Biblical Foundations for Physical Health

Why do health and wellness matter in the grand scheme of things? Discover how much your Creator cares for those He created in His image.

Created for Good Works

It’s no wonder that physical health doesn’t show up on our priority lists when it seems that the Bible does not spend much time addressing these themes. In fact, one could argue that the authors downplay physical health. After all, Paul writes that “the training of the body has limited benefit” (1 Timothy 4:8). We are prone to dismiss something that has limited benefit when there is work to do that is of lasting value, like sharing the gospel, making disciples, and starting a church.

However, I don’t think Paul’s intention was to minimize physical health so much as to use it as an illustration to show the far surpassing value of attending to spiritual matters. In the section that follows, my aim is to show you that a healthy physical body isn’t an enemy to the soul, but that it is a means by which you are empowered and effective in these spiritual good works.

The Essence of Man

Think back to creation. God forms His people and places them in a garden. In Genesis 1, we simply get the big picture of God’s activity; however, in Genesis 2, the author zooms in to capture the mechanism by which God creates humans. In verse 7, we read, “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:6-7). There are two actions here. First, God forms the physical body of Adam from the dust of the ground, and then, second, God breathes life into him.

Theologians spend much time discussing these aspects of the constitution of man. What makes a person a person? How do we account for the later writing that describes the heart, the soul, or even the spirit of man? Are these distinct facets of humanity?

As Embodied Souls

Let’s lay those questions aside for a moment and simply notice the obvious point in Genesis 2. God puts people in bodies. Let’s assume that the “breath of life” refers to the soul or immaterial component of a person. Even that facet of humanity is embodied. We are all embodied souls. While it may be helpful to distinguish the various facets of humanity, the Bible presents them as intimately interrelated.

You simply can’t talk about the soul of a person without talking about his or her body as well. Or, said another way, God doesn’t create a world filled with disembodied souls floating around doing good work in the world. No one has ever done good work for God without a body. Now, there are certainly people who have done great things for God without a healthy body, but even then, the body is the means through which all people engage with the world. There is no other way.

Loved by Our Creator

Additionally, we know that God directs our attention to the fact that these humans are made in His image, distinct from the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-28). At least one implication of this claim is that all people have worth and dignity. God loves the human form. In fact, He calls His creation very good. The psalmist recounts that God has “fearfully and wonderfully” designed men and women (Psalm 139:14, ESV). In other places, the psalmist extols the glory of mankind: “You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). It should not be lost on us that a “little less than God” is a stunning reality.

God looks at these people—these embodied souls—and speaks words of love and beauty. He does not merely affirm their souls and degrade their bodies like many ancient philosophical traditions have done. God is proud of people—bodies and all.

Real People, Real Bodies

It then goes without saying that God’s work in the world is accomplished through people, in bodies, who do good work in the world. From Moses to Abraham to David and on, the story of God plays out among real people with real bodies engaged in God’s mission. These bodies are frail and often prone to waywardness, but this should not minimize the significance of God’s work through people.

Paul captures this reality in 2 Corinthians 4:7: “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.”

As Jars of Clay

First up, what is the treasure? In context, the answer is the message of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). The treasure is the beauty of what God has done to make His truth known to us and transform us by the power of His grace. Then, what are the jars of clay? Paul’s reference here is to people whom God is transforming and those to whom He gives the message of the gospel to declare to others. The picture is clear: We are frail, easily broken, and common.

God uses common jars of clay so that it is clear that any good that comes is produced by God and not by man (2 Corinthians 4:7). This should both humble and excite us. It should humble us to remember how fragile we are, but it should excite us to know that God has always chosen to work out His work in the world through common instruments like us.

As Living Sacrifices

There is one final point that is worth noting in terms of a biblical foundation for physical health, and it is found in Romans 12 where Paul exhorts Christians to be transformed by the power of God, to resist the pattern set for them by the world, and to give of themselves as living sacrifices to God. It is the picture of the Old Testament sacrificial system, when sinners would offer an animal to die in their place. God would see their offering, and if it was done in the manner He prescribed, He would look upon the sinner with favor and forgive their sin. Here the sacrifice that is offered isn’t an animal but the life of those who are seeking to honor God. Notice the exact language that Paul uses to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Why would Paul describe it this way? Simply put— you can’t offer a sacrifice without your body.

The only way you give your life away for the good works that God has for you to do in this world is to do so through your body (Ephesians 2:10). You offer your body because it is all you have to offer and, by offering your body, you are offering your whole self to God—your mind, heart, soul, and spirit (Mark 12:30).

Published May 15, 2024

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