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Bodily Exercise Profits Little?  What Did The Apostle Paul Actually Mean By This Statement?

Boqer Or (Good Morning Light)!

Shalom Friends and Fellow Warriors,

How would you’all like to do some house cleaning and expose some religiosity that may have taken root in our consciences and minds concerning a very important aspect of maintaining our health in these last days?  If I have your permission this morning, then let me shine some Holy Ghost light on a dark fear that has hamstrung many of God’s choice warriors from being all that He has predestined them to be due to a misquotation and shallow reading of a very well known Scripture found in The Apostle Paul’s first epistle to Timothy.

“For bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and that which is to come.” (I Timothy 4:8 KJV)

For decades I have heard this verse taught, preached, and used as a self implied safeguard to help keep eager disciples from potentially crossing a mysterious line of becoming “carnal” if time is employed in exercise and physical fitness that somehow interferes with living godly and holy in this present age.  As a result not only myself, but many other fine soldiers for Yeshua have had the correction applied by well meaning but still religious believers, that our endeavors to maintain a certain fitness level thru systematic exercise was of little profit.  We were “wasting our time” and needed to be instead busy for God.  I of course submitted to this apparent “safeguard” as did many other of the fine soldiers I fellowshipped with, and although we still did do a little bit of aerobic/cardio exercising during the week, it was not enough to really bring about the benefits intended for our physical temples.

Why, because we had accepted the false religious notion that we were not making best use of our God given time on earth by pursuing fitness activities and needed to be busy about the work of contemporary Christianity.  As we would street witness, visit the sick in the hospitals, and conduct evening worship services I noticed that all of our fellowship times after these events were centered mainly around food.  Whether it be Sunday afternoon at the all you can eat buffet, or the late night after revival services hanging out at Denny’s, we slowly and methodically started putting on the excess poundage.  The more we gained weight the more we easily migrated towards a sedentary lifestyle of less physical activity and so on….  I can look back in retrospect that thru this modern sedentary culture of worship services and activities centered around fellowship and food, that not only I, but most of my friends and ministerial associations were starting to tip the scales towards obesity and a very unhealthy body fat index for our ages.

Sprinting to the finish line for 1st place!

We all knew we had to cut back on the calories and became self proclaimed experts (just well read-LOL) on nutrition and healthy food choices.  Then came in the good and not so good diets and fasting/cleansing routines which are not really bad just we were still not keeping the weight off!  It seemed to keep coming back!  Of course, we all had gym equipment gathering dust in our basements or garages that we vowed every New Years Eve to get back onto…but never really kept faithfully at it because…”bodily exercise profits little” so that must mean we only do it a “little” or we will be displeasing to God and become too carnal!  We had become mentally self-defeated because we allowed a stronghold of fear take root in us that was really a misquotation of a popular Scripture!  …And the enemy was laughing with glee due to our self-inflicted acceptance mentality of not digging in deeper to the Scriptures!

This past year I began to see that there are a ton of Scriptures in the Bible that instruct us to be hard workers and not default into lazy slothfulness.  All of these texts in the Book of Proverbs alone have to do with hard manual labor in the backdrop of an agricultural based society.  Farming is very hard work and think how much harder it was 2000 years ago!  The whole of human history up until the last 120 years was a very non-transportation based society.  They walked everywhere and if you have walked before in Israel with all of its rugged terrain and harsh climatic conditions then you know how exhausting it can be!  Take some time and in your next series of private Bible studies look at how physical and in good fitness must have been the society as a whole in the Biblical times compared to today’s modern believer!

So what did the Apostle Paul really mean about “bodily exercise profit little” when in I Cor. 9 and 2 Tim. 2, he uses the illustrations of Olympic athletes, soldiers, and farmers who were not just exercising their bodies but due to their line of work would labor past the point of aerobic threshold and many times continue onto exhaustion just to finish the job, gather in the harvest, or fight the enemy?  It does not make logical sense that we are called to labor in the Scriptures but not “exercise” which is a much lesser form of work (i.e. calorie burning) compared to the job descriptions entailed in an agricultural based society?

I really want to thank God this morning for turning me on many years ago to a great reference work of the Greek language titled, The Linguistic Key to The Greek NT, by Fritz Rienecker and published by Zondervan Press.  It has blessed me so much in seeing the big picture and context of what the writers of the NT really were called to communicate in their overall letters for the Early Church.  On page 626, we can see that the real context that the Apostle Paul was addressing when he warned Timothy about bodily exercise.  It says, “Bodily exercise is a metaphor which refers back to the errors of the heretics against which the author (Paul) has been warning.  It is best to see in this phrase not the Hellenistic culture of the body, but an external dualistic Asceticism as propounded by the heretics and reflected in the warning contained in verse 3”.

