Spiritual Benefits of Physical Fitness
Some Christians look down on exercise as a carnal thing that profits little. Can physical fitness affect the spiritual life?
In Christian theology, the body is carnal, fleshly, fallen, sensual, decaying, and doomed to the grave. But that’s only part of the story. We are also “fearfully and wonderfully made,” Psalm 139:14 states. Knowing that death comes to all, and that our citizenship is in heaven where we will enjoy resurrected bodies no longer afflicted by sin, how should Christ followers evaluate their priorities when it comes to care of the body?
The Apostle Paul warned Timothy, “bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (I Timothy 4:8). But in that same chapter, he praised discipline, and in his second letter, he encouraged Timothy to be strong, using athletics as a positive analogy of striving for the prize (II Timothy 2). In Galatians 5:2, he listed self-control as one of the fruits of the Spirit. In II Corinthians 9:25, he admonished his readers to develop self-control, once again using the analogy of athletics in a positive way. The writer of Hebrews, similarly, encouraged his readers to “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” comparing spiritual growth to athletic competition (Hebrews 12:1). Success in physical fitness obviously requires discipline, self-control and endurance. Although there is no command in the Bible to work out in the modern sense, maybe it’s fair to see godliness in these requirements for exercise, and also to consider how bodily health enhances spiritual health and ministry effectiveness.
Thinking of taking a walk every day? Six reasons why it’s good for you (Medical Xpress). Janet Viljoen motivates us all to get off the couch and work those legs. Here’s her list:
- It doesn’t cost a thing.
- It prevents (or delays) Type II diabetes.
- It decreases blood pressure.
- It decreases body fat.
- It reduces symptoms of depression.
- It has no adverse side effects.
Viljoen was obviously not preparing a Bible study lesson, but think about how effective a Christ-follower would be with preventable Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, depression and related side effects. Maybe developing self-control enough to walk each day with endurance and perseverance could provide spiritual benefits, too.
Outdoor instruction makes students more open to learning (Science Daily). Christian schools and home-schooling parents place a high premium on the proper education of youth. Here’s another study, this one conducted in Norway, that shows students learn better in an outdoor setting.
Lead author Dettweiler from the study published in Frontiers in Psychology concludes that outdoor instruction with explorative learning methodology significantly promotes the attitudes of students toward learning, i.e. their intrinsic motivation. ‘Explorative’ means nothing more than simply giving students the freedom to discover the subject matter through independently organized experiments. These outdoor dynamics, which provide a strong boost to more situational interest for science and engagement with the subject, can be evoked in occasional outdoor instruction sessions as well.
Step up your strength training (Medical Xpress). This short article reminds readers of the need for weight training, and how to do it right. Without stating the principle overtly, this article harmonizes on a fundamental tone: if a muscle exists, it ought to be maintained properly. That fits in with the “fearfully and wonderfully made” concept.
If it comes to a choice of going to the gym or developing godly character, there’s a clear choice: godliness lasts for eternity, but the body does not. We shouldn’t view this choice, however, in either-or, black-and-white terms. Why not do both if you can? Sometimes exercise can be a means to developing godliness, including the traits of self-control, endurance and gratitude for our wonderfully-made physical gifts. And could there be a possibility that low fitness could compromise our witness? How attractive is an evangelist who is morbidly obese, sickly and addicted to substances? Such a person walks around as if wearing a poster, “I have no self-control.” Is that an effective witness? (speaking here of preventable conditions.)
Clearly some do not have a choice. In the upcoming movie Tortured for Christ (premiering tomorrow, March 5), exercise was pretty low on the priority list for pastor Richard Wurmbrand, locked in solitary confinement and beaten in prison for 14 years. Paraplegic Joni Eareckson Tada blesses the world through her godliness and countenance in spite of physical disability. Better a weakling going to heaven than a bodybuilder doomed to hell. We all know that. The priority is clear, but science shows so many benefits of exercise, it’s time for Christ followers to stop using I Timothy 4:8 as an excuse for laziness. The sluggard of Proverbs is not a good model.
Taking walks, lifting weights and being fit can enhance one’s joy and contribute to an effective witness. The Bible does not condemn might any more than it condemns wisdom—just boasting about it (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Many times, godly men and women are commanded to be strong (e.g., I Corinthians 16:13, “Act like men, be strong”). One of our staff was led to Christ by the Power Team, a ministry that uses muscle and feats of strength to attract young people to the gospel. The Lord can use all types, weak or mighty. While “not many mighty are called” (I Corinthians 1:26), some are. Paul himself was strong enough to walk hundreds of miles all over the Roman empire. Think of all the positive references in the Bible to “mighty men of valor” (e.g., the angel to Gideon, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor,” Judges 6:12). God even uses that label for Himself (Isaiah 42:13). Strength is honored in the Bible. We are commanded to be strong, to the extent we can be.
If exercise can improve your mood and your joy, why not make it part of your routine? Paul didn’t say it profits nothing. He said it profits little compared to godliness. And he implied it does profit in this life. Keeping it in balance, physical fitness can increase your joy and your godliness. It may prolong your life, and with it, your effective witnessing days. You are more likely to be a grateful, joyful person if you take care of what body type you have. Even if you don’t have much health now, remember the advice of Martin Luther King: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” That applies physically as well as spiritually, because we are created wholes of spirit, mind and body. Build it all up! That’s what the word ‘edify’ means. Paul included the body in his prayer to the Thessalonians: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:23).
Recommended Resource: The new CreationSafaris.com website, a sister ministry of CEH, offers resources for outdoor education and worship, with videos and lesson plans already posted (see this one on Spinoffs of Creation Science), and more coming. Check it out!