We talk a lot about the time Jesus spent teaching, but he spent just as much time performing healing miracles for people with injuries and diseases. These acts of healing allowed people to put their trust in Jesus. Helping people physically opened the door for Jesus to help them spiritually.
Our bodies are testaments to God’s amazing work as Creator. We don’t always take good care of them, though. Sometimes this is because our culture prioritizes productivity and convenience over being human - overworking and stressing us Sometimes, we’ve had experiences that make us ashamed of our body, so we struggle to love, appreciate, and take care of it. And sometimes, we’re just lazy!
Health is not discussed as a topic per se in the Bible, not in a specific or expansive way. However, the truth about human beings is that all areas of our lives contribute to our health, and so we can look to how the Bible treats different areas of life to consider how they might apply to healthy living. Here are a few points to consider:
One, health is more than just diet or exercise. Those are important, but the Bible shows us that truly taking care of our whole physical selves includes spiritual, mental, and relational health as well (Psalm 119:105, Proverbs 12:25, Proverbs 27:9). While the Bible doesn't use modern terminology to describe the psycho-social problems its characters face, we often observe people with anxiety, moral injury, depression, suicidality, trauma, narcicism, and other issues that we have more precise language to deal with today.
Two, humanity is made in the image of God, and our bodies are a part of God’s good creation (Genesis 1:27). So taking care of them is fully accepting ourselves and bodies as capable of good. We did another blog post and video a while ago about gnosticism and the way that worldview tried to creep in and influence early Christianity into believing that the physical world, and by extension physical bodies, were inherently bad. The truth of the Bible is that our bodies are good and worthy of being respected and treasured.
Three, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and as such we should try to keep those temples functional, healthy, and clean. While this principle is true in a general sense, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul especially addresses the issue of sexual ethics - emphasizing another area where human beings need to use their bodies in ways that promote spiritual, mental, emotional, and relational health. Even when restricted to proper context, the principle that emerges is the same - because Jesus died to save humanity in it's totality - body and soul - it matters what we do with our bodies.
Four, God gave us guidelines to be intentional about what we consume. God created humans to be vegetarian, but allowed meat to be eaten after the flood. (Genesis 1:29, 9:1-4). Some meat was still off-limits because they would have been unsanitary for the Israelites to eat. (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 11). We need to be careful with what we put into our bodies, since what gets into our stomach and guts can actually affect our mood and mindset in drastic ways. Note, for example, this video from the non-religious source Kurzgesagt on the Microbiome, and note what it says about diet:
While there are many debates between people about the exact and specific "rules" the Bible sets forth about diet - Paul warns us in Romans 14 not to over-emphasize food, "For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (14:17). It is important to notice that a healthy diet is not an end in itself, but rather is one helpful step to take on the way to living a full and abundant life.
Five, God gave humanity the Sabbath because rest is an important part of working effectively and enjoying the goodness of the lives God gave us (Exodus 20:8-11, Hebrews 4:8-11). The Sabbath is a way for us to recharge our batteries at the end of a long week of work, and a time to celebrate the simply joys in life, like our families, friendships, church community, and spiritual connection to God.
A huge part of the ministry of Jesus was just him walking around and healing people who were sick or injured. He met the immediate physical needs of people. His disciples picked up on this after his resurrection - performing their own acts of miraculous healing that opened the way for them to preach the gospel to newly open ears (Acts 3).
While the early disciples participated in something miraculous and supernatural, today we do not see those kinds of sudden, "unexplainable except that God must have done it" kind of healings. They are not completely unheard of today, but not necessarily "common" either. Maybe you don’t have the spiritual gift of miraculous healing, but you can help people learn to respect and appreciate their bodies and see God’s work in them. The healing ministry of Jesus is about more than just an instantaneous healing, but about repentance, a changed life, and an abundant life lived well for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Helping people have healthy working and living conditions is a legitimate part of the Bible’s concern for social justice (Exodus 1:1-14, Exodus 5:6-6:8, Micah 6:8, Luke 16:19-31, James 2:1-9). Jesus had compassion on people living in poverty, and on people who were both poor and sick (Matt 8:1-4, John 5:1-15).
There is also the important question of mental health. Spirituality can be an important factor in improving (or worsening!) someone’s mental health condition (Proverbs 15:13, 17:22). While religious experiences and worship can often help to alleviate mental stresses and emotional suffering, this does not always work. There are many expressions of deep sorrow, worry, and frustration in the Bible, and we need to recognize the legitimacy of these things when they manifest today as depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder, among others. The book of Job reminds us that sometimes things happen that cannot be explained away by religion, and that it takes time, compassion, and support to endure suffering.
Remember that all of life is spiritual. Helping someone physically will help their mind to be more focused. Helping someone learn how to work out can help them appreciate what their body is capable of, and believe that they are truly made fearfully and wonderfully in the Image of God (Psalm 139:14). All of this is a way to show the kindness and concern of Jesus, to affirm the value of the people he died for, and to help people see that abundant life is possible.
How can you use health to help someone see Jesus?
- Read Genesis 1:26-27, 2:4-7, 18-25. What does these passages say about the purpose and value of humanity? What does it tell us about human beings and human bodies in general?
- The topic of social justice is not often thought of as being a health issue, but if we think about human life holistically, unfairness and inequality can lead to many kinds of health problems - mental, social, spiritual, physical, etc. Read the following passages. What kind of health problems might you see in these circumstances?
- Exodus 1:1-14, Exodus 5:6-6:8, Luke 16:19-31, James 2:1-9.
- Ecclesiastes 4:1-12 - How does this passage connect physical, emotional, and relational health?
- Diet and food can be a touchy subject that people feel very sensitive about. Getting a complete Biblical picture about food can be difficult, so let's take it one step at a time:
- Read Genesis 1:29, 9:1-4 - What was God's original intention for the human diet? What happened after the flood?
- Read Deuteronomy 12:15-16, Deuteronomy 12:20-25, Deuteronomy 14:21. These instructions may seem a little strange. What purpose do you think these laws serve? What principle might apply to us today?
- Read Acts 15:22-29. Knowing that the leadership of the church wanted to give the Gentiles as few restrictions as possible when joining the Christian movement, what do you notice about their instructions about food? Do Christians tend to follow these instructions? What might it say about inhumanely killed animals?
- Read through Leviticus 11. Here, there is a list of foods that were acceptable and unacceptable for the Israelites to eat. What do you think of these stipulations? Do the distinctions make sense? How many of the things in the "unclean" category would you even be willing to eat?
- Watch our video on Unclean Meats:
- Watch this video by The Bible Project on the book of Leviticus. What insight does it give you into what "clean" and "unclean" really mean?
- Read through Romans 14. What are the general principles and main points that emerge from this passage?
- Judging by 14:3, does it seem like Paul is talking about the distinctions you just read about in Leviticus 11, or something else? (See 1 Corinthians 8-10 for reference.)
- What areas of health do you personally struggle with? What steps can you take to start addressing those issues?