Faith and fitness

June 17, 2011 in Question of the Week, Should home-schooled students participate in public school sports programs?, Spotlight Answers by Chris Altrock

Shelby County Schools’ board members are debating whether to let home-schooled students participate in the district’s sports programs.  The question boils down to this: Should the public school systems in Shelby County allow students who are home-schooled to participate in their sports programs?

This issue ought to cause us to reflect first on the link, if any, between faith and fitness.  Does faith even have a reason to care about this debate or ones like it?  In short, yes.

Let me explain.  In 1 Cor. 6 Paul writes about three slogans popular among his readers.[1]

  • Slogan one: “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).
  • Slogan two: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both” (1 Cor. 6:13).
  • Slogan three: “Every sin a person commits is outside his body” (1 Cor. 6:18).

Notice that two of the slogans mention the body.  One talks about food in the body.  The other speaks of sin and the body.  The first slogan is also linked with the body.  In essence, it says “I have the right to do anything—with my body.”

These three slogans reveal something going on in the lives of Paul’s readers.  Perhaps out of a sense that as Christians they were free from Jewish laws, [2] or perhaps out of a sense that as Christians they were living in an era of grace, [3] and perhaps out of undue influence of a popular philosophy of the time, [4] these Christians believed that their bodies were private property and that they could do whatever they wanted to do with their bodies.  They no longer had Old Testament rules telling them what to do with their bodies.  They no longer had to worry about earning the favor of God by what they did with their bodies.   And, like some philosophies of the day, they seemed to believe that what really mattered to God were the spiritual things like a person’s soul not secular things like a person’s body.

This led to some harmful choices.  Specifically, it led some of them to continue the practice of visiting prostitutes. Houses of prostitution were widespread in the Greco-Roman world.[5] Visiting them was not only legal, it was widely accepted.[6] And some of Paul’s readers, after they became Christians, continued their practice of visiting prostitutes.  They justified it with these slogans: I am free to do what I want with my body.  It’s going to perish anyway.  What really matters to God are the higher matters of my soul.

Paul responds by demonstrating the value of the body and emphasizing God’s rights to their bodies.  He does this in four statements.

  • First, Paul writes that God will raise our bodies: By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also (1 Cor. 6:14 TNIV).  Paul draws attention to one important fact: God raised the body of Jesus, not simply the soul of Jesus—and he will do the same for us.
  • Second, Paul writes that God owns our bodies: 13 …The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!…19…You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:13,15,19 TNIV).  Paul uses two images to convey the degree to which our physical bodies are owned by God.  The first image is that of incarnation: Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? One translator suggests this reading: “Do you not know that your bodies are Christ’s limbs and organs?”[7] Jesus intends to use our limbs and organs as his own.  How, then, Paul asks, can Christians use their physical bodies in an immoral way?  That body of yours is Jesus’ body.  Paul uses a second image—the image of a slave being purchased by a new master.[8] Paul says, You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Slaves in Paul’s day could be purchased from one owner by another.  In this analogy, God has purchased us.  Everything about us, including our bodies, belongs to God.
  • Third, Paul writes that God lives in our bodies: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Cor. 6:19 TNIV).  Paul’s readers would have been familiar with the idea of a temple in which there existed at least an image of the deity who was worshipped there.  When at the temple one was in the presence of a god.  Paul’s point is that your body is the temple in which God dwells.
  • And, finally, Paul writes that God is glorified by our bodies: Therefore honor God with your bodies (1 Cor. 6:20 TNIV).  Paul is saying that our physical body is one of the ways in which we honor God.  Our hearts and souls and spirits are not the only tools by which we honor God.  Our bodies are as well.[9]

Paul uses these four points to demonstrate the importance of the physical body.  And while these four points have implications about sexual morality, I believe they also have something to say about fitness.  I am not suggesting that Paul’s words should persuade us to buy into our culture’s obsession with image.  However, it does seem that Paul’s words have something to say when it comes to the basic issue of physical fitness.  The fact that God will raise our bodies, God owns our bodies, God lives in our bodies, and God is glorified by our bodies suggests that the physical health of our bodies is an important component of our spiritual life.  We Christians have often left discussions about fitness to the medical field and the secular culture.  But Paul’s words suggest that physical health is a spiritual matter.  We ought to care for our bodies in ways that recognize the value God has placed on them.

