by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 2 Study # 4 Lincolnton, NC August 14, 2005
8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
9 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.
1901 ASV Translation:
8 for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.
9 Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation.
I. The Issue of "Exercise".
A. Paul's use of the physical level illustration.
1. Exercise of the body has always been an issue of both health and vanity.
a. As a "health" issue, there is no doubt that the body functions best when its parts are subject to at least some "strain".
b. As a "vanity" issue, there is no doubt that both the objective (the praise of others) and the means (conforming to their physical expectations) are not only a total waste, but also an enormously destructive quagmire.
2. Since the "health" issue is a "positive" (it's not immoral), the question regards the degree of benefit it brings.
a. The translators differ on this issue.
1) On the one hand, there are those who recognize that a significant number of times an anarthrous construction is used, it emphasizes the "quality" of the issue involved. Thus, the word "little", which has no "article" before it (it is anarthrous), can easily be taken to signal a slight. With this in mind, there are those who think that Paul was speaking slightingly of physical exercise, as if he considered it pretty much a waste of time and effort.
2) On the other hand, Greek has no indefinite article ("a" or "an"), but the concept exists whether a given language has a way to deliberately express it or not. Those who refuse to accept the unique deity of Jesus as the Word of God, capitalize on this reality in John 1:1 and translate it "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." Though, for other reasons, this is an illegitimate translation, the fact remains that there is a legitimate concept of an anarthrous construction not communicating a slight, but a positive evaluation. For this cause, some have thought that Paul was not slighting physical exercise, but acknowledging that it only has a small contribution to make to life.
b. The issues involved.
1) The use of "but".
a) There are two major words that signal a "contrast". One could be printed "but" and the other would be printed "BUT". Paul used the one that signals a small degree of contrast ("but").
b) Since Paul was wishing to contrast physical exercise with "exercising unto godliness" (as per 4:7), he had the two options in "a)" above.
i. He could use an emphatic anarthrous construction and wed it to a "BUT" and Timothy would see physical exercise as pretty much worthless in comparison to exercising unto godliness.
ii. He could use a non-emphatic anarthrous construction and wed it to a "but" and Timothy would see physical exercise as worthwhile in a small kind of way, "but" view exercise unto godliness as much the greater of the two.
c) Paul used the "but" that indicates only a small contrast. This suggests that he was not attempting to totally slight physical exercise, but only attempting to make it a good physical level illustration of what is needful ("exercise thyself unto godliness") on the higher plane of the spirit and soul.
d) Conclusion: the translation "physical exercise is profitable for a little" is the proper translation.
2) The use of "exercise".
a) In 4:7 Paul deliberately pulled a word ("exercise") out of the physical realm in order to press it into service in a higher realm. So doing made it necessary to clarify himself: he was not writing about "physical exercise"; he was writing about "pushing the limits of one's 'godliness' so that its boundaries of influence over the whole of life were constantly expanding to take in more and more of that life."
b) This attempt to clarify prompted 4:8 as a contrastive statement that allows physical exercise to have a place in the issues of the quality of life, but not a large place. The other side of the contrast was to emphasize how godliness makes a huge contribution to the quality of life by affecting not only the present life but the coming one.
3. Thus, Paul uses the physical realm to highlight the value of godliness.
B. Paul's use of the concept of "exercise".
1. Clearly, the concept of exercise involves both a repetitive process as well as a stressing process.
a. The goal is to expand the capabilities.
b. The means to the goal is repetition and an increase in the level of difficulty.
2. Just as clearly, developing "godliness" is not a matter of any process that can be produced by the flesh -- i.e., the development of habits of "disciplines" such as prayer, Bible study, church attendance, etc. -- as the outworking of the "principle of Law".
3. But also just as clearly, any Spirit-produced "exercise unto godliness" is not going to look much different from a fleshly development of habits of discipline. The "Spiritual" exerciser unto godliness is going to be involved by the Spirit in prayer, Bible study, church attendance, etc.
4. Thus, the question arises: what is a legitimate form of "exercise unto godliness"?
a. First, it is a "form" that has, at the outset, rejected altogether the lusts of body, soul, and spirit as the motivation for the "form".
1) This means that we are pursuing the "form" without any intent to impress anyone.
2) This means that we are pursuing the "form" without any intent to get on anyone's "good side".
3) This means that we are pursuing the "form" with the intent of pleasing the Father because of His gracious love.
b. Second, it is a "form" that has embraced "promise" as the foundations of motivation.
1) This means that we are rejecting the "form" as "effective" as we embrace the promise of God that He will be effective. The key biblical illustration is the Hebrews 11:11 text that declares that Sarah entered into the "form" of having sex with Abraham with no thought that having sex would be effective, but that God would keep His promise inthemidst of the activity.
2) This means that we will engage in the "forms" of prayer, bible study, church attendance, etc. withtheexpectation that God will produce a greater godliness in us in the midst of the activities.
a) The goal is "godliness" produced by the Spirit of God.
b) The activities are simply "tools of God" that He may, or may not, use.
c. Third, it is a "form" that reveals itself "after the fact".
1) If "boasting" shows up "after the fact", we know that the flesh is, or has been, involved because boasting reveals an inadequate rejection of the lusts mentioned in (4.a) above.
2) If an increase in godliness shows up "after the fact", we know that the Spirit is, and has been, involved.
II. The Issue of "Profit".
A. Simply using the word signals the possibility of "advancing one's capital".
1. One must be careful, though, to sharply distinguish between monetary increase and genuine increase. Money is never, ever, the measure of the kind of "profit" of which Paul writes.
2. But, because "money" is the "anti-god" of biblical revelation, one can always find an illustration in its realms that can be used to increase understanding of the Truth.
a. Just as "exercise" was pulled from the realm of the "body" to give illustrational light to a non-physical reality, so also "profit" is now being pulled from the realm of the "soul" to give illustrational light to a non-physical reality.
1) Just as the "body" increases in strength through exercise, so one's participation in godliness increases in quality through a different kind of exercise.
2) Just as the "soul" gains a greater sense of security from an abundance of financial resources, so one's participation in godliness provides a greater sense of real security.
b. The "profit" of godliness is likened unto the "profit" of exercise in that the "quality of life" is affected: the issue is "increase".
1) The quality of physical life is increased by health, which can be stimulated by exercise.
2) The quality of real life is increased by godliness, which can be experienced by a different kind of exercise.
B. The application of the word to the present and the "about to be" signals the superiority of the "profit" of godliness.
1. The "present" may well be enhanced by physical exercise, but the fact is that the "about to be" is not affected by physical exercise. The processes of decay will overcome all exercise; and the eternal realms are unreachable by the physical since only resurrection can move one into those realms.
2. But the "present" and the "future" are affected by godliness because of "promise".
III. The Inescapable Reality.
A. Once Paul establishes the enduring profit of godliness, he caps it with the "faithful is this statement and worthy of all acceptance."
B. This "capstone" makes the teaching a matter of inescapable reality.