America has a reputation for feeding itself well. Perhaps, though, we should emphasize the need for nourishment, not just ingestion. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention 78.6 million Americans are obese. That is more people than the population of England. So, the problem in the country in which I live is not scarcity of food, but what is being eaten. Americans are consuming unhealthy food or unhealthy amounts of good food. Of course, there are those who consume too little and see themselves as overweight when in fact they are malnourished. This is equally tragic.
What is true of physical well-being is also true of spiritual well-being. In this summer period there is a lot of feast and famine in the spiritual walk. People attend retreats and drink deeply of God, but then they return home and the stresses of life and the cares of the world lead them back into starvation. The lack of a schedule tends to create the tyranny of the urgent, or a lack of discipline which results in just doing whatever comes to hand. Christians do not practice a healthy way of life with regular spiritual nutrition, but they stop now and again for a sermon of quick-fix parenting, instant marriage solutions, and self-serving spirituality. Christians want a drive-through religion on their journey to self-actualization. Some Christians don’t want to stop for anything as they race from experience to experience on the road to nowhere. The Bible wants us to feed ourselves. It wants us to learn patterns of healthy living. It wants us to feed on the Bread of Life and to embrace a holistic wellness because God has given us bodies, minds, and spirits over which we are stewards until we return home.
1 Timothy 4 has the Apostle Paul talking with Timothy about the way in which he and those around him should live.
1 Timothy 4
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 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. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.
11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practise these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The Holy Spirit has revealed to the church that people will walk away from the faith. A lot of people do walk away from the faith because of their spiritual diet. The people who departed from the faith in this passage were devouring the teaching of the age. It seems that the prevalent teaching in Ephesus was a legalistic and mystic hodgepodge. Stringent rules concerning diet were mixed with mystic stories that probably explained secret rites and rituals. The emphasis on food is interesting both literally and as an analogy. The Ephesians were in error about how they fed their stomach and their minds. This meant that they were probably neither physically or spiritually as healthy as they could be. In particular regard to the food, Paul appeals to creation. If God created all the things that people can eat and has now declared them as good, it is not for man to be guilt-ridden over diet as if it makes a difference to God. God does not accept or reject his people based on what they eat. We are free to choose what is healthy without worrying whether God will reject us based on our grocery list.
Timothy, in contrast to those who are trying to behave their way to God, is to pursue godliness. Godliness is a character which mirrors God himself. This is cultivated, not through prescribed actions, but through proximity. We spend time with God and we become like God. Feeding ourselves on rules and regulations does not lead to God but to a stifling legalism. Feeding ourselves on God leads to a different kind of living, but it is an outworking of a relationship which is ours unconditionally. The relationship motivates a person to train. God has given us a body to be steward of, so looking after it well is of some value. However, God has also given us an eternal spirit. Feeding ourselves spiritually nourishes us for eternity.
Like all training, a person is properly motivated when they have a goal. Hope is firmly set in a vision of what might be. For Timothy and for the Christian the hope is set on the living God and on his character. When we focus on God our lives are conformed to his will and our actions are transformed by his desire. This personal transformation then becomes an example to those around us. People notice a godly person, especially when the culture around is losing its anchor and drifting toward the rocks. A person who wants to grow will focus on the reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching. The centrality of the mind is key here. We do not live differently unless we think differently. We do not walk a different path unless we learn a different way. We find the truth by feeding on the Word of God. We know God by how he has revealed himself. When we develop and enthusiasm for the pursuit of God, we see it as our highest value. Like any enthusiast we express passionately the value that we have found in God and we want it for others. We encourage them in their walk with God and we challenge them to grow. Each person has received spiritual gifts from God and God uses those gifts to build us up and to build up those around us. Do you know what your gift is? How do people around you flourish because of your pursuit of God?
Pursuing God helps us have a better idea of self. We see that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. We see that our mind tends to want to feed itself with quick-fixes and sedatives. However, God leads us through pain to the development of the true self – the self that he has recreated in us from the blueprint of Jesus.
