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Two Kinds of Christians
In college, I had the privilege of helping behind the scenes at Winter Jam. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a huge Christian concert where they invite ten bands to play and only charge ten dollars a person. One of my friends worked for the local Christian radio station and they needed people to help promote it at the concert.
I was there for almost twelve hours-lots of time to people watch. I couldn’t help but notice two types of concertgoers. The first dressed in jeans with a nice top, donned makeup, sported nice shoes, etc. The second wore sweats, had their hair pulled up in a bun, and were often overweight.
Usually, this second group of concert-goers was shaperoningーmiddle schoolers or high schoolers. They had a big bag, the classic mom purse with snacks and Aleve. I saw these sweatpants-wearing moms stand outside the bathroom holding multiple purses or jackets.
A few times, it wasn’t just the mom who looked disheveled, but there was a group of sweatpants-wearing Christians. Parent and child looked like they had just rolled out of bed. Each party member had super nachos and extra-large coke, even the kids.
To be honest, I judged the second group of people. If the second group wasn’t so prominent, I don’t think I would have noticed them as much, but the attendance was fifty, fifty put-together Christian to sweatpants-wearing Christians.
I thought, “why don’t these Christians care about their appearance? Are Christians supposed to care about health? Shouldn’t Christians be the epitome of health and wellness?” At this point in my life, I was a baby Christain and recovering from an eating disorderーspecifically emotional eating and binge eating. Connecting faith and health has always been a struggle for me.
Good Health for Christians
Does God care about our health? Not just our spiritual or social health (our faith and our relationships), but our mental and physical health too? YES! God cares about all aspects of our health.
Proverbs 4:20-22 says, “My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.”
Proverbs 3:1-2, 8 says, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity...This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”
The Hebrew word used for health is marpe which means healing, cure, or health. Proverbs is saying that God’s teachings will heal their bodies. As a part of the Old Testament covenant, God gave the Israelites specific rules when it came to preparing food and personal hygiene. That instruction saved them from many diseases. God meant follow my instructions and you won’t get sick.
More on this in future blog posts!
3 John 1:2 says, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” The Greek word used here is hugiainó, which means to be sound or healthy. It can also mean in good working order, right, reasonable, sound, pure, or uncorrupted. To be sound means all parts are working together and functioning holistically. When John says “I pray that you may enjoy good health,” he wanted to find believers in good health, in good working order, and functioning holistically.
Luke uses hugiainó in his gospel in 5:31, 7:10, and 15:27. Luke 5:31-32 says, “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”
Paul (the perceived author) uses hugiainó in 1 Timothy 1:10, 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13, 4:3; and Titus 1:9, 1:13, 2:1, and 2:2. 2 Timothy 1:13 says, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” Titus 2:2 says, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and endurance.”
The translators could have also said healthy teaching or healthy faith. What are healthy teaching and healthy faith? In this context, it means right, reasonable, uncorrupted. In 2 Timothy 1:13, Paul wants Timothy to keep the right, reasonable, uncorrupted teaching of the gospel that was from Jesus through the apostles一the original teaching.
If Paul uses the same word to describe the gospel as Luke does to describe a person free of ailments and diseases, what does that say about health? Jesus wants to redeem our health, our bodies to working order. God wants our bodies to be free of sin, to be perfect, and in good working order一like he originally intended them to be. Our bodies and minds should be like those of Adam’s and Eve’s before the fall.
In Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey describes the reason Jesus wept over Lazarus’s death, “It is true that at death, humans undergo a temporary splitting of body and soul, but that was not God’s original intent. Death rips apart what God intended to be unified...The world was created good and beautiful. But now “he’d entered his Father’s world that had become ruined and broken. And his reaction? He was furious.” Jesus wept at the pain and sorrow caused by the enemy invasion that had devastated his beautiful creation.” (37-38)
In Titus 2:2, Paul wants Titus to teach the older men of the church to have reasonable, uncorrupted faith. What is healthy faith? Hebrew 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is knowledge and belief of the gospel. A healthy faith has both the understanding of what the Bible is and the facts surrounding it and the conviction that God’s promises will one day be fulfilled.
