The Spiritual Obligation of Physical Fitness
I believe it's our spiritual obligation to pursue physical fitness. Scripture doesn't prescribe the specific means. In the first century, people walked everywhere and engaged in physically demanding work throughout the day. All that activity kept them in relatively good shape. However, modern life is much more sedentary, and high levels of activity are no longer necessary. Pursuing fitness is now a personal choice, whether it's through getting your steps in, weightlifting, or practicing martial arts. The form it takes doesn't matter; what matters is that it happens. Scripture requires it.
Here are (5) Scriptural Evidences to support my claim:
The positive application of the 6th commandment.
The Larger Catechism 135 states it well: "The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies and lawful endeavors to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices which tend to the unjust taking away of the life of any."
Therefore, it is our spiritual duty to preserve our own lives.
The Larger Catechism 136 outlines the sins forbidden in the 6th commandment, and two lines are particularly relevant to the issue at hand:
"the neglecting or withdrawing of the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life"
"immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations."
Most of us lack physical fitness due to neglecting what promotes health and indulging in things that harm our well-being. We are immoderate people. Obesity doesn't suddenly spring upon you as a trial out of nowhere. It's a hole you throw yourself into by consuming excessive amounts of food, often the wrong types, and engaging in insufficient exercise.
The ability to obey and fulfill the creation mandate.
We find the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28:
"And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
God has designed us to be fruitful. In His wisdom, He has connected physical fitness with fruitfulness, and a lack of physical fitness with barrenness. For example, obesity directly affects fertility in both men and women, reducing sperm count in men and disrupting the hormonal balance necessary for conception in women.
God has also tasked us with dominion over the physical world. This requires hard work, which can be more effectively accomplished when we are physically fit.
The ability to increase productivity.
Ecclesiastes 10:10 states, "If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success."
If it's wise to keep the ax sharp, it's also wise to keep the body that wields it in good shape. Generally speaking, physical fitness allows for longer and more intense work sessions with a lower risk of injury.
The service that can be done for others.
In Philippians 1:21-22, Paul says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose." He then engages in an internal argument for the benefit of the readers. In verse 23-24, he states, "But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake." It's clear that Paul recognizes the advantage of extending his life for the benefit of the Philippians. In verse 25, he further explains, "Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith."
Generally speaking, physical fitness extends our lives, enabling us to engage in "fruitful labor" that helps others progress in their faith. This is particularly relevant for those of us with children. It's challenging to impart the "wisdom of the aged" to our children or grandchildren if we die of heart attacks or strokes in our 50s.
Paul acknowledges its value.
In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul states, "Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." Paul isn't making an either/or argument between bodily discipline and spiritual discipline. He is contrasting the goodness of bodily training with the superior value of spiritual training. In other words, bodily training does have value. However, its value pales in comparison to the glories of heaven, akin to a trillion dollars being somewhat valuable only when contrasted with the eternal promises of godliness.
I purposely use the term "pursuing physical fitness" rather than "achieving it." The goal is to achieve physical fitness, but life is challenging. There are seasons when our physical fitness may suffer due to life's difficulties. During such seasons, we do what we can to take care of ourselves while keeping in mind our ability to serve the Lord and benefit others. But don’t make excuses if you are unhealthy. There is a move by our culture to normalize obesity and unhealthy living. This is at odds with the principles of Scripture and what once was called common sense. Eat right. Move more. Pick a path and stick to it.