For years during my annual physical, my doctor would comment, “You should lose five to ten pounds and eat better.” I would dutifully nod my head and reply with a sheepish, non-committal, “OK.” Working in an office setting, often for long hours, made it challenging to find time to exercise and forego fast food.

It is no secret that modern American society has become increasingly sedentary and overweight. For example, I had never needed anyone to recommend a minimum amount of daily activity for me as a kid. On the flipside, vanity and obsession with physical appearance and performance is as prevalent as it has always been. So, what is a healthy understanding of the relationship of faith and body for the follower of Christ?

The letters of the Apostle Paul to Corinth are especially insightful on this matter. He says:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (ESV)

Paul’s sports analogy would have been familiar to the readers of his time as a way to encourage the discipline of self-control. If athletes exercise self-control to obtain a perishing wreath, how much more would a follower of Christ do the same to receive an unperishing, unfading crown? Paul continues (in verses 26-27) to tell us that the human body is an instrument, not to be wasted but to be utilized for its heavenly purpose: “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” We are to discipline our bodies so we can stay in the running for our imperishable prize.

We all struggle in different areas when it comes to physical discipline—whether it is pushing ourselves to exercise, practicing self-restraint with food, or retaining balance in our work and home lives. But when we remember Paul’s view of the body as a vessel to be used by God—especially in light of Christ’s bodily resurrection— we can see beyond the physical struggles of this life and realize more deeply the imperishable wreath that awaits us. Our physical body is connected to our spiritual one. In 1 Corinthians 15:42 Paul says, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.” To this he adds (verse 44), “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

Paul also provides a metaphor that connects the physical to the spiritual for followers of Christ: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV). The context of verses 1- 6 tells us that the invaluable “treasure” is the gospel of Jesus Christ—a stark contrast to its vessel, our ordinary and easily broken human body. Though so physically fragile and vulnerable, we can serve as powerful instruments for God’s purpose.

Perhaps we all could heed the refrain I heard at my annual physical to lose weight and eat better—not because this advice came from a doctor, but  because we are stewards who live by faith and carry in us a treasured message… and who will, one day, attain an imperishable, heavenly prize.

by Pastor Su Kim