Joey Chestnut is the most dominant person in his field. People marvel at his ability and his dedication. He is consistently the national champion in the Nathan’s Annual Hotdog Eating Contest. He won again last year by downing 71 hotdogs (with buns) in ten minutes. 25 years ago, it took 20 hotdogs to win the hotdog eating competition. You can watch the competition on ESPN. Also, on ESPN, but very different, is the CrossFit Games – where athletes compete against one another. Hotdog eating and CrossFit competitions, broadcast on the same sports channel, illustrate the paradox we find ourselves in.
On one hand, we are eating more and eating less healthy as a culture. Doctors agree that this is a serious health problem but researches debate the root of the problem. Some point to how we can eat so much, so cheaply in comparison to other nations and believe that raising prices or taxes on food is the solution. Others point to longer work hours and less time for exercise. Some point to convenience as the culprit. Others point to our increasing portion sizes. There is more to eat and it is easier to eat more than ever before.
But on the other side of the paradox the fitness industry is steadily growing. According to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association, Americans with gym memberships have increased from 19.5M to 62.5M in the last thirty years. There are CrossFit boxes, boot camps, fitness centers that provide massages and smoothies, boutique fitness centers, streaming services, and equipment that virtually connects to others around the world as you exercise.
We can feel this personally with our own bodies. It is easier than ever to bounce back and forth between the two sides of the paradox. We are constantly tempted to not take care of the one body the Lord has given us or to make our body the focus of our lives. We live in a world where it is easier to both abuse and adore our bodies. The result is a lot of pressure and a lot of shame. Both body abuse and body adoration fail us for these two reasons:
1. Both body abuse and body adoration make gods out of good gifts.
Food is a good gift from God. He gave us taste buds to savor and enjoy the food and He is pleased when we enjoy each other and enjoy a great meal together. Jesus is the only person in the New Testament accused of being a glutton because the religious leaders saw him enjoying meals “those sinners and tax collectors.” Food is a good gift but we abuse food when our stomach bosses us around as our god. Our bodies are a good gift too, and any movement we can make is a gift. But our body is a terrible god. When we make food or our bodies our gods, they fail to satisfy us. There will always be another “must have meal” and another goal for our bodies. We will never look in the mirror and declare, “it is finished.” Whether our stomach or our bodies, when we glory in something other than Christ, our glory is always our disappointment and shame (Philippians 3:18).
2. Both body abuse and body adoration focus on the temporary.
When we abuse our bodies with food or drink, we are focused on temporary pleasure and not considering the long-term implications to our bodies. But when we adore our bodies, we are also focused on the temporary. Our earthly bodies are not going to last us forever. We can exercise and eat clean, but we are fighting the inevitable. Our bodies will fail us.
3. The better way: glorify God with our bodies
There is a better way. The apostle Paul reminds us: “You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (I Corinthians 6:19-20). We are to glorify God with our bodies, not glorify our bodies. As Christians, our bodies are sacred, as the Lord has taken up residence in our lives. If we speak poorly of your bodies we are speaking negatively about where God lives, about His house.
In the Old Testament, the temple was where God’s people would gather to worship God. It would have been sacrilegious to abuse the temple – to not value the place where God met with man. At the same time, it would have been idolatrous to worship the temple, to bow before the temple as if it was the object of adoration. The temple was not to be abused or adored. The temple was to be used as a tool to glorify God. Our bodies are now His temples. They are sacred and should be treated with care, but they must not be worshipped.