Physical Exercise: What I Do and Why (Part 2)

Physical Exercise: What I Do and Why (Part 2)

[Read Part 1]

In the previous post I mentioned what I do for excercise. Now is the why.

Disclaimer: 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 just don’t like being overweight. My pants fit funny. I can’t see my belt. When I was about 19 I went golfing with some overweight evangelists. They said, “Well look at that flat stomach on Johnny. Just give him another ten years.” At that moment something happened inside me. I said nothing out loud, but inside I said, “It’s not going to happen.” I suspect there was sin in that. But the resolve is still there.

Quickly, another disclaimer: There is a difference between obesity and gluttony. I was set straight on this one after I made some hurtful blunders. Some people are overweight who have issues very different from gluttony. Never assume that overweight equals lazy and undisciplined.

For Purity and Productivity

Today, my main motive for exercise is 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. I am less prone to such melancholy when I hammer my body three times a week. The reason could be endorphins. Could be ego. Whichever, it’s cheaper than Prozac or psychotherapy. I’m simply happier. And I sleep better. I have more energy.

Most of that energy goes into the Bible and preaching and people. And the fruit from that is, I hope, edification. Which means I exercise to be a more loving person and a better pastor.

How the Spirit Produces Fruit

If you ask how the fruit of exercise relates to the fruit of the Spirit, my answer is this: The Holy Spirit produces his fruit both directly and indirectly. He can zap you in your worst moments and make you 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), 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.

And 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.

I could add that doctors say being fit will help protect me from a hundred diseases and bad effects of aging. I suspect that’s true. But if that were my main motive, I probably wouldn’t drink Diet Coke.

So, in short, I have one life to live for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:15). I don’t want to waste it. My approach is not mainly to lengthen it, but to maximize purity and productivity now. I want to show as much gospel truth and publish as much gospel truth as I can. I have found, for 43 years, that exercise helps. I think God set it up that way.

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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.