Should Christian Men be Physically Strong?


It used to be a tradition for travelers in Switzerland to bring home clusters of the edelweiss flower. This flower is not prized for its beauty or fragrance, but rather as a symbol of courage and victory in the face of challenging conditions.

The edelweiss grows at lofty altitudes in the Alps and Pyrenees mountains, where few other plants can survive, clinging to crags of cliffs with almost no soil. It is arguably the strongest flower on earth. As a result, the edelweiss becomes the symbol of strength which endures hardness, which is victorious amid extreme circumstances, and which rises superior in the face of obstacles.

The Expectation of Strength and Its Sacred Use

The man who has never known a hardship, who never has had to practice self-denial or make a personal sacrifice, may be the envy of other men whose lives have been one continued struggle. They may think that if they could have had his easy circumstances they could have accomplished more in life. But the truth is, their life has actually been quite good. Manhood is made in the field of struggle and hardship, not in ways of ease and luxury. Obstacles are opportunities. Difficulty is a the university for manhood.

Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength.” Yet it is not easy to be strong—it is easier to be weak and lazy. It is easier for the boy in school to avoid the sprints, the weight lifting, and the physical conditioning of his body. It is easier for him not to work hard in his studies. It is easier, when something makes him irritable, to burst into uncontrolled anger. It’s easier to go along with other boys when they’re about to do something dishonest than it is to stand up and say, “I can’t participate in this wickedness against God.” It is easier to be weak—than to be strong. It is easier to be quiet—than to speak up. But we know where weakness leads in the end—misery, shame, and regret.

Few things are impossible for young men. General Armstrong said, “Doing what can’t be done, is the glory of living.” Anybody can do the easy things, the things that can be done. A young man whose aspirations are limited to what he already knows he can achieve will never reach great heights. The General once posed a question: “What purpose do Christians serve in the world, if not to achieve the impossible with God’s strength?” Similarly, Jesus taught that with faith, we can move mountains, signifying the ability to accomplish feats beyond human strength, as faith connects us to the power of God, who works through us with His omnipotence.

God expects a great deal of those who are strong. He does not expect much of babies, of invalids, of paralytics, or of feeble-minded people of this world; but young men have in them vast possibilities of power. Is it manly not to use this power for God—for truth, for service? One of the most pitiful things the stars look down upon, is a young man with fine gifts, with strength, with love, with genius, able to do honorable work—yet wasting all his possibilities in some form of debased living. Strength is God’s gift to young men, and should be used in worthy ways—to neglect such a privilege is sin.

Physical strength is not everlasting. Let it not wither and shrivel away. Do not spit it out in a napkin of excuse and idleness. This extraordinary strength, residing within your hands, your minds, and your hearts, is sacred—it is a gift of God’s own glory bestowed upon men. It is divine in nature. It should be used only in ways that will honor the King. We should not answer every call to pour out our strength, nor draw our sword in every cause of anger. We should keep our life sacred for our Master and for the causes that are dear to Him.

Men of all ages are exhorted continually in the Scriptures to be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13 says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” Christ is strong, and we are to be like Him. We need to be strong in order to stand firm and true in the midst of the fray of life and to do our duty faithfully and without sin. But how can we be strong? We need the strength of God in our arms, to make us equal to the stress of duty and responsibility that we meet as men. How can we get this strength? By two means:

First, is to exhaust your body and submit yourself to voluntary hardship. Do hard things. Grow the force of your body to the glory of God. Second, is prayer. Prayer is linking our little life to God when His grace and power will flow into our weak souls, minds, and emotions. Another source of strength lies in fellowship with Christ. Moses understood this truth well, as evidenced by the statement that he “endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” It’s a disservice to ourselves when we fail to seek Christ’s assistance in our challenges and tasks. Even the companionship of a strong human friend can offer encouragement and support, enhancing our lives and urging us towards bravery and loyalty, enabling us to achieve victory. Just recently, a friend traveled a long distance to seek support during a severe temptation, expressing, “If I can have you pray for me and offer words of encouragement for just a few moments, I’ll be able to resist.” Even human presence alone often guides one through perilous situations and instills strength to prevail. The presence of Christ, however, offers infinitely more strength when we find ourselves in moments of weakness.

