Disclaimer: John Piper has influenced many areas of my life and this is yet another area he has helped me to see God's handiwork.
I grew up playing sports year round. I can't remember a time when I wasn't playing some sport. I enjoyed the various challenges and life lessons that were derived from such activities. As I grew older I was introduce to weight training and this has been a developing passion of mine since that time. I must confess that this passion, at times, has been a struggle as I sought to reconcile a balance between faith and exercise. I struggled constantly with my motive for this endeavour. Was this for God's glory of my own? Was I seeking to care for the temple of God or was I seeking to create an idol of vanity. It has only been in recent days that I have come to peaceful terms with this struggle. Peaceful in the sense that it will always be a struggle for which I am to battle as I do with many other areas of my life. I resonate with the words of John Piper when he stated concerning his own motive for phyical exercise; "I doubt that I ever had a motive so pure it had no sin in it. So you are welcome to fault any of this as tinged with vanity. What I can see, I have confessed. What I can’t, the Lord will bring to light sooner or later."
I have been overweight and I just don’t like how it feels. Nothing fits and nothing but that which has an elastic waist feels good. Recently I took inventory of my life and what I discovered was a lack of wisdom and appreciation for what Christ has given me. My Lord has blessed me with a healthy body whcih to my knowledge is free of any disease and maladies. However, my waist and scale spoke with clarity as to my sinful care of this wonderful body. I was, according to all health charts, obese and this was caused by participation in the sin of gluttony.
Quickly, another disclaimer: There is a difference between obesity and gluttony. Some people are overweight who have issues very different from gluttony. Never assume that overweight equals lazy and undisciplined.
I asked myself the question; "how can you live your life for God's glory and yet be so sinful in this very elementary area of faith?" Paul clearly tells us in 1 Timothy 4:8; "that physical training is of some value but godliness is valuable in every way." Godliness is our goal but could it be that physical training can be used indirectly by the Holy Spirit to develop the fruit of the Spirit in our lives; which is godliness.
My motive wrestling has led me to this resolution; "I resolve to exercise for the sake of purity and productivity". By purity I mean being a more loving person (as Jesus said, “love your neighbor,” Matthew 22:39). By productivity I mean getting a lot done (as Paul said, “abounding in the work of the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 15:58).
Underneath most of my besetting sins is despondency. There are many reasons why Charles Spurgeon is a hero of mine but one in particular is our kindred struggle with bouts of depression. When I exercise I am much less prone to such melancholy. The release of endorphins effect my mood greatly or it could be ego and vanity. Whichever, it’s a battle I'm willing to fight because I’m happier and I sleep better. I have more energy which enables me a greater productivity in all areas of ministry; especially preaching, as its physical, mental, and emotional demands are great.
Most people can't image the physical toil preaching takes on one's body. A study was conducted years ago on Dr. Stephen Olford to determine the physical effects of preaching. The aforementioned study revealed that preaching a one hour sermon is equivalent to working a mildly strenuous 8 hour job.
A pastor who feels good, sleeps better, and has more energy is a pastor who is able to better edify his congregation. This is also true of a husband, wife, dad, or mom. Which means I exercise to be a more loving person, a better pastor, father, and husband.
If you ask how exercise relates to the fruit of the Spirit, my answer is this: The Holy Spirit produces his fruit both directly and indirectly. He can and does enable us in our worst moments to be kind but he often does it indirectly.
For example, if you are impatient when you get little sleep, and if patience is a fruit of the Spirit (which it is, Galatians 5:22), it's very likely the Holy Spirit will not only remind you of the sufferings of Christ and the glory of God’s promises, but he will also give you the humility to stop being God and to bed at 9:30.
If you sleep better when you regularly exercise, then the Holy Spirit will also give you the humble discipline to exercise so that you sleep better so that you are more patient. If he does it that way, it is still his fruit.
Doctors tell us that being fit will help protect us from a hundred diseases and the effects of aging. I suspect that’s true. If that were my main motive, I would eat "clean" all the time; which I don't as I am more of an 80/20 guy.
I exercise because I have one life to live for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:15). I don’t want to waste it. My approach is not to lengthen it, but to maximize purity and productivity now. I want to display and disseminate as much gospel truth as I can with whatever amount of time I'm allotted and I find that exercise helps. I think God set it up that way.