Health & Fitness Requires Character
In the book of Judges, chapters 13 thru 16, is the story of Samson, who was once ruler over Israel, chosen by God to free His people from Philistine oppression. In the telling of Samson’s life, we see this combination of divine intervention versus masculine mishap. It is a prime example of God’s desire to protect and man’s proneness to defect. Starting with the introduction to Samson’s parents, who are God-fearing, humble people, the angel of the Lord appears to them with news of an upcoming physical miracle.
Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink nowine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.…No razor shallcome upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines. —Judges 13:3–5
Samson was to be set apart for God’s work and purposes. As such, there were physical requirements he and his parents needed to abide by. After he was born, God blessed Samson and began to impel him in the ways of strength, honor, service, and battle. As a grown man, though, Samson got too big for his britches, cocky even. He opted to start making decisions on his own in an unwise manner. Regardless of what his calling was, he took it upon himself to ignore the stirring in him that God began when He set him apart. Samson’s first mistake was rebelling against his parents’ wishes and condoning what was wrong in the sight of God.
I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.…Get her for me for she is right in my eyes. —Judges 14:2–3
On the way to make arrangements with his soon-to-be fiancée, Samson encountered a young lion in one of the vineyards. God, seeking to protect Samson, empowered him with the Holy Spirit. God preserved Samson’s life and health with bold courage and extraordinary strength.
And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. —Judges 14:5–6
Sometime later, Samson returned to the dead animal and saw that a swarm of bees had produced honey inside of it. Going against God’s law, he not only touched and ate something unclean, but he also gave some of the honey to his parents to eat, deceiving them by not telling them he got it from the defiled carcass of a lion. What we see happening resembles the behavior of a man believing the lie that what feels right for his body is more important than what God sees fit for the body.
For Samson, it didn’t stop there. Succumbed to selfish gain, he made a bet he thought he could easily win. When it backfired on him, God had to protect him once again from trouble over a gambling debt.
And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. —Judges 14:19
Although God was gracious enough to empower Samson by the Holy Spirit with strength and skill, Samson was definitely abusing his power. His actions were filling him with sinful rage and impure hostility. He was stuck in a bitter and vengeful state that only added fuel to the fire in the war between Israel and Philistia.
So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards.…And he said to them, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” —Judges 15:4–5,11
This act of retaliation set off a chain reaction that provoked anger in the hearts of the men whose food supplies were ruined. Part of the blame ended up falling on Samson’s wife and father-in-law. Although they had nothing to do with the fires, the Philistines had them burned to death.
We Cannot Get Caught Up in Ourselves
What’s interesting at this point in the story is that there hadn’t been any dialogue between God and Samson. It helps us conclude that these actions most likely weren’t sanctioned by God and that Samson was merely responding to how he felt in the moment. Samson was set apart to be a spiritual leader, yet we haven’t heard him pray, encourage, or offer anything up to God. He doesn’t seem to have any interest in saving Israel from the Philistines. His life has been all about him, even though God has been by his side since birth.
In the next part of the story, Samson was restrained and handed over to his enemies, and still God protected him.
Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men. —Judges 15:14–15
You would think that after this miraculous display of divine rescue by the Holy Spirit, Samson would raise his hands to the sky and lift his eyes up to heaven to thank and praise God for protecting him. Well, he didn’t. Instead, he seized the opportunity to draw attention to himself.
And Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps…have I struck down a thousand men.” —Judges 15:16
Then, after he was done bragging about himself, he complained to God about how thirsty he was, as if God is some water boy.
“You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. —Judges 15:18–19
This is the testimony of a man obsessed with meeting his own needs, and of God the father faithfully meeting His child’s spiritual and physical needs. But Samson continued to grow arrogant and became immoral. He wanted the power of the Holy Spirit without the incumbency of bearing the image of God as a holy man to the people. He enjoyed the high stature and the fame. He glorified himself on his own grandstand in his winning and triumph, becoming blind to the fact that God was his upper hand. The Holy Spirit’s surety eventually left Samson feeble and exposed due to his apostasy and unruly ways. It was then that his life took a turn for the worse and sunk into a downward spiral.
But he did not know that the Lord had left him. And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes…and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. —Judges 16:20–21
This is the type of outcome for people who neglect the righteous spirit of God for the false apparition of themselves. This is the kind of misery I was in when I rejected the spiritual and physical requirements God wanted me to keep. When I resisted God in the body, it became difficult for me to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and live under His protection.
For Samson, it took physical blindness to get him to see his spiritual blindness. Solitary confinement helped him realize what a fool he’d been. The slave labor he was now forced to perform surely convicted him of his many shortcomings, including the constant abuse of the Holy Spirit’s power. He eventually pleaded to God for help. In his final prayer to God, he asked for justice.
O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes… Let me die with the Philistines. —Judges 16:28–30
Because of his humility and his willingness to finally submit to God and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, by faith, Samson was empowered one final time so the people of Israel could be delivered from their enemy’s hands and God’s mission could be completed. Samson died a hero, but it’s sad that his life had to end in tragedy. Some might say he chose to learn the hard way, which was, unfortunately, down a path of collateral damage and dismay.
Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. —Judges 16:30
Samson goes down in history as a man of brave faith whom God made strong out of weakness. But because we know the character of God, we can be sure the story would have been different if Samson hadn’t been reluctant to obey God or ignore the training of God’s spirit.
Let the Holy Spirit Instruct Your Body
Today, there are millions of men and women whose pursuit of health and fitness resembles Samson’s former character. A lot of weight rooms are filling up with men gawking at women, women seducing men, concerned about what their bodies can do for themselves rather than their creator. They walk around spiritually blind, philandering with whomever they choose, neglecting God’s authority in their lives. I can say so because I’ve kept company with such women and men. I was even one of them.
