Featured

The Bible and the body

Glorify God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:20

Christians live on earth as strangers and aliens with a higher calling towards our eternal home (1 Peter 2:11). The Bible commands us to fix our eyes on things unseen and still, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (2 Corinthians 4:18, Romans 12:2). After all, we await the coming of our Savior and the day when he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). But what does this eternal focus and assured renewal of the body mean for our physical, temporal body now? Furthermore, does Scripture even address this issue? Does God really care how we treat our bodies? Surely, a Christian worldview must take these questions into consideration, but, ultimately, is God’s written Word really sufficient for believers in these matters?

Absolutely. The Bible is fully sufficient in prescribing man’s life before God. The Westminster Confession of Faith declares that the entire word of God revealed in the Scriptures contains all things necessary for knowing him, the purpose of life, and how to live by faith. This means everything that pertains to glorifying God and living a Christian life can be directly deduced from God’s word.

The Bible even attests to its own sufficiency and completeness (2Tim 3:15-16, Rev 22:18-19). God spoke his word through human authors as they were inspired, or carried along, by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). Because God spoke the text, it is authoritative, and we are called to recognize and respond to it as such. Therefore, if the Bible expresses value for the human body, his followers must value their bodies as well.

The body in Scripture

Genesis 1:26-28

In the beginning, we see God create men and women in his image, a truth foundational to a theology of the body. He bodily creates humans with the ability to carry out the divine command to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and exercise dominion over it. God ordained the human body as the means to physically express his image and obey his creation mandate. Imaging God sets humankind apart from all else in God’s creation and enables a particular relationship with him, one expressed with and through the body.

Psalm 119:73, 139:13-16

In both these psalms, the psalmist praises the Lord for his body. David proclaims God fearfully and wonderfully made his body, forming and knitting his inward parts in his mother’s womb. After praising God for these truths, he concludes God’s works are wonderful. Thus, in the context of a human body being formed, the physicality of the body is significant. God made men and women to think, speak, and move. Their bodily processes are specialized and more sophisticated than all other creatures. The capacity and abilities of the human body are incredible, and it comes as no happenstance that body systems improve, becoming more efficient through proper eating and exercise (more on this in future posts). Fundamentally, the body is created to be an avenue of praise to its Creator.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I believe Paul’s words to the Corinthians, specifically 6:12-20, are foundational to human embodiment. (I will post solely on verses 6:12-20 in the future as they are crucial in defining the body.) Focusing on verses 19-20, Paul writes that the Christian body is a temple of the Spirit and as such, a representation of God. Because believers are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, this truth informs one’s treatment of the body. Contextually, Paul speaks against acts of sexual immorality as being directly against the body. But Paul’s command cannot be bypassed without extending it to every area of bodily life. He gives two arguments for glorifying God with the body in all ways. First, because believers’ bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Second, because believers were bought with a price, a reference to the price of redemption Christ paid on the cross.

Don’t miss this: Paul declares the believers are not their own because Christ bought them, and the Spirit indwells them. And through the body, we are commanded to glorify God, the very body Christ redeemed and the Spirit lives in.

Still, something else must be pointed out. The fact Paul commands honoring God with the body implies something important: the command shows believers can potentially dishonor God in the body by what they do with them and the way they treat them. This means we must be intentional in regards to the body, which includes getting exercise, proper nutrition, rest, and managing stress. Body stewardship addresses these issues, and as a key piece of embodiment, it will be discussed in subsequent blogs.

There is one final note on the rhetorical nature of Paul’s initial question, do the Corinthian believers not know their bodies are temples of the Spirit? I believe it offers great significance to the argument for glorifying God with the body and properly caring for the body. His rhetorical statement shows the answer is obvious. The Corinthians certainly knew they were treating their bodies in ways that didn’t respect the Lord or the body. This passage indicates believers should evaluate how they treat their own bodies.

1 Timothy 4:7

The takeaway from this verse cannot contradict other Scriptures that speak to the body’s importance. This text should not be used in efforts to excuse oneself from physical activity. After all, as we have already seen, the Bible does not condone ignoring the body. Still, Paul says godliness has value in every way, and I don’t deny that primacy. But he does say physical training possesses value as well, which is important. Paul’s inclusion of this phrase speaks volumes, as he could have put anything in that place or left the phrase out completely. The fact is he does not denounce physical training or totally neglect health of the body. Like anything else, exercise can become an idol, so believers guard against this potential obsession, primarily by prioritizing spiritual pursuit. But note that Paul didn’t command Timothy to refrain from physical training because of the possibility that it might precedence over spiritual things. Foregoing physical activity – which neglects the body – to focus solely on spiritual matters is unwise and biblically unwarranted.

This is a quick survey of passages from the Old and New Testaments in the Bible that attest to the body’s importance. Thus, respecting and valuing the body must be part of a Christian worldview.

Cardiovascular exercise: 7 benefits and 7 tips

I know…cardio. Insert eye roll. If you’re anything like me, you despise it. Even still, keep reading and maybe I can convince you it’s worth incorporating into your schedule. 

