I previously wrote a brief review of the book Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul, by Gary Thomas. In this post, I wanted to expand on some of the major points of the book by sharing some brief thoughts, quotes, and verses stood out to me as I read and re-read the book.
[Mouse over verses to read the text]
When we don’t take care of our bodies, we are potentially throwing away years of service to God.
God has given us souls and bodies, and we shouldn’t ignore either one.
God, not food, should provide us with comfort.
Gluttony (overeating) and sloth (laziness) are two areas that are largely ignored by Christians today.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
Many Christians live “from the chin up,” meaning that we are focused solely on matters of the mind, such as knowing sound doctrine, but we ignore the spiritual importance of taking care of our physical bodies.
Thomas gives the example of the senior pastor of the church Thomas serves at in Houston, Dr. Ed Young. Dr. Young, though he is in his seventies, is full of life and busy equipping fellow pastors to lead their churches. He has made wise choices regarding his physical body for years, which has allowed him to keep up with the demands of a busy ministry well past the age where many are incapacitated due to a lifetime of poor health choices.
A lack of care for our physical body can sometimes be an indicator of a lack of care in other areas of our lives. If we lack self-control and discipline physically, is it possible that this means we are more likely to lack self-control and discipline in other areas of life as well?
We are accountable for our choices. God is in control of our genes and circumstances. We are accountable for our responses.
If food is replacing God as your source of comfort or satisfaction, something is amiss.
Our quest to discipline our bodies can also produce a spirit of humility as we see that we are not strong enough to accomplish many of the things we want to on our own. We need to ask God for His strength and help.
Thomas quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said that when a believer is struggling with his own sinfulness, “he is more clearly aware than other men of rebelliousness and perennial pride of the flesh, he is conscious of his sloth and self indulgence and knows that his arrogance must be eradicated.”
Humility is important as we seek to be good stewards of our body. Thomas asks:
How useful are we to God when we live with arrogant spirits, readily condemning anyone who isn’t as disciplined as we are?
The outcome (being skinny, fit, or healthy) doesn’t make you holy. You can become more holy in the process of seeking to honor God with your body.
God knows the heart, and He is truly the only one who knows your heart’s motivations and the spirit in which you make decisions.
Thomas provides a positive mindset for those struggling with past misuse of their body:
Our battle is today. Because of God’s grace, yesterday doesn’t count. Because of God’s hope, worry about tomorrow is inappropriate. This moment, this day, this hour, are we being faithful toward God…?
Sin can lead us to become overweight, but being overweight is not, in and of itself, a sin.
God knows whether we are gluttonous or lazy or unwise. While these can sometimes lead to a specific outcome (like becoming overweight), they won’t necessarily. And, approaching it from the other direction, being overweight doesn’t necessarily mean that someone hasn’t honored God with his or her body.
Just as growing in one virtue helps us in all aspects of character, so one compromise endangers everything
Thomas addresses the spiritual issue behind our struggle to take care of our bodies:
The challenge we face plays directly into our sin nature, which is naturally disposed toward comfort and ease and naturally inclined against sacrifice or denial of any kind.
Thomas also issues a big challenge to us as we try to lovingly help our fellow believers honor God through their bodies:
We think the most loving thing we can do is to make someone feel good about themselves, no matter what, and the worst thing we can do is make them feel bad about themselves, but what if ignoring the truth is allowing or even encouraging a condition to continue that may take a decade or more off our friend’s life? Is that love as the Bible defines it?
Of course, God is in control of our brief lives on this earth (). Despite our best efforts to honor Him and maintain healthy physical bodies, His plan may not include us enjoying good health. However, we can trust that God will work all things together for good (), even difficult circumstances.
Thomas focuses on laziness in this chapter, and describes how it profoundly cripples our efforts for God:
Laziness is more than a sin – it’s an attitude that undercuts our sense of duty to God and our obligation to our neighbor, and an attitude that wastes our lives.