All we seemed to care about was looking good and getting laid. For me, every visit to the gym was to feed my ego, to build my self-esteem and self-worth, to look better naked. It’s disgusting how I only seemed to work out when all the hot girls were there so I could feast my eyes on their revealing sports bras and skimpy yoga pants. It is in every single one of those moments that I subconsciously rejected the safekeeping of the Holy Spirit.
The measure of a man is not his love life, his biceps, or his paycheck. The measure of a woman is not her sex appeal, her petite bikini body or hard-earned independence. Masculinity and femininity are weighed upon the strength and fruit of the Holy Spirit: love and faithfulness, self-control and dignity, teachability, and humility. We don’t make a difference in the world by how much money and fame we possess. We better the world by being men and women who talk to God through prayer, who seek to know Him more by reading His Word, and who ask Him questions with a heart that truly seeks His advice. Followers of Jesus, people of character, people of bravery, are the people the Holy Spirit literally sets apart and empowers to do God’s work.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” —Acts 13:2
We need the Holy Spirit’s instruction in everything. Modern people have become no stranger to unhealthy filth, vanity, and bodily greed. Doesn’t it seem that we’ve become a people of hyperconsumption and cravings? From Margarita Monday to Black Friday, from professional football on Sunday to college ball on Saturday. Let’s not forget Taco Tuesday and the famous Hump Day. We’re just following the crowd and the excitement. Soon we’ll have a day for everything delectable—National Pancake Day, National Fried Chicken Day, National Doughnut Day, National Pizza Day. Where are our priorities when it comes to how we treat our bodies?
Be Mission-Minded and Mission-Bodied
Imagine what we could do if we redirected the billions of dollars we all eat away to satisfy the munchies. What could we do with the billions of dollars wasted on getting wasted? Together, we could probably end poverty and hunger. Cure cancer maybe? How about we rescue a third-world country by giving up our first-world tendencies? Wouldn’t that be awesome? The people of God are capable of doing that through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The part of the world that’s starving needs to be fed the fortified love of Jesus spiritually and physically. As a former couch potato and videogamer, I knew society wouldn’t be impacted or inspired by me unless I became a man who fears God, ready to run the race of faith and finish strong. I knew my community would never benefit if I stood in front of a mirror all day taking selfies. Our communities need people filled with the Holy Spirit who can stand on the front lines of churches, doing the heavy lifting at outreaches both locally and globally. The world needs the hands and feet of Jesus along with the arms and legs of His people.
Jesus Christ lived on a mission, and so must we. If He needed the power of the Holy Spirit, how much more do we? The Holy Spirit’s counsel and advice apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We must take it, or we will be taken. God has not spared anything from us—not His son, not His spirit—all of Him is at our disposal. Let’s give God exclusive rights to our thoughts, our emotions, all parts of our body, and every component of our soul.
For too many years, I was dependent upon “me time”and relaxation. That was a tough place to be as a Christian. Living for God was exhausting when things weren’t going my way or turning out the way I expected. Many times I’d leave God at the front door of a local brewery while I drowned my stress in a bucket of ice cold beers. At the gym, I would stuff God into a gym bag and leave Him in a locker room while I sweated out my frustration. We should never want to take a break from God. He’s the one who rejuvenates and recharges us.
The Holy Spirit is our fuel as well. He is our body pump. And He never takes a break from us. There’s never a moment when He needs a vacation or an escape from working in us. Every time I felt as if He wasn’t there to help me, I was always the one who had distanced myself from Him. I was always the one who was partial to Him. In fact, it’s only when I ignore the Holy Spirit that I commit sin and wrongdoing. He has cautioned every one of us about crimes against God. Those same crimes can be committed against our own bodies in a way that dishonors Him, like gluttony and sloth. We must keep our bodies strong so we can use our strength to serve God.
Let the Holy Spirit Help Your Body
What we see played out in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, is God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit enduring the flaws and imperfections of humankind, suffering long for the sake of righteousness and glory. God’s people have a history of abusing their bodies in every way, even inventing new ways to mishandle their health, affecting the wellness of others in the process.
But we see God’s faithfulness in the provision of physical miracles and marvelous teaching for the body and soul. His people are filled with awe and good health at the sound of divine revelation and the sight of His strength in non-stop action during times of revival and peace, but also through war, hardship, and adversity.
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. —Ps. 54:4
God is our ultimate source for liveliness. Even in His own silence He speaks volumes over all the noisy chaos that burdens and distracts us. Even by His delay, He demonstrates fitting love and care. Even His anger and wrath reveal protection for strength and deliverance from weakness. Nothing can minimize the great lengths He has gone to for His people. His toil on our behalf is why we exalt Him as undeniable, and then His unyielding courage comes to us by the power of His spirit.
We need the Holy Spirit’s help, and we need it desperately. Although life can effectuate vast progressive movement toward enlightenment and understanding, it is also filled with enigmatic complexities. Whenever we align our life with the Spirit, we reap the benefits He freely gives us, both spiritually and physically. He provides perfect clarity for the body and the mind, He increases our enthusiasm and our energy, and He overcomes all mental and physical strain.
We should walk with the Holy Spirit and not in opposition to Him so that when we do spiritual things like bless a meal by saying grace, thankful to God for our food, we can partake of it free from gluttony and void of any ungodliness. If we are going to make it a habit to pray, then let’s pray in the direction and power of the Holy Spirit. If we are going to ask God for things, like a good job, good health, or a better body, then once He gives it to us, we should work dutifully, pursuing the eternal fruits of the Spirit—integrity, sobriety, and dignity. Having this perception equips our bodies to be faithful stewards and more effective ministers in all seasons, at all ages, and under all conditions.
Love you guys,