In 1 Timothy 4:8, the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to keep his priorities straight: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (NKJV). Here, Paul draws a contrast between bodily exercise and godliness. Both are profitable, but bodily exercise is of lesser value than godliness.
In 1 Timothy 4:6, Paul gives Timothy a friendly reminder to “put these things before the brothers” (ESV). Everyone needs a reminder now and again. Paul does not remind Timothy of his pastoral obligations because Timothy has forgotten or neglected to do them. On the contrary, Paul wants to encourage Timothy to do what he always has—a sort of positive reinforcement, if you will.
What things should Timothy put before the Ephesian church? The answer is contained in 1 Timothy 4:1–5: warnings against false teachings that “come through hypocritical liars” (verse 3). As Timothy faithfully teaches the church to distinguish truth from error, he will be “a good servant of Christ Jesus” who upholds “the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (verse 6, ESV). The “words of the faith” are the gospel. A summary of the gospel message is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4. There, note how Paul describes the gospel as being of “first importance.” Timothy’s primary responsibility as a bishop is to teach, equip, and remind his congregation of the truth.
Timothy needs to bring these things to his congregation’s remembrance because of the ubiquitous influence of false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1–3, 7). False teachers are everywhere today: on radio, podcasts, and television and standing in church pulpits. They are a threat to sound doctrine because their teachings are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Galatians 1:8). If Timothy protects his congregation from false teachers, then he will be a “good minister of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 4:6).
Timothy’s effectiveness as a servant of Jesus Christ was due to his being “nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching” (1 Timothy 4:6). He was trained, or disciplined, by his grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5), and, of course, by Paul. It should be noted that our service to God can only be as effective as the deposit that has been put within us. In other words, our output can only be as good as our input. Will we follow Timothy’s example of faithful service by setting “believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12)?
Believers who are preoccupied with righteousness do not have time for “irreverent, silly myths” (1 Timothy 4:7, ESV), because their hearts and minds are set on things above (see Colossians 3:2). The contrast between “words of the faith” and “irreverent, silly myths” is noteworthy. It indicates that the gospel is not a mythological or fictitious account of Jesus Christ. Quite the opposite! The gospel is a historical account of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The best way to detect false teachings is to “train [ourselves] for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7, ESV). The Greek word for “train” is gymnaze, where we get the English words gym and gymnasium. Although gymnaze denotes physical training, Paul uses the word metaphorically to include spiritual training. The idea is that spiritual training requires “discipline,” which is how the NASB translates gymnaze.
In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul says, “Bodily exercise profits a little” (NKJV), but he does not suggest that physical or bodily training is a bad thing. In fact, he acknowledges that it has some value, recognizing its benefit for overall health and well-being. He does assert, however, that godliness has eternal significance and holds promise for both the present life and the life to come. The present benefit of godliness is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). The future benefit of godliness is eternal fellowship with God in heaven (John 14:3).
In conclusion, 1 Timothy 4:8 highlights the surpassing worth of godliness and the promise that it holds for both the present and future life. Therefore, by embracing godliness and rejecting false teachings, believers can remain devoted to the truth of God’s Word.