Physical Exercise

“For bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” – 2 Timothy 4:8 (KJV).

“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” – 2 Timothy 4:8 (ESV).

Shortly after our retirement from Westminster Chapel in 2002, the late John Paul Jackson gave me a prophetic word out of the blue. Sitting at the dinner table with my family, he looked at me and said, “R. T., you will live to a ripe old age, but if you don’t get into physical shape you won’t be around to enjoy it”.

I had known John Paul for over ten years, having been introduced to him by Mike Bickel in 1991. His previous words to me had been so accurate that his sudden warning to me about physical exercise sobered me. My friend and publisher Steve Strang had just shared with me a routine for exercising each morning and also urged me to get a trainer. Therefore with this surprising word from John Paul I began to think that God was giving me a wake-up call regarding my own health! Our son T. R. was present and immediately got me a book pertaining to a healthy diet.

I also recalled a conversation with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones many years ago. Whereas I had taken the King James translation, “bodily exercise profiteth little”, to minimize the importance of physical exercise, Dr. Lloyd-Jones insisted that Paul was not showing disdain for physical training but only saying that godliness is more important. In fact Dr. Lloyd-Jones felt that Paul was actually encouraging physical exercise as long as we remember that godliness is more important.

I began using Steve’s suggestions by exercising every morning. I call it “Stronger with Strang”. I lost ten pounds by careful eating. I avoid things such as sugar, white flour and anything containing high fructose syrup. Rightly or wrongly, I weigh myself every morning. John Stott told me he weighed himself every morning. If my weight is up, I cut down eating that day; if it is down, I might have a pizza that day! I have a trainer who comes to our house once or twice a week, depending when we are not on the road. I lift weights, do push-ups and try to walk at least a mile in twenty minutes on the treadmill. I only wish I had started this forty years before, but perhaps this word will encourage others who have waited too long to take their health seriously.

Jesus said that by worrying we cannot add “a single hour” to our span of life (Matt.6:27 – ESV). I take this also to mean we cannot add a single hour to how long we live by exercising. But surely we can improve the quality of our lives by taking care of our bodies. After all, the physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.6:19). Any one who is over weight but loses weight will tell you they immediately feel better by doing this. They will also tell you they feel better when they exercise sensibly and regularly.

I attended a service when the preacher’s subject was “Fat Christians”. I thought, “Oh good. I know a lot of people who should be here today”. But his sermon was about Christians who are over-fed with truth but do not witness to the lost. It was a good sermon, but not many preachers are willing to tackle the issue of over weight Christians today. Flabby, pot-bellied, unhealthy servants of Christ are not exactly a great testimony to the world.

I am 82 as I write these lines. There is no doubt in my mind that I am able to travel as I do – literally all over the world – because I took John Paul’s word seriously. I hate to think what I would be like had I had not listened to that timely word.

I am a Word and Spirit man. This includes bringing in logos and rhema – both of which translate “word” – into my teaching and preaching. These Greek words can be used interchangeably so we must not press the distinction too far. That said, the Word in this particular article pertains to a balanced understanding of 2 Timothy 4:8. The Spirit refers to the prophetic – as in John Paul’s rhema word to me.

We must be open to both.

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