According to the CDC, the leading killer of men and women every year is heart disease. In fact, 1 out of every 4 deaths is due to heart disease. The major contributors to heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight or obese – diseases that are all too prevalent in America. (check this out for more information about these diseases and Southern Baptists)

But guess what benefits most from cardiovascular work? Drum roll please…your cardiovascular system!! The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries. This system works to pump blood and vital nutrients through the body. So one of the best ways to stave off heart disease is to work the heart and walk, run, bike, swim, row, skate, jump rope, skip, hop, etc. We typically identify these activities as cardio, but really anything that gets your heart rate up and causes you to breathe heavier should be considered cardiovascular work. You can even structure a weight lifting routine in a way that elevates your heart rate. There are numerous forms of cardio, and each comes with several benefits.

The following are 7 benefits of cardio.

1. Increases the strength of your heart – Did you know your heart is a muscle? Cardio makes it stronger. The stronger your heart is, the more blood it pumps out with each beat, called stroke volume. The volume of blood the heart pumps out each minute is called the cardiac output. So the stronger your heart is, the more blood it pumps with each beat, which in turn lowers your heart rate. This is huge because it means your heart will not have to work as hard to pump blood throughout your body.

2. Lowers resting heart rate – With a stronger heart comes a decreased heart rate. The optimal range for resting heart rate is 60-80 bpm (beats per minute). You can check this by sitting still or lying down for 15 minutes. Then, take your pulse for a minute. If it’s within that range, your heart is relatively healthy. If it is higher, that likely means your heart is working harder than it needs to be in order to pump blood through your body. Year after year of this extra stress on the heart may lead to a heart attack or stroke down the road.

3. Decreases the chance of chronic disease – The risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, and obesity all lessen with cardiovascular activities. Maybe you don’t have any of these now, but it is likely you do in your family history. Guard against the development of future chronic disease by engaging in cardio now, especially because these diseases can lead to heart disease – the number one killer of men and women.  

4. Decreases stress – Cardio can help clear your mind. It can temporarily transfer your thoughts from a stressful work situation, family problem, or heavy trial to focus them on finishing the next mile or reaching your target heart rate. It also temporarily increases endorphins that positively impact your stress level.

5. Increases VO2 max – You may have never heard of VO2 max, but it is simply the amount of oxygen your lungs are able to take in and utilize with each breath. The higher your VO2 max, the more efficient your respiratory system will be at sustaining cardiovascular activity. If your VO2 max isn’t very high, then you will likely lack endurance. This is because your respiratory system can’t work fast enough to sustain the body’s oxygen needs.

6. Boosts metabolism – Cardio helps your body burns more calories. While its impact is more immediate – where muscle gain from lifting has a more long-term impact on metabolism – it still makes a difference in the calories you burn for that day.

7. Improves flexibility, functional abilities, and joint pain or stiffness – Cardio helps improve the range of motion around your joints. It boosts synovial fluid that lubricates stiff joints, which also increases your flexibility level. Your functional abilities, like everyday tasks, become easier the less joint pain you have and more flexible you are.

Now 7 tips for doing cardio.

1. Sweat – For those of you that don’t like to perspire, you do actually need to sweat when doing cardio. If not, you’re wasting your time! Now, I have met a handful of people who just don’t sweat much even after a legitimately hard workout. But, I also see people leave the gym after 30 minutes on the treadmill who are barely even glistening. A good, sufficient cardiovascular workout will get your heart rate up, which causes your body to begin cooling itself off through sweating.

2. Avoid monotony – Don’t let your cardio routine become monotonous like always swimming 1 mile, walking 2, or running 3. Not only might you lose interest, but your body will also get used to the same activity and stop changing. Repetitive movements from the same type of cardio can even lead to injury – shin splints, plantar fasciitis, even stress fractures are examples.

3. Switch things up – Just like weight lifting, don’t always do the same cardiovascular work. If you always swim, its time to do your cardio on land. If you’re used to walking a mile on a track and have access to stairs, then alternate walking a lap then climbing a set of stairs. If you’re used to running 20 minutes, try the following instead: complete 5 rounds of 4-minute sets doing a 1-minute run, 1-minute of jumping rope, and 2 minutes of rowing.

4. Just start doing something – Maybe you aren’t currently active at all, but there’s good news. You can get going today! You might have a very hectic schedule, but I promise there are always ways you can incorporate a bit more movement in your day. Yes, the recommended step goal is 10,000 every day, but most people get less than half that. You can work towards more steps in easy ways like parking at the back of a parking lot, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or take a longer route when walking the dog in the morning and at night.

5. Set a goal – The baseline amount of cardiovascular activity is 150 minutes a week. Break it up however it’s convenient for you. Maybe it’s 30 minutes, 5 days a week or 50 minutes, 3 days a week. Though regular activity is better, you can even go on a 2-hour weekend hike and knock out a major chunk of that for the week.

6. Calculate your target heart rate (THR) – This will give you an idea of how hard you’re working while walking, swimming, or jogging. Take 220 and subtract your age. This is your maximum heart rate, MHR. Now, take your maximum heart rate and multiply it by 65%, 75%, and 85% to give you a range for assessing the intensity of your workout. Working at 65% will be very easy and sustainable. Moderate intensity work is around 75% of your MHR, while 85% is vigorous intensity and likely an activity you can’t sustain longer than 2 minutes. Here is an example of how to use these percentages. If you’re 50, your MHR is 170 bpm (beats per minute). 65% of your MHR is 111 bpm; 75% is 128 bpm; 85% is 145 bpm. So say you’re jogging, and you want to work up to 75% of your MHR. At some point during your cardio work, pause and take your heart rate for a minute. If it is close to 128 bpm, you’re working at moderate intensity. (The best way to measure your heart rate without it decreasing too much is to take your pulse for 20 seconds and multiply that number by 3.)

