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The more abundant life

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Archives / 2004 / July

 

 

The more abundant life

Peter Landless
Peter Landless, M.Med., is associate director for health ministries of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

 

Seventh-day Adventist Statement of Faith #21, Christian Behavior: "We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with the principles of heaven. For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involved ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well. Instead, we are to engage in what ever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness. (Rom. 12:1; 2; 1 John 2:6; Eph. 5:1-21; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 6:14-7:1; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:31; Lev. 11:1-47; 3 John 2.)

The interaction between behavior and outcome, cause and effect, compliance and reward has been debated since the founding of Christianity, and even before. The disciples questioned Jesus regarding the man who had been blind from birth: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus' answer reprimanded the curious, and judgmental, disciples. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:2, 3, NIV).

Is behavior, then, not important? What about the injunction of Paul: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble" (1 Cor. 10:31, 32, NIV).

And didn't Jesus Himself encourage His disciples to reveal their love for Him by a distinct Gode of conduct? "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15, NIV). "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me" John 14:21, NIV).

How easy it is to emphasize the behavioral aspects of Christian living and debate the details of what we should eat, drink, wear, read, listen to ... and so forth. In the New Testament, the Pharisees, of course, were depicted as the archetypical model of this form of religion. Some of them even practiced the behavioral approach to the extent of praying publicly on the streets.

But Jesus brings this sort of legalistic self-improvement into immediate perspective when He says, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20, NIV).

But what about Paul? Was he, after his Damascus Road experience, just a more learned protagonist of righteous ness by works; was he still clinging to the behavioral lifebuoy when he wrote, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31)? Certainly not. And the key disclaimer to salvation through our own good behavior is embodied in the words "to the glory of God."

Our body temple

Not only in this instance does Paul resonate with the teaching of Jesus as described in John 9 (that the work of God may be displayed, i.e., God be glorified), but on at least three occasions Paul refers to the human body as the temple of God and says that His Spirit lives in that temple (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16).

Jesus referred to His own body when He said, "'Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days!'... But the temple He had spoken of was His body" (John 2:19, 21, NIV).

Paul further expands on this theme with these words: "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body." Because of the precious blood that was spilled in our stead, we are exhorted to pay homage to God in how we treat our bodies, and also in what we eat, drink, and in all our behavior(s) to glorify our Creator and Savior.

This injunction includes intention, attitude, and actions. Jesus enhances this call to live for God by providing us with the empowerment to do so. This way of life will be possible when based on a living relationship with Him that is bonded in love. Through an inner knowledge of Him, we will learn to love Him; as we freely love Him, we will find ourselves compelled and empowered to serve Him. All aspects of behavior and being will then be under His control.

Jesus and the whole person

Toward the end of his life, John addressed Gaius the elder: "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well" (3 John 2, NIV).

John implies here that physical well being may influence spirituality and vice-versa. He had witnessed Jesus' activities involving the whole person, the healing of the soul never far from the healing of the body. Perhaps in later years, when John wrote this, he relived the indescribable fellowship of an early morning breakfast of fish and bread prepared by the nail-pierced hands of his Savior.

He may further have reminisced, with tender recollection, Jesus' empathetic attention to detail after raising Jairus' daughter from the dead; when the Bread of Life "told them to give her something to eat" (Mark 5:43, NIV). No doubt he remembered, too, the miraculous feeding of thousands, where Jesus again revealed His concern for people's physical well-being.

Jesus' involvement with the whole person is prosaically described in the opening paragraphs of The Ministry of Healing: "Our Lord Jesus Christ came to this world as the unwearied servant of man's necessity. He 'took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses,' that He might minister to every need of humanity" Matt. 8:17. The burden of disease and wretchedness and sin He came to remove. It was His mission to bring to men complete restoration; He came to give them health and peace and perfection of character."1

Jesus spent large proportions of his time healing the sick. Matthew reports that "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (Matt. 4:23, NIV).

Single-handedly, the Great Physician practiced and demonstrated the spirituality of health and blended healing, teaching, praying, and preaching. He pressed on, saying, "We must do the work of him who sent me" (John 9:4, NIV).

The healings performed by Jesus addressed body, mind, and spirit. He not only healed physical maladies but addressed the forgiveness of sin and relief from guilt. He affirmed and called out the spiritual faith of those who approached him for physical healing. Their physical need was His opportunity to inspire and engender their faith.

He advised changes in life values and admonished those healed to turn away from sin.

Jesus emphasized the importance of wholeness. He recognized the vital interaction of body, mind, and spirit.

This is also an emphasis reflected in the Old Testament: "fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands. . .and so that you may enjoy long life" (Deut. 6:2, NIV).

Jesus subsequently reinforces this wholeness of purpose required in loving God: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30, NIV). In the latter exhortation, there is a graphic description of all facets of our being and behavior. This is a theme reflected in other places, where Jesus' ministry is recorded (Matt. 22:37; Luke 10:27).

The concept of loving and caring for others is connected to this commandment and introduces the importance of social support in wholeness and well being: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31, NIV).

