Sometimes I catch myself looking back at the “glory days” when I see a picture of my younger self; the vibrant, refreshed me who was clearly sleeping through the night and regularly getting her hair done. The pre-kids, pre-full time job, mid-20’s version of myself who went trail running and exercised with leisure, for pleasure and . . . every day. Life just looked a lot different—and so did I.
Of course, I’m quick to remember the wisdom from Proverbs 31:30. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Christian women are good at doing this; we whip this verse out to remind ourselves not to mourn physical vanities. And it’s true: beauty for the sake of one’s own vanity is a foolish pursuit. The thing is though, when I see my 24-year-old self, she doesn’t just look healthier than the current me, she actually was healthier. Vanity aside, shouldn’t taking care of my body be a priority?
In 1 Timothy 4:8 Paul notes that physical health isn’t everything, but it’s also not nothing. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
My husband, a personal trainer and nurse, would emphatically agree. But my goodness, he is so different from me in how he goes about it. He is methodical and loyal. He has a slow discipline that’s enduring (and endearing) and is hardly ever lured by the pleasures of a whole milk latte and delicious pastry because he simply knows it’s not always what’s best. Me on the other hand, I’m tempted by that latte and pastry, only to get discouraged that I still won’t fit into my pre-baby jeans by the summer.
So, how can I tell when I am pursuing vain beauty versus pursuing health for God’s glory? How can I strive to pursue training for righteousness first, but not neglect the value of training my body as well?
Remember that God sovereignly creates each human body.
The reality for Christians is that one day our bodies will be transformed in heaven (1 Cor 15:35-58). They will “be made perfect,” but still have some continuity with how they are now. Let's be honest, we all have things about our bodies we would change. I personally wouldn’t have minded skipping the acne years or maybe having some longer legs. But, my human perception on earth is distorted right along with my failing body. We have broken ideas of what is beautiful and preferred, and these ideas are unstable as they change from generation to generation, from person to person and from culture to culture.
However, the God who formed us and knitted us in our mother’s womb did so with great purpose (Ps 139).
My body is a gift from God. He creates us with unique physiques; he knows what we need and he knows what is good (Rom 11:33-34). To be discontent with my body is to think I know better than the One who formed me out of dust; this is blasphemy.
Remember whom you are trying to please.
What if you didn’t exercise just to look good? What if your self-discipline was actually an expression of worshiping God?
The purpose of training our bodies (i.e. working out) shouldn’t be so we can eat whatever we want and not get fat. While being overweight isn’t healthy, being fit shouldn’t bolster self-perception; it should be a pursuit that serves Christ. Being faithful with our health is a reflection of God’s character. God is steadfast and sober-minded (Heb 6:19-20). When we choose to eat vegetables instead of a doughnut or take a walk when we’d rather watch TV, we are reflecting God's wisdom. He is prudent and has perfect joy (Neh 8:10). Whether we refrain from overeating or choose to enjoy food with fellowship, we are reflecting his good sense.
Remember your body's purpose.
Our bodies are not simply for our own pleasure, they are for our pleasure in the context of being worshippers of God first and foremost. Physical bodies are created to worship God, not to worship themselves.
“For we know that if the tent [body] that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building [body] from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heavens. For in this tent [body] we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling. . .” Paul is admitting that our bodies on earth are affected by the Fall, making us long for heaven. But, God prepared us to endure earth by giving us the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can have courage and always “make it our aim to please Christ” (2 Cor 5). This includes being faithful with our bodies. That means appropriately training my body is one way to display holy affection to God and demonstrate spiritual maturity. To be unhealthy with my physical body is to be deliberately flippant with an amazing gift God has given me: his image.
Our bodies aren't worthy of worship, nor are they to serve ourselves. When I am using my body to bolster personal confidence in how great I am rather than how great the actual Creator of the body is, I am worshipping the creation rather than the creator. This means that if Christians starve the body, if we overwork the body, or if we disregard our physical health, we are displaying arrogant disdain for the perfect Creator with whom we claim to have relationship. Our bodies are never to express how awesome we are; our bodies are always to express how awesome God is.
So how does this practically look in our lives? Because every physical body and every conscience is different, our healthy choices will look different. But what we all have in common is the need to fight wrong desires in regard to what we do with our bodies; and the only way to successfully fight sinful lusts is with greater desires. Therefore, we must draw near to God in order to weaken temptations for short-term pleasures over eternal, sustained joy.
Questions for Reflection:
+ Am I working out to look better for myself or to be faithful with what God has given me?
+ Am I eating this food to celebrate God with others, or am I indulging in order to experience some satisfaction that I am not presently experiencing with God and others?
+ Are my overly tight clothes suggesting to me that I have become imbalanced in the area of celebration or possibly self-indulgence?
+ What does the care and appearance of my body communicate about my view of God, self and ministry to the watching world?
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.