Several years ago, my wife interrupted me while I was exercising at home. A friend was on the phone. I took the call, and my friend greeted me, quoting from the King James translation of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, “Guy, don’t you know that bodily exercise profiteth little?” (1 Tim 4:8). He was teasing me, of course. Paul was not telling Timothy to forsake physical exercise. He was helping Timothy to see that, as important as physical exercise is, spiritual disciplines carry benefit in this life and in the life to come.
But throughout the history of the church, many Christians have held the body in some suspicion. Certain strands of Greek philosophy, emphasizing the mind and depreciating the body, took hold in the early church. Some pointed to the negative things that the apostle Paul says about the “body” or the “flesh” (see, for instance, Rom 7:14-25). Others have seen the way that unbelievers use their bodies to sin against God and experience temptations to do the same. They wonder if the problem does not lie in the body.
But the church has always confessed the body to be created by God and, therefore, good (see Gen 1:27, 31). Sin affects the body, just as sin affects every other aspect of our persons. That is what Paul is saying in passages like Romans 7. Sin takes the good gifts of God, like the human body, and uses them in ways that displease God. The good news of the gospel is that Christ has redeemed us as whole persons, soul and body (1 Cor 6:20). We have been united with Christ, soul and body (1 Cor 6:15). Christ is Lord over our body, and the Spirit is pleased to make our body his “temple” (1 Cor 6:19). Although the body is now wasting away (2 Cor 4:17), we know that Christ will conform our lowly, mortal body to be “like his glorious body” at the resurrection (Phil 3:21; see also 1 Cor 15:35-49). Our great hope as the sons of God is the redemption of the body (Rom 8:23).
These great truths mean that God cares about what we do with our bodies. If our chief end is to “glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” then this chief end involves our whole person, body and soul (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer 1). Christian discipleship involves the mind, of course, but it also involves the body (see Rom 12:1-2).
Since God calls pastors to lead the sheep, we must demonstrate in word and deed what it looks like to glorify God in our bodies. Knowing that we are called to “devote [our]selves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4), pastors may be tempted to neglect the calling to care for our bodies. But God never permits us to set aside one divine calling to carry out another divine calling. If he has given us both callings, then we know that he has graciously supplied all the resources we need to honor him in them. What, then, does the care of the body look like in practical terms? We may briefly think about five “F”s of the care of the body.
Ministers are not known for being emaciated and undernourished. Ministers are around food a lot – at church, in homes, at lunch meetings, and on the road. It can be hard to say ‘no’ when someone we care about offers us food. Ministers’ schedules are often unpredictable, and regular, wholesome meals can be very difficult to schedule. There is, of course, no set of biblical laws governing portion size, frequency of meals, or even what foods to eat (or not to eat). But Paul lays down an important principle in 1 Cor 6:12-13 that can be applied to food. We are not to be “enslaved by anything,” including food (1 Cor 6:12). Food is a means or a help to our glorifying God in the body (1 Cor 6:13; 1 Cor 10:31). Whenever we sit down to eat, we should be asking of what we’re eating and how much of it we’re eating – “Am I enslaved to this? Does my sharing in this meal bring glory to my Savior?”
In the midst of a busy schedule in ministry, regular exercise can be the first thing we let go. Very often ministry commitments can run from dawn until the late hours of the night. A single phone call from a church member or an elder can disrupt our schedule for the whole day. Ministry does not fit neatly into a 9-5 schedule but is a round the clock commitment. It is precisely because of these demands of ministry that the pastor needs to keep his body fit. Fitness does not mean that every pastor – or most pastors! – will be able to run a marathon or bench press 300 pounds. But a regular course of physical exercise, appropriate to our age and capabilities, will help give us the stamina and energy to do the work that God has called us to do. Think of the apostle Paul and what he endured in the service of Christ (2 Cor 11:23-27). This list is astounding, if only as a testimony to the endurance of the apostle’s physical body! God may not call us to endure what Paul endured, but faithful ministry is always hard work that will make demands on the body. We have a responsibility to keep our bodies in good shape so that we can run the race that God has set before us.
