“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self… treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” – 2 Timothy 3:1-2, 4
An Unexpected Injury
Growing up, my parents had slowly accumulated equipment they used to build their home gym. It was a Frankenstein-ed assortment of random equipment, all stitched together to create a home environment conducive to exercise.
And in this gym, there was a mirror mounted on the wall.
Mirrors are not just for decoration in gyms. Mirrors allow you to critique your form throughout your workout. The last thing you want to do while exercising is move incorrectly, which can lead to injuries.
But there’s another type of injury that can be sustained with the mirror, and it’s far more sinister than a pulled muscle. It’s an injury to the inner man. And for me, I am all too personally familiar with the temptation and pitfall of this injury.
Swole with Conceit: Distorting the Natural and the Good
Conceit is an elusive foe that creeps up in the heart of those pursuing body stewardship. It distorts what is natural and good into an expression of self-worship.
The physical results of stewarding your body well are both natural and good. They are natural in that your body responds to exercise, rest, and eating well with physical results within God’s created order. You will become leaner, stronger, and healthier when you steward your body well. The results are good in that God was the One who designed your body to respond this way (Genesis 1:31).
Building muscle and strength through exercise wasn’t an accidental design flaw. This is how our good God created the body.
We see these positive effects of healthy stewardship elsewhere in God’s creation. When a plant receives water, sun, and soil, it grows and produces fruit, which is both natural and good. When a nursing infant receives his mother’s milk, care, and rest, he grows and matures, which are both natural and good.
Strength is a gift from God. It is the glory of a young man (Proverbs 20:29), and it’s used to love God (Luke 10:27) and love neighbor. Strength is used to lead, build, defend, endure, and bring blessing to others. Building strength is not evil, wrong, or sinful. Strength is a natural and good result of stewarding your body that can be used in countless glorious applications.
But sin’s pattern is to distort the natural and the good. The blessing of sex can be distorted into a myriad of perversions, just like the blessing of strength can be misdirected into a variety of ruinous ways. Strength can be used destructively to intimidate or harm. Strength can be missing when it’s needed most. And with conceit, strength is redirected away from the love of God and love of neighbor and is aimed toward love of self.
Conceit’s use of strength is actually a neutered version of strength; it no longer serves the productive purpose it was designed for. It might look impressive, but it lacks true efficacy. It looks swole, but it’s just swole with conceit.
The Heart and Worship
The issue with conceit then doesn’t originate from the results of exercise, but like all other idols, it finds its root within the sinful heart. Conceit is a self-exalting, self-adoring, self-worshipping attitude of the heart that displaces God as the rightful Owner and Creator of our body. We exchange the glory of God for images resembling ourselves (Romans 1:23), and our bodies become an idol.
This inflated view of self is what 2 Timothy 3:4 describes. In the Greek, “swollen with conceit” is one word, typhoō, which is a verb metaphor that takes the concept of rising smoke or mist and uses it to describe someone who is puffed up in his pride. The man described here who is swollen with conceit is besotted with himself.
The solution to conceit is found within the problem. Conceit is misdirected worship aimed toward self. We were created to worship God, to steward our bodies for His glory, and to use all of our strength to love Him (Luke 10:27). Instead of using our strength to worship ourselves, we ought to use our strength and our bodies to worship God and love others.
A Better Mirror
After Paul finishes his long list of warnings to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-9), he reminds Timothy of the foundation laid in his life. Timothy has followed the example of Paul, his way of life, and his persecutions (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Paul reminds Timothy to expect persecution when trying to live a godly life, while the evil men described in 2 Timothy 3:1-9 deteriorate from “bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
Paul then gives Timothy instruction, to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed” (2 Timothy 3:14). Don’t equivocate. Don’t back down. But press on in the truth. Remember who entrusted it to you (2 Timothy 3:14). Remember that you were taught the Scriptures from a young age and that they make you wise for salvation in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15). And remember that Scripture is breathed out by God, is profitable, and that it equips you for “every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Scripture is a better mirror that is far more accurate at showing you what you actually look like. It’s the sword that can cut through bone and marrow, with the ability to accurately discern your true thoughts and intentions (Hebrews 4:12). It’s the inspired Word of God that can precisely reproof and correct you, while lovingly teach and train you for righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
And it creates efficacy for the man of God. The man who spends time under the instruction of God’s Word finds salvation through Christ (2 Timothy 3:15), and he is then equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). He is mature, he is ready, and his strength can be applied towards the good work that needs to be done.
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