“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God…”
1 Corinthians 10:31
The Apostle Paul was addressing the question in Corinth about whether Jewish Christians should eat food that Gentiles offer them and which isn’t customary for Jews to eat or drink. His response was that apart from food sacrificed to idols to eat and drink with a clean conscience whatever is set before them in order that those they are dining at table with might come to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in this, that God might be glorified. The principle of doing all to the glory of God still stands for all believers even outside of Jew and Gentile relations. We might sign off on this and agree to it, but I think it is important that we don’t simply leave such a principle and verse back in the first century but bring it to the present-day. We do this by asking the question, what does it look like to do all to the glory of God? Such a vast, sweeping question can cover too much in a statement though, so to narrow the question one might pick apart aspects of our lives today and ask, what does it look like to do X to the glory of God?
It is in line with this question that I have come to the subject of workout out, exercise. I have not written as much as I used to write for this blog in part because so much has been happening ministry-wise that I have been preoccupied, but also because I have made an intentional lifestyle change to workout more regularly earlier this year and have taken up the sport of surfing as well. Now, in working out and asking the question what does it mean to workout for the glory of God, one might think such a question is being too critical of life and too nit-picky about how to live a Christian life. However, if you believe in the sovereignty of God over all things and you seek to have a Christian worldview, than all of life is affected by your faith, not just compartments. If God is truly God, than all we are and all we do is affected by that reality. If we believe in God, than all we are and all we do is in relation to God without exception unless our statements of belief do not match our lifestyles making us to be hypocrites. Indeed, growing as a disciple is not simply going and baptizing, but rather it is about learning to observe all that Jesus has said and commanded, studying and knowing God’s Word, but also applying it to our lives and helping others to do the same. This application means analyzing our lives under the microscope of Scripture within the realm of a healthy relationship with God in Jesus Christ in order to prayerfully grow in one’s faith as a disciple by learning how to live differently in the world in which we live. It is along those lines that I do not think it too nit-picky or overly-critical to ask how one might workout to the glory of God.
Now, let’s begin to answer this question by looking at the typical gym…
You walk into a gym and what do you see? You see a floor, walls, machines, and weights and nothing more, correct? No! If you are guy, you see often beautiful women who are in shape working out in minimal clothing. If you are a girl, you ignore the guys but also see many guys in great shape showing off and flexing their muscles in the mirror in between their dumbbell sets (if those even exist, I think some guys just stand there and look at themselves). If you are a guy, you see other guys working out and sometimes when a pretty girl comes near there is almost an unstated competition to look the most impressive. Guys try to impress other guys. Girls try to impress other girls. Guys try to get the attention of girls. Girls get the attention of guys. The gym, in this way, is practically a reality tv show mixed with a soap opera. People are working out, but there is really a lot going on in addition to working out. There are average joes just trying to get into shape. There are people who appear to be regulars at the gym who are in good shape. Then, there are the real fanatics at the gym who appear as though they are auditioning for Mr or Mrs Olympia or World’s Strongest Man/Woman.
The approval of others and people-pleasing is a great idol among many today. By idol, I don’t mean some brass or gold totem or statues, but rather something that competes with or replaces the affections that ought to be given God to something or someone else. Tim Keller often describes an idol (Read: Counterfeit Gods) as making a good thing into an ultimate thing. Food can be good, but as an ultimate it can become a form of worship and thus idolatry. Same goes for approval of others and people-pleasing, except this is not even good in and of itself to begin with, this is a competing affection in the heart of man that ought to be directed toward God. However, rather than care what God thinks one cares more about what other people think and how they view you. This plays out as a person begins to allow how they perceive other people viewing them to control how they live their lives, how they act, what they say, and what they do. All this reveals they aren’t worshipping God, but are worshipping the approval of others which has become and made an idol of the heart. I make mention of this because this is very present at the gym. So many people care about how they look in front of others, whether girls or guys. Self-image, is all over the place at the gym.
Now, as a Christian seeking to do all to the glory of God, what does it look like to workout? It means, in part, that you don’t care about the approval of others and aren’t focusing on how others view you. Not focusing on the guys or the girls can be difficult, but focusing on simply working out is part of what it means to glorify God at the gym. This means you aren’t trying to impress people with how much you can lift, or how ripped your abs are, or how massive your biceps are, or how great you look in yoga pants, but you simply workout. This doesn’t mean you are apathetic to others, but rather respectful of other people working out and maybe even helpful when necessary. Quietly getting into better shape and maintaining the body that God has blessed you with is a way to boast not in yourself, but in God at the gym.
Another issue at the gym and with working out in general is that it can be a consuming thing that becomes the pinnacle and focus of one’s life. In this way, it can be idolatry, but it doesn’t have to be. Working out and getting into good shape, maintaining our bodies is a good thing. However, allowing self-image or working out excessively to the point of not spending time with God, family, friends, or even detracting from work it unhealthy. Becoming a gym fanatic and obsessing over your weight and image is unhealthy, whether you are in shape or not, it is not a good thing. I have had to be careful myself to workout and to enjoy getting into better shape, but to not allow my fitness to become the focus of my life but to remain focused on Christ. This is much easier said than done. You workout a few times and then a few weeks and then a few months and not only do you feel better but people begin to notice that you look better, then there is this desire to keep those pleasing compliments flowing by getting into even better shape until suddenly, you are living for the approval of others and your life is consumed by workout out rather than enriched by it. There is a difference.
Working out is important to living a healthy life, but it is not solely the requirement for living a healthy life. Eating well, sleeping well, working, resting, time with family, time with friends, time with God are all important as is working out. It is important to find some balance to how you workout and to regularly ask yourself, what does it mean for me to workout for the glory of God? Am I caring too much about the approval of others? Is working out a good thing that enriches my life or is working out an ultimate thing that consumes my life?
There are undoubtedly some other things to think about in regards to the subject of how one might workout to the glory of God that I have not covered as I have only scratched the surface. If you think of more ways, please make note of them in the comments below. Thanks for reading and keep working out but remember to pursue Christ above all things in your life.