Despite my increasing years, I still pay frequent visits to my local gym to maintain my reasonably high level of physical fitness. Whilst I am in full agreement with the old adages ‘a healthy body breeds a healthy mind’ and ‘use it or lose it’ in regard to muscle tone, I have found myself recently wondering what the bible might have to say on this subject. I would have to say that if I do not find the answers that I would like to discover, this will give me a very hard choice for my lifestyle going forward. However, I have never been afraid to face the truth in any matter previously so I am not about to start now! And so to work…
The Bodily Temple
Probably the first and obvious place to go is Paul’s first letter to the congregation at Corinth:
13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make [them] the members of an harlot? God forbid.
16 Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye. (1 Corinthians 3 ASV)
18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6 KJV)
The above verses are telling us that a true Christian is God’s spiritual temple and we need to look after both our bodies and our spirits to keep them free from sinful thoughts and deeds. Whilst I think it a stretch to argue that it also requires us to keep our bodies in good physical shape, there is no doubt that God’s literal temple has always been built to a high physical specification, at least as far as King Solomon was concerned:
5 And the house which I am building [shall be] great, for our God is greater than all gods. (2 Chronicles 2 GLT)
So I think there is nothing in these scriptures preventing us from maintaining a physical fitness regime alongside our attempts to resist spiritual and physical sin. I think we are also required to do what we can to protect ourselves from illness and injury.
A similar theme is present in Paul's letter to the Roman congregation in which we are called upon to present our bodies to God. Whilst I am sure that Paul meant by this verse for Christians to have sin-free bodies I, for one, would not be happy to present my body to anyone, divine or not, without feeling I had done a reasonable job at looking after its health and welfare. I see our bodies as a wonderful gift from God which is leased into our care for the duration of our lives on this earth to which we owe a duty of care:
1 Therefore, brothers, I call on you through the compassions of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, [which is] your reasonable service. (Romans 12 GLT)
King David helps us not to forget that God made our bodies, with seemingly infinite knowledge of all its working components, to His infinitely detailed technical plan well before any of us were physically conceived. We would all do well to ponder on this wondrous feat of engineering by giving the products, of all that loving effort, full consideration by looking after them whilst we have possession of them:
13 For Thou hast made my reins; Thou hast knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I will give thanks unto Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
15 My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance, and in Thy book they were all written - even the days that were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalms 139 JPS)
I find the following passage, also from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian congregation, to be of considerable interest in the matter of physical fitness and athletic sport in particular. Wondering why Paul was saying so much on these matters to the Corinthians may well be explained by the Isthmian Games. This event was named after the Isthmus of Corinth, where they were held, the year before and the year after the original Olympic Games were held, so these verses would hold a special meaning to this community:
24 Not know you, that those in a race-course running, all indeed run, one but receives the prize? Thus run you, that you may obtain. (ED)
24 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἐν σταδίῳ τρέχοντες πάντες μὲν τρέχουσιν, εἷς δὲ λαμβάνει τὸ βραβεῖον; οὕτως τρέχετε ἵνα καταλάβητε. (WHO)
25Every one but the contending, all things possesses self-control; they indeed therefore, that a perishable wreath they may receive; we but, an imperishable. (ED)
25 πᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος πάντα ἐγκρατεύεται, ἐκεῖνοι μὲν οὖν ἵνα φθαρτὸν στέφανον λάβωσιν, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἄφθαρτον. (WHO)
26 I therefore thus run, as not uncertainly; thus I box, as not air beating; (ED)
26 ἐγὼ τοίνυν οὕτως τρέχω ὡς οὐκ ἀδήλως, οὕτως πυκτεύω ὡς οὐκ ἀέρα δέρων· (WHO)
27 but I browbeat of me the body and lead it captive, lest possibly to others having proclaimed, myself without proof should become. (1 Corinthians 9 ED)
27 ἀλλὰ ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ, μή πως ἄλλοις κηρύξας αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι.
(1 Corinthians 9 WHO)
Paul here is comparing the running of a physical race with a spiritual equivalent. In a physical race there is only one winner whereas, in a spiritual event, all partaking will win the prize and that spiritual prize is everlasting compared with its physical and therefore perishable equivalent. The spiritual prize is of far greater value and is available to all who strive for it. An athlete must exercise full control over his mind and his body as must a true Christian.
