What does the Bible say about physical health? 5 applications

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What does the Bible say about physical health? Five biblical suggestions

May 10, 2023 -

Large group of fit and active people doing exercise in nature, stretching.© By Halfpoint/stock.adobe.com

Large group of fit and active people doing exercise in nature, stretching.© By Halfpoint/stock.adobe.com

Large group of fit and active people doing exercise in nature, stretching.© By Halfpoint/stock.adobe.com

Does your health matter to God? Every January, millions of people make the New Year’s resolution to get healthy and/or lose weight. Dieting is a billion-dollar industry, and it thrives in January like no other month. As of 2023, around 50 percent of Americans try to lose weight every year. As of 2020, 40 percent of Americans were obese, with many more overweight.

There is no shortage of information on how to improve your health. It takes a simple Google search to find the latest science on how movement and nutrition impacts your health. Every health expert has an opinion. Every nutritionist and personal trainer has the “magic cure” to our health goals.

But what does the Bible have to say about the importance of physical health for believers?

Does your physical health and how you take care of it matter to God?

The idolatry of eating—and dieting

Your body was made intricately and deliberately. You are not just a physical being; you are a three-in-one creation. Your heavenly Father was purposeful about his creation.

So many of your internal processes are connected to one another. When you are mentally nervous, you may experience the sensation of physical “butterflies” in your stomach. That is your brain talking to your gut via the vagus nerve. When you choose to be grateful, you can decrease the amount of the stress hormone cortisol being pumped into your bloodstream.

So much of what you think and how you think affects the physical processing in your body. (In fact, your thinking plays a central role in your mental health as well. Read Dr. Lane Ogden’s article, “What does the Bible say about mental health?” for more.) That is on purpose. It is all part of the beautiful design that makes us human.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, the Apostle Paul says that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. . . . so glorify God in your body.” This verse is a reminder of two things.

One, your purpose is to glorify your Creator.

Two, how you take care of your temple can be an external manifestation of glorifying God. It is another aspect of stewarding what you have been entrusted with here on earth. How you steward what you’re given matters; Jesus devoted many parables to this topic.

I often find that there are two types of people, two extremes, when it comes to this issue of taking care of our temples.

On one hand, there are those who are overly vigilant about their health. They exercise every chance they get, monitor every bite that goes into their mouth, and worry about fat, calories, sugar, and whatever else is currently being demonized by the nutrition world.

On the other hand, there are those who have no self-control or mindfulness when it comes to eating. They consume more than necessary in order to cope with stress and unpleasant emotions.

Neither perspective is healthy.

One turns optimal health into an idol. The other elevates food and the act of eating to a level of idolatry in the form of gluttony and/or addiction. Both extremes are dangerous.

If you say food is only for fuel and for nourishing your health, you will miss out on the enjoyment that can be had in food during times of celebration or when you need comfort. If you only choose food as comfort or a coping mechanism, you’ll miss an opportunity to turn to your heavenly Father as the true source of comfort and healing.

What does the Bible say about eating?

When you look to the Bible for examples of how to eat and enjoy your food, it is clear that food is a gift that brings pleasure, but the mindset you have about your food is also important.

For example:

  • “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7)
  • “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15:17)
  • “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” (1 Corinthians 8:8)
  • “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
  • “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

From these verses, we can see that what we consume may not be an issue of morality, but how and why we consume it can be.

This lines up with the biological processes that occur in your body when you’re eating. When you’re in a state of gratitude and peace, your body digests food better. When you’re stressed or in a state of “fight or flight,” your body will shut down important processes, like digestion, in order to survive the stressor.

Stressing about your physical health, what you’re eating, or talking about “good” or “bad” food, affects the way you digest and use the nutrients you’re provided. I often say, “A body in stress will not digest.” When you turn to food as an idol, whether to see it as a savior or to soothe emotional pain, you don’t just hinder your spiritual growth. It impacts your physical health as well.

Two questions to ask yourself about your physical health

As believers, we have freedom as to what we consume and how we move our bodies. Within freedom, we have choices. There is a way to find balance in our healthy resolutions and learn to steward our physical bodies in a way that honors God.

When you feel well, you serve well. You are able to have the physical and emotional energy to do what God has called you to do. Thanks to many increasing studies on the gut-brain axis, we know that what we eat impacts our mental health and how we think—and how we think impacts every single thing we do.

This new year, instead of asking questions about what diet you should start or what eating or fitness plan you need to implement, ask the following questions:

  1. How can I honor my temple without turning it into an idol?
  2. How can I receive food with thanksgiving and work to restore my physical health this year without unhealthy extremes or obsession?

Five suggestions for better “temple” care

First, unprocess your diet.

God knew what he was doing when he gave us everything we needed on this earth for physical nourishment. When you consume food that is as close to its whole food source as possible, your body digests it better.

My advice? Start with five different vegetables a day.

How can you introduce more greens and more colorful items like broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, or squashes? When you overconsume processed foods that have been chemically altered to be more palatable or addictive (like chips, bars, and candy), you may often lose your taste for food in its natural state. You can hijack the pleasure response in your brain so that you’re constantly desiring that “hit” of sugar or processed carbohydrates that make you feel so good in the short term but can be harmful for your body in the long term.

Second, listen to the body you’ve been given.

When you chronically overeat and use food as emotional comfort, you can alter hunger hormones that help your sense of hunger or fullness. You can also warp your natural hunger hormones by adhering to strict food rules that cause you to put all your trust in some magical, one-size-fits-all plan for eating. You may overcomplicate eating and obsess over what you are or are not having. You may often take on the “last supper mentality” and eat everything in sight before starting a new eating plan because you worry that you will not get to experience pleasure from your food in the future.

Instead, let’s acknowledge that we have been given “everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV). Trust God’s provision for you through the food you have available to nourish you and the many processes he has given you to listen to your body’s cues for fullness and digestion.

Third, be grateful.

Be mindful when you’re eating. Take time to breathe between bites and chew your food longer to help activate the digestion process. Stop stressing over the bread and start obsessing over the Bread of Life. We were not given food to replace our relationship with Jesus. Your faith in the next nutrition plan should never outweigh your faith in the Lord’s nourishment.

Fourth, make movement an act of worship.

Go on a prayer walk. Add in joyful movement, not because you have to, or because you feel forced to start a new workout routine, or because you need punishment for eating food you feel guilty about, but as another act of gratitude for the body you have.

Plenty of physical benefits come from movement, but my favorite side effect is an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Through BDNF, you can impact the growth of new pathways in the brain, repair aging cells, and protect healthy cells. When you have higher levels of BDNF in your brain, you can think more clearly, and you are even less likely to become depressed. It’s another example of the beautiful way God created our physical bodies to impact our mental and spiritual health.

Finally, ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to healthy habits that will strengthen your body and make you fit to serve his kingdom, however that looks for you as a unique individual.

Ask him to show you where you are making your health into an idol or maybe where you need to make it more of a priority. Ask him to lead you to people, resources, and information that will guide you along on your journey in the new year.

The answer to “does my health matter to God” becomes evident when we look to the Bible. My prayer for you is the same as Paul’s for the Thessalonian church two millennia ago: “May God Himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our master, Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 MSG).

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