Guardians of the whole man

The spiritual health is very closely related to physical well-being. If this is so, those who have the responsibility of caring for people's spiritual health need to be concerned as well about physical health both their own and their congregation s. Indeed, we can never be "whole" in a Biblical sense until we have total health body, mind, and soul.

John S. C. Hsuen, M.D., is a pediatrician and vice-president for medical affairs, at Hongkong Adventist Hospitals. He is also an ordained minister, combining his medical and ministerial roles into a blended ministry to the whole man. This article is adapted from a lecture he delivered to a professional growth seminar sponsored by MINISTRY for clergy in Hong Kong, September, 1982.

As guardians of the spiritual well-being of their congregations, many of the clergy feel little responsibility to guard the physical well-being either of their congregations or even of themselves. Some quote this text of Scripture (although totally out of context) in defense of their attitude: "Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). I hope to convince you in this article that there is a vital relationship between physical health and spiritual well-being.

In the New Testament, the total well-being of an individual is expressed as being "whole." Jesus often asked those He was preparing to heal: "Wilt thou be made whole?" He was referring to the total well-being of the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of one's life. Most of us think that sanctification has to do only with the spiritual nature, but this is not the Biblical view. Paul wrote: "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:23). Total sanctification, then, includes all three of the components of man—body, mind, and soul. John, in his Epistle, recognizes the importance of health in these words, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health" (3 John 2).

The vital link between the spiritual nature and physical health can be readily illustrated. It is through the fine nerves of the brain that we communicate with God. Indeed, spiritual sensitivity is one of the higher functions of the brain. This brain with which we develop and maintain our relationship with God is housed in the physical body and depends on the support system of the body for its survival and normal function. Obviously, then, any impairment of the body functions will ultimately affect the brain. A serious shortage of nutrient, for example, or a crucially decreased oxygen supply may result in the total derangement of the brain's functions, including its spiritual faculty.

But we don't have to go to this extreme to see the effect of the body on the mind. We are all aware of alcohol's impairment of the higher faculties of the mind, such as judgment, self-control, decision-making, and discernment.

"This doesn't apply to me," you may say, "because I don't drink. I don't abuse my system with drugs."

Intemperate living, however, even on a less overt scale, will result in a lowering of general health and will have its effect upon the mind. For example, if you have had to stay up very late some night and get less than your usual amount of sleep, you know what happens the next day. You find yourself not only tired physically but also less alert mentally. You aren't your usual self. You become easily upset; things that normally don't bother you are now intolerable. You find you aren't as patient as usual. Your attention span is shortened. And if you are honest, you'll admit that you are having to try ever so much harder to exercise the Christian graces. All these effects have resulted from the mere lack of needed rest!

To be in good health is not merely to be free from disease. It is to maintain the body at its optimal condition. With all the support systems working at their best, we can expect excellence in the physical functions of the brain with which our spiritual faculty is so closely connected. Without health, no one can as distinctly understand or as completely fulfill his obligations to himself, to his fellow beings, or to his Creator.

What obligations do we have to our Creator in the context of physical well-being? First of all, we belong to Him by creation. The Bible clearly teaches that man was made for God's glory. In honoring God, man fulfills the very purpose of his creation.

Second, we belong to God by redemption. Paul says: "Know ye not. . . ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). We are stewards of God's creation, held accountable to Him for what we do with our bodies. If we fail to take good care of the body He has given us, we may find that we are unable to fulfill the purpose that He has for us. By intemperate living, we may also burn out sooner than we should, thus cutting short the service that we could have otherwise rendered. Living intemperately does not necessarily mean that we indulge in certain obvious health-destroying habits. Intemperate living includes such "respectable" practices as overworking, depriving ourselves of needed rest, not taking time to eat, and not having time to exercise regularly. Because of the work that we are doing as ministers of the gospel, it is easy to excuse ourselves for these infractions. There is so much to be done, so many needs to be met, so many members of the parish to be visited, so many meetings to attend. We are left with very little time for anything else. And because we are doing the "work of God," we almost feel a degree of pride that we are making these "sacrifices" for the cause of God. But I seriously doubt that the Lord requires this type of sacrificial service, which results not only in a less-effective ministry but in a shorter one.

