Build the Body
Years ago anxiety attacks and irrational sinful choices nearly took me out of the race. Yet our unchanging Christ and his unfailing grace enabled me to run again in his service, though not without difficult hurdles to overcome, also with his help. On the physical side the anxiety attacks removed sweet sleep and the anxiety medication added 50 pounds to my body. On the spiritual side God used these years to remove a spirit of independence and add understanding from his Word. This article compares some principles I learned in exercising for physical fitness with the even more important principles essential to train for spiritual fitness. These principles will help our body building goals.
Paul reminded Timothy, “Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7b-8 WEB). So there is value to physical exercise and even greater value in spiritual exercise toward godliness.
Physical exercise strengthens the physical body. Spiritual exercise serves to strengthen God’s family.
11) He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds, and teachers; 12) for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ, 13) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14) that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; 15) but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ, 16) from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (WEB)
The goal is to increase in love!  Paul exhorts Timothy,
1) You therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2) The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit the same things to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 3) You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4) No soldier on duty entangles himself in the affairs of life, that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier. 5) Also, if anyone competes in athletics, he isn't crowned unless he has competed by the rules. 6) The farmer who labors must be the first to get a share of the crops. 7) Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.
II Timothy 2:1-7 (WEB)
Leadership requires enduring hardship, following to rules, and hard work. Leadership requires sweat!
Set Goals
The first step in getting anywhere is to determine the goal and list the steps to get there. If you plan to go nowhere, you are sure to get there! For example, if you want to lose fat and gain muscle you must establish a goal and the steps to follow. Likewise, Peter instructs us with a very specific list of steps to get to the ever greater goal of being a fruitful Christian.
5) Yes, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence; and in moral excellence, knowledge; 6) and in knowledge, self-control; and in self-control perseverance; and in perseverance godliness; 7) and in godliness brotherly affection; and in brotherly affection, love. 8) For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to not be idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II Peter 1:5-8 (WEB)
Paul also teaches that the lesser Christian goals of teaching truth and working miracles only serve the greater goal of growing to love one another like Christ loved us.
12:27) Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28) God has set some in the assembly: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, and various kinds of languages. 29) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all miracle workers? 30) Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with various languages? Do all interpret? 31) But earnestly desire the best gifts. Moreover, I show a most excellent way to you.
13:1) If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don't have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 2) If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don't have love, I am nothing. 3) If I give away all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don't have love, it profits me nothing.

4) Love is patient and is kind. Love doesn't envy. Love doesn't brag, is not proud, 5) doesn't behave itself inappropriately, doesn't seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; 6) doesn't rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. 8) Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. 9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10) but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. 11) When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. 12) For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. 13) But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 12:27-13:13 (WEB)
We may have set a New Year’s resolution to lose a few pounds. How many of us have set a goal to gain more love? What scale would we use to weigh our losses or gains?
Drink Water
Many fitness articles suggest that the single most important thing everyone needs to do to improve their physical health in to drink enough water. And drinking more of Christ’s living water is needed for our spiritual health.
10) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

11) The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. So where do you get that living water? 12) Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his children and his livestock?"
13) Jesus answered her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14) but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."
15) The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I don't get thirsty, neither come all the way here to draw."
John 4:10-15 (WEB)
Sinners like us need to drink more forgiveness daily to have no doubt that Christ is an infinite supply of the waters of forgiveness already forgiving all our sins in the past, present, and future.
Eat Right
While joining my wife to the grocery store I marveled at the number of isles of junk food. To grow in physical fitness one must eat right. We need to eat Super Foods like yams, turkey, and broccoli. We need to avoid junk foods like soda, potato chips, and ice cream. We need to eat unprocessed foods like apples and peanuts and avoid processed foods like apple pie and peanut butter. We need to eat more meals per day with smaller portions. You cannot reach a goal of gaining weight or losing weight without counting calories. You cannot eat right without including proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.  Neither can you eat right spiritually without applying similar wisdom and discipline.      
Peter offers a simply admonition to avoid the bad and long for the good.
Putting away therefore all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisies, envies, and all evil speaking, as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that with it you may grow, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious
I Peter 2:1-3 (WEB)
Are you eating spiritual junk food? This recipe will bring spiritual health.
Isaiah asks us why we waste our money on junk food and invites us to eat that which is good.
1) Hey! Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters!
Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat!
Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which doesn't satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat that which is good,
and let your soul delight itself in richness.

