As a young man, I often heard older people talking about their declining bodies and failing health. I grew weary of hearing them tell how their strength had diminished and how their aches and pains had increased. They insisted that they used to be able to eat anything they wanted without ill effect, but now practically every food gave them indigestion. Whereas they once had the ability to sleep soundly under any conditions, now any unusual circumstance would keep them lying awake long into the night.
I was convinced all of this was just idle grumbling. But then I hit my mid-30s and began to notice I wasn’t recovering from activity as quickly as I did before, that I was spending more and more nights staring at the ceiling wishing I was fast asleep. I hit 40 and found that some of my favorite foods didn’t sit well anymore. It was then that I realized I was not going to be the exception. I, too, was going to experience a long decline in my health and a long diminishment in my abilities. I, too, was going to have to increase my efforts in maintaining my health.
Any athlete fine-tunes his body and maintains his fitness through a rigorous training regimen. If he doesn’t, his abilities will decline and the competition will soon leave him far behind. Though you may not be an athlete, you are running the race of life. And as you run, you are dependent upon your body and responsible to care for it. If you are going to run to win, you need to guard your health.
In our last article, we encountered the concept of stewardship as it relates to money. Your money is owned by God and distributed to you as his representative. He calls you to faithfully steward it. As the owner, God has the right to your money, and as the steward, you hold the responsibility for your money. What is true of your finances is true of your body. Your body is also owned by God. In fact, if you are a Christian, your body is twice-owned by God.
God owns your body as its creator. He hand-crafted every bit of your DNA. David celebrates God’s good design in Psalm 139, where he says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (13-14). David’s body was actually God’s possession, carefully designed and deliberately assigned. The same is true for you—God owns your body because he created your body.
God also owns your body as its Savior. You had rebelled against God and sinfully claimed your body as your own. You decided to negate God’s claim over your body and to assert ownership of it yourself. But God drew you back from this treasonous rebellion, and as you accepted his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, you ceded all your rights and restored proper ownership. In return, God actually took up residence within. So Paul asks, “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” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is why he can appeal to you and every other Christian “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). To present your body as a living sacrifice is to present everything you have and everything you are to his service, to place it all under his authority.
Your body is not your own. Your body is God’s, to be cared for as he demands, to be committed to his service.
What God Expects
What does God, the owner of your body, expect from you as its steward? He expects that you will present it, steward it, nurture it, and employ it.
You need to present your body. You are a whole person, your body and soul knit carefully together. As we saw in Romans 12, you are to surrender to God all that you are, holding nothing back. Your body belongs to God and is to be used for his purposes. Thus, God calls you to surrender your body to him, to dedicate it to his service, to commit it to his purposes.
You need to steward your body. As you surrender your body, you acknowledge that it does not belong to you but to God. Just as you are responsible to faithfully steward your time and money, you are responsible before God to faithfully steward the body he has assigned to you. You are to use your body wisely, to put your body to use in ways that bring glory to God. After all, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
You need to nurture your body. There is an inseparable unity between body, mind, and soul. When you neglect your body, you will often find your soul heavy and your mind dark. But when you care for it, you tend to find your soul cheerful and your mind enlightened. You can see some of this in John’s prayer for his friend Gaius: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2). For Gaius to be as active and effective as possible in God’s work, he must have a healthy body and a healthy soul. If you wish to tend to your soul and mind, you must nurture your body. To honor God in all that you are, you must eat well, exercise frequently, and rest regularly.
You need to employ your body. Inner godliness is to be displayed in outward acts of kindness. James shows the unity of faith and works in this illustration: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17). The love of God in your heart is to be displayed by the works of your hands. Young men are at their physical peak and bear a double responsibility to use that strength for the good of others. “The glory of young men is their strength,” says Solomon, “but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29).
Many people today hold to a form of the ancient teaching of gnosticism. They believe the soul has great significance while the body is merely a useless vessel to be used or abused. But as Christians we see that there is much greater unity than this. To care for the body is to care for the soul.
Do It Now!
With that in mind, let’s consider how you can begin right now to guard your health.
- Plan to be fit. Paul warns that “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 4:8). This is a warning about neglecting spiritual fitness in favor of physical fitness. But it does not diminish the importance of being fit, for Paul still acknowledges it “is of some value.” While we know that physical strength is fleeting, that it peaks early and goes into long decline, we also know that our bodies, minds, and spirits operate better in a fit body than an unfit one. Plan to get fit and stay fit through wise, moderate eating and regular, vigorous exercise.
- Guard against idleness. In another article we have discussed the plague and captivity of idleness. Even a quick study of the biblical teaching of the subject will show that much of our unhealthy living is a result of idleness, of the refusal to prioritize our bodies. Guard against the idleness that keeps you on the couch when you should be active.
- Guard against gluttony. Very little is said about the sin of gluttony in our day. Many Christians rightly strive to guard themselves against pride, lust, and greed, while failing to address their lack of self-control toward food. If you find yourself constantly drawn to the pantry and fridge, if you find yourself always needing to load up at the dessert table, it may say more about you than you think. As Jerry Bridges writes, “The person who overindulges his body at this point will find it more and more difficult to mortify other sinful deeds of the body. The habit of always giving in to the desire for food or drink will extend to other areas.” Food is a great gift, but it makes a terrible god. Learn to practice self-control toward food and renounce any sign of gluttony.
- Prepare for the decline. Strength peaks early and declines for many, many years. As your body and perhaps even your mind grows weak, there will be many new temptations to sin. Read Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 as a glimpse of your own biography and ask, “What will sustain me in that day?” The answer is simple: godly character. Nothing but godly character will sustain you as your body decays and your mind weakens. Even while you give attention to your physical health, do not neglect your spiritual wellbeing.
Run to Win!
There is a close connection between physical fitness and spiritual fitness. In fact, there is a close connection between physical health and every other kind of health—mental, emotional, relational, and so on. When your body is unhealthy, and especially unhealthy through neglect, the rest of you is unlikely to be fit and sharp. Make it a priority to care for the body God has given you. Know that if you are going to run to win, you must guard your health.