When I turned thirty years old it passed without much acknowledgement. It didn’t strike me as much of a milestone at all. Thirty-one? Nope. Thirty-two? Nope. Then I hit thirty-three years old. Still not much of a milestone, but something struck me. I am now the same age that Christ was when he was crucified. In an odd way this thought gave me a sense of identification with Christ. To think that I am married, have six children and, God-willing, am going to live for quite a few more years; but Christ at this same age was sacrificing his life for the salvation of the world. What a sense of humility and unworthiness came over me!
As we grow and develop we all reach physical and mental milestones. We learn new realities and understand old truths in a deeper way. Another thing happens as we mature as well – our physical frame begins to show the evidence of sins curse. In a very real way our physical growth and maturity stops and the slow progression to death begins. Bones creek, joints hurt, and weight begins to stick. The feelings of immortality that we may have once had are long gone.
For many of us, this sudden realization that we have stopped “growing” and have begun “aging” comes as a rude awakening. It is at this time that many may decide to become serious about physical fitness. At least that’s what has happened to me.
I began to realize that being “in shape” was not just a matter of vanity but can be a matter of both practicality and responsibility. God has given us one body and it has to last us a lifetime. Our attitude toward healthy living can determine just how long that lifetime is.
In the sixth chapter of first Corinthians Paul was expounding upon the wretchedness of fornication. He said:
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
So, in a different context, Paul taught an important principle about our bodies. Neglecting or abusing our bodies is sin. Not only do we sin against our own bodies (thereby shortening or affecting the quality of our lives), but we sin against God. He has given us these bodies as the temple of the Holy Ghost and they are meant for His glory. Gluttony, substance abuse or simply a sedentary lifestyle, steal our ability to glorify God in our bodies and are thus sinful.
The fact is, physical fitness is a good and important priority in this life. Good eating and an active lifestyle have tremendous benefits – and these go far beyond the physical. A belly full of junk food stops you in your tracks. Your body now has an important task to complete – not building muscle or shedding pounds but digesting the mass of “pseudo-food” that you have so indulgently dumped upon it. Ever notice how you feel exhausted after you down the Big Mac, Spicy Chicken Sandwich, or Gordita Crunch? That is your body “calling a time-out”. It needs a lot of resources to figure out what to do with the garbage you have foisted upon it. As you undo the top button of your pants and sit on the couch waiting for a new wave of energy, your body is hard at work pumping insulin and storing fat. How do you feel during this time? Physically? Emotionally?Spiritually? The same physical exhaustion that hits your body has a real impact on your inward man as well. A lack of sleep, a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle can steal your clarity of thought, cause irritability, and zap your motivation to do anything productive.
How does this affect us Spiritually?
The Apostle Paul enjoyed drawing parallels between physical discipline and spiritual discipline. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he said:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Paul compared the disciplined spiritual life to that of an olympic runner who disciplines himself to win the prize. Just as the runner is “temperate in all things”, (he lives a self-disciplined life) so too should the Christian be self-disciplined in all areas of life. But Paul was doing more than drawing an analogy between the physical and the spiritual, he continues:
1 Corinthians 9:26-27 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Paul is indicating not only that we should be spiritually disciplined but that this spiritual discipline will require that we keep our physical bodies under control as well. Spiritual discipline and physical discipline are connected. If my mind and my emotions are to be operating at their best for God, I need to provide a healthy vessel for them to operate from!
Physical Discipline for Spiritual Pay-Off
Paul disciplined himself physically and he did it so that he could reap the spiritual benefits. He knew that discipline is whole-personed – it is a way of life. A godly understanding of physical fitness or discipline connects the physical to the spiritual. It applies the same discipline that we exert physically to spiritual things – and never less.
Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:8:
1 Timothy 4:8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
What a convenient passage for those who want to elevate their laziness to a virtue! But, Paul was not negating the need for physical exercise here but stating that if priorities need to be made, spiritual discipline is far more profitable than physical exercise.
It Comes Down to Heart Attitude and Right Priorities
It is unlikely that the physically lazy and undisciplined Christian is living a vibrant, dedicated and disciplined spiritual life! Many Christians would do well to start a physical fitness program. Whether it be aerobic, running, weight lifting or maybe just healthy eating. He should then ensure that he has applied that same level of discipline and dedication to his spiritual life. Anything short of this would take his physical exercise out of the realm of healthy and balanced and push it into the realm of idols.
Like many areas of Christian life, whether or not something is right or wrong often comes down to our attitude and motivation while participating in it. Exercise is no different. Perhaps we should check our attitude by considering a few questions: Men, do you lift weights to impress the opposite sex?
- Men, do you pump iron so you can walk down the street shirtless?
- Ladies, do you strive to be skinny so you can live up to the world’s standard of beauty?
- Do you feel a need to shed the pounds so you can compete for the glances of men?
- Has getting in shape caused you to develop an ungodly attitude toward your body?
- Has your body become a showpiece instead of a vessel to be used for the glory of God?
- Has your desire for physical fitness taken up an undue amount of your time?
- Has your dedication to exercise stolen time, affection, or devotion to spiritual things?
- Has working out and getting fit begun to take over too much of your thinking?
All of these are important questions because they lay bare our motivations. Whether or not something is right, wrong, godly, ungodly, glorifying to God or shaming to his name is often determined by the attitude in which we do them.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says:
1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Can you exercise, work out, lift weights, run or even eat to the glory of God? Absolutely. The important thing to consider is our heart attitude when we approach any physical fitness program. As important as a healthy lifestyle is (and it is), God – and we – should be far more concerned about our inner person. Peter put it this way (in the context of godly women):
1 Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
This same idea is reflected in the great Old Testament passage which describes a godly woman.
Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
This principle applies to both men and women. We can shame God’s name by becoming lazy and undisciplined – physically and spiritually. We can also shame his name by becoming obsessed with our outward appearance. The key is to maintain moderation and a godly perspective in all that we do.
As for me and my wife, we are going to keep trying to incorporate healthy habits into our weekly routines. This includes healthier eating, walking, running, cardiovascular exercise and even lifting weights. In it all, we strive to maintain a godly perspective and ensure that we do not become imbalanced in any of it. Our desire is to glorify God in our bodies, to maintain the temple he has given us and provide a healthy vessel from which our minds, emotions and spirit can operate.
God can be glorified or he can be shamed by our physical lives. How about you? Are you both physically and spiritually lazy? Or perhaps you are growing spiritually but have become physically lax? Or maybe you have begun to discipline yourself physically and have noticed ungodly attitudes or imbalanced priorities creeping in? Whether working out at home or the gym, alone or with others, what is your perspective? Are you keeping your spiritual priorities right?
In many areas of the Christian life, including so-called “grey areas” we simply need to apply some critical (or rather, Biblical) thinking. Physical exercise is no different. Keep godly priorities, maintain a Biblical perspective and use your liberty for the glory of God.
In the mean time, send me an occasional email to remind me about the importance of physical fitness.