The Lord gave me a driving passion years ago to help Christians recognize that the well being of their bodies matters and then to equip them with the basics of bodily care. Because we were created as embodied spiritual and physical beings, the condition of our body impacts our soul and vice versa. As a personal trainer whose doctoral study focused on a theology of the body, I have a background and a calling to speak into these matters and encourage believers to steward their health to the glory of God.
At times, however, I have received push back. Most often, that push back has come from someone quoting 1 Timothy 4:7b-8:
“Train yourself for godliness; 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 the life to come.”
Paul’s statement to Timothy reveals the reality of both spiritual and physical health; likewise the reality of both soul and body. And when you read this verse, you probably take Paul’s admonition in one of two ways:
Inherent in Paul’s statement are two admonitions. The first is not to prioritize physical fitness over a pursuit of godliness. This is idolatrous. The second, and far less acknowledged, is to view the pursuit of physical health as an impediment to godliness. This is shortsighted.
Let’s pause for a second. Take a step back and give this verse more context.
In the first part of verse 7, Paul warns Timothy not to have anything to do with irreverent, silly myths. But what are these myths?
They were erroneous claims from some who forbade both marriage and the enjoyment of certain foods. Such assertions came from the ascetics, those who held anti-body views and who Paul also opposed at other points (1 Corinthians 7, 8, 10; Colossians 2).
You see, the ascetics believed that by restraining or demeaning the physical they could foster and advance the spiritual. Not only did they fail to recognize the connection between spiritual health and physical health, but they also failed to properly value God’s good creation of the body.
So, Paul counters their claims with the argument that both marriage and food are aspects of God’s good creation and should be enjoyed. But, perhaps obviously, they are only good creations for those who have the capacity to enjoy them. You and I, as spiritual and physical people, have that capacity. We are made to appreciate and express gratitude for all the blessings of God’s creative activity, including but not limited to, marriage and food.
With that bit of context set, Paul’s statement in 7b-8 makes even more sense. Because he was giving advice to a pastor, Paul may have simply told Timothy to train himself for godliness as it holds value for eternity. His point would have been made loud and clear. But instead, he sets up that statement with the preceding declaration that bodily training is of some value.
You see, he did not have to include this mention but did so to continue his counter against the claims of those who were anti-body and opposed to God’s good, material blessings. One of which is the body itself, a good gift that needs to be stewarded properly.
So, instead of using this verse as a reason not to engage in bodily training, this training ought to be seen as a necessity to fuel a life that pursues godliness.
Therefore, we care for our bodies well, but not because we place undue emphasis on this life. Rather, we recognize that the way we steward (or neglect) our physical health demonstrates respect for the goodness of our created bodies, alongside the other blessings God gives us. If we do not give attention to our physical health, we could be hindered from accomplishing the good work God has planned for us to do.
Thus, we conclude that the body matters. It matters as part of God’s good creation, which includes how we treat it. Plainly, it matters how we steward our health for God’s glory.
There is a natural progression to this stewardship. First, we let Scripture lay a foundation for the body’s importance. Second, this leads us to pay proper attention to wellness basics like exercise, nutrition, stress management, and rest. All of these practices can be rightly motivated and pursued because our desire is to honor God in the treatment of our health. Third, knowing we need help, he provides us the ability to pursue these healthy habits by the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control. Finally, we glorify God in our body as we understand its value and treat it accordingly.
For ministry leaders, caring for your body is especially crucial. Whether you’re a counselor, pastor, missionary, parachurch worker, or lay leader in the church, the way in which you steward your health sets an example for those you lead. It will also either fuel or limit your ministry effectiveness. I pray you will be motivated to care for your physical health to the glory of the God of created and resurrected bodies, who himself took on a body, and also indwells our bodies.
**I originally posted this on the New Growth Press blog**