When asking the score of my granddaughter’s soccer game who at the age of seven had just begun playing the game, my son, her father, told me there wasn’t a score. They do not keep score so none of the children will be disappointed if they are on the losing side. We all know that competition, especially when over-zealous and virulent parents are out of control, can be driven to inappropriate and damaging ends. However, eliminating competition, winning and losing, is teaching children to live in a fantasy world that does not exist, rather than learning to live rightly in the real world. We all need to learn how to win and lose with true character, and the earlier children begin life’s lessons in this the better they are in maturing into men and women of character. The Bible gives no support for the errant self-esteem-philosophy that runs rampantly in the modern society and school system.
But this serves to introduce the subject of physical fitness which we are told is a not so practiced discipline in American lives. It is now being trumpeted that we are an obese nation. Along with the incredible speed of technological advancement in the last generation we have experienced both the blessings and curses which accompany it. Technology can be used for both sanctifying and paganizing purposes, and one of the non-sanctifying results of much of the new technology, I am not talking about work-out machines, is to steal time away from more redeeming activity that is better for the body, and also for the soul.
Yet you may ask, what is the sanctifying goal of physical fitness? Why do we do it if we do, and what is our goal? Is it to look better, or to live longer, or to save on doctor bills? Probably, all of the above. But this wasn’t the Apostle Paul’s primary purpose to which he speaks in our text. I have often wondered what specific things Paul did to stay in shape, because when you read of what he endured, he had to be an excellent physical specimen. One factor, of course, is the thousands of miles he must have walked. What Paul says is that he went into strict training to win a crown that would never fade away; obviously an eternal crown to the glory of God. Have you ever thought that your physical activity is for the glory of God? Is that or could that be your motivating factor of first importance leading to discipline?
This past week I attended the memorial service of a friend and fellow believer from my younger years. He was 20 years my senior but I can still vividly recall his warm smile, sincere interest in me, and redemptive conversation when I was a child up through my early adulthood. Our paths went in divergent directions and to different areas of the country. At his service I was reminded of his disciplined physical activity that was performed with great joy and with great delight in His Creator and in His creation; and as often as he could he did it with his family and friends, including my father. I learned that at the age of 50 he set as a goal to climb all 54 fourteeners in Colorado; which means all 54 of the mountain peaks in Colorado 14,000 feet and over. He summited 43 of them before sustaining a stroke that precluded any more climbs at that altitude. He did all this while being a husband and father of four children; very active in his church; sustaining an energetic and compassionate veterinary career, to include many mission trips volunteering his veterinary services. As I heard this I thought he should have lived to be 120 rather than 85. (Brain cancer took his life in a matter of weeks from diagnosis).
But he did not do all this to extend his life and neither should we; nor to improve his appearance or lessen his doctor bills, though these are subsidiary benefits not to be discounted. I think he did it of first importance to glorify God and to glory in what opportunities God had given him in his own body and in the delight of Creation. Physical fitness will never extend your life beyond what God has ordained for you, nor will it completely overcome the mystery of your genetics. Consider Jim Fix the great runner who died of a heart attack in his early 50’s while running, yet still outlived all the men in his family by ten years who also died of a heart attack. Consider the Strongest Man in the World, Paul Anderson, who died at the age of 61 from kidney disease, yet never gave up his physical fitness regime even when confined to his bed. No, God has ordained all the days for each one of us, and man knows not his time whether or not he chooses to pursue as physically fit a body and soul as possible.
Physical fitness with the goal of bringing glory to God is not a vanity; it is a necessity if God has given you a body capable of it. If you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30), physical fitness is a part of it. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and this speaks of the integral and intricate connection and communication of body and spirit, of mind and soul. Striving to be physically fit to the glory of God is an expression of your desire to love God more.
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