7. Interval training – This is the best type of cardiovascular activity. It involves cycling between different intensities, for instance, 65% and 85% of your MHR. Now, you don’t have to do the calculations in tip 6 to do interval training. You can alternate walking a lap and running a lap. Or on an elliptical alternate between 45 seconds of working hard and 15 seconds of going a little easier. Basically, interval training is just alternating a more intense interval with a less intense interval.

10 reasons to lift weights – no matter your age or ability

A couple things first…

Confession – I love lifting and hate cardio. If I could only lift, I would. But cardiovascular work is necessary, and I will post on it in the future.

And, let me say, lifting weights does not mean you need to buy a gym membership or become a bodybuilder. Gym access does help, but anyone can buy a few sets of dumbbells and search exercises for major muscle groups. So when I discuss lifting here, I’m talking to everyone – the dedicated athlete, stay at home mom, busy minister, retiree, etc.

Also, I need to clear up two myths about strength training. Ladies, do you really think lifting weights will make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger? Unless you’re popping steroids and spending hours in the gym, this is physically impossible. And guys, do you skip leg day? Remember, legs are just as much as part of the body as your chest and biceps.

Ok, here are my 10 reasons for lifting, but just know there are others!

1. Bone mass density. Women, this is the most important reason for you! Honestly, if there were no other benefits to lifting outside of the impact to bone density, this alone is worth it for women. Bone mass density basically describes the strength of your bones. Remember the “Got Milk” commercials with famous people donning milk mustaches? And remember the tagline, milk does a body good? Milk has been promoted as being good for bones due to phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin D among other bone-friendly nutrients. And yes, milk is good for bones, but weight lifting is even better. Here’s why: Everyone – men and women – will reach peak bone mass density between the ages of 25-35. However dense your bones are at their peak will be the strongest they’ll ever be. After that, you will either maintain or decrease bone strength. The best way to maintain bone mass density is weight-bearing activity. Yes, cardiovascular work helps, but you need more than running for healthy bones. Lifting actually stresses bones. When stressed, osteocytes (bone cells) work to recover the bones from stress applied by the weight, making them stronger. But as we age, our bones can weaken and are more susceptible to breaking. Women, this is where lifting is absolutely critical for you. Menopause does a number on bones mainly due to decreasing estrogen levels. They begin to weaken at an even more rapid pace. When bones weaken, they can get tiny holes in them, becoming porous – this is called osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia. Weak bones mean breakable bones, a major concern later in life. So, guard against this now by lifting weights. But guys, you aren’t off the hook here either. Studies have actually shown men begin decreasing in bone mass density before women, making it crucial that both men and women lift weights for stronger bones.

2. Body composition. The best way to change body composition by decreasing fat mass and increasing muscle mass is to strength training. Keep in mind though that losing fat and adding muscle could mean less weight loss than expected because muscle weighs more than fat. So, a better gauge of progress is how your clothes are fitting instead of the number on the scale. Rapid weight loss typically comes from more drastic, unsustainable weight loss measures like severely restricting calories or slaving away on cardio machines. You will lose weight, but the question is how long can you keep it off if extreme measures were necessary to achieve it? Plus, in this way, your body composition will not change for the better. It’s likely you might lose muscle, and if you stop doing cardio and relax your eating, you’ll gain fat back not muscle. Body composition is changed for the worse in this case. This is why a combination of lifting weights, interval cardiovascular training, and sustainable healthy eating is the best for long term health and weight maintenance.

3. Become a calorie-burning machine. Yes, you can make your body a calorie-burning machine! The more muscle you have, the more calories you need to consume. Good calories – whole grains, lean meats, and good fats – not processed, sugary, fried foods. So, adding muscle mass to your body means you can, and need, to eat more. This is because muscle is active and constantly burns calories, whereas fat mass is inactive and just sits there.

4. Increase functional abilities. Maybe you can get up and down stairs easily now. Maybe you don’t have trouble getting up from sitting on the floor. Maybe you only need one trip to carry all your grocery bags in now. But these everyday activities get harder as we age. Lifting weights helps maintain our ability to complete these everyday, functional activities. Building strength makes going up stairs, getting up off the floor, and carrying lots of bags easier.

5. Better posture. Lifting weights fight bad posture because it strengthens back muscles. With everyone on a cellphone or tablet these days, bad posture is a growing problem. A few years of bad posture combined with weakening bones down the road, and you’re looking at the likelihood of a serious hunchback. Bones can compress in a weakened cervical spine, creating the hunchback look we’ve all noticed before. However, bad posture earlier in life could develop into a hunchback at a much younger age. Lift weights to guard against this while you’re still able!