Thomas elaborates further on the attitude of laziness:
Laziness ignores any sense of obligation and defines sin exclusively as something we shouldn’t do (conveniently forgetting all that we are commanded to do), and it ends up wasting our lives in a spectacularly nonscandalous fashion so that we don’t see just how destructive it is.
If there is a fight to be fought, or a race to be won, then it must be done with utmost earnestness. Without this there is no way of traveling the narrow road that leads to life. Sloth is therefore as damning as open rebellion.
Thomas argues that Christians, “given our belief in God as the creator of our bodies, our acceptance of the call to be good stewards of everything God has given us, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit within us,” should be at the forefront of fighting against the laziness and disease that are so widespread in our current culture.
Soft people who frequently complain about the smallest annoyances, who give in to laziness and excess, who expect others to work so that they can rest, who collapse into passive entertainment instead of active exercise – these are souls custom-made to become all but irrelevant in kingdom warfare. They are no threat to anyone – least of all to Satan.
The book also mentions about how our desire to be physically fit can potentially lead to pride due to our sin natures. We, as sinful humans, can over-desire any good thing God has given us, thus making an idol. Our number one priority should be loving and obeying God, and we shouldn’t worship things He has created instead of Him.
This isn’t to say that being skilled or gifted in something is wrong. Thomas’s concisely states it:
It’s the pride, not the ability or excellence, that dishonors God
This chapter begins by discussing a pastor who became very overweight in adulthood and realized that if we wanted to remain an effective tool for God to use, he needed to take care of his body. The pastor also stated that he felt disqualified to teach others about virtues like self-control since he noticeably didn’t practice it himself.
This pastor went on to lose a lot of weight and experience numerous benefits of his improved health, including growth in his relationship with God through the process.
Thomas emphasizes the spiritual benefits of fitness and states that many of us focus on the “physical result, not the spiritual challenge, of eating and fitness.”
Some additional interesting thoughts are brought up concerning whether or not to reach out to fellow believers in love and try to help them with their physical health. The pastor, although he weighed over 300 pounds, said that not a single Christian ever approached him about his weight. He said that he could have benefited from someone helping him in this way – “If anyone had come to me in love, it would have been helpful.”
After we are convicted to address a long neglect, what matters most each day is not the body we have from our past, but what we’re doing with our bodies in the present. This is what is pleasing to God: Am I being obedient today – right now? This means I can worship and glorify God with a fat body or a fit body, with a muscular body or a skinny body, with an elderly body or a young body, with a disabled body or an athletic body. Because of grace, each day becomes an opportunity to worship and serve God with my body, regardless of what condition my past choices have left me in.
We each face an ongoing battle with sin. We are not perfect, and we won’t ever get rid of our sin nature during our earthly lives.
Sin, in its stark-naked reality, essentially calls God a liar: “Your way isn’t the best way. You want to deny me something that is good. you’re misleading me as to how I should live.
As we keep striving to obey God despite our sin nature, we should hope that we can echo Paul’s declaration at the end of our lives:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Thomas draws our attention to the bigger picture of disciplining our bodies and challenges the Church to toughen up and become strong in the Lord:
All of this talk about fitness, facing the pain of getting in shape, actively combating indulgence and laziness, is in many ways an appeal for the church to get tougher. We are soft. We often cave in at the slightest challenge. Men are lost to superficial sins; women are lost to superficial cares, and the work of the kingdom is neglected. If we don’t get tougher, the work will never get done.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no error without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of holy achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
As I stated in my original review of the book, I highly recommend this book. I think that it would be beneficial for all Christians to read. God desires us to conform every area of our lives to His will, and the Bible has essential information regarding our stewardship of the physical bodies God has given us. Gary Thomas helps organize Biblical themes and provides insight into how we should view the care of our physical bodies.
The book can be purchased for a very reasonable price on Amazon.com.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (ESV)
8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (ESV)
19 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, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (ESV)
30 I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man. (ESV)
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (ESV)
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (ESV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (ESV)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (ESV)