Exercising the Body Has Some Value
The living God is an active God. He reveals himself not as a being who sleeps and is lazy but is strong and dynamic.
Psalm 89 describes him as the One with a mighty arm and a strong hand (v. 13)
God makes the uncountable stars in the universe with his fingers.
Psalm 115 mocks the idols that men worship because they have body parts but they cannot do anything but sit there. In contrast,
"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases." (Psalm 115:3)
God does not have a physical body but he uses body-language to describe his activity. Our physical abilities are a kind of shadow of the reality of God's power.
When God took on a human body in the person of Jesus Christ he developed strength in that body.
"And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him." (Luke 2:40)
And as the head of his body, the church, Christ oversees the building up of the body. He takes care to ensure that "each part is working properly" (Eph 4.16).
Physical activity and the care of our physical bodies is part of our daily existence. But we live in a culture obsessed with body image and physical fitness.
Workout facilities are as common as fast food restaurants. And the walls of these places are covered with mirrors. The magazines waiting for you when you go to pay for your food highlight a certain look and articles to get you looking that way.
Sports and athletics dominate the media and not just every four years during the Olympics. Doping in baseball is a grim testimony to our worship of physical domination.
We cannot hope to gain a proper view of exercise and heigyne from our culture. Many have noted that if you want to know what water is like don't ask a fish. He's too immersed in it to really understand it.
What we need is a word from the God who made our bodies as to how we ought to care for them everyday. And we have that word in Scripture at (TURN) 1 Timothy 4:7-8
This is not everything the Bible has to say about physical exercise, but it is concise and so helpful to consider this topic in the few minutes we have together.
"7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 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." (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
I draw your attention to an important connection between these verses. V. 7 issues the command to train. It is a verb in the imperative. It is a command.
V. 8 speaks of bodily training. This is a noun but from the very same root word as the verb train in v. 7.
And if I wer to sound out the word from the Greek of the NT into English you would hear something akin to our word "gymnastic" (gymnaze/gymnasia).
The word means to exercise and is used of athletic or military training. Josephus, the Jewish historian describes just how demanding this kind of exercise can be. He refers to soldiers, saying,
"...[F]or their military exercises differ not at all from the real use of their arms, but every soldier is every day exercised, and that with great diligence, as if it were in time of war which is the reason why they bear the fatigue of battles so easily; for neither can any disorder remove them from their usual regularity, nor can fear affright them out of it, nor can labor tire them; which firmness of conduct makes them always to overcome those that have not the same firmness...."
So this is a passage about two different kinds of exercise, physical and spiritual. It makes for a perfect arena in which to compare and contrast them. The passage allows us to move toward a more godly perspective on physical exercise.
We begin to find that more godly perspective by:
- 1. Confronting Popular Myths
The text says, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths." Paul warns Timothy that there are a lot of strange, ungodlly, and dangerous ideas out there to avoid.
We cannot know with certaintly to which myths he's referring. As near as v. 3 he had been warning about teachers who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God says are good. They were promoting the idea that physical discipline is the secret to true godliness.
How far removed from our culture is this kind of thinking. How often do you endure the teaching through advertising media that the secret to your happiness is the latest diet.
It cannot be a misuse of the text to allow it to expose some of the silly and irreverent myths we hear regularly.
a. How I look determines the quality of my friendships.
Myth. God's word says:
"Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel." (Proverbs 27:9)
b. I will be more godly if I'm more physically fit.
" . . . For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”" (1 Samuel 16:7)
c. Who I am is mostly about how I look and my ability.
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (Proverbs 31:30)
"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." (1 Peter 3:3-4)
On the man's side consider that: "Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him." (2 Samuel 14:25)
Yet he proved a man of treachery and murder.
"23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”" (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
d. If I try hard enough I can have any body I want.
God has made us as he desires.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth." (Psalm 139:15)
"While anyone with persistence anyone can make some healthful changes in body composition, there is not guarantee of the "ideal" body.... Accept your body; live in it rejoicing that your are exercising stewardship in your care of it. God has made it, and it is good!" (Johnson & Morris in Physical Fitness and the Christian).
We could list other myths but the point is that we need God's wisdom to expose the fraudulent thinking in our culture about the body.
"2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)
We cannot simply reject myths and expect to think in a godly way about fiscal fitness. We must also begin:
- Conceding the Value in Exercise
The text acknowledges that bodily training is of some value. The Bible teaches that we are to care for our bodies as gifts from God and, for Christians, as temples of the Holy Spirit.
Paul commands husbands to love their wives as their own bodies.
"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church," (Ephesians 5:29)
There is an assumption that we will take care of our bodies.
The value of physical exercise seems to be in how long it benefits us. It has value in this life only.
I conclude that for two reasons. First, the phrase, "of some value" could be translated, "has value for a little while."
Second, the contrast here is with godliness whose value relates not only to this life but the future life as well.
The text is teaching that physical exercise holds promise for the present life. It promotes health and longer life.
In Physical Fitness and the Christian, Johnson & Morris identify several benefits of regular appropriate exercise.
