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Train Your Body in Light of Eternity

It was a rough night of sleep. I tossed and turned, watching the glaring red minutes turn into hours. I had planned to go to an 8:00 a.m. class at the gym, but all I really wanted to do after I got the kids out the door was crawl back into bed. The warmth of the sun flooded into the room and invited me to cozy up with my cup of tea. Yet I knew that even though the rest felt good at the moment, eventually I would become more tired and sluggish if I didn’t get up and move my body.

It’s a struggle that happens nearly every day of my life. Navigating fitness and health feels like a great pendulum swing that can take me from counting the calories in every bite to enjoying a few too many chocolate chip cookies. From caring too much about what the numbers say on the scale to finding it all too easy to throw the workout routine out the window.

Maybe you can relate—the demands of this fast-paced world often prod us to try to do more and more, all while looking good and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Even when we remember that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20) and start out with a good desire to steward our bodies well, the push of our western culture to look our best for the sake of vanity can send us spiraling into obsessive workouts, diets, and expensive beauty rituals. Or on the other side, we might lose sight of the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God (Ps. 139:14) and think our bodies are not worth caring for diligently.

We often approach fitness and health from two extremes: apathy or obsession with our bodies. But the gospel of Christ frees us from either extreme and helps us focus our eyes on eternity instead of our waistlines.

Understand the Extremes

If we struggle with apathy we might find ourselves feeling defeated when it comes to health and fitness. We can’t keep up with all the latest nutritional trends, workout routines, and beauty products, so why even try? Maybe behind these feelings is a sneaky voice whispering that you don’t really matter, that nothing ever will change in your life so it’s not worth the effort. The feeling of defeat causes us to quit before we even start.

The gospel helps us focus our eyes on eternity instead of our waistlines.

Another cause of bodily apathy could be pouring yourself out to meet the needs of others while forgetting to take care of yourself. Consider a pastor who is burning the candle at both ends—meeting church members who are in crises, working on his sermon late into the night, and leading church meetings, all while getting insufficient sleep and little to no exercise.

The Bible does exhort us to put others’ needs ahead of our own (Phil. 2:3–4). But when we do that to the detriment of our health, we’ve lost sight of the fact that our body is a gift from God that we’re responsible to steward well. We need to care for our bodies both for our own well-being and to enable us to serve with strength and stamina.

On the other end of the pendulum are those of us who struggle with obsession over our bodies. Maybe we have a good end goal, to glorify God with our physical health. But the pathway to get there has become consumed with self-preoccupation. We can’t enjoy the church potluck because we’re worrying about the fat or sugar content of the dishes. We allow ourselves to indulge in a dessert, but we’re immediately planning how to burn off the calories. It’s hard to walk by a mirror without evaluating our shape and size, wondering what others think of us. And an interruption to our workout leaves us feeling angry and frustrated. The body has become too important, with a view to serving self instead of others.

Assign Proper Value

So what’s the solution? How do we aim to live a life that’s neither apathetic nor obsessive with our bodies? 1 Timothy 4:7–8 sheds some light on this. “Train yourself for godliness,” Paul writes, “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.”

Paul helps us re-evaluate our priorities. It’s not that physical exercise is unimportant. After all, bodily training is of some value. He sees that our physical bodies matter. In an earlier chapter Paul tells us that he disciplines his body for godliness (1 Cor. 9:27). He doesn’t want to be ruled by the desires of the flesh that can so easily lead us into laziness or apathy. There’s value to having a strong and able body—a body that can carry groceries for an elderly neighbor, balance a baby on a hip, and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation while hiking with family members or friends.

But our physical training is not paramount. There are wonderful blessings that can come from physical training, for ourselves and others. But fitness and nutrition are not ends in themselves. If they rise to the place of master in our lives, we’ve lost sight of what’s most important. Instead, we’re to focus the majority of our efforts on training ourselves for godliness. Meditating on and memorizing the truths of Scripture as we prepare our souls for eternity. Loving our neighbor as ourselves as we look to meet both physical and spiritual needs around us.

Train for Eternity

Our spiritual training should not take second place to our physical training. After all, our bodies on this earth will not last. No matter how much training we’ve done, no matter how many youth-enhancing procedures we’ve had, our bodies will weaken and fail. But our spiritual life impacts both the present day and the age to come. As Isaiah reminds us:“ The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).

Our spiritual training should not take second place to our physical training.

So lace up those shoes and head outside for a brisk walk. Train your body, but not to flaunt your good looks. Rather, train your body in order to showcase the love of Christ while you serve others. Train your body in order to enjoy God’s gifts of health and recreation. Caring for your physical self is worth so much more than a smaller waistline. It’s a means to delight yourself in the only One who truly satisfies. When Christ is our treasure, we’re free to value our bodies as gifts to both enjoy and steward for his glory.

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