Modern health science and the concept of wholeness

It was only toward the latter quarter of the twentieth century that the World Health Organization emphasized a more holistic view of health. Today this concept is included in their definition of health. This definition says that health is not to be defined only as the absence of physical disease, but that mental and emotional well-being are essential to wellness.

Modern science is showing that people who practice religious beliefs and also are involved with the welfare of others have enhanced immune function.2 Religious involvement and spirituality have been associated with a decrease in cardiovascular disease and hypertension; improved mental health; and less depression and anxiety, sub stance abuse, and suicide.3

Even among the foremost researchers on spirituality and health, varying definitions of spirituality exist. Harold Koenig refers to spirituality as "the personal quest for understanding answers to ultimate questions about life, about meaning, and about relationship to the sacred or transcendent, which may (or may not) lead to or arise from the development of religious rituals and the formation of community."4

A more succinct and less unwieldy description of spirituality is "the opening of every part of life to the presence of God."5 This latter working definition encompasses body, soul, heart, mind, and strength comprehensively.

Wholeness in brokenness

At creation there was perfection and wholeness. Since sin's entry, this perfection has been eroded, and many suffer physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Job, despite all his mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles, "did not sin by charging God" (Job 1:22, NIV). Paul pleaded three times for his particular "thorn in the flesh" to be removed, but instead of physical healing for his "brokenness," he received a special kind of wholeness: "My grace is sufficient for you," he was told by the Lord, "for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9, NIV).

No wonder Paul could say, "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (verse 10). This encouragement is particularly meaningful to those who, despite faith, prayer, and medical intervention, still suffer with chronic diseases. Paul here reflects the spirituality that opens every part of life to the presence of God.

This same spirituality has been seen in various people: Fanny Crosby, who— though blind—wrote of a wonderful assurance and friendship in Jesus; Helen Keller, who overcame the obstacles of blindness and deafness—not through healing—but achieving wholeness in brokenness; Joni Eriksen-Tada, who continues to thank God for her quadriplegia, and sings His praises and reaches out to the disabled.

Health: not an end in itself

Eating and drinking healthfully, having sufficient exercise, living in moderation and modesty, etc. do not of themselves achieve wholeness. God's strength is made perfect in weakness. This is providential, so that we cannot boast in our own strength or works; it helps us remember that physical health, although desirable, is a means to an end, not the end in itself. This is where the Pharisees of Jesus' day, and their modern-day counterparts, falter and fail.

Christ's promise, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10) can still be a reality even among the most physically broken. Health is not a right in this life. As important as wellness is, Jesus emphasized an important balance: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Matt. 10:38, NIV).

God's instructions on health

Early in the Old Testament, God saw fit to give His people instructions on healthful living, including diet and living cleanly. The Levitical laws were to be preventive and distinctive.

As early as 1863, Ellen White counseled the fledgling Seventh-day Adventist Church on healthful living. The outstanding feature of her initial message was the "relation between physical welfare and spiritual health, or holiness."6 Throughout her life, she was the channel of information that fashioned the church's philosophy and emphasis on health.

Long before medical evidence emerged on the extreme dangers of smoking, Ellen White spoke out strongly on this and other issues, including the use of alcohol and poisonous medications such as arsenicals and mercury based drugs.

The drinking of tea and coffee and the use of stimulants was very strongly discouraged, as—ultimately—was the use of flesh food. Mrs. White promoted a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet as the most desirable. In addition, the use of fresh, clean water (inside and out), clean air, adequate exercise and rest, temperance, faith, appropriate sunshine exposure, integrity, and social support were strongly encouraged.

Time magazine reported the positive outcome of the first Adventist Health Study, describing the results as the "Adventists' Advantage."7,8 This study revealed that in the general Adventist population there was significant reduction in most cancers and in cirrhosis of the liver.

Subsequent studies have shown a significant increase in longevity in those living the Adventist lifestyle. The results of metanalyses have been so compelling that $19 million has been allocated to conduct Adventist Health Study II, with a special emphasis on the differences in malignancies between Adventists and the general population.

More important than living a few years longer is the injunction to "do the works of him who sent me [Jesus]" (John 9:4, NIV). God has given us, through varied sources, consistent guidance on how we can be healthy, happy, and holy. This health and wellness is to be channeled into His service. We are, indeed, blessed to live in a time when science continues to affirm and confirm the instructions given Seventh-day Adventists. History and the universe will judge us on how we apply the knowledge and benefits.

"Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful" (2 Chron. 20:20, NIV).

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1 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1905), 17.

2 Paul S. Mueller, David J. Plevak, and Teresa A. Rummans, "Religious Involvement, Spirituality, and Medicine: Implications for Clinical Practice," in Mayo Clinic Proc., 2001; 76:1225-1235.

3 Ibid.

4 Harold G. Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, and David Larson, Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2001).

5 Benjamin C Maxson, "The Missing Connection," Dynamic Steward, October-December 2003, 7:4.

6 D. E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Pub. Assn., 1965).

7 Time magazine, October 28, 1966, 68.

8 Gary E. Eraser, Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease: Studies of Seventh-day Adventists and Other Vegetarians (Oxford University Press, 2003).

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