My feet hit the ground with a thud as I stepped off the elliptical. Beads of sweat puddled on my face and hands. Popping out my earbuds, I glanced around at the other exercisers in the room. Some stared at their phone screens, others focused on the flat-screen tv, and a few looked out the window at the sunshine. Interestingly, none of them were smiling.
As I walked out of the building, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why was everyone so unhappy while they were exercising? What do we hope to gain by spending countless hours running, walking, weight-lifting, and doing other exercises? What are we trying to achieve by sweating persistently, feeling utterly exhausted, and even permanently injuring our bodies?
Are we truly trying to be healthy, like we claim? Or are our motives a bit messier than that?
Chasing the Perfect Body
Maybe we really do want to lose weight, stay in shape, or have good health, like nutritionists and physicians advise. Or maybe we’ve simply bought the lie that our looks define who we are.
As a recovering anorexic, I know I’ve bought that lie. I’ve placed exercise on a pedestal and kneeled down before it, hoping it would give me the body I wanted. But it didn’t. The idol I truly worshipped was a “perfect” body. Truth be told, there’s no such thing.
Many of us can admit that the “perfect” body doesn’t exist. But we still believe lies about exercise because people in our culture are obsessed with their physical appearance. Using God’s Word as my foundation, I want to reveal three major lies we believe about exercise and the truths we can use to combat them:
Lie #1: Exercise should be my first priority.
Truth: And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:35-39 ESV)
I remember moments when I neglected God and others to exercise instead, which shows how I misplaced my priorities. I totally think exercise can be a priority, but it should never be our first priority. Clearly, our top two priorities should be loving God and loving others. He is more concerned with our hearts than the time we spend on the treadmill, the number of crunches we can do, or the weight we see on the scale.
Lie #2: I’m weak and lazy if I’m not always at the gym.
Truth: Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. 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. (1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV)
Though Paul wasn’t referring to myths about exercise in this passage, lies about exercise can certainly be classified as “silly.” We tend to think that exercise is next to godliness (or even above it). That’s because society places so much emphasis on it, whether it’s on social media, in movies and tv shows, in school, or at work. We can easily begin to think something is wrong with us if we don’t devote all our time to exercise, but true strength comes from God. In reality, the value of exercise can’t even compare to the value of godliness.
Lie #3: I don’t need to exercise because my earthly body isn’t that important.
Truth: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV)
It’s true that our bodies are temporary. Our bodies naturally deteriorate as we age, and we’ll get perfect new bodies in heaven. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother having healthy bodies on earth. It’s difficult to accomplish the work God has given us to do if we don’t feel well and are out-of-shape. Our bodies belong to God, and we have a responsibility to treat them with care. One way to do that is to exercise.
Almost everything in life requires balance, and exercise is no exception. Thus, we each must decide how much of our time and attention we’ll devote to physical activity. That decision is based on whether we will believe the lies that Satan and our culture tell us about exercise or whether we will believe the truth of God’s Word. We can focus on improving our appearance through exercise, or we can focus on improving our character through biblical obedience.