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The Measure of a Man: Becoming a Disciplined Man

  • Gene A. Getz Author
  • 2004 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
The Measure of a Man:  Becoming a Disciplined Man

Self-controlled [disciplined]
Titus 1:8

A 26-Mile Run

When our daughter Robyn was a student at Baylor University, she decided to compete in her first marathon. She launched into a strict training program, running an average of six miles a day and 20 miles every Saturday. During this period, I well remember spending a day mountain climbing with her in Montana. I thought I was in fairly good shape physically, until I tried to keep up with her pace. By midafternoon I was in deep trouble; fortunately, I made it down without having to be carried off the mountain on a stretcher. She was prepared. I wasn’t.

Robyn continued this regimen for several months. Frankly, I was rather amazed at her commitment and self-discipline. It paid off, because she completed her first race averaging an eight-and-a-half minute mile. What impressed me even more was her physical condition after she had run nonstop for 26 miles. Within five minutes, she was breathing normally and experiencing very little muscular discomfort. Because of her strict training program, she was in excellent physical condition. She not only disciplined herself by running, but also in a number of other ways, including her diet.

Temperate, Self-Controlled, Disciplined

As Paul concluded his maturity profile in his letter to Titus, he used the word egkrate, which is translated “temperate” in the King James Version, “self-controlled” in the New American Standard Bible and “disciplined” in the New International Version. Personally, I prefer the word “disciplined” for two reasons. First, this basic concept is used in ancient Greek literature to describe a person who is strong and robust. Second, Paul used this word in several athletic illustrations to describe the importance of being disciplined when living the Christian life.

The Greek and Roman Games

Paul was particularly intrigued with the athletic analogy. This is understandable. He grew up in Tarsus, a great center for athletic contests. Though a Jew, Paul grew up understanding Greek and Roman culture, particularly the commitment to develop physical strength and mental concentration in order to engage in vigorous competition in the various Olympic and Isthmian games.

The Isthmian games, second only to the Olympic games, were held every three years at Corinth. This is apparently why Paul used an athletic metaphor to make a spiritual point in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians. He used a form of egkrate in his letter to draw a parallel between living a disciplined Christian life and being a disciplined runner:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control [self-discipline] in all things (9:24-25).

In essence, Robyn’s story is a modern-day elaboration on the metaphor Paul used in 1 Corinthians to illustrate what it takes to live a victorious Christian life. We cannot reach the goal of becoming mature without being disciplined “in all things.” This is why Paul exhorted Timothy, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Here Paul used the word gumnazo, which means to exercise vigorously, either the body or the mind. In athletics, both are involved.

Physical exercise, when it is done properly, is definitely beneficial. It adds to our endurance, and it helps us to be more mentally alert and emotionally stable and resilient. There is evidence that it may add months, and perhaps years, to our lives. But, as Paul implies, physical exercise benefits us only in this life. On the other hand, maintaining a healthy spiritual life “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Spirit and Soul and Body

We are integrated beings. This is why Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians that they might be sanctified completely, that their “spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).

Anyone who has done much counseling is well aware of how these three dimensions interrelate. When we are not functioning well physically, it affects both our psychological and our spiritual lives. When we are not functioning well mentally and emotionally (our psychological dimension), it affects our physical and spiritual lives. And when we are out of God’s will spiritually, it affects us physically and psychologically.

Maintaining Physical and Psychological Health

When you feel depressed and God seems far away, it’s important to determine your physical and emotional condition. Are you exercising regularly? Are you getting enough rest? Are you experiencing any chemical imbalances? What about your hormone levels? This is why it is important to get a complete physical examination at least once a year.

I remember a seminary student coming to me one day having serious doubts about the existence of God. Here was a man preparing for the ministry, and yet he was having difficulty believing in the most important truth in Christianity.

After listening to him share his thoughts and feelings, I asked him how much sleep he had been getting. He had been studying night and day trying to unravel and understand some of the mysteries in the Scriptures. At that point, I asked him to eat a good meal and then to go back to his room and go to bed and sleep as long as he could sleep.

Several days later, the same man came back to see me. Guess what? His spiritual doubts were gone, simply because he had overcome his physical and psychological exhaustion. In many respects, he was just like Elijah, who, after his great victory over the prophets of Baal, wanted to die. His thinking became horribly distorted. He was depressed and disillusioned. God’s prescription for bringing healing to Elijah was in essence what I suggested to this young student. God fed Elijah several good meals and then allowed him to sleep. Several days later, Elijah was a different man (see 1 Kings 19:1-8).

