I have recently been doing a lot of thinking about fitness and the Christian life. In some ways, the church as a whole ignores the idea of health & fitness. Exercising the body verses the mind and soul isn’t a forefront of conversation among God’s people. Not to mention that some of the unhealthiest places of eating in my past have been at church events; pizza, fried chicken, and the donut train.
We, the church, have surrendered the fitness element of life to the gym guru, physical trainers, and those yoga-loving, all-natural food-hippies. Or at least that is the sense I get. When is the last time you heard a sermon on the discipline of your body physically? But when is the last time you heard a sermon on the discipline of reading your Bible or giving? Not to mention the subtle message delivered every so often that these bodies will be left behind in exchange for an incorruptible body later so it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter?
I have come to see that the mind and body are so uniquely connected that the exercise of one will benefit the other. The discipline of the flesh delivers a benefit not only to the flesh but to the soul. But the ability to discipline the flesh is near impossible without a proper motive and empowerment of the soul. As much as we long for escape, the soul and body are now intertwined. We, for a time, abide as soul captured in flesh. Therefore, discipline is crucial.
When the soul met body via the Lord’s word in the Garden (not via Snow Patrol), we became distinctly human. We were the apex of creation in that God pressed His image into us. We are truly “beautifully and wonderfully made.“ And the desire of our hearts, as Christ-followers, is to be fully alive as God designed us. To honor God our creator, redeemer and friend forever with returned love and devotion. In other words, the created seeks to know and enjoy the Creator. The scriptures teach us the trees, the seas, and the skies rejoice in the Lord. And so should we.
With that said, shouldn’t Christians be ones whom people come to find out more about creation? Shouldn’t people flock to the church to discover ways to care for the body, the planet, the seas? I mean wasn’t Adam given the charge to care for the Garden? Therefore, believers should have key insights to offer the world about fitness, health care, and environmentalism right? It seems we should. But the trend I see is that the systems of this world, those disconnected from Christ, are the ones sought for answers. And worse yet, Christians too often mock those being sought with words like yoga-freak, gym-junkie, and tree-huggers.
Why is it wrong to be educated about creation, how it works, and its care and longevity? It’s not, that’s the answer. But I would also say that those who build their fitness around the body but not the soul are missing a strong component as well. The unity of the two is what makes us divine dirt. One without the other is either a muddy mess or restless wanderer.
So, to the point: Christians should be models of health, fitness, and self-care (not extremists, but balanced). We know the creator for goodness sake. We should be educated in how what we eat changes our mood, our health. We ought to demonstrate the physical benefits of exercise on the mind and body. Now, I know the good ‘ole Southern Baptist potlucks I attended growing up lived off of the motto of 1 Timothy 4:8, but was that truly a license to be gluttons or abusers of creation?
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things,
holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. – I Timothy 4:8
In fact, physical training can have great impact for the kingdom just by the influence it gains. Look at the story of Daniel in Daniel, chapter 1. Just because he resolved to hold to the diet of the Lord during his day, he and three friends, were able to win some of the highest seats of honor and influence in a pagan kingdom! Quote Paul’s words to Timothy as an excuse that diet and physical care isn’t important, and Daniel might offer a different perspective. Does your lifestyle, health, diet, energy level, and mental acuteness give you a level of influence with others? Why not? Paul also wrote, in whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.
And lastly, here is a word about sickness and sin. A few years back now, I had a startling realization about fitness while reading James chapter 5. In verses 14-16, it appears that James is connecting sin and sickness together, and that confession is key to experiencing godly freedom. WOW!
Think of it like this: Imagine a pastor visiting the hospital room of an obvious gluttonous, work-alcoholic whose idea of fitness is walking to the dinner table. And instead of saying soft words of kindness about his present heart trouble and diabetes, he would say something like: “Joe, your sin has made you sick. Your abuse of the gift of life and influence on this planet hasn’t gone unseen. You have inherited the consequences of your self-indulgence. And I can pray for your recovery, but true recovery will be found first in your repentance and second in your surrender to the Spirit’s ability to change your habits of selfishness and death.”
You might say, “Who would do that?” My question is becoming, why don’t we? Sin is sin. Yes murder is murder. However, eating to cover the insecurity that can only be found in a life with Christ is sin also! Never caring for the body God gave you as a gift with at least a little bit of exercise is a sin. Let’s get honest with each other.
This is what I know. I have one life. And I want to be as fit as I can be so that I can live to have the longest possible impact and influence for the kingdom while I’m here! Going home at 50 with a heart-attack because I was a glutton and a sloth sounds selfish and irresponsible. Going home at 80, delivering the word boldly until I go… now that sounds better.
What are your thoughts?