One of the most spiritual things we must do is to take care of our physical body.
There is a deception quite widespread even among Christians that spirituality is all about attending to matters of the spirit. We do not have to dig too deep to see that this is a lie. Love, which is primarily spiritual, eventually has to do with our deeds (1 John 3:18). Our love for God is to be seen in our obedience, that is, in actions. And all our actions are carried out with our physical body.
When our physical health deteriorates, our service to and witness for God may be severely limited. It is ironic that the healing ministry focuses a great deal on physical results, but stops short of helping those healed to keep their healing by paying attention to their ongoing physical health. Maybe the underlying theology is that all cases needing healing have purely spiritual causes.
A case can be made from Scripture that sickness has a demonic origin. But we must also realise that we cannot put all the blame on the devil. Individual lifestyle choices determine our health outcomes, even when we are under demonic attack. The restoration we receive via the healing ministry cannot be used as the way to manage our physical ailments when we are not taking responsibility for our health.
“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.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV) The context here is sexual immorality, which Paul calls a sin against our body. But the sin is not just sexual; it is that we have abused the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Diet, exercise and rest (sleep) are the three areas we must address in order not to desecrate the temple.
Gluttony is a sin. So serious is the Bible’s view of it that Proverbs 23:2 says “put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony”. It appears to be an appropriate translation since the context (v1) is dining in the presence of royalty. Many other versions use the word “appetite”, which is translated from the Hebrew word that means soul, or that part of our human nature from where our desires and emotions spring.
Here is where we see that the Bible closely connects our appetites (whether it is for food, sex, money, power, etc.) with the spiritual dimension of our human personality. The needs of our physical body are inextricably linked to our soul and spirit.
The Christian anthropology in some church circles today has distinguished spirit, soul and body as three distinct aspects of our human nature. While it is helpful to understand ourselves in this way, it might have also inadvertently contributed to a spirituality that tends not to see the interconnectedness of diet, exercise and rest as important spiritual disciplines.
As in other things of great value to us, there are always extremes. At one end, we have those who emphasise the spirit to the neglect of the body. At the other end, we have those who emphasise the body, almost to the extent of idolatry, to the neglect of the Spirit resident within.
Besides paying attention to diet (in which fasting also plays a part), the other spiritual thing we must do is exercise. “Bodily training (or exercise) is of some value” (1 Tim 4:8a, ESV), Paul tells Timothy, while emphasising that godliness has greater value since it “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (4:8b). Most people tend to read it as saying that there is no value at all in physical exercise, which is not what is written there.
To serve God with our body, we must have physical energy, which requires us to be physically fit. Our mostly sedentary life today has made our bodies unfit compared to Timothy’s time where ordinary people would usually walk on foot while moving from place to place.
Furthermore, many modern ailments can be attributed to our unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
The third important component of this new spiritual discipline is rest, a term which we tend to spiritualise by relating it to the Sabbath. However, there is an even more basic element to rest – sleep.
Contemporary culture has wrecked us to the extent that we deprive ourselves of the sleep we need. Restful sleep is also God’s way of allowing us to heal ourselves in our spirit, soul and body. Coupled with the biblical Sabbath, to be at rest (including sleep) is to celebrate the wonders of God’s creative acts. When we stop work we are demonstrating the reality that God ultimately rules,
“for He provides as much for His loved ones while they sleep” (Psalm 127:2b, New Jerusalem Version).
Why are we looking into this subject in a New Year issue of Methodist Message? Mainly this: if you are the resolution-making kind (and even if you are not), note what Paul said in Romans 12:1 (ESV): “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The word for “bodies” in Greek literally means physical bodies.
So let us not spiritualise our consecration to God to the extent that we do not take care of our physical health. Our body is the vessel in which we worship and serve God. Granted that our present body is not meant to last for eternity and that we have to accept the process of ageing, taking good care of it is integral to spiritual worship.
It is time for us to stop making sinful excuses to neglect and abuse our bodies on grounds of being spiritual. Taking good care of our bodies is one of the most spiritual things to do.
With that, I pray that you will have not just a Happy New Year, but a happy year throughout, with bodies that are healthy for you to enjoy life to the fullest here on earth.
Cover page picture by monkeybusinessimages/Bigstock.com, above picture by primopiano/Bigstock.com
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for more than 30 years.