"Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
Paul compares the Christian life to an athletic competition here and in other parts of the Bible (2 Tim. 4:7; Gal. 2:2). What a powerful word picture to emphasize the benefits of living a life of discipline, moderation and self-control.
These character traits are perfected through the Holy Spirit and are vital to us if we are to mature on this Christian journey. And even though the prize Paul speaks of is our heavenly reward, we can't ignore the importance of exercising these same qualities in our physical lives.
It's actually difficult (if not impossible) to separate these two aspects of our existence since spiritual maturation requires that we keep fleshly desires under subjection (including the desire to overeat), and that we become adept at resisting temptation (including the temptation to indulge ourselves with our favorite foods).
A professional athlete practices discipline, moderation and self-control whether she feels like it or not. Her body does not call the shots--she does.
In other words, she engages in rigorous training on a regular basis, no matter what the circumstances, and no matter what her "flesh" would rather be doing. The same is required of any woman attempting to modify her lifestyle to improve her health.
Our flesh ought not to control us. But without discipline, moderation and self-control, you'll soon discover how easy it is for the flesh to overtake you and for your worthy plans of living a healthier life to fall by the wayside.
It requires self-discipline to crawl out of a warm and cozy bed for a brisk 30-minute walk. It requires moderation to stop at one scoop of ice cream or one tablespoon of gravy. And it requires self-control to keep on driving past your favorite fast-food restaurant.
Honor God With Your Body
When you start with discipline, moderation and self-control, and then add the proper motive, you will certainly see results. If you refuse to be motivated by vanity but let your main desire be to improve your health (or maintain the good health you already have), then you're on the right track.
Think about it this way: As believers, our bodies are the living temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So taking care of our bodies is one way we honor God. Losing weight as an effort to maintain the temple of God is an honorable endeavor; any other reason borders on self-centeredness and vanity.
Let's compare it to the act of giving. We can give our tithes and offerings with a selfish, goal-oriented mind-set, focusing on the "good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over" return promised to us in Luke 6:38. But this is giving with the wrong motive.
The Bible says to "honor the Lord with your wealth" (Prov. 3:9). So giving is an act of worship, a way of honoring God.
It shouldn't be a selfish act prompted by the promise of how much we will get in return. The same holds true for any of the other ways we honor God.
Remember in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus described people who fasted and prayed just to call attention to themselves? He said their reward would be from men and not from God. The problem was that their motive wasn't to have fellowship with God through prayer and fasting but to receive recognition and attention from other men.
Everything—yes, everything—we do as believers ought to honor God, including our motive for wanting to lose weight. The incentive to adhere to a healthy lifestyle should be to honor God through caring for our bodies, His temple, and not any self-centered desire to improve our looks.
If we end up looking a little nicer in the process, then that's great, but it shouldn't be our primary motivation.
Keep Focused on the Goal
I'm convinced that one of the reasons so many people are unsuccessful with long-term weight loss is they are operating with the wrong motive. Keep the proper focus. Purpose in your heart that you will honor God by taking care of your body, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and start making a change today.
A dear patient once assured me that she was going to dramatically change her lifestyle by eating right, exercising and losing weight right after the Memorial Day holiday. She was planning a large party that weekend, a culinary feast for more than 100 guests.