6. Improve sleep and build confidence. Weight lifting and exercising, in general, has shown to improve your quality of sleep. Who doesn’t need more sleep?! Plus, lifting weights boosts your confidence. Feeling stronger, changing your body composition, and gaining better posture can all make you more confident about yourself.

7. Decrease the chances of obesity and type II diabetes. With strength training, muscle mass increases and fat mass decreases, which in turn, lessens the chance of obesity. As more calories are burned (remember muscle tissue is active), that’s fewer excess calories the body has to store as fat. Chances of developing type II diabetes also decreases with weight lifting. In this disease, the body cannot utilize excess amounts of sugar levels in the blood. Sadly, type II diabetes is extremely prevalent in our country, with 1 in 3 people prediabetic. But when muscles are working from exercise, they need glucose (sugar in the blood) for energy. So, if there is extra sugar in the blood, much of it will be utilized by the muscles to sustain weight lifting activity.

8. Decrease recovery time from injuries and giving birth. This reason might not seem important, but it is truly huge. Stronger muscles mean stronger bones, tendons, ligaments, and joints, which lessen the likelihood of major injury. Also, if you have been lifting weights before and during pregnancy, the recovery process after birth won’t be as hard or take as long.

9. Develop balance and coordination. Like functional abilities, balance and coordination also decrease with age. Not to mention, balance and coordination are naturally harder for your non-dominant side. Lifting weights, particularly dumbbells, will increase balance and coordination. Plus, if you perform certain movements like a shoulder press or bicep curl standing on one foot, your balance will also improve. Another aspect of this is that lifting helps correct muscle imbalances. For most people, their dominant side is stronger than their non-dominant side. By using dumbbells (instead of a weight machine), where both right and left sides work separately, imbalances can be overcome.

10. God designed weight training to make our bodies better. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. In future posts, I will explain the body’s adaptations to exercise. But for now, if you are a believer, this will hopefully motivate you to begin strength training.

One last thing – I frequently tell my clients that at some point you’ll either deal with an injury or chronic disease. If you don’t work out, you will likely develop chronic disease. If you work out, you will likely deal with an injury at some point. This certainly doesn’t mean there won’t be overlap, but the principle holds – which will you choose?

Body Stewardship: Vital for the church – a concern for Southern Baptists, Part 2

The pins in this photo loosely represent many Bible Belt states. Read my entire post to find out why this is significant.

In my last post – part 1 of body stewardship and the concern for Southern Baptists – I presented the biblical warrant for body stewardship, which is accepting responsibility for the body by appropriately caring for its needs. I will now show that, historically, believers recognized the importance of honoring the Lord by valuing the body.

Westminster Confession of Faith

The Westminster Confession of Faith written around 1650, is a significant theological work as it explains and extends matters of Christian doctrine and practice. I believe it plays a crucial role for body stewardship as well. It takes the 6th commandment – you shall not murder – and draws further conclusions from this prohibition against killing. The confession extends not killing to preserving life. The inference is that the prohibition not to kill also compels the preservation life, life of oneself and others. It organizes these extensions into two categories, “duties required” and “sins forbidden,” or things we should do and things we should not do. Though the catechism lists several extensions of this commandment, I’m highlighting three which are pertinent to body stewardship. The confession declares the 6th commandment:

“requires to preserve the life of ourselves…a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreation…” while condemning, “the neglecting or withdrawing…necessary means of preservation of life…and immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations…”

Don’t miss this. The confession recognizes preserving one’s life to be the opposite of taking life. So, the first implication of that is for Christians to preserve their lives by reasonable use of meat, drink, physic (medicine), sleep, labor, and recreation. At the same time, the confession condemns neglecting the things that preserve life – sensible use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreation. This is the second implication. The third is that it condemns the excess of meat, drink, labor, and recreation. It is my contention that acts of preserving one’s life are the same as acts of body stewardship. Believers understood this centuries ago.

Body stewardship, then, requires viewing daily activities as ones that either maintain life or detract from preservation of life. Therefore, anything that neglects or withdraws the means of life preservation should be limited or avoided. The confession helpfully lists some of these behaviors as immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations. In our day, Christians ought to connect these examples to their own lives. Immoderate use of food and drink equates to gluttony, regularly eating too much and being driven by the idol of food and excess. Per the confession, it is also arguable the types of food and drink we consume matter as well.  Consumption of unhealthy foods containing high amounts of sugar, saturated fats, sodium, and offering little nutrient content could be considered contradictory to life preservation as habitual intake of these foods can lead to diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, and blood pressure. Surely, this is not actively seeking to eat and drink in ways that preserve life. At the same time, we are not legalistic. We keep in mind consuming unhealthy foods is not wrong, as long as we do so in moderation with self-control as the goal. It is the immoderate consumption of unhealthy foods or a gluttonous, mindless intake that Scripture condemns according to the Westminster Confession.

