One of the greatest ironies in America today is that all the parking places near the entrances at fitness centers and gyms are taken. If you have ever belonged to a gym and tried to get in during a busy time, you know what I mean. Our culture is obsessed with our body image and we will go to great lengths to make sure we look good and stay healthy. If someone’s body doesn’t look right, we are often caught body shaming others. Sometimes not deliberately, but the effect is the same. A majority of Americans seem to be obsessed with getting the perfect body. If we can’t have a perfect body, then we look for the mate who has one.
I’ve thought of this often as I go to worship on Sunday mornings and I see the dedicated joggers running in the streets. I wonder if they are planning on worshiping afterwards, or if their running is their form of worship. I think Paul saw some of those same things in ancient Greece. They were obsessed with working out and being completely physically fit. They had begun the Olympics centuries before this time and, as today, people sought to be Olympic champions. I think Paul was troubled by this over-emphasis on fitness and he reminded Timothy about the difference between the temporal and the eternal when it came to fitness. “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.” (1 Timothy 4:8)
Make sure that you understand me when I say that taking care of our bodies is a great thing. We are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We should do all that we can to provide an appropriate temple for the Holy Spirit. But physical fitness is limited. It is temporal. The way we approach it in America can often be counter-productive to our relationship with Christ. We take pride in how our body looks. We think about all that we have done to make us look so good. We look down on others who aren’t as physically fit. (Obviously, not all fitness fans are like that.) We move away from our relationship with God and Paul reminds us that godliness is more important that physical perfection. Godliness has temporal value because it helps us in dealing with other people. We see them as God sees them. We recognize that they have needs; they hurt; they need a relationship with God. Godly physical fitness means we work on our own physical issues without belittling others. Godliness in general means we are concerned for others and seek to develop their relationship with God while we develop our own. Godliness shows mercy and grace to others.
At the same time, godliness has eternal value. When we cultivate our relationship with God we grow stronger in our faith and look forward to eternity. When we treat others in a godly manner we open the door for them to look to God and find His mercy and grace just as we did. When we are truly godly, we don’t need to attack others in their sins because we remember when we were caught up in our sins also. We are reminded of the grace and mercy God gave us, and we seek to extend that to others. No one’s perfect of course. The fitness buff will have days when they binge eat chocolate. Those who would claim godliness will say and do incredibly awful things to others. A fitness buff will work off the binge eating. A truly godly person will repent and seek forgiveness from God and those they have wronged. As followers of Christ we are called to live in the present with an eye to the future – not just for ourselves but also for others.
Lord God, I am not in the best shape physically. Help me deal with weight issues and other health concerns. At the same time Lord, I need to become godlier. Help me to show Your grace to others.