And exercise thyself unto godliness: 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 (1 Timothy 4:7b-8).

Exercise is not one of those things where there is much middle ground. It is something that you either do or you don’t. If you do it, you either enjoy it or you don’t. If you don’t do it, you probably don’t enjoy it much at all if you ever feel compelled to do it. Exercise is one of those practices in life that also tends to generate a lot of emotion. People get quite passionate about engaging in exercise or in avoiding it.

1 Timothy 4:8 tends to be “ground zero” in religious discussions about exercise. Much is made about how Paul declares that bodily exercise is only profitable for a little, and yet godliness is profitable for all things. And this is quite true, and exactly for the reason Paul provides– the spiritual will endure after the body perishes. All flesh is as grass (Isaiah 40:6, 1 Peter 1:24); if we obsess over our physical appearance and our physique, we are investing too much in what will not endure, and comparatively too little in what will endure.

But let us not distort Paul’s words too far the other way. Paul is not giving license here to gluttony; self-control and sober-mindedness must prevail even in terms of eating and physical exercise (Galatians 5:24, 1 Peter 4:7). Paul does say that there is benefit in physical exercise; yes, it is comparatively lesser than the value of spiritual exercise, but it presents benefits nonetheless. Both Paul and Timothy were far more active than most Americans today; we should not imagine that they would approve of Christians having neither concern nor repentance regarding the care and maintenance of their physical bodies. Just as we should not obsess over the physical condition of the body, so we also should not entirely neglect the physical condition of the body. We are not to be Gnostics; we are to understand that the body has temporal value as the “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” and it is hard for us to “glorify God in our bodies” when we show little concern for our physical health and well-being (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

This entire dispute misses the point of what Paul is really trying to accomplish in 1 Timothy 4:7-8: he is attempting to help Timothy, and us by extension, to understand how to grow and develop spiritually in terms of physical exercise. The metaphor is quite appropriate.

In order to function effectively, a human being must exercise his or her body. If we do not use our muscles, they atrophy and quit working entirely. When we maintain good discipline and work our muscles through exercise, be it through actions in daily life and/or through time we devote to conditioning, we actually tear up our muscles in the process. But when the body works to heal those muscles, they end up growing bigger and stronger. As long as we keep conditioning those muscles, they will maintain their size and/or grow. If we stop exercising at any time, we will experience loss of muscle and will be less strong and dextrous. Exercise must be a continual event– it cannot be done once or only for a short period of time and be successful. Recent studies seem to show, in fact, that the worst thing we could do to our bodies is to exercise in spurts, being active in exercising for a few weeks or months, quitting for a while, and then taking it up again. In such situations it seems that no exercise would be less damaging to the body!

As it is with the physical body, so it is with our spiritual lives. If we are going to live spiritually, we must exercise spiritually. If we do not devote ourselves to spiritual matters– learning more about God’s Word and will, indeed, but also practicing the spiritual disciplines, including prayer, evangelism, service, etc.– we spiritually atrophy and die (Romans 12:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Peter 3:18, etc.). When we seek to develop spiritually, we are going to be hurt and injured at times, having to learn from failures, perhaps experiencing persecution, but it is through those experiences that we experience spiritual growth (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-7). We must continue to devote ourselves to the spiritual disciplines lest we lose what we have obtained and grow weak (2 John 1:8). We must devote ourselves ot the spiritual disciplines continually, understanding that we will not automatically spring up to be spiritually full-grown with only minimal effort (Hebrews 5:11-6:4). While we might experience spiritual growth in spurts, we should not spiritually exercise in spurts– we must maintain a pace if we want to make it to the goal (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Physical exercise does have profit; it is good to maintain a body in decent condition, able to meet the challenges of each day, practicing discipline in what is consumed and in effort expended so that the work of God is as unhindered as possible from physical ailment. Spiritual exercise has greater value because it will endure longer than bodily exercise. Nevertheless, notice how Paul indicates that there is always benefit in exercise and the maintenance of the self-discipline that it demands. Let us maintain that kind of self-discipline in terms of both body and soul, working towards self-control and growth in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry



But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned of righteousness, and self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified, and answered, “Go thy way for this time; and when I have a convenient season, I will call thee unto me” (Acts 24:24-25).

