The problems Timothy confronted in Ephesus were such that many of the Christians there no longer paid close attention to the biblical gospel. Instead, they had become focused on speculative matters such as the lives of those many individuals whom Scripture names in its genealogies without telling us anything else about them (1 Tim. 1:3–4). Correcting this error meant that the leaders in Ephesus had to abandon their speculations and get back to the foundations of the faith. This charge Paul gave to Timothy so that he could convey it to the elders and teachers who were entertaining errors. The apostle did not hold back in calling these conjectures “irreverent, silly myths” (4:7a), or as may be translated literally, “old wives’ tales,” for he wanted to make sure that everyone would see their futility.
Yet fixing the problem of false teaching, then as now, involves more than leaving falsehood behind. Diligent pursuit of truth and godliness is also required. The Greek word translated “train” in verse 7b is a form of the verb gymnazō, from which we get the English terms gymnasium and gymnastics. Paul is using an athletic metaphor, telling us that training in godliness requires persistent effort. Gymnasts and other athletes have to train for months and years to hone their skills; similarly, we must realize that godliness and holiness are not developed overnight. Regular prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and the like are necessary if we would subdue our flesh and walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16–26). Matthew Henry says, “Those who would be godly must train themselves to be godly; it requires a constant exercise.”
Godliness, Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:8, brings eternal benefits. We have been given everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and as we make an effort to supplement our faith with virtue, love, self-control, and a host of other virtues, we will grow in our full assurance of salvation and even find ourselves with a greater reward in the life to come (vv. 4–11; see also Matt. 25:14–30). All of this is possible only through the grace of God who is the one who granted us the ability to have faith in the first place (Eph. 2:8–9).