The laws that govern our physical health are as much God's laws as are the Ten Commandments that govern our morality. Both have their origin in God. When God made man of the dust of the ground, He put into every cell and fiber of our physical being the laws that govern the well-being of our bodies. We call these the laws of health. Doctors have not invented these laws. Doctors have merely discovered them through a study of the human body and its functions. Just as the maker of an automobile knows how that car should be maintained to keep it in the best condition for its function, so the Maker of our body knows how it may be best maintained, and He has given us this information in the laws of health. We frown at those who break the moral laws, yet how few of us feel the same way when we break the laws that govern our physical health! Good health is not an arbitrary blessing from God in spite of what we think and often say. Neither are poor health and sickness willful punishments from Him. Galatians 6:7 clearly states the immutable law of cause and effect: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

Just because one is a Christian and a minister, just because one claims to be a child of God, he is not exempt from the ill health and pain that result from breaking the laws of health. On the other hand, one may profess no religious faith and yet enjoy good health as a result of obedience to the laws of his physical well-being. Remember the words of God to Israel in Exodus 15:26: "If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee." In the truest sense, to obey His commandments and to keep all His statutes includes the laws that govern our physical health. When the children of Israel obeyed God's physical laws, the result was recorded in Psalm 105:37: "There was not one feeble person among their tribes."

Dr. Paul Dudley White, personal physician to the late President Dwight Eisenhower, gave the reasons for much of modern man's unhealthfulness in just six words: "Exercise too little; eat too much." Exercise and diet have a pro found impact on physical health, and thus on spiritual well-being.

When God made man, He gave him the work of a gardener so that he might benefit from the physical exercise of caring for the soil and plants. Exercise gives strength to the body and promotes its proper functions. Inactivity invites weakness and disease. Maybe you have noticed (we doctors do so all the time) that if a limb is broken and placed in a cast for a number of weeks, it is appreciably thinner and weaker than the normal one when the cast comes off. Inactivity, necessary for the bone to heal, has caused the limb to atrophy. What is true of a single limb is also true of the entire body. Inactivity is a fruitful cause of disease.

As Dr. White points out, modern man exercises all too little. It seems we almost deliberately try to avoid any kind of exertion. We would rather go by car than walk, even though the distance is only two blocks! Instead of climbing the stairs, we stand on the escalator and let it carry us! I was amused at a sign in a bus in Canada: "Please move to the back. If you are an average Canadian, this is all the exercise you will do for the day." Medical statistics show that the incidence of coronary disease is significantly higher among bus drivers than bus conductors; among post office clerks than the postmen who deliver mail from door to door. The driver and the clerk have relatively little exercise compared to the bus conductor, who must move about even within the small area of the bus, and the postman, who necessarily does much walking in his job.

The benefits of exercise are many. We breathe deeper and faster, resulting in a more efficient exchange of gases through our lungs. The heart beats faster, which quickens the circulation of the blood, thus delivering a fresh supply of oxygen to all parts of the body. Regular exercise strengthens the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the heart muscles. These vessels are capable of enlarging to allow a greater flow of blood in times of greater demand. With a lack of exercise, the blood vessels to the heart muscles become weak and less able to stretch. They are unable to meet oxygen needs in times of stress adequately. If this oxygen lack becomes critical, a heart attack follows.

Exercise also promotes the activity of the muscles and movement of the joints. The total result of exercise is to improve the function of every organ of the body. Mental faculties will function at their best; the powers of the muscles will be strenghtened; digestion will improve. Exercise is one of the antidotes for emotional stress. It also promotes good sleep and helps prevent arthritis, over weight, and early aging.

How to get regular exercise when your schedule is already so hectic—that's the question, isn't it? Here are some simple yet practical suggestions:

1. Plan for it. Take the time. Nothing gets done if you wait until you have the time. You must take time for exercise and plan for it.

2. Look for opportunities to exercise. Walk instead of driving, if the distance is not too great. Climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

3. If possible, exercise by doing constructive work such as gardening or cutting wood. In addition to the physical exercise you receive, you will also have the mental satisfaction of seeing the results of your work.

4. Walking and jogging are two forms of exercise that are accessible to almost anyone without investing in expensive equipment. All you need is a pair of good jogging shoes. Hongkong Adventist Hospital sponsors a running clinic that now has 1,400 members!

The second health principle that Dr. White points out has to do with our food habits. There are a number of common food habits that are detrimental to good health—eating a very small breakfast or no breakfast at all; eating between meals; eating a heavy late-evening meal; eating too much meat and too little vegetables and fruits; a large sugar intake. What specifically is the problem with these practices?

1. Eating a small breakfast or no breakfast at all. Normal fasting blood sugar early in the morning ranges from 90 to 95 mg per 100 ml of blood. When blood-sugar levels drop below 90 mg, one begins to feel lethargic. When the level comes down to 70 mg, the person feels hungry and tired. If the level drops further, to 65 mg, there is a craving for sweets, and if further still, a feeling of increasing fatigue and exhaustion, with such symptoms as headache, weakness, wobbliness, palpitation of the heart, nausea, and vomiting. The brain needs energy from blood sugar. A below-normal blood-sugar level will interfere with the functions of the brain. Thinking slows down and becomes confused. Nerves become tense. One becomes irritable and grouchy, moody, depressed, and generally uncooperative. In extreme cases, a person may even become unconscious.