1. Reduction in the risk of cardio-vascular dissease.
2. Decrease in high blood pressure or delay in the development of high blood pressure.
3. Reduction in the risks of colon cancer, non-insulin diabetes, and obesity.
4. Optimizes normal muscle strength and joint function and structure.
5. Necessary for skeletal development and peak bone mass.
6. Relief of symptoms of depression and anxiety.
7. Improved overall physical function.
Caleb remained active through the wandering in the wilderness. As he entered the promise land at eighty-five he could say, "11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming." (Joshua 14:11)
The Bible frequently uses the disciplined athlete that we can conclude that the basic principles of remaining phsically fit are appropriate for the Christian. It's part of sound stewardship, just like financial stewardship.
But the text says that there's something better than physical exercise. We find greater value in
- Commending Better Pursuits
Godliness has greater value. It has value for life now and life later.
Godliness refers to a life marked by reverence for God and respect for the things of God. It describes a life lived in the fear of the Lord and according to his wisdom.
And it's not something we're born with. It's not even something we gain automatically when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. We must train to attain.
Paul writes here directly to Timothy. He's singling him out as a pastor. Someone might erroneously think that a pastor has already attained godliness. But this is not the case. He must continually pursue it. If training drops the goal disappears.
But another objection cannot be raised that this is only something a pastor need worry about. It will be as soon as v. 12 here in ch 4 that Paul urges Timothy to be an example to the believers. His pursuit of godliness fits into the list of things which the pastor should model for the church.
The pursuit of godliness requires a kind of discipline that rivals that of the olympic atheletes. It involves regular, focused attention to the means of grace that God has given.
In his systematic theology, Wayne Grudem mentions 11 means of grace available to the beliver through the church.
1. Teaching of the Word
3. The Lord’s Supper
4. Prayer for one another
6. Church discipline
8. Spiritual gifts
11. Personal ministry to individuals
The pursuit of godliness calls for us to make every use of these within the church fellow ship and reinforce their benefit through personal and family worship
Just as the olympic athlete organizes her life around a comprehensive training to prepare her for competition, so the believer organizes her life around those activities that promote godliness.
And, as the text indicates, godliness has value even in this life. Wisdom brings blessing even in this life.
" 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers." (Psalm 1:1-3)
The godly person will experience suffering in this life but it cannot neutralize the blessing that flows out of fellowship with God.
But the greater value of godliness. It has value in everything because it's promise includes life forever. Godliness holds the promise of everlasting life.
But what then does the passage mean? Does it command us to train for godliness because it is our godliness which earns the promised life?
Such a conclusion would amount to salvation by works apart from the grace of God. But the Bible is clear that Christ earns salvation for us we do not earn it for ourselves. There is no merit before God in our pursuit of godliness.
What it does mean is that godliness is the mark of one who has eternal life. The person who is willing to live now for something beyond this life gives evidence that he or she is born again or born from above.
The Bible describes that when God saves people from sin they
"9 ...[turn] to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
You may be here idolizing your own body. You live to project an image. Your live revolves around your pursuit of athletic achievement or physical prowess. You worship the ideal and are consumed by what it would take to get you to it.
If you will not turn from such idolatry then you cannot belong to Jesus Christ. He delivers people from such bondage and sets them on the path of godliness which is a blessing now and forever.
How then, if I know Christ, should I exercise in a way that honors God?
1. Be ready to reject any false worship.
I ask God to reveal if my devotion to physical exercise and athletics is an obstacle to godliness. I determine to respond to his promptings with athletic obedience.
2. Exercise for my calling not my image.
Focus on the goal of being a good steward of my body so that I can fulfill all the other stewardships that God gives me. I should seek fitness that makes me fit to serve God not look good. I renounce any plan that makes my image a goal.
3. Make excercise part of my other commitments.
I can prayer walk or pusue healthy activity in fellowship with others. If I work out alone I can use my MP3 player to listen to good teaching or memorize Scripture.
4. Seek long range results.
I determine to exercise moderately over the long haul rather than try to burn out for short term gain. I want to be Caleb rather than Sampson.
5. Intentionally make the pursuit of godliness more significant.
If someone follows me around for a week he will see that training in godliness is more important to me than physical training. Godliness is the dog that wags the tail not the other way around.
I cannot leave this passage without underscoring that the motive for godliness training is personal profit. When God commands us to do something he has already provided for our joy in obedience. When we take Christ's yoke upon us we find it to be easy and his burden light.
I heard an interview this week with an 11 yr old girl who swims at the same club in N. Baltimore with Michael Phelps. She was already talking about the 2012 Olympics in London. She was imagining standing on the gold medal platform listening to the Star Spangled Banner.
The interviewer reminded her about all the work that stood between her and that moment. He had documented how she had swam two miles before most other children were out of bed.
She would not be deterred but simply said, "That's ok. Swimming is hard but it's really a lot of fun."
May God give us grace to savor the present blessing of godliness and set our hearts on those to come.