We also accept life’s seasons frequently change. For example, maybe you’re experiencing a season where your access to a gym or healthy foods is limited. Your season might not be ideal, but body stewardship isn’t one size fits all. It simply calls for an honest assessment of whether you are being faithful to honor the Lord with your body wherever you currently are. Some self-assessment questions might be: Do I excessively consume food or drink? Do I regularly obsess over food with a gluttonous mindset evident of an idolatrous relationship? Am I engaging in regular exercise? Do I monitor my work life so that it doesn’t become my identity? Or conversely, am I unreasonably obsessed with food or exercise from a health perspective? Does meal planning or counting calories and macros rule my thoughts? Am I harming my body with over exercise? Do I jump from diet to diet just to lose the next 5 pounds? Believers need to wrestle with these questions and others like them. We all have areas of struggle, neglect, or obsession making critical reflection an essential part of the Christian life.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

For more historical evidence of body stewardship, take the following examples from SBTS. The seminary’s second president, James Broadus, promoted regular exercise and healthy habits to pastors. Broadus held that improved physical health would generate effective preaching. In his memoirs, he wondered how men would feel if they engaged in regular exercise to alleviate the stress and strain of daily activities. By this, he meant going beyond walking to activity that should include “muscular exercise every day. . . moderate exercise for all the most important muscles.” But he knew few realized the need. Additionally, Broadus advocated regular physical activity on campus, putting students in charge of leading daily exercises. Broadus, remarking on his own wellbeing, noted, “I have kept alive, amid many infirmities, and I know it has been through persistent exercise and plenty of sleep,” which he called laws of health. Promoting Broadus’s opinions, students advocated good nutritional habits and wrote against neglecting physical health to spend more time studying. Broadus also quoted Charles Hodge on how the tenures of Addison Alexander and James P. Boyce were negatively impacted by a presumption of health. Upon Alexander’s untimely death, Hodge claimed because Alexander devoted himself to “incessant reading and writing, with an almost total neglect of exercise…the world lost all those other noble works which he might have been expected to produce.” While Boyce, Broadus remarked, “suffered from lack of bodily exercise.” This leaves one to wonder today how many Christian leaders, pastors, professors, missionaries, etc understand exercise as essential to their ministry fitness? The spiritual rigors of ministry life demand body stewardship, as the health of both body and soul is imperative for faithful, effective gospel work. (Read my post on body and soul.)

The Obesity Epidemic in America

Now that we’ve seen that some held body stewardship as a necessity for the faith, we must take an honest look at statistics relevant to the church today. Sadly, we will see the Evangelical community is largely characterized by an indifferent attitude to the body.

In America, the obesity epidemic has reached staggering levels, but for the Bible belt, the story is even worse. This is easily observed by comparing the states that report to be the most devout and the states with the highest levels of obesity. The overlap is clear. The states claiming to be the most religious are also the most obese. (Access the most obese here and most religious here). Of the 10 most religious states, 8 are also the most obese. Only Tennessee and Georgia fall out of the top 10 but by 3% or less.

For Southern Baptists, the bad news continues. According to a study done at Purdue University nearly 20 years ago, religious people – with Southern Baptists leading the way – have the highest incidences of being overweight or obese, while non-religious people have the lowest levels. Why is this? Certainly, religion doesn’t cause obesity, and there are definitely sociocultural and other factors involved. But sheer observation spawns an obvious conclusion. It would seem our Christian faith is not influencing our health practices.

Still, there is more. As instances of obesity rise, so do obesity-related diseases (type II diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, some cancers, etc. Note that I’m not saying these diseases determine obesity as genetics can be to blame). These are diseases of excess. Our access to excess has toxic potential. The cost of these diseases has caused healthcare costs to skyrocket. With the high numbers of being overweight and obese in the church, we must accept the fact that we are burdening society by the costs of these diseases. It also becomes clearer still that we are likely limiting potential ministry suffering from these obesity-related diseases. We must be honest with ourselves. God did not create our bodies to endure these largely self-inflicted, first-world maladies. Simply put, many Christians are not making choices that value or steward their bodies but are arguably living in ways that devalue the body. The physical health of the church cannot be pleasing to God.

“America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity, and churches are a feeding ground for this problem…If religious leaders and organizations neglect this issue, they will contribute to an epidemic that will cost the health-care system millions of dollars and reduce the quality of life for many parishioners.”

Kenneth Ferraro, author of Purdue study

This is a sobering conclusion from 20 years ago. Because the obesity epidemic has grown, particularly in the most religious states, Ferraro’s words are haunting. But despite the church’s current condition, believers can reclaim the value of the body and begin to steward it in ways that glorify the Lord. It is my argument that a proper theology of the body will heed the reality of embodiment and necessarily lead to body stewardship. So if the church will recognize that Scripture speaks to our embodied reality, then we will renew our understanding of what God says about the body. For if he cares about the body, so should we.

Body Stewardship: Vital for the church – a concern for Southern Baptists, Part 1

The call to stewardship is evident in Scripture. Believers are to steward the blessings God graciously gives, which entails overseeing what he has entrusted to us. Often, this means faithfully serving God, as he brings redeemed sinners into his family and charges them with responsibilities. Our very lives involve stewardship because we are accountable to our Creator, designed to live for his kingdom and proclaim the gospel, of which we are also stewards. Biblical concepts of stewardship abound, and body stewardship is no exception. As we’ve seen in earlier posts, our bodies are gifts from God so we are responsible to steward them for his glory.

I define body stewardship as accepting responsibility for the body by appropriately caring for its needs – needs like getting sufficient exercise, proper nutrition, adequate rest, and limiting stress. Body stewardship responsibly acknowledges these areas and appropriately prioritizes them after spiritual matters.

