Physical Bodies, Spiritual Decisions

By Mark A. Taylor

Our new offices are on the fourth floor, and I’ve decided to quit using the elevator. Most mornings I climb briskly up all four flights of stairs. And then I try to get to my desk before my coworkers see I’m gasping for breath!

All the experts say you should make yourself accountable to someone else when you’re taking up some new challenge. So I told managing editor Jim Nieman about my daily hikes. “I’m going to keep doing this till I quit being out of breath.” He’s a marathon runner, so his reply was just the encouragement I needed.

“Oh, I don’t think it will take long.”

Maybe. But, although genetics and metabolism have allowed me to stay thin, I’ve never been physically in shape. Only in later middle age have I even considered regular exercise.

I’m not alone. Christian bookstores offer shelves of books encouraging better health. Everything from What Would Jesus Eat? to The Bible Cure for Weight Loss and Muscle Gain to a slew of workout tapes accompanied by Scripture readings and worship choruses. It seems Christian publishers are mirroring Americans’ obsession with fitness and body image.

But as today’s writers point out, Christians have a distinctly Christian reason to care about their health. Our emphasis on diet or exercise should not be about us as much as it should be about God. How can we obey Paul’s instruction to “honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20) unless we consider our weight, blood pressure, stamina, and strength?

Ultimately this is a personal issue. I can’t tell you how much you should weigh, what you should eat, or when you should exercise. Just like prayer and Bible reading, I know good health habits are important for you. But not every Christian will implement them in the same way.

This doesn’t mean the church shouldn’t speak about these issues, though. With our teaching and our example, we should proclaim God’s truth about physical health as eagerly as we lift up any of his precepts.

“Example” may be the most important part of this equation. I read about one church that quit buying doughnuts for the welcome center because of the minister’s sermons on fitness. (Please write us if your church decides to do that!) And one minister, after acting on his own decision to shed some pounds, decided overweight musicians should not be upfront, on the congregation’s worship team.

Extreme? Maybe. But physical health has been ignored by so many for so long, we’ll probably need more than a nudge to get some Christians thinking seriously and spiritually about their bodies.

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