This is especially crucial in the South.  A recent report in the Commercial Appeal pointed out that life-expectancy in counties in the South are lower than in counties elsewhere in the country.  Some of the reasons for this lower life-expectancy are risk factors such as obesity.  From a faith perspective, we in the South should do everything we can to combat this.  Opening up more sports opportunities for homeschooled kids could be a step in this direction.  The health of our children is not just a matter of fitness.  It’s a matter of faith.

1. Richard B. Hays First Corinthians Interpretation (John Knox Press, 1997), 104-105.

2. Anthony C. Thiselton The First Epistle to the Corinthians The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2000), 461.

3. Hays, 101-102.

4. Thiselton, 458, 459.

5. Richard E. Oster, Jr. 1 Corinthians The College Press NIV Commentary (College Press, 1995), 142.

6. Hays, 102.

7. Thiselton, 458.

8. Thiselton, 475.

9. Oster, Jr., 150.


The four most critical things graduates need to do

May 17, 2011 in Featured Question of the Week, Message for the Class of 2011, Question of the Week by Chris Altrock

The National Study of Youth and Religion (conducted from 2002 to 2005) was the most ambitious study of American teenagers and religion ever conducted. It involved extensive interviews of more than 3,300 American teenagers between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. Among the many things the study discovered was this: a minority of American teenagers say religious faith is important and that it makes a difference in their lives. One in twelve (8%) can be described as “highly devoted.” Highly devoted young people are much more compassionate, significantly more likely to say they care about things like racial equality and justice, far less likely to be moral relativists, to lie, cheat, or do things “they hoped their parents would never find out about.”

How then, might today’s graduates grow more and more into people who are like these 8%? Researchers behind the National Study of Youth and Religion asked this very question. Specifically, they asked “What made it possible for some teens to be part of that 8%? What empowered these teens to have a faith that mattered, to be compassionate, justice oriented, and moral and ethical? What set them apart from the other 92% in the study?

Researchers found that there were four items that distinguished these teens. In her book “Almost Christian” Kenda Creasy Dean writes about them. They can be summarized in four words: creed, calling, community, and confidence. The teens that stood apart from others believed strongly in the creed of Scripture, were convicted that they had a calling and contribution to make in the world, relied on others and lived in community, and nurtured hope and confidence about the future.

Here, then, is my encouragement to today’s graduates:
Live by a creed worth dying for. Many today argue that it doesn’t matter what you believe. The Christian faith has historically argued that it matters greatly what a person believes. Many today suggest that deeds are far more important than creeds. The Christian faith, however, argues that both are vital—deeds flow from creeds. What you believe makes all the difference in the world. Therefore, embrace the creed of Scripture. Let God’s story be your story. Let Jesus’ narrative become your narrative. It is the only creed worth living by and dying for.

Embrace your God-given calling. You were made to make a difference in this world. There are things you can do that no one else can do. You have a contribution to make. You have a role to play. Discover that calling and give yourself passionately to it.

Live your life in community. Abandon any thought that says “I don’t need anyone,” or “I can do life by myself.” You were created to live in intimate relationship with others. Find a small group of people whom you trust and do life together.

Have confidence in tomorrow. Be the one person who always believes that the way things are now is not the way things are always going to be. Be a non-anxious presence in a world of worriers and pessimists. Trust that God can bring good out of any set of circumstances. Have faith that God’s in charge even in moments when it seems he’s not. Be the one person always filled with hope and optimism.