I chose the Emphatic Diaglott accurate interlinear translation since it was the only one correctly translating the Greek word ‘πυκτεύω‘ as ‘box’ in verse 26, thereby denoting the sport as opposed to a fight in the more general context. Clearly, Paul knew his audience and therefore aimed his letter at a topic that would be dear to their hearts. He espouses spiritual fitness over physical fitness at the athlete level but, in doing so, he certainly does not appear to be condemning the physical attributes at all. In fact, he seems to be saying that there is much that can be learned by the 1NC Saints by following the disciplined example of the Greek athletes taking part in the Games.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy has a similar message in that he states that, whilst physical exercise has some value, spiritual exercise is much more beneficial to one’s life overall and in the life to come:
8 For bodily exercise is profitable to a little, but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the present life now, and [of that] coming. (1 Timothy 4 GLT)
And again, in his second letter to Timothy, there are yet further references to athletic events being used as a metaphor for the spiritual. I can only think that Timothy also may well have had some interest in the games, Olympic or otherwise:
5 And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully. (2 Timothy 2 ASV)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: (2 Timothy 4 ASV)
And a further athletic metaphor, this time aimed at the congregation of Philippi:
14 I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3 ASV)
Physical and spiritual strength is required to wrestle both man and Satan respectively as told to the congregation at Ephesus by Paul:
10 For the rest, my brothers, be made powerful in [the] Lord and in the might of His strength.
11 Put on all the armor of God, for you to be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil,
12 because wrestling against flesh and blood is not to us, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world's rulers, of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual [powers] of evil in the heavenlies. (Ephesians 6 GLT)
I have to say that I am now already feeling much more settled in the matter of physical fitness given this illustrious company! These sporting analogies also seem to support my playing lawn bowls as an added bonus although high physical fitness is not a pre-requisite for this particular sport!!
Spiritual and Physical Fitness
KingDavid it is that extols the blessings of the physical strength and fleetness of foot that God has bestowed upon him. Who are we then not to attempt, in our primitive ways, to emulate that chosen one of God?
32 [It is] God who girds me with strength and gives my way [to be] perfect;
33 setting my feet like the deer, and making me stand on my high places; (Psalms 18 GLT)
Later on, David describes God as his own personal military physical fitness trainer:
1 A Psalm of David. Blessed be the LORD my Rock, who traineth my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; (Psalms 144 JPS)
Isaiah prays for God to make faithful ones’ weak body parts strong and firm:
3 Make the weak hands strong, and firm up the stumbling knees. (Isaiah 35 GLT)
Now whilst I am certain that, once again, Paul was referring to our spiritual fitness in his letter to the Hebrews, the parallel to the disciplines and benefits of physical fitness are inescapable:
1 So therefore we also, having so great [a] cloud of witnesses lying around us, having laid aside every weight and the easily surrounding sin, through patience let us also run the race set before us, (Hebrews 12 GLT)
11 And all discipline for the present indeed does not seem to be joyous, but grievous; but afterward it gives back peaceable fruit of righteousness to the ones having been exercised by it.
12 Because of this, "straighten the hands" hanging alongside, "and the enfeebled knees;"
13 "and make straight tracks for your feet," that the lame not be turned aside, but rather healed. [Isa. 35:3; Prov. 4:26] (Hebrews 12 GLT)
King Solomon confirms, however, that physical strength is not necessarily the way that God views a man’s true strength:
5 A wise man is strong; Yea, a man of knowledge increaseth might. (Proverbs 24 ASV)
Whilst King Solomon is clearly referencing both spiritual and physical health in this next verse, there is no doubting that a healthy heart is an essential element for the total health and fitness of the rest of the body and the whole soul:
30 A healthy heart [is] the life of the flesh, but envy is the rottenness of the bones. (Proverbs 14 GLT)
Paul’s letter to the Ephesian congregation describes the body of Christ as being made up of all the 1NC Saints. It is compared to the workings of the human body with all its moving parts, each of which has its part to play as a healthy component to build a healthy whole:
16 from whom all the body, having been fitted and compacted together through every assisting bond, according to [the] effectual working of one measure [in] each part, produces the growth of the body to the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4 GLT)
God gives physical strength to those that seek him according to the prophet Isaiah and good health to the righteous according to King Solomon. Whilst not wishing to undermine God’s own work, I am sure He would not reject a faithful Christian from trying to assist Him in that particular endeavour. Again the adage of a healthy mind and body come to mind:
29 [He] gives power to the faint, and to him with no vigor He increases might.
30 Even youths are faint and fatigued, and young men stumbling shall stumble;
31 but the ones waiting for Jehovah shall renew power; they shall go up [with] wings as the eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint! (Isaiah 40 GLT)
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear Jehovah and depart from evil.
8 Healing shall be to your navel and marrow to your bones. (Proverbs 3 GLT)
Unsurprisingly, King Solomon waxes lyrical on the qualities of a virtuous woman. Amongst her many desirable qualities her physical strength is, somewhat strangely, referred to. So in this, at least, a woman’s physical fitness is extolled. So should a man not also exhibit physical fitness?