His name, in Latin, meant “happy” or “fortunate.” Yet, as procurator of Judea, Marcus Antonius Felix did not have the luckiest or most fortunate job.

But he was a “fortunate” freedman, having been given a position of power thanks to his connections to the Emperor Claudius’ house. Historians attest to Felix’s cruel, licentious, and greedy behavior (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.7, Tacitus, Annals, 12.54). That he expected some money as a bribe to release Paul is not terribly surprising (Acts 24:26); he was known for taking bribes, leading to no little crime in Judea, and upon his dismissal, was accused of plundering the city of Caesarea.

He also apparently had a thing for women named Drusilla. His first wife was Drusilla of Mauretania, descended from Mauretanian royalty and a second cousin to Claudius himself. But then, in Judea, he saw the Drusilla mentioned in Acts 24:24, the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, former king of Judea (cf. Acts 12:20-23), and fell madly in love with her on account of her beauty (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.7.2; Histories, 5.9). She was married to the King of Emesa, but Felix hired a man to persuade her to leave her husband and to marry Felix. Thus Felix divorced the first Drusilla for the second, and Drusilla the Jewess likewise divorced her husband.

This is the Felix to whom Paul is entrusted as a prisoner after his life was threatened in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 23). Felix, for his part, had a “more exact knowledge” concerning Christianity, and wanting neither to offend the Jews nor to act overly unjustly to Paul, chose rather to defer the case rather than to make a decision during the “trial” (Acts 24:1-22). Nevertheless, Felix treated Paul well, giving order to the centurion in charge of him to allow him some liberty and to allow his friends to come and minister to him (Acts 24:23).

Furthermore, despite his sinful ways, Felix is interested in learning more about Christianity– “the faith in Christ Jesus.” He and Drusilla listen to Paul. And then Paul starts talking about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:24-25). Felix is terrified by this, and rightly so. He is known as an extortioner, cruel, and adulterous in his behavior. His conduct in life does not conform to the standard of righteousness, he does not exhibit much self-control, and an impending day of judgment would not be pretty for him.

In reality, such is the terror that each and every person should feel when they first learn about the Gospel message. When people see that their conduct is not consistent with God’s holy standard, and that a day of judgment awaits, there is good reason to be afraid (Matthew 10:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, 1 Peter 1:17)! That fear should lead to repentance– to renounce the life that led to such a terrible condition, to humbly accept the great grace and mercy of God manifest through Christ, and to serve Him (cf. Ephesians 2:1-18, Titus 3:3-8).

Yet in Felix and Drusilla this terror did not lead to repentance. It was easier to push off the message and the messenger, and so they did, telling Paul that he would call upon him at a more convenient time (Acts 24:25).

As far as we can tell, that moment never really came. Yes, Felix often called for Paul and spoke with him, but more to find a way to get money out of the situation than to really learn of righteousness (Acts 24:26). Two years later, in 58, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus as procurator (Acts 24:27). Despite having an excellent opportunity to pardon Paul, he did not do so– as a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison, “passing the buck” to Festus (Acts 24:27).

Drusilla and her son with Felix are reported to have died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79; Felix is reported to have married his third wife afterward. We otherwise know nothing about them but have little confidence that they ever became obedient to the message they heard from Paul.

Felix’s example serves as a warning for people throughout time. If there were someone whom we would imagine as hard-hearted, it would likely be Felix, but such was not really so. Despite being covetous, licentious, and cruel, he listened to what Paul had to say. He knew, deep inside, that what he was doing was wrong, and the prospect of being called into account for it by God on the Judgment day was a strong enough possibility in his mind that it led to terror. But that feeling of terror was not sufficient to lead to repentance. Perhaps Felix was concerned about how conversion to Christianity would sit with either his fellow Romans or with the Jews or both. He likely did not want to imagine himself without Drusilla #2 or again with Drusilla #1, if that remained possible. Perhaps he just did not want to give up his lifestyle. Regardless, in that critical moment of decision, Felix did not repent; he ran. He sent Paul away, figuratively attempting to escape from the truth and power of the message. Maybe he imagined that there would be a “more convenient day” to hear Paul and to change his ways. Yet it is just as likely that he never imagined that there would be such a day coming– it was just a way of ending the conversation without having to change.

