There has never been a generation (at least not in our affluent western society), that worries so much about their health as we do today. In 2013, according to statistics from the German Federal Office, Germans spent 314.9 billion Euros on their health. That is 3,910 Euros per citizen.
We buy lots of drugs and tonics to improve our constitutions, swallow the latest vitamins, and make sure we’re eating organic vegetables and a balanced diet. We’re either torturing ourselves with exercise at home or spending a fortune financing one of the many available fitness studios. We make regular visits to the doctor and ensure that we have precautionary examinations done.
Paul Also Spoke about Health
The letter which the apostle Paul wrote to Titus also revolves around the topic “Health.” In the first two chapters alone, Paul speaks about health five times (Titus 1:9; 1:13; 2:1; 2:2, 2:8). However, in none of the listed references does he speak about the health of our bodies. Evidently, for Christians, there is a whole other health issue, namely, spiritual health or the health of our inner man.
What does Paul mean by spiritual health? How do you recognize if your inner man is really healthy? At the beginning of Titus 2 for example, Paul mentions various indicators of spiritual health for different age groups and genders (Titus 2:1-10). However, he does not define spiritual health through these indicators, rather he merely deals with indicators of spiritual health, similar to the marker on a blood panel.
But What Is Spiritual Health?
Nevertheless, the question remains as to how spiritual health can be defined. When we attempt to understand a concept, expression, or thought, it is often helpful to take a look at the contrast thereof. If we want to understand the comfort and blessing of warmth, it would be useful on a cold winter’s day to think about being without a functioning heating system. This principle is exactly what Paul uses in his letter to Titus. In Titus 2:1, Paul starts with the words: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound [healthy] doctrine.” This “but” shows a contrast. Accordingly, directly before this verse, the discussion must have been about “unsound” (unhealthy) doctrine.
Titus 1:16 of the previous chapter is a splendid description of a spiritually unhealthy person. Here Paul is speaking about people who claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him and thereby are unfit for doing anything good. Therefore, “Being unhealthy in the faith” is to claim to know God, His Word, and what He expects, but in practical life to disown Him. To be unhealthy in the faith means to have a good theological knowledge but not to allow this theology to rule our lives. For example: believing that God is omnipresent and omniscient, but in an allegedly unobserved moment, looking at something on the computer, or on the Internet, or cell phone that no person, whether child or adult, should be looking at—this is spiritually “unhealthy.”
Evidently, every person carries two theologies within them. Firstly, a Formal Theology, where one knows that it is correct. We enjoy speaking about this Formal Theology; we discuss it with relish, defend it, and even take pleasure arguing about it. Often this just serves as a means to amass knowledge, to own it, or to impress with it. We use it to corroborate our orthodoxy. We do not argue about our Formal Theology because God’s righteousness or His reputation is dear to our hearts. We argue because we want to be right and because we know the truth and nothing but the truth .
However, there is another theology in our hearts. Let’s call it Functional Theology. This is the part of our intellectual world that actually affects and determines how we think and act. This is the theology that rears me or disciplines me, that comforts me, encourages me, exhorts me, that guides me, and that helps me to live a life which is pleasing to God. For most of us, this Functional Theology is often more poorly developed than the Formal Theology.
According to Titus 1:16, when you pretend to know God, His character, His essence, His greatness, and His will, but through your actions in your practical life, you actually disown Him—this health condition of the inner person is pathologically critical. A healthy inner person is when my knowledge of God determines my life with God, e.g. when I don’t just speak about grace, but my life and my dealings with others are determined by grace and evidence grace.
Spiritual Health Is Vital
Spiritual health is important because the opposite of spiritual health is not just illness but often hypocrisy. Our Lord showed much understanding, much grace and mercy for those who were truly weak in spirit. However, whenever the Lord came across people who pretended to know the truth, but actually denied it by the way they lived, His patience was short and His dealings with them hard and clear.
The Bible never separates what we learn from how we live or the truth from how we behave. In my home country, Germany, especially in conservative circles, it is a widely spread notion that spiritual health is the same as orthodox teaching with profound and extensive knowledge about the revealed counsel of God. But this is not so. Being spiritually healthy is when my knowledge about God also determines my life with God. When I don’t just speak about grace, but also allow my life and my relationships to be determined by it.
Don’t get me wrong. Healthy teaching is without a doubt the prerequisite for a healthy life, however, healthy teaching alone does not equal a healthy life. Therefore, I would like to close with some practical suggestions especially for those responsible in our congregation:
- Like me, many of us who preach recognize that expository preaching is the best way to ensure that the meaning of God’s Word is conveyed undistorted. Yet we frequently have to remind ourselves that the utilization of God’s Word according to 2 Timothy 3:16 does not just depend on the teaching but also on reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. This process is only successful when the listeners actually receive the grace of a changed life (v. 17). To this end, the preacher must not only interpret the text accurately but must be able to apply it to the lives of the listeners.
- Let’s take a look at the current discipleship courses that, I am happy to say, are being worked through by young believers. Most of these courses place great value on biblical instruction, on good theology, and healthy/sound teaching. This is correct and important and yet at the same time, too little! God does not want to merely reach our intellect. Yes, it begins with a changed way of thinking, but a changed way of thinking must lead to a changed way of life! God does not want to just reach our heads but also our hearts, our character, our hands, and our homes. Right at the beginning, young believers especially need healthy teaching which must lead to a healthy lifestyle.
- Many of us must learn anew (or maybe for the first time) what it means to “meditate” on a biblical text. This has nothing to do with exercises of reflection from the Far East, but rather simply and poignantly, with the practice of not just thinking about the meaning of a biblical text, but also concretely about how to utilize it in your life.
- It is an impossibility to have a healthy local congregation without offering individuals the personal ministry of the Word of God—namely the process which is often referred to as “counseling” (Acts 20:20, 31). The personal ministry of the Word deals with nothing other than intensive discipleship, in order to assist people to find that good teaching also leads to good living to the glory of God.
Join the Conversation
Are we as pastors, elders, counselors, and church leaders pursuing the goal of presenting the sheep who have been entrusted to us as spiritually healthy? Do we recognize the meaning and necessity of the personal ministry of the Word, to really present the people mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28)? Are we, in our walk with the Lord, too easily satisfied with orthodox teaching without a changed life to the glory of God?