10 Who can find a woman of virtue? For her value [is] far above jewels. (Proverbs 31 GLT)
17 She has girded her loins withstrength, and has made her arms strong. (Proverbs 31 GLT)
The Apostle John opens his letter to Gaius with the greeting that he prays for the good physical and spiritual health for his mentee. Whilst it is good to pray for these blessings, both these attributes are equally within our own capabilities to foster as indeed, therefore, we should:
1 The elder to Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth.
2 Beloved, in regard to all things, I pray [for] you to prosper and to be in health, as your soul prospers. (3 John 1 GLT)
And finally a literal ‘hearts and minds’ quote from Paul in his letter to the Philippian congregation:
7 and the peace of the God that surpassing all conception, will guard the hearts of you and the minds of you in Anointed Jesus. (Philippians 4 ED)
One further aspect in all this that I had not considered for this paper was the positive benefit that physical exercise and good nutrition have on the bodily stress triggers (for those interested in this topic please reference the: HPA-Axis). I have certainly found that my faith in Christ gives me further de-stressing abilities from the day-to-day cares of this present life as confirmed in the verse below. My dear lady wife pointed this out to me recently in analysing my response to difficult issues:
6 Be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and by petition with thanks givings, let your requests be made known to God; (Philippians 4 GLT)
As does a happy spirit also have a positive impact on one’s physical health:
22 A cheerful heart is a goodmedicine; But a broken spirit drieth up the bones. (Proverbs 17 ASV)
Now whilst I had not originally considered, for this paper, the part nutrition should play in a total fitness regime, the following verses from Paul’s letter to the Roman congregation could have a bearing on this. Here Paul is telling us that all (healthy) food and drink is good to imbibe. One should not put strictures on others’ diets for the sake of following God’s requirements in this regard. However, the giving of friendly dietary advice for the sake of the physical health of others would not seem to be at odds with this and, thereby, the eating oneself of a healthy diet:
20 Do not by your food undo the work of God. Truly, all things [are] clean, but [it is] bad to the man who eats through a stumbling-block.
21 [It is] good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor [anything] by which your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is weak. (Romans 14 GLT)
Then we find a rather more direct account, from the Book of Daniel, extolling the physical virtues of good nutrition:
10 And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who has chosen your food and your drink. For why should he see your faces worse looking than the boys who [are] in your term? Then you would forfeit my head to the king.
11 And Daniel said to Melzar, whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
12 I beg you, test your servants ten days. And let vegetables be given to us that we may eat, and water that we may drink.
13 Then let our face be seen before you, our look and the look of the boys who eat of the king's food. And as you see, do so with your servants.
14 And he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days.
15 And at the end of tendays their faces looked better and fatter of flesh than all the boys who were eating the king's food.
16 So Melzar took away their food and the wine that they were to drink, and he gave them vegetables. (Daniel 1 GLT)
There is also a telling verse in the Book of Deuteronomy describing the nation of Israel, poetically called ‘Jeshurun’, as becoming fat and abandoning God. This more than suggests that not looking after one’s body can also be a symptom of not looking after one’s spirit:
15 But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, thick [and] sated. And he abandoned God who made him, and fell away from the Rock of his salvation. (Deuteronomy 32 GLT)
According to Isaiah, God Himself will bring water to His righteous ones when they are thirsty and will strengthen their very skeletal structure. Sounds to me like confirmation of a good hydration policy when in the gym?
11 And Jehovah shall always guide you, and satisfy your soul in dry places, and make strong your bones. And you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58 GLT)
Despite the previous verses, Paul goes so far as to suggest to Timothy that a little of what you fancy is actually beneficial in health terms. This very much follows my own very strong view that alcohol, when consumed in limited quantities, is very beneficial to my own health; I use it as a muscle relaxant and a blood de-clotting agent:
23 No longer drink water, but use a little wine on account of your stomach and your frequent infirmities. (1 Timothy 5 GLT)
But, on the other hand, too much food and drink will not do the imbibers a lot of good:
20 Be not among heavy drinkers of wine, with gluttons, flesh to themselves,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton lose all, and sleepiness shall clothe [one with] rags. (Proverbs 23 GLT)
And, whilst we are still on the subject of good but limited alcoholic nutrition, I could not leave out the (no doubt intentional) double entendre in the following verse:
18 And "do not be drunk with wine," in which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, [Prov. 23:31] (Ephesians 5 GLT)
Paul, in his letters, appears to be lending some support for the maintenance of one’s physical fitness and the taking part in high energy sporting events although as a clear second priority to maintaining one’s spiritual fitness. There are numerous other scriptures that would seem to support these notions. A healthy diet would also seem to be applauded by the Good Book. So, in net terms, I intend to continue my lifestyle of physical fitness and healthy eating without any feelings of guilt, albeit as a second consideration to minding my spiritual health.
Physical Fitness Training
Two Grey Dumbbells
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Jewish Lords' Witness