We have an easy life in many ways. We don’t have to chop wood and build a fire in a fireplace when it’s cold. All we have to do is say the word or push a button. If we’re hungry, we don’t have to hunt for food. We just pay someone else to provide it for us and even cook it for us. We don’t have to walk to most places. We have vehicles that take us wherever we want to go at any time. Men once used shovels to dig ditches and hand-held saws to cut trees, but now we have backhoes and chain saws. Women don’t have to wash clothes or sew by hand. Fancy and quick washing machines and sewing machines do most of the work. Our ancestors could not have imagined such a life.
What have we done with the time these modern devices have saved us? We haven’t used it to read our Bibles more. We haven’t used it to spend more time with family or become more involved at church. We haven’t even used it to rest and relax. In fact, we’re more hurried and stressed than ever.
This sedentary life has not improved our physical condition either. Most people get little exercise. Since machines and computers do a lot of our work for us, we do a lot of sitting around.
As a result of this laid-back lifestyle, there is a big push to exercise today. There is certainly nothing wrong with exercising. It is good for us. We need to use our muscles and joints and stimulate our heart and lungs. Doctors rightly tell us it helps problems with our blood pressure, our blood sugar levels and many other bodily functions.
What should be the Christian’s view of this subject? Paul told Timothy, “…exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (I Tim. 4:8). Timothy was a young man (I Tim. 4:12). We don’t know how young he was, but it’s much easier to exercise when we’re young and we’re more inclined to do it. Paul said there is a benefit to exercise—“little.” After all, the Bible tells us that life is short. “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psa. 90:10). This mortal body we live in is frail and temporary. The Bible talks about “the flower of youth” or the prime of life (I Cor. 7:36). Just as a flower reaches its peak and then fades, the body does the same. There are ways to keep from aging prematurely, but the decline is inevitable. Still, improving our physical health does have a little benefit relatively speaking.
There is a far more important kind of exercise. Paul said when we exercise ourselves for godliness, we literally have the best of both worlds. He said we have the promise of “the life that now is.” Physical exercise gives help and some hope for life on earth, but a godly life provides much more. Godliness gives us joy and peace. It keeps us from sinful living and dangerous habits and situations that can ruin our health and end our life. It rewards us with closer relationships, a clear conscience and communion with God. Godliness removes inner demons that destroy our well being and even our physical health—fear, rage, envy, and pride. Exercising the body does a little good, but exercising the soul is much better even in its benefits in this life. Fitness centers can promise that you will lose weight and feel better if you follow an exercise routine. But God promises that your life will be better in so many ways if you put more time and effort into spiritual training.
Spiritual exercise gives something physical training can never bring—eternal life or, as Paul put it, “that which is to come.” This is a reward no workout routine can give. It is good to take care of the body, but it is foolish to give so much time to preserving the body that we neglect the soul. Our soul will live on long after this body has returned to the dust. Like many young men, I grew up idolizing top athletes who were stronger and faster and more skilled than others. In time I saw them all age. They lost their energy and strength. They eventually died. Who really cares about their physical prowess now? More importantly, what good is all their former training NOW? If they died lost, they are in hell. If they died as Christians, they are in glory. Either way, if they could talk to us now they would tell us that spiritual health is far, far more important than physical fitness.
By the way, the word exercise in I Timothy 4:8 is from the Greek word gymnasia—that’s right, the word for our English word gymnasium. It’s time to go to the gym more often and lift the loads others are carrying, get down on our knees and pray, and pull sinners out of the fire!