A Man Out Of Me

On Saturday morning I read with interest our pastor’s thoughts on gyms and various forms of fitness, physical and otherwise. He includes an apposite reference to 1 Timothy 4.8. In the KJV the verse reads as follows: 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.” A cursory glance at the first part of the sentence might leave us with the impression that this bodily exercise” is more or less a waste of time: so, put the passage into the “Physical - Bad, Spiritual - Good” file, and forget about it. 


The Greek, I’m told, reads (roughly) “For bodily exercise of a little is profit”, and the ESV renders the verse thus: 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.” This suggests that Paul’s emphasis is on the marked contrast between two types of training: the one producing a limited benefit in the here-and-now, the other paying dividends both now and in all eternity. 


Allow me to turn you to John Gill (1697-1771). He opens up the text for us in a most interesting fashion. No, don’t skip over it just because the language is a little archaic! Read it through a few times, until it comes clear in your mind. It’s worth the effort.

For bodily exercise profiteth little,.... Meaning not the exercise of the body in the Olympic games, as by running, wrestling, &c. which profited but little, for the obtaining of a corruptible crown at most; though since a word is used here, and in the preceding verse, borrowed from thence, there may be an allusion to it: much less exercise of the body for health or recreation, as riding, walking, playing at any innocent diversion; which profits but for a little time, as the Syriac and Arabic versions read; and the latter renders the phrase "bodily recreation": nor is the exercise of the body in the proper employment of trade and business, to which a man is called, and which profits for the support of life for a little while, intended; nor any methods made use of for the mortification of the body, and the keeping of it under, as watchings, fastings, lying on the ground, scourging, &c. but rather mere formal external worship, as opposed to godliness, or spiritual worship. 

There ought to be an exercise of the body, or a presenting of that in religious worship before God; there should be an outward attendance on the word and ordinances; but then, without internal godliness, this will be of little advantage: it is indeed showing an outward regard to public worship, and may be a means of keeping persons out of bad company, and from doing evil things; but if this is trusted to, and depended on, it will be of no avail to everlasting life; see Luke 13.26.

Good, eh?

And, while you’ve been working on that passage, I’ve been considering our pastor’s posting once more; and meditating upon the fact that though I’m considerably interested in physical exercise, I have never ever considered joining a gym. Why so, when all the world and his wife have been signing up for membership over the last decade or so?

Perhaps the answer lies in the past. It usually does. “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!” And if you recognise that one, you must be even older than I am.


We were lined up against the back wall of the gym. “Heads up! Shoulders back! Stand straight!" I wondered whether it was something to do with National Service. Ron couldn’t have served in WWII, could he? He walked up and down and glared at us. "Mens sana in corpore sano! Who knows what that means?”

I did. I was no good at games and useless at Latin, but I had a facility for remembering definitions and various interesting quotations. No one else seemed to know, so I put my hand up.

He eyed my slight figure, in white singlet, black shorts, and off-white pumps, with cold contempt. “Oh, you know what it means, do you? Go on then, tell us!”

To be continued.

(Time to go and take a look at my neighbour's poppies. They might be out already, in all this sunshine...)