Maintaining Spiritual Health

It’s also true that as Christians we can experience many of the symptoms just mentioned if we’re violating God’s will. We lose our appetites; we can’t sleep well; we are depressed, edgy and impatient. The problem may be that we’re experiencing real guilt over our sins, which is affecting both our psychological and physical well-being.

I knew of a Christian man who was committing adultery with a divorced woman. There is no question that he had a sensitive conscience. In his heart, he wanted to be a strong, disciplined Christian, but he knew he was disobeying God. To complicate his guilt, he also knew that he never intended to marry this woman.

The end result of this man’s sin was extreme depression — so much so that he couldn’t function well at his job. Normally a high-energy person, he lost his desire to achieve. Though he had experienced several other stressful crises in his life, the main cause of his depression seemed to be his sin of not living out God’s will for his life. When he confessed his sin and refocused his spiritual life, the dark cloud that shrouded his soul disappeared.

Conditioning and Concentration

We don’t really know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but whoever it was also used the Greek and Roman games to illustrate and describe the disciplines involved in living the Christian life:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (12:1-2).

The author of Hebrews broadens this athletic metaphor by using the word agona, a Greek athletic term that refers to a contest. Consequently, the author could be referring to a foot race or to other Greek games involving intense competition and self-discipline, such as fighting wild beasts, boxing, wrestling or throwing the discus.

Lay Aside Every Encumbrance
To compete effectively in these games, an athlete had to “lay aside every encumbrance.” The athlete must “throw off everything that hinders” (NIV). The Greek word is ogkon, which refers to “bulk” and “mass.” It can refer to excessive weight of any kind, including our own body weight.

Most overweight people have difficulty competing effectively in athletic activities that call for quickness, speed and endurance. For example, I love downhill skiing. But I learned a rather startling lesson several years ago. I allowed myself to put on 10 pounds beyond my normal weight. While skiing, I noticed I had trouble breathing, something that hadn’t bothered me before. In fact, at extremely high altitudes where I had skied without any difficulties on previous occasions, I actually thought I was going to hyperventilate. Before, I loved to lead the pack down the mountain, but now I could hardly keep up. Furthermore, my skills had deteriorated. I couldn’t trust my abilities.

Then it suddenly dawned on me why I was having so much trouble. I was overweight. To test my theory, I went on a weight-loss program the next month and then went skiing again. The difference was remarkable. I could breathe again. My endurance was back. I could concentrate and stay in control.

Let Us Run with Endurance
The author of Hebrews immediately identified any excessive weight as “the sin which so easily entangles us.” Paul called this sin “the deeds of the flesh … immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21).

However, what about those weights that aren’t so flagrant and noticeable? To be perfectly blunt, are you 10 pounds overweight in your Christian life? Have you developed habits that keep you from being on the cutting edge spiritually? Are you spending too much time watching television and movies or reading worthless literature? At the same time, are you neglecting your prayer life, church attendance and Bible reading? To be even more specific, have you developed habits of laziness? Do you lack self-discipline?

Fix Our Eyes on Jesus
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus” is perhaps the most important lesson in this athletic metaphor. Any runner in the Greek stadium who took his eyes off the goal and either looked at the crowds or his competitors would lose valuable time and concentration. So it is in the Christian life. When we take our eyes off the Lord and focus on others, we are in danger of getting sidetracked spiritually.

I remember going through a difficult time in my own life as a young Christian. Several key spiritual leaders I looked up to let me down. They didn’t measure up to my expectations. Unfortunately, the experience became disillusioning, so much so that I was tempted to forsake my goal of serving Jesus Christ in full-time ministry. Consequently, I spent a number of months marking time; worse yet, I was losing time.

In retrospect, I learned a valuable lesson. I had taken my eyes off Jesus Christ and focused on others. Unfortunately, these men weren’t the best examples in the world. I eventually learned that there is only one perfect man — Christ Jesus. He would never let me down.

Don’t misunderstand. We all need Christians we can look up to as examples. That is why Paul told the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 11:1). Yet we must realize that even the most mature Christians will fail, which is why we must keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ.

The Homestretch

Paul wrote his last letter while chained in a Roman dungeon. Here, he once again used an athletic metaphor to communicate with Timothy. Paul knew he was coming into the homestretch in his Christian race:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come (2 Tim. 4:6).

