Should a Christian exercise? What does the Bible say about health?
Trends regarding physical health have been coming and going for years. Particularly in American culture, there is no shortage of diet fads. Many of these emphasize nutrition, whereas others have more to do with exercise style or routines. Our culture is also interested in health research and the latest findings about what extends life expectancy or what causes certain illnesses. Some are caught up in these fads and make health or fitness an idol; their lives and sense of self revolve around how they look. Others completely ignore medical findings and live as they desire, harming their bodies in the process. No matter the individual reaction, it seems that we are fascinated by health and spend quite a bit of time and money striving for physical fitness. So what does the Bible have to say about health?
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First Corinthians 6:19-20 says, "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." First Timothy 4:7b-8 says, "Rather train yourself for godliness; 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." These two verses are a beautiful illustration of the Bible's balanced view regarding health.
Our bodies are of value to God. He cares not only about our souls, but also about our bodies. When God created man, He made him a physical being. He also gave man food and labor (Genesis 1:28-31). Psalm 139:13-14 talks about God knitting us together in our mother's womb. Jesus told His followers that God knew about their physical needs and would provide for them (Matthew 6:32). Jesus Himself provided food for people (Luke 9:10-17; Mark 8:1-8; John 2:6-11) and physical healing (Matthew 4:23; Acts 10:38). The fact that Jesus came to Earth in bodily form further demonstrates God's regard for our physical beings. Paul tells believers bluntly that their bodies are from God; therefore, believers should honor God with their bodies. We are called to steward our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. If we do not care for our health, we are neglecting God's temple.
On the other hand, God is not concerned with our physical appearance or our health in the way that our society often is. First Samuel 16:7 says, "The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." God is more concerned with our spiritual well-being and the condition of our spiritual hearts than He is with our physical well-being. This is why Paul told Timothy that physical training has some value, but that training for godliness has greater value (1 Timothy 4:8). Paul does not disregard Timothy's health. In fact, Paul offered Timothy a medical suggestion (1 Timothy 5:23). Timothy's physical health mattered to Paul, but it was not his utmost priority.
We also know that God has given us minds to use. He is not opposed to medical advances or scientific studies. God made us to desire knowledge. Part of being a good steward of the bodies and gifts God has given us is intentionally learning how to best use them. This does not mean that we should follow every health fad or even spend massive amounts of time looking into health suggestions. However, we are wise to be aware of scientific findings and to approach our health with knowledge.
A balanced approach to exercise and health, then, is what the Christian should pursue. We should exercise – it is good for our bodies as well as for our moods. We should take care of our health. However, in these pursuits we must not lose sight of God. The reason we care for our bodies is not to prolong our own lives or gain popularity; it is because we value and desire to steward God's gift to us.
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