3) Turn your ear, and come to me.
Hear, and your soul will live:
and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
even the sure mercies of David.
Isaiah 55:1-3 (WEB)
This diet will bring spiritual growth.
Every plan to improve physical health includes not only eating right, but exercise. The best books on exercise recommend a mix of aerobic exercise for a healthy heart and strength training to improve muscle tone. With a full-time job, family, and church commitments my schedule is packed. However, you would be surprised what a half hour a day can do! If you are too busy to care for your body or to busy to care for your car they will each spend more time with the mechanic and hit the junk yard sooner than you may wish. So care for your car and exercise your body so they can serve your spiritual life.
Physical exercise is hard work and spiritual exercise is even harder. Paul coaches us thus,
24) Don't you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. 25) Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. 26) I therefore run like that, not aimlessly. I fight like that, not beating the air, 27) but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.
I Corinthians 9:24-27 (WEB)
And Paul cheers from his finish line,
7) I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. 8) From now on, the crown of righteousness is stored up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day; and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved his appearing.
II Timothy 4:7-8 (WEB)
Many obstacles can hinder a plan to improve physical fitness. We can be too busy, discouraged, sick, disabled, lazy, undisciplined, etc. Some of these same problems and others can also hinder spiritual growth and fitness. Many enemies are fighting against our spiritual growth.
Maturing spiritually does not happen automatically. Though physical maturation cannot be stopped, spiritual maturation is easily stopped. Stop searching the Bible, stop seeking the Lord in prayer, and stop openhearted fellowship and you will stop growing spiritually. Stop eating good spiritual food and you will be spiritually stunted.
12) For although by this time you should be teachers, you again need to have someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the revelations of God. You have come to need milk, and not solid food. 13) For everyone who lives on milk is not experienced in the word of righteousness, for he is a baby. 14) But solid food is for those who are full grown, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.
Hebrews 5:12-14 (WEB)
Most foot races are usually free from enemies seeking to trip us. Our spiritual race, however, has many enemies eager to trip us, including Satan, unbelievers, and our own sinful hearts. Paul warned the Galatians,
6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love. 7) You were running well! Who interfered with you that you should not obey the truth? 8) This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9) A little yeast grows through the whole lump. 10) I have confidence toward you in the Lord that you will think no other way. But he who troubles you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
Galatians 5:6-10 (WEB)
And who is interfering with your spiritual growth; Satan, unbelievers, or yourself?
Those who excel know a vital principle of growth. Choose your best friends carefully. Choose excellent role models for your goals. You want to be a star athlete? Hang out with the best athletes! You want to eat healthy? Avoid McDonalds! Friends and role models bring a small pain of reminder when we fall short, but this is a blessing compared to the greater pain of not finishing the race. Paul said, “Don't be deceived! "Evil companionships corrupt good morals" (I Corinthians 15:33 WEB). Solomon said, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; although the kisses of an enemy are profuse” (Proverbs 27:6 WEB).
Measure Progress
Good goals and good friends will also help us measure our progress. The only way to know you are making progress in losing fat or gaining muscle in physical training is to pinch your waistline and chart your increases in strength. Measuring our progress against objective goals tells us facts. Lying to ourselves or fudging our measurements may provide temporary happiness, but no long term pleasure for the hard work of reaching meaningful goals.  Security in God’s love enables us to fail yet begin each day with renewed motivation to give our all to the goal before us. If this reminder is needed for physical failures, how much more for spiritual failures!
Likewise only authentic spiritual growth is worthwhile.
These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine rules made by men.
Matthew 15:8-9 (WEB)
Honesty with ourselves and friends can help us recover from a fall.
1) Brothers, even if a man is caught in some fault, you who are spiritual must restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself so that you also aren't tempted. 2) Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3) For if a man thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4) But let each man examine his own work, and then he will have reason to boast in himself, and not in someone else.
Galatians 6:1-4 (WEB)
Sickness, Disease, and Weakness
We may wish we had the strength of athletes or the beauty of super models, but physical excellence is rare in our fallen world. However, most of us have some malady that challenges our physical fitness. How much more is spiritual fitness hampered by our weaknesses! The Scriptures say physical sickness may even be God’s punishment for our spiritual sickness. Paul cautioned,
29) For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy way eats and drinks judgment to himself if he doesn't discern the Lord's body. 30) For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.
I Corinthians 11:29-30 (WEB)
1) In other cases our physical weakness is designed to display God’s strength. Jesus said, As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2) His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3) Jesus answered, "This man didn't sin, nor did his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him."
John 9:1-3 (WEB)
Whatever the case we need grace.
Self or Service
Physical fitness has some value but not for serving self. Physical fitness can help us labor physically to serve others, endure the hardship of missionary labor, be alert with our minds, encourage us with our usefulness, and reflect God’s image in us. Physical fitness may also ward off sickness and increase length of life, but curiously the Bible says that honoring Christ and honoring your parents are even more significant requirements for physical fitness than eating right and exercise, I Corinthians 11:29-30 and Ephesians 6:1-3.
And if we are motivated to be physically fit there is even greater value to spiritual fitness. The spiritually fit are able to build up the body of Christ with the goal of maximizing our love for one another. Paul pressed himself and us like an athletic coach toward the goal.  Christ set an example of eating the healthiest food.
31) In the meanwhile, the disciples urged him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." 32) But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you don't know about." 33) The disciples therefore said to one another, "Has anyone brought him something to eat?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
John 4:31-34 (WEB)
Are you sweating as you train for spiritual fitness? Are you eating Jesus spiritual food? Are we disciples of Narcissus in our love of our physical bodies? Or are we disciples of Jesus in our love for the body of Christ?
Measuring Your Handle on Love (that is your Love Handles)
1. You must be a Christian to love with God’s love, I John 4:7-21.
2. You must strive to be an effective Christian lover, II Peter 1:3-11.
     Christian love begins with trust and obedience in Jesus Christ.
     Moral excellence must be added to faith.
     Knowledge must be added to moral excellence.
     Self-control must be added to knowledge.
     Patience must be added to self-control.
     Godliness must be added to patience.
     Brotherly affection must be added to patience.
     Effective Christian love is the goal.
3. You must have the attitude of Christ to know sacrificial love, I Peter 4.
4. You must do good for the family of believers, Galatians 6:10.
5. Are you willing to do good for unbelievers with the gospel? Romans 5:6-8.
6. You must help those in need to prove God’s love is in you, I John 3:16-24.
7. Are you honest about you sin with Christian friends? Hebrews 3:12-15.