A Theology of Exercise
The Bible doesn’t have much to say about going to the gym. While Samson sure had Samson strength, Judges 13-16 doesn’t give you a systematic theology of exercise or explore the motivation for Samson hitting the weights after a hard day of wrestling lions.
Paul references bodily training in his letter to Timothy (read a post on that here), but he’s using exercise to illustrate his point about the voracity we should have in training for godliness.
So, how then do we think about exercise biblically? Is there a theology of exercise?
Put another way, what guardrails can we find in the Scriptures to help us navigate the choppy waters of exercise, where marketed motivations seem shallow, modesty is almost nonexistent, and the industry is dominated by fads, influencers, and information overload?
I want to share a biblical framework that has helped me stay on course.
A Theology of Exercise: Work
My thesis is that work is one biblical category we can use to build a theology of exercise (in addition to stewardship). The Bible doesn’t say a lot about exercise, but it sure says a lot about work. Let me make the connection.
Exercise science, or kinesiology, is essentially the study of your body’s movement. To exercise, your body relies on several systems (nervous, musculoskeletal, etc…) to work together simultaneously to produce movement. You cannot separate exercise and movement; to move is to exercise, and to exercise is to move.
And movement is inherent in all work. It is how work is accomplished.
This is obvious for anyone who works with their hands as a carpenter, welder, or farmer. Physical labor requires physical movement, which was the norm for centuries. With the explosion of technology, work has become easier, but newer tools did not displace all movement from work.
Typing at a computer still requires the movement of your fingers. Sitting down and
counseling someone still requires the movement of your facial muscles and tongue. Writing a business plan on a whiteboard requires the movement of your hand and wrist.
We cannot separate work and movement from each other in the same way we cannot separate hydration from water, nutrition from food, or rest from sleep. Movement is inherent in all work.
Exercise as Outsourced Movement
With the rise of technology, movement has been displaced to different tools. Instead of walking to our place of business, we can ride a bike, motorcycle, car, or train. Instead of working with our hands and bodies, we can utilize machines, software, and systems for production.
And when movement is displaced, our bodies are unused and inactive, which is exactly the problem exercise solves.
When we exercise, we are reintroducing movement into our daily patterns. We are spending regular and focused time moving and strengthening our bodies’ systems. We are reintroducing movement into our routines when the movement from work has been displaced by tools.
Simply put, exercise is outsourced movement.
A Theology of Work
Men far wiser than me have put a lot of effort and research into helping us understand what the Bible says about work. While this is not exhaustive, here are some of the key points about work in the Scriptures.
All members of the Trinity are workers. God is a worker (Genesis 1-2, John 5:17), Christ is a
worker (Mark 1:32-34), and the Spirit is a worker (John 16:13-15). As we are made in the image
of God (Genesis 1:26), we ought to image Him by working.
Work was Instituted Pre-Fall
God gave Adam the Dominion Mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) before Adam sinned. Work was God’s
intended design for man before sin entered the world, and God gave man and woman a body
(Genesis 2:7-8, 22) so that they would be able to fulfill this Dominion Mandate.
Work was Cursed
Work was cursed due to the consequence of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17-19). It now requires
pain, thorns, thistles, and sweat.
Work Still Blesses
Even though work is cursed, it still can bless. It blesses the worker (Ecclesiastes 5:12) and
blesses the recipients of the work (1 Thessalonians 3:8).
Work Requires Rest
After God finished His work of creation, He rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). This resting was exemplary to His people and became the basis for resting and breaking from work (Exodus 20:11).
Work and its Motivations
We are told to work with all of our might (Colossians 3:23, Ecclesiastes 9:10), to work for Christ
(Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:23-24), to work diligently (Proverbs 21:5), and to avoid idleness (Proverbs 6:6-11, 24:30-34, 1 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
Work and Exercise
A biblical theology of work helps inform us how we think about exercise. Here are the parallels:
- We exercise with all of our might (Colossians 3:23)
- We exercise for Christ (Ephesians 6:5-8)
- We exercise diligently (Proverbs 21:5)
- We avoid idleness (1 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
- We implement rest in our routines (Genesis 2:2)
- We recognize the blessing exercise gives our bodies (Ecclesiastes 5:12) and the blessing strength can have for others
- We recognize and accept the brokenness and decay of our bodies from the curse (Genesis 3:17-19)
God created us and blessed us with bodies to be stewarded for His glory and purposes. To steward the body well, we put it to good use by working.
And when our work does not require much movement from our bodies, we outsource that movement through exercise so that we can steward our bodies well and work even more effectively.
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- A Minimalist Exercise Routine That Works
- 10 Minimalist Workouts You Can Do at Home
- Threats to the Glory of Young Men
- 3 Nutrition Choices to Win in the Margins
Ready to get started?