There are likely some people who have so blinded themselves to the truth and have been so hardened by their sins that they do not think that they are doing anything wrong and who truly repudiate everything about the message of Christ. Yet such people are in the minority. Most people who sin know, if nothing else deep down, that they are doing things they should not be doing. The message of righteousness and self-control inherent in the Gospel exposes this shame to the light, and the confirmation of the day of Judgment, made certain by the resurrection of Jesus (cf. Acts 17:30-31), guarantees that justice will be served. Internal terror, the correct and visceral response to these truths, manifests itself.

Our future destiny is entirely dependent on how we respond to that internal terror. If, on seeing our condition, we know that we must change our ways and serve the Risen Lord Jesus, we have the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-8). But if we make any other decision– to assault the integrity of the message or messenger in an attempt to rationalize our behavior, to excuse our behavior in some other way, or simply to find a way to physically and/or spiritually “get away” from the message and the messenger, and refuse to repent, then our condition will be very grave– separated eternally from the Creator in torment (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Felix chose the latter. The vainly imagined “more convenient day” never came, as it never comes for the majority of people who are so minded. We can push men off, but the standards of righteousness, self-control, and the imminence of the day of Judgment are fixed and certain. Let us resolve to serve God and not to run away!

Ethan R. Longhenry


Self-Control and Sober-Mindedness

But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer (1 Peter 4:7).

Even though they did not always live by it, the ancients considered “moderation in all things” as the ultimate ideal. When and if this ultimate equilibrium could be reached, life would be most pleasant.

Yet we, as humans, are not always well-balanced creatures. We often go to extremes. In some aspects of life, we may practice self-denial; in others, we throw ourselves into consumption. Our imbalances lead to feelings of craving or guilt.

We would do well, therefore, to maintain a “sound mind” and to be “sober,” or, as in other versions, to exhibit self-control and sober-mindedness. These attributes require discipline and balance, striving to be neither too stringent nor too lax (Colossians 2:20-23, Galatians 5:17-21).

Self-control means that we know when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” and to translate that knowledge into action. Self-control knows when to say, “enough,” either in denial or pleasure. Self-control must be accomplished in every aspect of life if it will be of real value. Even though self-control is listed at the end of the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, it is hard to see how anyone can manifest the other characteristics without it (Galatians 5:22-24)!

When we think of sobriety, we generally think of not being on drugs or alcohol. Yet sobriety is much more than that– it means that we are free from any and all intoxicants. To be sober-minded means to not allow any thing to intoxicate or control the mind, save the believer subjecting his mind to the will of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). That includes drugs and alcohol, but also includes greed, lust, and anything else that would intoxicate the mind and distract us from our main purpose!

Let none be deceived: self-control and sober-mindedness are not forced upon anyone on account of circumstances. They are qualities that must be consciously developed whether in good times or bad. Are we willing to put effort into disciplining ourselves (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)?

We would also do well to consider why Peter says we ought to be self-controlled and sober-minded: “the end of all things is at hand.” If we knew for a certainty that this would be the last day of our lives, and that Jesus is going to return tomorrow, how would our story end? Would we be found as the “good and faithful servant,” doing the will of the Master despite His absence, showing proper self-control and sober-mindedness (Matthew 24:45-47)? Or would we be as the “wicked servant,” who has not acted as circumspectly, and fallen under condemnation for his sin (Matthew 24:48-51)?

In this circumstance, would knowing that Jesus is returning tomorrow change the way you lived? Would it lead you to “straighten up” and apply yourself more diligently to self-control and sober-mindedness? Even though we may not know for certain whether Jesus will come today, tomorrow, or in a thousand years, the New Testament makes clear that we must live as if He will return momentarily (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, Matthew 25:1-30). Let us develop self-control and sober-mindedness so that we may be found faithful in the Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Self-Control and Sober-Mindedness