A Healthy Diet – Spiritual Nutrition and Fitness for the Church (PART TWO)
The importance of personal character development in the proper functioning of the church.
Proper function of our physical body
Most people would agree that there are two essential things for strong bodily health: nutrition and exercise. We need to eat the right food and we need to move our bodies in some form of exercise to strengthen our bodies in order to see proper function, health and fitness.
Eating the right kind of food in our modern world is a challenge with all our fast food and processed foods. Man was designed by God to function physically on natural foods found in fruits, vegetables, water, and meat. At the grocery store you have to spend double in order to buy organic foods that make an attempt at natural foods. Our bodies will function better when we eat the correct portions of natural foods; we’ll just feel good. In contrast, however, if we eat pizza for breakfast, heavy greasy excess calories for lunch, and a massive feast of processed foods for dinner, we won’t feel so good. Ironically, we may not realize it, but we’ll feel rotten but we have adapted to it and consider the weight gain, lack of sleep, and exhaustion as normal. So it is with the Body of Christ.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Man shall not live by bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus, in refuting the Devil’s temptations, compares the importance of the Word of God to food. In fact, Jesus elevates the Word of God above sustenance, claiming that we live alone on the word of God. This is a spectacular statement and continues to weave the body analogy throughout scripture. Again, Jesus deals with our need for physical nutrition in John 6. The crowd was looking for Jesus having just the day before been fed through the miracle of the fish and loaves, and Jesus challenges them by stating that they are looking for him for food. The crowd then wonders if Jesus will produce a miracle similar manna from heaven as during Moses’ days in the desert. Jesus responds like this:
John 6:31-66, 48:
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…48 I am the bread of life.
This passage from John Chapter 6 would take weeks to flesh out completely, but, Jesus makes a very important point: “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is the bread of life and alone we’ll live on the word of God. The Body of Christ will only find its nutrition and proper sustaining food in Christ and the Word of God.
I propose then, that the proper function of the church is dependent on what’s on the menu and what is in our diet. Are we a church that eats fast food sermons full of shallow useless trans-fats? Are we a church that eats processed purpose driven Bible studies? Are we a church that lives on 30 second microwavable frozen prayers? Or are we a church with deep biblical sermons, that finds is true knowledge, wisdom and sustaining truths from the Word of God? Are we a church that only eats meals from the bread of live, Jesus Christ? The body of Christ that fills itself with weak Christless Christianity will not function properly. However, the Christ driven church will be empowered and functioning properly. We must fill ourselves with solid biblical preaching, deep beneficial Bible studies, long personal and intimate prayers, and frequent intimate fellowship with other believers. Proper function of the church is dependent on proper nutrition and proper nutrition for the Body of Christ is reading the Bible, prayer, and fellowship. Building these character traits into the members of the church is essential for the church’s health and fitness. All the members must be healthy and their character being developed in a godly way.
The other element to caring for our fragile earthly bodies is exercise. When we are young and active our bodies react well and are functioning properly. However, as we get older we realize that focused purposeful exercise is required to keep it functioning properly. Walking, jogging, playing basketball, and many other options are useful for keeping the body active. Without strength building our muscles will atrophy making us useless. Without aerobic activity our lungs will also become weak and unable to handle any difficult activity. Imagine after not exercising for years having to suddenly run five miles to save your life. Just running the five miles would kill you. You would not be able to get through the challenge. Exercise also helps fight off injuries and illnesses. So it is with the Body of Christ.
Paul tells his readers about training in godliness and building up the Body of Christ in several places. In Ephesians he deals with growing strong to avoid being tossed around. The body must be equipped to handle the false doctrines to come.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up 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 mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul compares physical exercise and training to spiritual training:
1 Timothy 4:7-8
7 Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 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.
Bodily training is of some value, but training in godliness is everything. The Body of Christ must be exercising spiritually in order to stay strong against false doctrines, spiritual storms, and spiritual injuries or illnesses. So, how does the church exercise spiritually? There are several ways.
Discipleship is a form of exercise for the church. Within discipleship training, the mature Christian (teacher) must work through teaching and discussion points and transferring one’s faith and Biblical knowledge to the disciple. The disciple will be challenged on many topics stretching them and making them grow. Another exercise is ministry. Whether teaching Sunday school, ministering at the elderly homes, visiting someone in the hospital, or cleaning the church toilets the Body of Christ will be exercising its individual gifts and unity. These are both great benefits to the church. Prayer is another obvious exercise (probably more of an exercise than nutrition described as above). Other ways the church can train and exercise is evangelism, outreach, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and giving to the poor. The act of giving and serving builds strength in godliness.
The church body will not be able to stand against false doctrines or trials and tribulations if it isn’t actively working in the areas of discipleship, serving, teaching, ministering, evangelism, and prayer. The body will be weak and when a challenge comes, the church will be like the person trying to run five miles. It will be a sad display of weakness. Again, as with our spiritual diet, our spiritual exercise is a major part of character development that needs focus in order to keep the church healthy and fit.
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit uses the picture of the church being like a body in order to give the Corinthian church a simple example of unity and how the church shall function, since they were in complete disarray and dysfunction. We, as readers today, can learn just as much from this analogy. It is a blessing to Christians that the Holy Spirit would use language that we can so easily relate to. I have stretched Paul’s analogy to look into how we develop the character of believers in the church in order to function properly in love and unity. The properly functioning church will glorify God above all and will be a beacon of the gospel to the ends of our dark world. The proper function of the church starts with character development of each member, from the newly saved to the senior pastor. With the proper healthy diet, the members will grown in the proper character traits such as dependence on the Bible, dependence on Christ alone, a life of prayer, and regular intimate fellowship with other believers. With proper exercise and training the members will gain strength and endurance through discipleship, ministry, prayer, serving, giving, and evangelism. A church loaded full of strong healthy and fit members will make for a strong, fit and properly functioning body.