Exercise and physical activity are important parts of a healthy lifestyle. As Christians, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), so we have a responsibility to take care of them. The Bible has much to say about the importance of exercise and gives us principles to guide our approach to physical activity. In this comprehensive blog post, we’ll explore what the Bible teaches about exercise and extract key principles to apply in our lives today.
Physical fitness was important in biblical times. The ancient Israelites and early Christians lived active lifestyles that naturally included regular exercise. Today, we have more sedentary jobs and hobbies that require intentional effort to get enough physical activity. The Bible provides timeless principles about the value of exercise that remain just as relevant now as thousands of years ago.
As we examine exercise in the Bible, keep these key takeaways in mind:
- Exercise is good for physical health.
- Our bodies belong to God, so taking care of them honors Him.
- Self-control and discipline in exercise reflect godly virtues.
- Balance is needed – don’t overdo it.
- Exercise can build endurance for doing God’s work.
In the rest of this post, we’ll explore Bible passages about exercise and extract principles that you can apply to your life.
Old Testament Examples
The Old Testament contains many stories of people who lived active, physically demanding lifestyles. Work in an agricultural society and traveling on foot meant daily exercise was built into normal routines. Here are a few examples:
- Farming required hard physical labor. Genesis 2:15 tells us, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” Adam and Eve had to till soil, plant crops, prune trees, harvest produce, and more. This was physically demanding work!
- Shepherds and sheepherders had to walk long distances to care for their flocks. Exodus 3:1 mentions Moses tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. This involved walking outdoors over rough terrain.
- Travel usually happened on foot. When Abraham traveled from Haran to Canaan in Genesis 12:4-5, he journeyed by foot about 500 miles. Imagine walking that far today!
- Hunters and warriors needed fitness and stamina. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the field” (Genesis 25:27). Warriors like Joshua and David had to be in good shape for battle.
The Old Testament Jews viewed physical fitness as a gift from God. Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 says, “Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor…for it is a gift of God.” They recognized physical health as a blessing to steward well.
Jesus and Exercise
The Gospels don’t directly mention Jesus exercising, but we can deduce He had excellent stamina from His frequent long journeys on foot. As an observant Jew, He would have walked to the synagogue every Sabbath, about 3/4 mile from His home. His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness also required great physical endurance.
Interestingly, the most famous miracle Jesus performed related to physical fitness. When the paralyzed man was lowered through the roof in Mark 2, Jesus healed him with the words, “Get up, take your mat and walk.” He restored the man’s ability to walk under his own strength!
Though he doesn’t talk directly about exercise, Jesus affirms the value of the body in the Gospels. He desires us to be whole – body, mind and spirit.
Principles from Paul
The Apostle Paul provides the clearest teachings on exercise and physical training in the New Testament. He frequently uses athletic imagery to illustrate Christian living and draws parallels between exercising the body and training oneself in godliness.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul writes:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Paul sees physical training as an illustration of spiritual discipline. Just as an athlete exercises self-control and trains diligently to win a prize, Christians should “run” and “fight” by disciplining ourselves so we don’t disqualify ourselves from sharing the gospel.
1 Timothy 4:8 also states:
For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.
So while physical training provides some benefits, spiritual training in godliness is much more valuable. We should make developing Christlike character our first priority. But this doesn’t negate the value of physical exercise – Paul says it profits us “a little.” There are benefits, even if not as significant as spiritual training.
Principles for Exercise
Drawing from these and other passages, here are some key biblical principles to guide our approach to exercise:
Our Bodies Belong to God
Because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20), we should care for them as a place where God dwells. Just as the Old Testament Jews viewed health as a blessing from God, we should be grateful for our physical bodies and see caring for them as good stewardship. Exercise helps us honor God with our bodies.
Exercise Promotes Bodily Health
Physical activity provides measurable health benefits like improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, stronger muscles and bones, and lower risks for many chronic diseases. The Bible affirms the value of bodily health as a blessing from God. Wise exercise helps us cultivate this gift of health from our Creator.
Use Self-Control and Discipline
As Paul highlights, physical training requires self-control, endurance, persistence and discipline. The Christian life also requires training ourselves in godliness through these same virtues (1 Tim 4:7). Physical exercise helps shape our character in positive ways that glorify God.
Exercise in Moderation
While exercise is good, overdoing it can be harmful. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time?” (Ecc 7:17). We need moderation and wisdom in our training. Don’t exercise excessively in a way that damages your body.
Build Endurance for God’s Work
Improving our physical strength and endurance enables us to work hard and serve others over the long haul. As Paul endured hardship in his missionary journeys, physical stamina allowed him to cover extensive ground preaching the gospel. Wise exercise prepares us for the physical demands of fulfilling God’s calling.
Applying Biblical Principles to Exercise
As you develop an exercise plan, use these biblical insights to guide your decisions and motivations:
- Pray – Ask God to help you see exercise as an act of stewardship for the temple of your body. Pray for self-discipline, consistency, and moderation.
- Set God-centered goals – Why do you want to exercise? To honor God with your health? To discipline yourself toward godliness? To have endurance for His work? Let biblical goals drive your fitness plans.
- Make it a spiritual discipline – Approach exercise as a practice that trains you in godly virtues like self-control. Use exercise time to pray, meditate on scripture, or listen to edifying teaching.
- Find an accountability partner – Share your goals with another Christian to report on your progress. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 talks about the value of a partner to hold you accountable.
- Use exercise to minister to others – Invite friends to workout with you as a means of fellowship or gospel sharing. Make exercise part of your Christian witness.
- Be balanced – Don’t make fitness into an idol. Allow rest days and listen to your body to avoid burnout or injury. Let moderation guide how you exercise.
- Glorify God with your strength – As you get in better shape, use your improved physical abilities to serve God and people. Let His purposes propel you.
The Bible provides many helpful principles to guide us in physical exercise. Our bodies belong to God, so taking care of them through wise fitness stewardship is one way we can honor Him. Though not an end in itself, regular exercise trains us in godly virtues like self-control and endurance for fulfilling God’s purposes. By applying biblical values to our approach to exercise, we can reap both physical and spiritual benefits.