I will work to build the case for body stewardship in two posts. First, I will explain how Scripture speaks to body stewardship. In the second post, we will see that centuries ago body stewardship was considered a necessity but today the church has arguably set it aside.

Scripture’s case for body stewardship

Self-control is an important foundation for the Christian’s responsibility to steward the body. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit supplied to all believers by his indwelling presence. Whether you need to utilize self-control in eating, protecting a time of rest despite a hectic schedule, or not overdoing it in the gym, every follower of Christ has the divine ability to exhibit self-control and steward God’s gift of the body. Practicing self-control is an integral part of the Christian life and crucial to body stewardship.

Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is a great place to start as it frequently presents the contradiction between the wise person and the fool. The wise person is the self-controlled person – a point King Solomon, the author of Proverbs, makes throughout the book. For instance, he reflects life of a sluggard. The sluggard is one too lazy to tend to, or steward, any of his responsibilities. Reflect on his qualities. He sleeps too much, forsakes his duties, is never satisfied, and epitomizes laziness and sloth (6:9, 10:26, 13:4, 15:19, 19:24). He is not intentional or proactive, suffering the consequences of his sins (20:4). His desires are his downfall, and he hates work (21:25). The sluggard is foolish but thinks he is wise, while formulating excuses to remain lazy (26:16, 26:13). He reaps destruction by his lack of discipline (24:30-34). Most notably, in chapter 15, the sluggard is contrasted with the upright one. Here lies the heart of the issue. If one is sluggish, slothful, lacking discipline and self-control in physical matters, he may also be ruled by the same qualities in spiritual matters. Conversely, qualities for properly stewarding one’s spiritual life, such as discipline and self-control, are more easily transferred to stewarding one’s physical life as well. 

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This passage serves as the grounding for stewardship as it declares the body belongs to God, and therefore, Christians are accountable for how they treat their bodies. (I wrote on this passage previously in the Bible and the body post. Be sure to check that one out first!) God owns our bodies – he indwells them by the Spirit, and he redeemed them by Christ’s sacrifice. Given those truths, he commands we glorify him with our bodies, which must inform how we treat, or steward, the body.

Whether or not you are glorifying God with your body is between you and the Lord. Stewardship of the body is not a one size fits all filter, and it certainly doesn’t need to become legalistic. But this passage does call for a re-evaluation of how we care for our body. Consider how you might answer these questions: Are you feeding your body enough food or intentionally under-eating or purging for weight loss? Are you regularly over-eating and ruled by gluttonous desires? Do you try to get the sleep your body needs or do you push your body to go on 4-5 hours of sleep a night to accomplish more? Are you spending too much time in the gym and abusing your body with too much exercise? Do you regularly push through pain just to get one more rep? Is your body breaking down because of a stress-filled life? Are you attempting to get even a minimum amount of physical activity every week? The list could go on. These are just a few examples of questions we all need to be asking ourselves. And let me be clear – I don’t have this down either. I know to ask these questions because of my own battles. We all have areas of struggle, neglect, or obsession. Life is also filled with seasons where we can’t get to the gym as much as we’d like; we don’t have access to healthy foods; or we aren’t getting the sleep our body requires. Again, body stewardship looks different for everyone, but it always requires an evaluation of personal faithfulness to the Lord in the way we treat our bodies.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul disciplines his body to keep it under control so that he will not be disqualified. He likens the Christian life to a race in which believers run as if competing for a prize, as he observed in the Grecian games. He notes that if an athlete desires to win, he or she exercises self-control in all things, and yet the end goal is a temporary, perishable reward. Paul’s argument is how much more should the Christian, whose reward is eternal and imperishable, exercise self-control even if it mandates beating the body so that he is not disqualified to preach the gospel? Paul teaches an important point here about body stewardship. To maintain control of his body, he admits taking extreme measures against it. The call is for Christians to engage in self-discipline to whatever extent is required. Paul lives with the intention to be obedient, an intent that compels him to beat his body. This either means that Paul forces his body to do things he naturally does not desire or he forces it not to do things that his flesh inherently wants. Guesses abound as to what Paul specifically refers to, but the point of application is clear. Are believers intentionally utilizing similar efforts of discipline and self-control in all areas of life, stewarding their bodies as Paul was?

1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17

Paul instructs the believer to glorify God in all things, even eating and drinking. His inclusion of eating and drinking means that we can dishonor God in our eating and drinking, a point addressed by body stewardship. We are left with the question, in what ways is my eating and drinking honoring God or in what ways are they not?

Part of the context in 1 Corinthians 10 is prudence in all situations, particularly whether or not we are creating hindrances to the gospel by what we do or don’t eat. When the unbelieving world is healthier than the Evangelical world (more on this in part 2), might we be creating a hindrance to the gospel by what our lifestyle communicates? The world observes the way Christians treat their bodies, and as a result, makes assumptions about our faith-based on our body stewardship or lack thereof.