In the last two hundred years public education has devoted itself to developing the mind. However, embedded in the education system is a godlessness and humanistic mindset that we have become devoted to in the West. Mankind has dropped the notion of a God who is to be pursued outside of the self and has set up billions of little gods who are to find their own truth by looking within. Few stories fascinate people as much as their own narrative and so we live isolated self-obsessed lives. the goal of life, we think, is to be happy and contented. We find that through consuming. We consume ideas about ourselves in our media, we vote selfishly in our politics, and we fall in love and choose a spouse based on how similar they are to our own selves. Narcissism is explained by our scientists as self-preservation. Egocentricity is defended by our philosophers as inevitable because our own perspective is all that we can know. Our diet of secularism and consumerism has made us sick. The cure, according to Paul, is a steady diet of God and his word.
God has given us a body and he has given us multiple food sources. It is good to take care of the physical body that we have. A membership in a gym can be an act of worship and the eating of greens and less fatty meats can be a godly action. However, this is not because eating and exercising will make God happier with us. It is not because what we eat and drink brings about salvation, or jeopardizes it. It is a response to God not a placating of him.
God has given us a soul and he has made the spirit of the Christian alive. That spirit is born at conversion. As an infant it needs proper feeding so that it will grow. The life we were saved to live does not flourish on passivity. We do not mature well by starving ourselves or feeding ourselves junk. In any relationship feeding yourselves lies and misinformation is going to lead to trouble. We do not have to go looking for misinformation about God because it is all around us. We do not have to teach ourselves to starve ourselves of spiritual nutrition because the culture is often silent about God. In public life God is not so much maligned as not talked about at all. This starves us of God’s perspective in public life and leads to godless policies and evil actions.
A way to become consistent in spiritual growth and feeding yourself is to look to communicate well with others. Weightwatchers uses this principle for weightloss. They form community and talk regularly about what they are eating. Those who do well motivate those who are struggling. We would do well to talk as openly about what we are feeding ourselves spiritually as we talk about daily diet in Weightwatchers. Who are you talking to about how you feed yourself?
Answer these observation questions:
- What does the Spirit expressly say?
- To what did those who departed from the faith devote themselves?
- What did those who departed from the faith require others to eat?
- How are things created by God described?
- In what two things is Timothy to be trained?
- Of what value is bodily training?
- Of what value is spiritual training?
- On what is Paul’s and Timothy’s hope set?
- In what things should Timothy set an example?
- To what should Timothy be devoted?
- What should not be neglected?
- Over what should Timothy keep a close watch?
Answer these interpretation questions:
- What problems do you think Timothy had to face in his church?
- How does 1 Timothy 3 set the context for 1 Timothy 4?
- What did those who left the faith in Timothy’s day feed themselves?
- How does food connect to spirituality in Timothy’s day?
- Is Paul saying that everything and everyone is good deep down, if you just look hard enough? Why? Why not?
- How is Timothy to feed himself?
- Is Paul saying to ignore physical training? Do you think Paul was an athlete or was he opposed to athletics?
- If Paul and Timothy had to make out a schedule, how much time do you think they would devote to feeding themselves intellectually, spiritually, and physically?
- What is ‘hope’ in the Bible? Wishful thinking? Something else?
- How does Timothy feeding himself well possibly lead to his church feeding themselves well?
- Why might a person neglect their spiritual gifts? How did people in Timothy’s day identify and receive spiritual gifts?
- Isn’t it selfish to keep a close watch on yourself? Why? Why not?
Answer these application questions
- How do things like The Theory of Evolution, other religions, and the images from our songs and movies create false ideas of what faith in God should be?
- How does time spent reflecting on who God is help us address false teaching in the church or lies from the culture?
- What do some Christians feed on which prevents them from growing and actually leads them away from the faith?
- What do you think God would have you eat? How do you think God would have you feed and look after your body?
- What do you think God would have you read and listen to? How do you think you would feed and look after your mind?
- How do you feed yourself spiritually? What does a well-nourished spiritual life look like?
- How does the way Paul told Timothy to feed himself encourage or challenge you?
- How do you think the culture today regards athletes? How should a Christian regard athletics?
- How do you think churches, Christian camps, Christian schools and Christian homes could work to help people develop a healthy spiritual diet?
- Who is feeding themselves better because of your example?
- Have you received a spiritual gift? What is it? How do you use it?
- How might the principles of Weight Watchers help us learn how to feed ourselves well spiritually?