Not too far away from where Paul was chained stood the great Roman coliseum. Sadly, the Roman games had already deteriorated into a spectator sport that involved fights that pitted men against beasts. The blood-hungry crowds were like animals themselves.

As Paul penned this final letter, he certainly visualized in his mind what was happening in this great arena several blocks away. Using athletic language, he wrote:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (vv. 7-8).

As Timothy read these words, he would clearly grasp what Paul meant. The word for “fight” (agonizomai) conjured up an image of Greek boxers who fought with ox-hide gloves interlaced with lead and iron. The battle itself was brutal, but to fail to win was even more tragic. The loser often had his eyes gouged out.

Paul’s final metaphor underscores the seriousness of the Christian life. Our real competitor is Satan. We are in a fight against the forces of evil. Paul had won that fight. He had fought to the finish, and he was about to receive the victor’s crown — a special reward for faithfulness and endurance. His faith had not failed him.

Points of Action

In essence, this book is designed to help each of us as Christian men to “discipline” ourselves “for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Paul’s two profiles in his letters to Timothy and Titus outline for us 20 characteristics or qualities that define what this godliness actually is.

At the end of each chapter, I have outlined several points of action — steps we can take to develop these particular qualities in our lives. And now as we come to the end of this study, it is time to reflect back to see how we are doing.

Evaluate
In a moment you will evaluate the 20 characterisitcs we have studied. A seven-point evaluation scale ranging from dissatisfaction to satisfaction follows each characteristic. Please read the following directions:

  • Fill out the questionnaire
    Read each question carefully and then circle the number that best represents where you are in your spiritual journey. Be as honest as possible, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself credit where credit is due.

  • Get another point of view
    If you are married, have your spouse fill out this questionnaire to reflect her impressions of your abilities before you discuss the questions together. Then compare her scores with your own. If there are discrepancies, discuss why.
    Note: If you are single, ask a close male friend to fill out the same survey and follow the same procedures just outlined.

  • Analyze the results
    First highlight your areas of strength. Then highlight areas where you want to grow and mature and become more disciplined.

  • Reread and review
    Note the areas where you want to improve. Then go back to the chapters in which these qualities are discussed in depth. Reread each chapter and then review the points of action. Once again, set up specific goals you want to achieve in your Christian life.

Determine Your Maturity Quotient

Overall Spiritual Maturity

1. How do you evaluate your overall maturity as a Christian?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Above Reproach

2. How do you evaluate your reputation as a Christian among fellow believers as well as among non-Christians?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

The Husband of One Wife

3. How do you evaluate your moral life?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Temperate

4. How do you evaluate the degree to which you are maintaining balance in your Christian experience?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Prudent

5. How do you evaluate your ability to be wise and discerning?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Respectable

6. How satisfied are you with the way your life reflects the life of Jesus Christ?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Hospitable

7. How do you evaluate your generosity?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Able to Teach

8. How do you evaluate your ability to communicate with others who may disagree with you?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Not Addicted to Wine

9. To what degree are you satisfied with your ability to control various kinds of obsessions and compulsions?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Not Self-Willed

10. How satisfied are you with your ability to relate to other people without being self-centered and controlling?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Not Quick-Tempered

11. How satisfied are you with the way you handle anger?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Not Pugnacious

12. How satisfied are you with your ability to control any form of verbal or physical abuse?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Gentle

13. How objective and fair-minded are you in your relationships with others?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Peaceable (Uncontentious)

14. How satisfied are you with your ability to avoid arguments?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Free from the Love of Money

15. How satisfied are you with your ability to be nonmaterialistic?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Manages His Own Household Well

16. If you are a father, how satisfied are you with your ability to function in this role according to God’s plan?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Loving What Is Good

17. To what degree are you satisfied with your efforts at overcoming evil with good?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Just

18. How satisfied are you with your ability to be just and fair in your relationships with others?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Devout (Holy)

19. To what degree are you satisfied with the way your life reflects God’s holiness?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied

Self-Controlled (Disciplined)

20. How satisfied are you with your ability to live a disciplined Christian life?
Dissatisfied 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Satisfied



From "The Measure of a Man" © 2004 by Gene A. Getz. Published by Regal Books, www.regalbooks.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Gene A. Getz is senior pastor at Fellowship Bible Church North in Plano, Texas.  More than 30,000 people currently attend Fellowship churches he has planted in Dallas, while even more such churches span the globe.  Gene has written more than 50 books and is the host of the 15-minute daily radio program, "Renewal."  He and his wife, Elaine, reside in Plano.