The Tail And The Dog

By Irven Lee

We have all heard of the tail wagging the dog. That, of course, refers to the little thing that has assumed a place of too great importance. Many times man loses his proper sense of values and emphasizes the trivial to the neglect of the important. It is much more decent and orderly if everything can be kept in its proper place.

Surely we should all be glad to have the inspired apostle to the Gentiles give us a word on comparative values. “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” (1 Tim. 4:8). This verse does not say that it is wrong to play or enter into some form of physical exercise as a means of recreation. Neither does it say that it is a sin to forget the stress and strain of life’s problems for a few minutes by becoming absorbed in observing an interesting game or in interesting reading. Solomon’s remark that there is a time to laugh still makes sense (Ecc. 3:1-8). Man needs to relax. Doctors may advise fishing, hunting, golfing, w,dking, or even running. It need not bother their conscience to offer such advice because there is no evil in this. Many modern occupations do not give one the proper exercise for physical health, but many modern occupations do threaten mental health. Please do not suppose that the following remarks are intended to discourage the proper effort to maintain physical or mental health.

We may be careful not to forget bodily exercise for the good of the physical man, but the apostle would also advise that a man exercise himself unto godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). The latter is the more important exercise because it can mean more in this life, and it looks forward to the life to come. Our senses need to be exercised to discern between good and evil (see Heb. 5:14). Much has been said about America’s need for physical fitness. Much should be said about America’s need for spiritual fitness. The proper chastening yields the peaceable fruit or righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby (Heb. 12:11). In or permissive generation many young people reach the age of maturity as spiritual weaklings because they lack this very valuable exercise.

A good name is rather to be chosen then great riches (Prov. 22:1). A good name is of greater value in this life than the strong body is to the physical giant who is immoral and vulgar. America has many athletic heroes and lavishes its honors upon them, but America is sick spiritually, and does not seem to notice its spiritual giants. It is great to be physically strong. It is greater to be spiritually strong.

This article is not written to influence those who act like pagans. Those who loot, rob, and burn through lack of respect for law and property rights will not read this. This article is written with the hope that it may be worth something to members of the Lord’s church. All of us need to be reminded to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). We may still garden, fish, or watch a game. We must not let the tail wag the dog. We need common sense and self control.

During gospel meetings great crowds miss Friday night to see the game at the school. They say they will be there the other six nights of the week. They do not dare miss the game, with the remark that they will see the other ten or eleven games and cannot afford to miss this particular game. My hat is off to those who enjoy games but who gladly and cheerfully put the worship first. It is easy for some to let a television show take precedence over midweek Bible study. Hollywood may influence many church members far more than the apostles influence them, and Hollywood’s influence is far from holy.

There is a difference in reasonable interest in recreation and in going insane over a game or a hobby. Some spend an unreasonable amount of money for the sport of greatest interest and give an excessive amount of time to the same. The children, needs of the home, and the place of the Lord’s church are pushed aside to let the tail wag the dog. Examine yourself if you see any reason to think you might be putting bodily exercise ahead of godliness which has the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is joy. The search for happiness among the pleasures of this world is a vain search. The peace that passeth all understanding is not obtained in bodily exercise or in some suggested form of modern recreation (read Phil. 4:7). Read the context of this great verse. If one finds no joy in his religion, there is a great possiblity that there is little religion. What does the Lord see when He looks on our hearts? Does He see too much emphasis on the fleeting and the trivial, and too little on the eternal and the precious things? Too much emphasis on things that pertain to this life that are legitimate in their proper place can become a form of worldliness.

Some have gone so far in their interest in what they call recreation that righteousness is discarded in favor of the social drink, unholy revelling, and lasciviousness. They are asserting their liberty, they seem to think, when, in reality, they are becoming slaves to their own bad habits. It is indeed sad for those who have “clean escaped” to be “brought into bondage” (see 2 Peter 2:18-22). In the parable of the sower, one patch of thorns that choked out the word was the “pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14).

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 1, p. 24
January 6, 1983