Recent statistics tell us that America is the most obese nation in the world. In an ironic juxtaposition, American culture is also awash in health-consciousness. From organic baby-food to kale-smoothies, acai bowls to intermittent fasting, activated charcoal to probiotics, Americans are obsessed—reports on obesity notwithstanding—with staying healthy.
It is good and right that people care for their physical bodies. Folks who load their bodies with unhealthy foods, avoid any form of exercise, and do little to curb over-indulgence should not be congratulated for their virtue. But our culture’s simultaneous neglect of and obsession with their health is a symptom of a larger worldview problem.
A Problem of Worldview
If you are convinced that your current body is the only body you will ever have, you will likely run to one of two extremes. Either you will fill your cup with earthly pleasures and give little regard to your body, or you will do whatever you possibly can to maintain it. If you don’t have a hope of physical existence after you die, you will either throw caution to the wind and mistreat your body or take ridiculous pains to keep yourself alive.
A biblical worldview, however, keeps us from both extremes.
First, Scripture tells us that our physical bodies are gifts from our Creator. The implication, then, is that our bodies are a stewardship entrusted to us by God (Gen 1:26; 1 Cor 6:12-20). Secondly, we know from God’s Word that we presently live in a fallen world that has been marred by sin and the curse. This means that our bodies are susceptible to sickness and death (Gen 3:7ff; Rom 5:12ff). Third, we know that God has given us many good things in this world for our enjoyment. Good food and drink are legitimate pleasures to be received with thankfulness (1 Tim 4:1-5). Fourth, we know that those who are in Christ will someday experience a physical resurrection that will enable them to live forever in God’s presence on a new earth (John 5:29; Rev 21).
A Balanced Concern
When it comes to caring for our bodies, then, Christians should have a reasonable concern for their health while at the same time recognizing that their physical bodies must eventually yield to the ever encroaching realities of old age, disease, and death. Looking forward to resurrection and a new earth, believers may inquire into food labels but they won’t panic anxiously over them. Knowing that God has given us good things in life to enjoy, a person equipped with a robust Christian worldview won’t be burdened by pseudo-spiritual asceticism that doesn’t let them taste of life’s legitimate pleasures (see Col 2:20-23).
But at every point of concern over one’s health, the Christian should be distinguished by their motivation for why their care for their bodies. The world is infatuated with wellness for the sake of self-preservation. Christians care for their health for the sake of ministry to others.
While it is true that the fall makes sickness and death inevitable, nowhere does Scripture give our present condition under the curse as an excuse to neglect our health. Indifference about our health and extreme concern over it grow from the same root of unholy self-love. But our health isn’t primarily about us. It’s about the glory of God and the good of others.
As believers, we should be ready to say with Paul, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). But we should also follow Paul’s example when he says immediately after this statement that he intends to remain on earth in order to serve the church for her spiritual benefit (Phil 1:22-26). In other words, we should do what is reasonable to maintain our health in order to be as useful to the church for as long as possible.
A lack of attention to our health can lead to problems in the future that may limit our capacities for ministerial labor. Obesity increases sluggishness and robs us of mental and physical vigor. Constant tiredness diminishes the quality of our work. In every case, disinterest over our health has made us less useful to others.
What About God’s Providence?
Certainly these statements do not disregard God’s providence. It may turn out that a Christian who has been careful to eat well, exercise, visit the doctor regularly, and get good sleep is hit by a car or with cancer at age 30. But we must be careful that we don’t use God’s providence as an excuse for why won’t care for our physical health.
Nor do these statements imply that Christians won’t hazard their health for the benefit of others. There may be times that we must forego sleep, food, and physical safety in order to minister to people. Again, Paul is our example (Acts 20:24). But such risks for the sake of love are a far cry from the illogical suggestion that caring for our bodies is a waste of time due to God’s providence.
Your Health is For God and Others
Our body, and thus, our physical health, is a stewardship from God. We are not to revere our health like an idol, but nor are we to trash it as though it has little to do with our Christian obedience. We care for our bodies so that we can be as useful as possible for as long as possible. If God chooses to shorten our lives or afflict them with disease, so be it. But for our part, we should desire to say with a good conscience that we were not guilty of fumbling this stewardship through careless indifference.