It is told of the widow of Robert Schumann, the great German composer, and pianist, that whenever she was going to play any of her husband’s music in public, she would read over some of his old letters to her, written in the days of their young love. She expressed how reading those letters made her feel as if his essence filled and possessed her, enabling her to understand and interpret his work more deeply. If we read over Christ’s words of love and truth, His life enters into us, and His spirit breathes itself into our lives—then we can be brave and strong in resisting evil and doing His will.

The Growth of Manhood

Another way to think of men is their relationship to trees. For example, no tree starts tall, full-branched, fruit-covered—but is first only a seed, then a shoot, then a sapling, and finally a tree. It is always growing into greater and more influential proportions. Though some trees can live for three thousand years—every year has its own circle of growth. When it ceases to grow—then it ceases to live.

In the same way, a man’s body grows. Beginning with the helplessness of infancy, and developing into strong and vigorous masculinity. The same is true with a man’s mind. All the capacity of mental faculties, of thought, will, and feeling—are folded up in the infant—like the seed of a great tree. It is the work of a true education and catechism to draw out and train these faculties, which are capable of almost limitless expansion and development, and which will drive the truth of God into the minds of humanity.

Then there is still a higher life—the life of the soul. And no character is complete without its soul-growth. This is the aspect of our existence that bears the brunt of the curse brought about by the fall. Our spiritual nature has been blasted by sin. Not until the blood of redemption flows into the soul—is there life there. Grace has provided for the revival of these lifeless branches. Every soul joined to Christ by faith experiences life. And where there is spiritual life, there is also spiritual growth.

Many men thrive physically, with robust growth in their lower nature, while their higher, spiritual selves languish and wither. Like trees that spread wide shade, they offer worldly prosperity while neglecting spiritual nourishment. Their lower branches reached far out and were covered with leaves, giving the tree the appearance of great prosperity. But when I have looked up toward the top, I have seen only a bare, dead, branchless, leafless trunk, rising above the greenness like the mast of a ship.

And that is a picture of many lives. In all that concerns the body or the mind—in all the lower branches of like—there is great prosperity. They are prosperous in the lower or worldly sphere. They put forth great branches, spread themselves out wide, and send their life-blood pulsing through great business establishments and enterprises, or through whole communities, cities, states, or nations.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having great influence in the world. In fact, Christ calls us to disciple the nations and teach them everything He commanded. As men, we are to be influential, engaged, and impactful. But we are not to be lopsided. We are not to have our influence be of no spiritual significance.

We do not want to be the men who have marvelous growth and development—but all of that growth low and close to the earth. Our aim is not to make a great show of prosperity before the world. It’s not to have men come and rest in the shadow of our great spreading branches of worldliness, and eat of that fruit.

Because for those men, when you turn your eyes up to the higher parts of their lives—you see nothing but bare death. Bare trunks with no leaves or fruit. They are a counterfeit. Successful in winning the world while losing their souls. They are not fit to lead, transform, or conquer because they themselves are failures of the highest degree. Only the man submitted to Christ with the Gospel in hand can truly lead and transform the world. Do not follow these godless and ghastly men who boast of luxury but are nothing but a mirage of greatness.

The Priority of Spiritual Growth

As mentioned before, it is good for a man to develop his physical nature, to draw out its strength, and lay it on the altar for God. It is well to educate the mind, to train its power for the highest possible uses. Every man is responsible for the development and use of all the faculties God has lodged in his being.

But above both body and mind—is man’s soul. It is the crown of manhood. It is the part of our being that is nearest to Heaven, which makes us most like God, and which contains the seed of our future eternal growth toward glory. It is on this part of the tree that faith, hope, love, meekness, humility, patience, and all the Christian graces grow. It is at the top, where the Master looks for fruit.

And what does it matter then, that a man has the most wondrous growth and development in the lower branches of his life—if he is dead at the top? What does it matter that body and mind are clothed in luxury and applause—if the soul is starved and prepared for hell?

Men should look at their souls as often as they look at their bodies. No man is strong an complete who is leafless, fruitless, and dead at its peak. But the man who is crowned with foliage and fruit in the summit of his soul shall be crowned with unfading glory in Heaven!

Originally written as an essay on manhood in 1904 by J.R. Miller. Modernized and updated by Dale Partridge.

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