If Paul uses the same word to describe faith as Luke does to describe a person free of ailments and disease, what does that say about health? Jesus doesn’t only care about our relationship with God, but also our health. Being a Christian isn’t restricted to spiritual health, but all five aspects of health.
The five aspects of holistic health are spiritual, mental, emotional, social, and physical. Spiritual health is your purpose or motivation in life. Mental health is your cognitive function, usage of the brain, and your thinking patterns. Emotional health is your mood and encompasses how well you recognize, express, and control emotions. Social health is the ability to make and maintain meaningful relationships. Physical health is the body and if it is free of disease and injury.
The Christian Life Takes Discipline
The Roman Empire during Jesus’ day promoted health and good hygiene. The aqueducts, public baths, and sewer systems were all to decrease disease. Hospitals, originally developed for the military, were all around the empire. Citizens aspired to look like a god or goddess and often worked out and ate healthily. The Roman Empire was leaps and bounds ahead of other cultures and many of its techniques are still used today.
All that considered, early Christians would have understood what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Paul comparing the type of discipline it takes to be in shape to the Christian life would have helped the early Christians understand what they had to do. Every day they needed to practice their faith. It’s a little harder for the modern Christian. Discipline isn’t a principle that is widely understood in our culture. Just take the Olympics, how many times have you heard someone say, “I can do that,” when watching gymnastics or track一sports athletes have dedicated their entire lives to play.
When someone wants to get in shape, say a boxer has to get in shape for a fight, they have a specific program to follow that includes an exercise program and eating plan. A boxer practices techniques, punches, and combinations. They have to do similar activities over and over again, like sleep eight hours a night and drink a gallon of water a day, to achieve their goals. Getting in shape requires discipline.
Most people quit. They stop running because of a little rain; they stop weight lifting because it's boring; they stop fill-in-the-blank because they have other, “more important” activities. But Christians can’t quit. We have an end goal, heaven. We have to be disciplined, like a boxer.
“Great,” you might say, “I have to be disciplined, but if I’m already saved, what do I have to be disciplined about?” Sanctification. Every day we must strive to be more like Christ, not only in our actions and attitudes but in our bodies as well.
We are called to bring the culture of heaven to earth. Philippians 3:20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
In N.T. Wright’s book Paul For Everyone: The Prison Letters, he describes what Paul meant by calling the Philippians to be “citizens of heaven.” Philippi was a city in Greece and a colony of Rome. When someone was a citizen of a colony they weren’t supposed to aspire to go back to Rome but to secure the country by promoting Roman culture in the colony. When Paul said you are citizens of heaven, he wanted the Philippians to promote a heavenly culture where they were.
What is Kingdom culture? Heaven on earth: right relationships, healthy bodies, sin-free lives. That’s what we should strive for, though we know it’s not possible. To create heaven on earth, we must learn and grow slowly. That’s the definition of discipline. It takes time and practice.
A theme throughout this series is that your body must help you promote the gospel. That’s part of your job, why you were created. If you were called to have children, you were called to keep up with them. If you can’t walk upstairs without getting winded, you can’t take care of your children.
Selfless Means No Self-Care
Why don’t we teach discipline in church? Because we teach selflessness above all else.
When I was in middle school, I struggled with confidence, as many that age does. My problem wasn’t that I wasn’t comfortable in my skin or that I didn’t have any friends. I struggled with thinking highly of myself. I thought it was bragging. I got it in my head that thinking positively about myself or even thinking about myself was sinful.
Where do you think that came from? The church!
This “selfless means no self-care” stemmed from well-meaning Christians, pastors, and church communities. Pastors preach against the selfish ways of the world, but in doing so many Christians grew to believe we have to be so selfless that we don’t take care of ourselves. Communities praised those who gave everything they had to others. The disheveled mother of five is somehow more righteous than the put-together mother of two.
I think many of these stereotypes played into the scene above. It’s not selfish to spend extra time doing your hair or to bring food if the venue only provides fried food. We teach the need for daily devotions, it is time we start preaching the need for healthy habits.
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