Here is how this habit of little or no breakfast aggravates the problem of blood-sugar levels. Most people drink a cup of coffee with sugar for breakfast or they eat no breakfast at all, and go off to work. By mid-morning they begin to experience the discomfort of lowered blood sugar, so they eat a snack, usually some sort of dessert with high sugar content. This quickly shoots up the blood sugar, only to drop it shortly, because although refined sugar gives quick energy, the effect is not sustained, as with normal food composed of starch, protein, and fat. People who eat a skimpy breakfast tend to be fitful and inefficient at work, and because of a frequent intake of high-calorie snacks, they are also prone to be overweight.

Physiologically, breakfast should be the largest meal of the day. A good meal at breakfast is an ideal way to provide the energy and strength needed for the day and its activities.

2. Eating between meals. After the regular meal is taken, the stomach should be allowed to rest for at least four or five hours. Not a particle of food should be introduced into the stomach until the next meal. The actual amount eaten between meals may be small. However, the stomach will still go through its entire cycle of digestive process. Thus the stomach has barely done its work when more food is ingested, and it has to start the digestive process all over again. The result? The appetite is impaired at regular mealtime, and we eat less of the nourishing foods we need. Digestion is weakened. The snacks usually eaten between meals are high in calories, which encourages obesity. The stomach, being overworked, is prone to many disorders.

3. A heavy late-evening meal. When one eats a heavy late meal, sleep is often disturbed by bad dreams, and one wakes up in the morning unrefreshed and with little relish for breakfast. Eating a heavy evening meal is also one of the causes of undue weight gain. Usually after the evening meal, people have little exercise. They will probably read the news paper, watch television, and go to bed. The food that is eaten, not being utilized for energy, is converted into fat and stored. A heavy meal in the evening puts a strain on the digestive system. While the body is resting, the stomach continues to work through most of the night. This adds insult to an already weakened digestive system. Ideally, the last meal of the day should be the lightest, and it should be eaten at least four to five hours before bedtime.

4. Too much meat and too little vegetables and fruits. Most people tend to have this imbalance in their diet. Fully grown adults require appreciably smaller amounts of protein. Meat and dairy products have a high cholesterol content, which contributes to the hardening of the arteries. But we need the vitamins and minerals and fibers that are present in vegetables and fruits. A word on fiber: Many diseases of modern man are a result of lack of food fibers. The typical diet of the affluent has too much meat and processed food items and is lacking in the whole grains, vegetables, and fruits that are sources of food fiber. Incidents of constipation, hemorrhoids, appendicitis, and cancers of the bowel are significantly higher statistically among the economically favored.

Too much sugar is also taken in one form or another. This has a harmful effect on the system: tooth caries, excessive weight gain, and impairment of the appetite for normal food. Excessive sugar intake also causes sluggish and inefficient action of the white blood cells—the defense system of the body—making the body more susceptible to infections. High intake of sugar also increases the triglyceride level in the blood, which together with cholesterol can cause hardening of the arteries.

There are three basic rules of eating.

1. Few varieties. One should not have a great variety of foods at one meal, as this encourages overeating and can cause indigestion.

2. Have foods as natural as possible. In nature, the Creator has given man foods with all the essential nutrients packed in the right proportions. As much as possible, shun processed and refined foods, and foods with preservatives and additives. Learn to enjoy whole grains. For example, choose whole wheat brown bread instead of white bread; brown rice instead of polished white rice.

3. Simply prepared. If we could learn to prepare food in a simple and healthful manner, it would be more palatable as well as more wholesome because of its simplicity. The less interference from us, the better. Avoid a lot of seasoning and complicated cooking procedures.

As members of the clergy, we may feel that the physical is outside our area of responsibility. But, like our Master, we need to seek to make men whole. The relationship between body and mind is very close, and one cannot be truly whole who is not whole in body, mind, and spirit. Health, then, is an integral part of religion and an important part of ministry.


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John S. C. Hsuen, M.D., is a pediatrician and vice-president for medical affairs, at Hongkong Adventist Hospitals. He is also an ordained minister, combining his medical and ministerial roles into a blended ministry to the whole man. This article is adapted from a lecture he delivered to a professional growth seminar sponsored by MINISTRY for clergy in Hong Kong, September, 1982.

March 1983

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