Galatians 5:22-23

Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit here comparing them to the deeds of the flesh. As stewards or caretakers of our bodies, God knew we would require help in managing them. The very fact God equips believers with fruits of the Spirit shows that he has to impart qualities to us that we do not naturally possess. Our natural propensity is to engage in things over which we should exercise greater control. Self-control means expressing restraint over desires that fight to rule the body. Exhibiting self-control is needed daily, yet how often do we allow ourselves to be victims of inner desires and sinful cravings? If you recognize self-control is pertinent to stewarding the body, ask yourself when the last time was that you heard a sermon on it?

Titus

In the short book of Titus, Paul mentions the necessity of self-control five times specific to overseers, older men, younger men, and older women. Paul expects the congregation in Crete to be self-controlled in direct contradiction to the Cretans whom he calls lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12). Cretans had awful reputations as a result of their lifestyles. The juxtaposition here is critical. Paul beckoned all believers in Crete to live differently than the brutish Cretans who lacked any semblance of self-control and temperance. His important message reverberates for Evangelicals today. Rightly stewarding the body – practicing self-control and moderation in physical matters – is a key area of our witness to an unbelieving world. So, does your lifestyle stand out for the right reasons? As a Christian, are you caring for your body in a way that evidences your faith and devotion to the Lord – a motivation unique to Christ-followers?

One final note

The apostle Paul wrote everything I highlighted from the New Testament. The body is a critical part of Pauline theology, as it’s a theme that brings together many of his teachings for the church. But in addition to the body, a concept of activity is also seen in his writing. Throughout his epistles, his word choice in describing Christian responsibility is intriguing, as several connote an idea of physical activity. His employment of action words like train, discipline, fight, battle, beat, present, run, offer, stand, practice, etc., all seem to indicate qualities of initiative, self-control, and activity in living out God’s commands and growing personal faith. He employs analogies of athletes, soldiers, and runners. For Paul, in all of his letters, he speaks in a way that promotes the believer’s intentional, active role in sanctification. If we are passive in living out the faith, we will likely not be striving for obedience, walking by the Spirit, or producing much fruit. Our fallen nature and fleshly habits will most certainly rule us if we are not engaged in fighting the good fight of faith. The activity theme in Paul’s writing calls for intent and self-control. His physical analogies speak to stewarding the spiritual life. Obedient faith is an active, participatory calling extending to all areas, including the physical body. Given Paul’s mindset towards the Christian life, I believe body stewardship is a natural link.

*Space permits me from discussing what Scripture says about gluttony and sloth, which also inform body stewardship. I plan to post on these in the future.

Body and Soul

Photo by Angel Ferrer on Pexels.com

Perhaps you’ve always thought of the body as a shell for the soul. Or when considering death, maybe you’ve pictured the body decaying in the ground while the soul goes on to live in heaven. After all, Christians sing lots of songs about the soul, and if you grew up in church you likely remember a revivalist coming for a “soul saving” campaign. And yes, Scripture does say our outer man is wasting away while the inner man is renewed daily (2 Cor 4:16), but does this mean the body is merely an earth-suit? If the body is just some temporary shell encasing the part of humanity that actually matters – the soul – then why care about the body?

Unfortunately, I think this can be the church’s prevailing mindset regarding the body. While largely unintentional, it is pervasive with potentially devastating results for our witness. Embodiment hinges on the truth that the body is just as meaningful as the soul. Failing to recognize our embodied reality can lead to disregard or even harmful treatment of the body.

But this is nothing new. Paul argued against the same mindset in the Corinthian church.

In the 6th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian believers, he combats a licentious mindset that led them to commit all kinds of sin. He warns not all things are beneficial for believers, particularly those things which might dominate them (1 Cor 6:12-20). They, however, were attempting to use freedom in Christ to justify physical, fleshly desires. The believers felt their bodies did not matter, a mindset making it easy to commit shocking acts of sexual immorality.

Contrasting this mindset, Paul declares the body to be the Lord’s, and as such, not dispensable to sinful pleasures. He skillfully drew a connection between pursuing present morality in light of promised future resurrection. Paul undeniably fought for the body’s value in the midst of a culture that denied the body any respect at all.

The Corinthian church separated body and soul. The church today is inclined to do the same. The reason is Gnosticism.

Maybe you’ve never heard of Gnosticism, but you probably recognize how it portrays the body. For Gnostics, anything material and physical, like the body, was evil, but anything non-material or spiritual, like the soul, was good. So, at death, the soul achieved true salvation because it was liberated from the prison house of the body. Greek thought, particularly Platonic philosophy, also perpetuated the same disdain for the body. This thinking, highly influential on the Corinthian church, still subtly impacts the church today.

Typically manifesting in one of two ways, this purely dualistic notion completely separating body and soul, produced ascetics and libertines. Ascetics zealously pursued spiritual matters and commonly bridled their bodies, even inflicting physical harm, to ensure greater depths of piety. Conversely libertines, like those in Corinth, felt any physical, bodily action was inconsequential since their souls were destined for eternity and bodies for decay. For both ascetics and libertines, embodiment meant nothing. Today, if Gnostic thinking is not identified and perceived as erroneous, it will continue to malign the reality of embodied existence.


