the Lord is often part of His training program, intended to strengthen our faith.  As they say, “No pain, no gain.”

  1. The harmful discipline of greed

. . . having hearts trained in greed, accursed children (2 Peter 2:14).

Peter warned believers about the false teachers who were burrowing into the church, aiming to fatten their purses by taking advantage of gullible believers.  These ecclesiastical con artists had worked hard to sharpen their skills at deception, and they had mastered the arts of greed.  So much experience, so much effort – all devoted to the wrong things!

Things to notice:

  • Training involves time – The longer you work at it, the more you see results.
  • Training involves repetition – You can’t get tight abs by doing a single sit-up.
  • Training involves purpose – You never get strong accidentally, because . . .
  • Training involves commitment – Keep it up on the hard days.
  • Training benefits from coaching, and the Holy Spirit is available to give you wisdom and direction as you meditate on His Word.

Before you hit the gym, consider God’s list of exercises for eternal impact training!

Study Hint:

You may want to take a closer look at gumnos. “naked,” the root for this week’s word.  Though it sometimes refers to total nakedness, as in the case of athletes, it can also mean “clothed only in an inner garment” (John 21:7) or “poorly/improperly clothed” (Matthew 25:26f).


Word Study Micro-Course

Because there are two foundational facts about words:

  1. Words have multiple meanings.
  2. A word has a single meaning in a particular context.

there are two stages in every word study:

  1. Stage One – Discover all the possible meanings that a word might have.
  2. Stage Two – Determine which meaning applies to the verse you are studying.

How do we do that?  There are two ways to achieve each of those steps:  you can borrow the work of professionals or you can do it yourself.  When you have a leaky faucet, you can call the plumber or you can get your screwdriver and replace the washer yourself.  It’s your choice!  And you have a similar choice when you want to study a Greek word.  Next week we will introduce some tools that you can use to borrow the work of professional scholars.


Coming Up

Let’s continue the theme of exercise while you are still enjoying the surge of satisfaction from that new fitness program you began at New Year’s.  Our study next week will pursue the Greek word for running, and you’ll learn how God wants us to run.

©Ezra Project 2024


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