Our generation is becoming more and more health-conscious, more and more focused on exercise and physical fitness. And these things are good, and they are profitable. A consistent practice of eating healthfully and exercising regularly improves both body and mind, as muscles and willpower are flexed and strengthened.
But I ask you, especially those of you focused on physical fitness, do you spend as much time and energy exercising your spiritual muscles as you do your physical ones? Are you being fed spiritually as often (or more) than you are physically?
Are your mind and heart as disciplined as your body?
“. . . 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. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:7-16).
Paul’s exhortation to Timothy contains a reminder that, although bodily exercise is good and profitable, it in no way compares to the profit of spiritual exercise (training unto godliness). Think about it. Our bodies begin degenerating the moment we are born; we will all face death at some point (unless the rapture takes place first) no matter how fit and healthy we may be. The condition of our bodies (our physical well-being) only affects us in this lifetime; but the condition of our souls (our spiritual well-being) effects us into eternity.
That does not, however, imply that we should refrain from exercising our bodies! Consider Paul’s many allusions to “running the race”: “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
And consider another comparison between physical and spiritual discipline: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
So I ask you, do you spend as much time “exercising yourself unto godliness” as you do exercising your muscles and your heart and lungs unto physical fitness? Do you spend more time increasing your physical strength than you do your spiritual strength? What is your focus? Which is your greater priority?
You might worry about skipping your workout for a day, or fret over splurging on unhealthy foods, but do you get at all concerned when you miss your daily time with God? Does it bother you when you haven’t had that uninterrupted time of prayer, that focused time of Bible study? Don’t just shrug it off; this is a matter of eternal importance! Our spiritual condition deserves far greater consideration than our physical condition.
Take another look at the passage from 1 Timothy. Look especially at the “exercise” words that are used, and remember which type of exercise he is referring to with each injunction:
- toil and strive
- keep a close watch
As believers, our top priority ought to be our spiritual health! We ought not to exercise our bodies until we have flexed our spiritual muscles by focusing our minds on God, wrestling with Him in prayer, and strengthening our knowledge of Him through His Word.
“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. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:8-10).