Scripture shows God is concerned with both body and soul. His commands throughout Scripture hold sway over the believer’s whole life – spiritual and physical aspects. Commands like: preparing for spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10-18), presenting the body to God and not to unrighteousness (Rom 6:11-14), taking every thought captive (2 Cor 10:5), the warning to bridle the tongue (Jam 3:2-10), or offer one’s body to God as a spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1), show God calls for unified submission of both our spiritual and physical lives.

I believe Scripture supports a holistic dualism view of humanity – distinct but unified body and soul. Body and soul are intimately linked, a connection even noted in the early church. Gregory of Nyssa, a Cappadocian father influential on the Trinity, held to a “thoroughgoing interconnection of mind and body” and that this “relationship between mind and body is so intimate that the proper function of the former depends on the health of the latter.” In fact, the apostle John writes this very thing in his third epistle to the elder, Gaius. He prays for him and, “that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3John 1:2). When unity of body and soul is understood, the importance of each is upheld.

The only exception is our condition in the intermediate state, between death and resurrection. Though we will be temporarily disembodied in this state, the separation of soul and body was never meant to be permanent. Upon death, our body will decay, but Scripture teaches we will be resurrected and restored – reembodied with a glorious body like Christ’s (1 Cor 15, Phil 3:19-20). Aside from the intermediate state, we will always exist as embodied beings whose body is just as important as the soul. John W. Cooper is quite convincing on the subject of holistic dualism and a lengthy quote is merited from his book, Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate. He writes:

“In modern times body-soul dualism has come under a series of attacks mounted by both Christians and non-Christians. Philosophers have proposed nondualist theories of human nature. Scientists (are) undermining the basis for considering the soul a separate substance. Biblical scholars concluded the biblical view of human nature is quite emphatically holistic. Historians of Christianity have confirmed that the roots of traditional anthropology are nourished by the soil of the Hellenistic worldview, not by Scripture as had always been assumed…Christians have charged that the body-soul distinction of traditional Christianity is one of the root causes of the many ways in which the faith has been distorted and prevented from effecting the complete salvation of humanity and the whole creation.” John W. Cooper, Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing), 31-32.

Thankfully, by Cooper’s estimation, it seems Gnosticism’s negative view of the body might be shifting. Along with this shift, it’s time for Christians to echo Paul’s words to the Corinthians and uphold the dignity of the body. The church must lead in reclaiming the value of embodiment, seeking to love the Lord not only with the soul but in the body with the heart and mind as well. And may we agree with the great Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, in his acclaim for the body as, “not a prison but a marvelous piece of art from the hand of God Almighty, and just as constitutive for the essence of humanity as the soul.”

What is Embodiment?

Humans are embodied beings. To live humanly is to be embodied. Life is experienced in a body, with a body, and through a body. Plainly, human existence requires embodiment.

“Embodiment, therefore, is the state of human existence between conception and death, and again after the resurrection of the body and for all eternity.”

Dr. Gregg R. Allison

Embodiment is a facet of a theology of the body – in others words, doctrinal beliefs that the bible presents regarding the body. Scripture teaches about the body, so Christians must allow these truths to inform their daily, embodied reality.

To rightly consider embodiment, followers of Christ need to recognize what role the Godhead – the Triune Father, Son, and Spirit – plays in affirming the human body.

As Creator, God the Father created humanity in the Imago Dei, image of God. He intricately designed embodied human beings, weaving their bodies together in their mothers’ wombs, as David proclaims in Psalm 139. Thus, he established embodiment to be the means by which humans carry out their lives. Bearing God’s image then becomes a fundamental facet of embodiment as it comprehensively reveals all the ways we are like and represent God.

The incarnation of Son of God – Jesus Christ as an embodied human being – validates the believer’s embodied life as significant. His embodiment authenticates our own. To secure salvation for sinful men and women, Christ had to be embodied. He bodily accomplished the work of salvation by his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Proper understanding of Christ’s embodiment substantiates human embodiment, which should lead to greater value placed on the body – one that is intentional and God-honoring.

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, is also involved in the embodied life of a believer. By his indwelling presence, the Spirit confirms the Christian’s body as his temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). Through the Spirit’s divine enabling, regenerated men and women grow in holiness, as they strive by the Spirit’s power to walk according to his desires and not the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26). So, the believer’s body becomes an avenue to honor the Lord as he or she submits more to the Holy Spirit and less to the flesh – like Paul argues in Romans 6.

Additionally, when considering embodiment, it is important to point out that the soul is not disregarded. Scripture speaks to the human person – comprised of body and soul – as a unified, yet dualistic being possessing both physical and spiritual aspects. Christians cannot make the mistake of viewing body and soul as totally separate entities. The danger is falling into the Gnostic belief which holds the good, immaterial soul as trapped in the bad, material body. As a result, the body is hated, seen as the source of evil, and a mere shell cast off at death. This mindset about the body is far from what Scripture teaches.

When we understand our own embodiment and that our bodily lives are meant to glorify God, other aspects of life are impacted like…

  • body stewardship – bearing responsibility of the body by caring for its needs
  • body image – how an individual views his or her body
  • adequate rest
  • sufficient physical activity
  • proper nutrition
  • stress management

In upcoming posts, I will explore these topics and several others mentioned in this blog – what the bible teaches about the body, how Gnosticism’s detrimental understanding of the body still influences the church today, and how Trinitarian involvement with the body confirms human embodiment.