Wow, this is so liberating for all of us who have held back from proper amounts of healthy exercise in our sedentary modern culture because we felt we would be judged as being too “carnal” by other believers, or we would be displeasing to God and not really be “godly” in this present age.  Paul is not talking about bodily exercise but a bodily self-centered struggle of an individual in Asceticism for his own moral and religious perfectionism!  Paul’s enemies were accusing him of his moral laxity since he refused to follow their demands of abstention.  He instead was encouraging Timothy to implement the training necessary for the unhindered pursuit of God’s purposes.  His exercise was a vigorous development and application of all his strength and ability that he may serve the glory of God with every thought and action!  (see page 626)    This is so awesome!  Developing all our abilities and strengths to serve the Gory of God!!!!

Let’s recap all of this-

  1. The Apostle Paul was warning the young Apostle Timothy of a heretical movement of philosophy known as Asceticism of the Roman-Greco culture that used severe austerity in subordinating the body to the control of the moral attributes of the mind.  This was the bodily exercise Paul was referring to and not the athletic boldly exercise of the Hellenistic culture (i.e. Olympic games, athletics, etc…).
  2. A deep and honest pondering of our heart and conscience in this hour can reveal to many of us that we have used this misquotation of “bodily exercise profits little” in excusing ourselves from really pressing in and dealing with the our lack of fitness and body fat mass index.  We have limited ourselves to not press past our comfort zones because we might be displeasing God if we worked out too much during the week.  …Or we would be judged by fellow believers as spending too much time focusing on exercise when we had more important “eternal” issues at hand.
  3. This liberating truth can now set all of us free that bodily exercise whether it be manual labor or fitness orientated workouts is not only approved in the Scriptures, but is a highly employed theme for believers to engage in.  Not only are the health benefits optimized when our temples are properly taken care of, but also we learn many character issues about endurance, perseverance, and control that can be applied to encourage us in the mastery of our lower nature by the Holy Spirit and thus not become castaways in our faith (see I Cor. 9:24-27).
  4. The bodily exercise we need to do systematically each week should not be centered on a cosmetic appearance shaping but on a inward fitness of cardio-vascular and aerobic conditioning.  This is the fastest way to get the weight off and keep it off.  You maybe be able to leg press or bench press twice your body weight but can you walk/run for long distances without fainting along the way (see Jer. 12:5)?  Modify your workouts with a local trainer to emphasis overall fitness rather than cosmetic shaping.  You are going to war with your temples and this is not a sprint but a marathon race of faith.  The biggest enemy to revival sometimes is that folks just can’t keep up with the pace of working the harvest field of new souls and get easily tired and fatigued.
  5. I have found when I’m properly fit and systematically exercising that my appetite automatically migrates towards healthy and natural food choices and eschews all the processed food selections.  Eating is fun after working out and is not a bondage due to a fear of not being able to eat certain things.  When your engine is weekly running at high rpm’s then a few extra calories here and there is not a big concern.  Just be careful about the doctrines of demons via abstaining from certain foods Paul warned about in
    I Tim. 4:1-5 that was also embedded in the Asceticism philosophy.  Let your temple that God made be your guide in a post exercise meal selection rather than getting too hung up on all the plethora of teachings out there about diets and foods.  Keep it simple…be fit and eat natural!
  6. As you see physical improvements do not rush your new fitness lifestyle since this is a recipe for injury and burnout.  Give yourself 12 months to reach that desired healthy weight and don’t get injured overdoing it.  I personally like the low impact exercises of swimming and cycling.  If you have a past history of medical complications talk to your Physician and find out what you need to center your faith on to get healed or adjusted.  Be very careful also as you see improvements to not get consumed by more time into more exercising.  Strike the balance and have moderation.  Some of these fitness programs can have you doing 12-15 hours per week of exercise and that is difficult to fit in with family, job, and church responsibilities.  I prefer the early morning hours for exercise as it is a great time to worship Abba and then move out of that quiet time into subduing the body.  It puts a great step of energy into the rest of the day and automatically keeps me from staying up too late at night with wasted entertainments…why, I can’t keep awake (LOL)!

In His service for your faith,

Scott Holtz