We live in a culture which reveres exercising the body. Think about all the television, radio, newspaper, magazine, and internet ads for exercise equipment, exercise instruction and classes, weight loss plans which include exercise as a critical component, and all the admonitions from various governmental agencies telling us that we need to exercise at least 30-60 minutes per day. I’ll be honest. I don’t like to exercise. It’s boring, fatiguing, and does not seem to give me the “high” from the “endorphin release” scientists promise me. Do I exercise? Yes. Elsie prompts me and we head to the YMCA to work out 2-3 days per week in cold weather and walk for an hour nearly every day in warm weather. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I did it but that’s about all. As I get older it gets harder. It takes more energy than I had in my youth.
I don’t think I’m alone. Now be honest. Many of you work out because you know you should. Guilt is a powerful motivator! Your doctor, your spouse, your friends, your conscience are telling you that you should work out. Guess what. The Bible has something to say about bodily exercise. Consider what Paul says about it in 1Timothy 4:7-8, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness, for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Before I tackle the meaning of this passage, the Greek words Paul chooses for bodily discipline are somatike gymnasia. Somatike is rooted in the word for body (soma) and gymnasia means discipline and gives us the English word “gymnasium.” A gymnasium is a place to discipline your body through exercise.
Paul is saying that bodily exercise is of “little profit.” He’s not saying it’s unprofitable, a waste of time, or something to be avoided but he’s saying that bodily discipline has limited value being only for this life and your body will die someday. Spiritual exercise is preferable because it disciplines us and develops our souls both for this life and our life in heaven.
Wait a minute, Irv. Isn’t bodily discipline part of being a good steward of the gift God has given us? Yes, you’ve got me there. It is part of being a good steward but it should not receive the emphasis it does while spiritual discipline is neglected. We should be even more diligent about stewarding our souls than we are about stewarding our bodies. If we were we would be godly and as Paul says, “godliness is profitable for all things.” To be godly is to draw near to God which impacts every area of our lives. How great is that?
Now, where did I put those running shoes?