‘Forty Winks’ (Sleep)
Studies show that Americans are not getting enough sleep. The CDC recommends for adults “7 or more hours of sleep per night for the best health and wellbeing”. Inadequate sleep has been linked to a number of health problems and to vehicular accidents. To be sure, some people require more sleep than others. Some people, including Christians, struggle with sleeplessness. There are also circumstances in life that may prevent adequate sleep for a season – the arrival of a newborn child or the chronic illness of a loved one in the home, for example. But very often ministers are tempted to take time away from sleep in order to devote that time to the regular work of ministry. At such times, we must remember that God has designed our bodies for sleep. Intentionally to deprive ourselves of sleep is to subject ourselves to bodily harm. Commitment to sleep does the soul good as well. Sleep is a precious gift of God to his people (Psa 127:2). For the believer, and especially for the minister, sleep is a profound expression of faith in God. When we lie down to sleep, we are acknowledging that we are weak and finite, and that God is all-powerful. We are confessing that any good that comes from our labors comes not from ourselves, but from God who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psa 121:4). As my RTS colleague Charlie Wingard observes, “We sleep peacefully because he never sleeps, but is always at work for his people. Because his work in our behalf never ceases, we can rest. When we deprive ourselves of sleep, we blur the Creator/creature distinction.” When we get adequate rest, we are properly caring for our bodies and we are making an important statement about who we are and who God is.
‘First Day’ (The Lord’s Day)
We live in a 24/7 culture. Business, shopping, and sporting events never seem to stop, much less slow down. But God has not designed us to live that way. At the creation, he appointed one day in seven for us to rest. That rest involves our setting down the labors and commitments of the six-day work week, and devoting one whole day to the worship of God (see Gen 2:1-3). God later called Israel to devote one day in seven from their weekly labors and commitments so that they could gather and worship him (Exod 20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15). The apostles instruct us to continue this same pattern in the church today, as we set apart the first day of the week, the “Lord’s Day,” for rest and divine worship (Rev 1:10; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). Ministers, like all other Christians, need to set apart this day for rest and for worship. Sundays are, of course, busy days for those involved in Christian ministry. But we need to ask ourselves whether we are scheduling activities and doing ministry-related work that should best be done during the week. We need the spiritual refreshment and the bodily rest that the weekly Sabbath uniquely provides us.
Finally, the minister needs to have fun – to relax and to pursue wholesome recreations. God has not designed the body to work all the time. We need periods of rest and refreshment to restore bodies (and minds) that have been depleted by the demands of ministry. Because there is always more to do in ministry and because we will never do anything in ministry as well as it could possibly be done, the temptation is never to stop. But God calls us to bring rest to our bodies. Our Lord Jesus Christ deliberately removed himself from the scenes of his ministry for rest and spiritual refreshment (Mark 1:35). He made provision for his disciples’ physical rest amidst the demands of his earthly ministry (Mark 6:31). To be sure, God wants us to find spiritual refreshment, but he also wants us to refresh our bodies. That can be done through planned vacations, a spontaneous outing with a family member or friend, gardening, playing a sport, reading a book for fun, listening to good music – the list is almost endless. How often have we devoted an afternoon or a day to some fun pursuit and found ourselves, the next day, with renewed energy and zeal for the work God has called us to do?
Care for the body is not optional. Like any other creature, if we do not use our bodies in the way that God wants us to use them, we will bring harm, perhaps lasting harm, upon ourselves. If we want to know how important our bodies are to God, we need only remember that he created them, that Christ permanently assumed our humanity in personal union with his deity, that Christ by his blood redeemed us, body and soul, and that we will spend eternity with God and with one another in our glorified bodies. This resurrection hope is good news for believers who know all too well that their bodies are weak and mortal. How do we live in light of this good news? – “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20)!