Should Christians Care About Physical Health?
The Western world in which I live is torn between two opposing realities:
One reality is the overwhelming abundance of food. Food is everywhere in this part of the world, and food is always available. There are grocery stores, convenient stores, fast food restaurants, and more everywhere you turn.
The other reality is a growing push for physical health. Things like Crossfit and Body Positivity, the easy access of Plant Fitness and more remind us of the importance of physical fitness. Currently, there are 103,626 Exercise and Fitness clubs in the United States. That’s an average of over 2,000 gyms per State.
There are people who think too little about their health, and there are people who think about it too much.
The Current Dilemma
The CDC estimates that roughly 42-44% of Americans are considered overweight (I fall into that category).
A large factor in this problem is just the overwhelming availability of food. And not just any food, but readily available, processed food. These types of foods don’t really serve our bodies well. They are engineered and manufactured to taste good and to not spoil. I’ll be writing more on this later…
The CDC reports that overweight adults spend $1,429.00 more per year on healthcare than those who maintain a healthy weight. That means that the United States is averaging $147 billion in weight related healthcare costs annually.
-Weight related issues include…
High blood pressure (Hypertension).
High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia).
Type 2 diabetes.
Coronary heart disease.
Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint).
Sleep apnea and breathing problems.
Many types of cancer.
Low quality of life.
Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning.
-Physical health is a real issue for many people. It's a serious issue. It's a real issue for me.
How Should Christians Think About Physical Health?
First, we should note that our bodies do not belong to us. The Bible states very clearly that God is the Creator of all things (Genesis 1) and therefore, He owns all things. And that includes our bodies. Nowhere does God give us ownership of His creation. He maintains that for Himself. In fact, the Bible clearly says, “You are not your own.”
So God maintains complete ownership. He does, however, entrust stewardship to humanity. In Genesis 1:28 we read, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Again, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 we read, “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, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Our bodies are gifts from God, given to us to enjoy but also to steward. To steward something is to manage it well. We are to steward our spiritual selves (the soul), and our physical bodies. They are interconnected and intimately related; they depend on one another. When the physical body suffers, the soul suffers. And when the soul suffers, the physical body suffers.
So, physical health is important. In fact, it's a matter of godliness. When I’m not caring for my physical health and body, I'm not truly stewarding what God has given me.
This is something I’ve come to recognize only over the last few years. For much of my life, I've treated my physical health poorly. I have not thought well about the tie between my worship of God and my physical health.
To be sure, nowhere does the Bible tell me that I am supposed to have a certain type of body, or accomplish any certain type of exercise plan, or maintain any certain diet of eating (Acts 10). I’m really thankful for that. I doubt I’ll ever have visible abs!
But, my body and my health matter.
Listen to Paul…
In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul writes, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 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.”
Here, Paul says that physical training is of some value. And we ought to hear him. Working out, exercise, eating well, keeping a check on our health…all of these things have value. But, he also says they are of limited value. While it's good to be healthy and health-conscious, we also recognize that our physical health is not everything. It will, one day, come to its earthly end. All healthy people and all unhealthy people die. That’s why Paul says it's of some value.
But then he says, “...but training in godliness has value for all things.” And that’s where I want to focus. My hope and my salvation are not tied to my physical health. God is not keeping track of my exercise to make sure I’m earning my way into heaven.
Salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone! Praise God for His grace.
So, if I’m going to buckle down with my discipline, I’ll be much better served by putting my efforts into being godly rather than just into being physically healthy. And yet, in God’s good creation, being disciplined in godliness includes being disciplined with my physical health.
Being godly means loving and trusting Jesus, reading my Bible, praying regularly, and joining with the people of God regularly.. But, it also includes my physical health and well-being.
My physical health has nothing to do with my salvation, but it does affect my life in the here and now. It affects my happiness (or lack thereof), my health, my enjoyment of life, my stress, anxiety, my heart, and more.
If I disconnect my physical health from my worship of God, I’ll be tempted either to put too much or too little emphasis on it. But when I see my physical health as a part of my worship, it is held in its right tension. This is part of why Paul says physical training alone has some value, but physical training that is led by spiritual truth is eternally valuable.
The Hope of Grace
Christian, we are not striving for a certain body image, a certain cholesterol level, or a certain clothing size. Our bodies are each unique and different. We ought not be caught up in our culture’s body-image myths. But, we are striving to honor God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:8-9)...because He owns them!
The guy who loves how he looks, is always showing off, and stresses about every little thing he eats is probably trusting too much in his health and physical appearance. And, the guy who eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and however much he wants…he’s not caring enough about his body.
Being trained by godliness keeps me from both of these extremes AND helps me understand that my physical health is as much about rightly worshiping God as my spiritual health. God gives us grace for both.
So, my physical health is important. It’s not everything, but it's important. As Christians, we ought to see our bodies as gifts from God to be cared for and enjoyed. That means keeping ourselves rightly oriented to Him in both body and spirit.