Was Jesus a “Fit Athlete”?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” 

Mark 12:30-31

Jesus tells us these are the most important commandments. There is much that has been said about loving God with your whole mind, heart, and soul. This essay will not go into those, rather it will focus on loving God with your whole strength. 

Again, so much has been said regarding this, but I want to address a particular and limited aspect, which is physical strength. 

Role and importance on developing physical strength 

I do not consider myself an athlete, so what gives me the credentials to write about athletics?  Well, my dear wife Teresa and I are the loving parents of twelve children. Our youngest just graduated high school. All our children have been involved in some form of athletics. Sports was never the primary focus of our family, but it did play its part in our kids overall growth and character formation. 


In addition, I was privileged to serve our school’s Board of Trustees for twenty years, part of that time as treasurer and part of the time as the Board’s president. In that capacity I played a role in helping the school develop the existing athletic program. Our PreK through 12th grade school, Koinonia Academy, in Plainfield, New Jersey was founded in 1984 to support parents in raising their children in Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Our founder, Bob Gallic, along with our founding deans, had a vision to offer what was most important and yet lacking in the schools around us, to raise saints for discipleship and for heaven. The school is a mission of the People of Hope, a charismatic covenant community founded in 1979. 

In recent years, the school has embraced Classical Education, which aligns perfectly with our founding vision. From the very beginning our school’s focus was to prepare children for “life” to meet challenges, resist the world, the flesh and evil and to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Many primary and secondary schools focus first on preparing children for college. What we have found at Koinonia is that by putting emphasis first on life, on becoming responsible adults and Christians they are better equipped for college, enter directly into the workforce, or attend a trade school. 

Over the 40 years of the school’s existence, local employers have sought out our students for summer and after-school jobs. Colleges recognize Koinonia as a school where alumni have excelled at the University level. All this is to say that athletics plays a role in the overall development of the person. To be clear, athletics is only a part of the overall character development we are trying to instill in the students. It is fair to say, however, that it has proven to be an important piece of what we are doing. 

I would like to go through three points in this essay.

  • Why are athletics important and what perspective should we have as we consider athletes. Is there a purpose to athletics?
  • My personal experience. 
  • Was Jesus an athlete? 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘athlete’ this way:

Athlete: a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.

Middle English, from Latin athleta, from Greek athlētēs, from athlein to contend for a prize, from athlon prize, contest. 

My family background in athletics

Using the first definition (a person who is trained or skilled in exercises …), I can say my dad was an athlete. He excelled as a baseball catcher. He once bowled a 298 which back in the day was a real big deal. In the 1930’s he caddied at the local Country Club and so was able to play on Monday caddie days from time to time. After not playing for 30 years, he went out with a friend and posted a score in the seventies. (I like to think that skill was passed down to our son Pat who is an excellent golfer.) My dad was not a big man, short and thin but there was a lot of natural strength and skill packed in that body. 

Again, using the first definition several of my children are athletes. They train and are skilled. My daughter regularly runs marathons, in her lasted run, in May of 2024, she posted a time of 3.8 Hours in Copenhagen and her husband Cedric posted 2.44 Hours. Two of my children are physical trainers, three of our girls have been captains on the KA field hockey teams and all the boys are basketball players and regularly get to the courts at family gatherings. 

As for me, that first definition of an athlete comes up just a bit short. The problem is that it includes the word “skilled.”  I have not considered myself skilled in a particular sport. I did run Cross Country in High School and was not bad but wasn’t great either. It was the only real “team” sport I played. 

‘To contend for a prize’

The second definition (from the Greek word for athlete) seems a better fit for me. It is simply to “contend for a prize.” When I was growing up in the 1960’s & 70’s, there were three categories of kids.  The ones that got involved in sports teams, the ones that got involved in scouting, and the few who did both. I fell into the scouting category, and I must say I excelled in that environment. Later when Koinonia Academy began in 1984, we leaned toward the Scouting model. In a certain way it was a team or troop sport and from time to time we competed against other troops at Camporees and Klondike Derbies. Because of demographics, and a shift in Scouting’s vision we dropped our Scouting program. At that time KA was limited to Intramural Sports, inside the walls. In other words, we did not compete against other schools, but our students did have some robust competition among themselves. 

With Scouting no longer an option we entered the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and started competing with other schools, beginning with Basketball and Field Hockey.  For the past three years we have added golf, which is a spring sport that we can easily schedule around our annual Choir Tour. Personally, I hope that as the school grows, we can again sponsor some kind of Scouting or Camping Club, this would offer a wider range, or other option, to help our students grow in body, mind, and spirit. Still, things are changing fast, and we have to keep our eye on what is evolving.  We stepped back from Scouting because of their change in overall vision, we also need to keep an eye on our local national and state sports associations.  We should be cautious about where sports programs within countries and states are going.  We may find ourselves in a situation where we must form our own associations with like-minded parents and schools. 

Other types of athletic activities

So, what is the point of all this? As I was preparing this essay, I realized that if I include hiking, back-packing, swimming, and canoeing as sports then I could consider myself as a genuine athlete! We need to appreciate who God made us to be, each with unique gifts. He wants us to excel and use the gifts He has given us to grow in wisdom and stature before God and men. Luke 2:52.  He wants our lives to be a witness to Himself but also a witness to how He uniquely made each of us. 

Do not compare – be grateful for your God-given gifts and skills

If I compare myself to my son Pat’s particular skills in golf and basketball, I will think of myself as a loser. At my absolute best I would never have been as good as Pat at basketball or golf. On the other hand, when I was at my best, I was a better swimmer, canoer, and camper than Pat. Those things have brought real joy in my life and helped me to strive to follow God and raise a family. Do not compare, be grateful! Do your best with the gifts and skills God has given you. 

This is what sports should be all about. The Boy Scout oath, which sounds a lot like those greatest commandments, sums it up well.   

Boy Scout Oath

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To always help other people;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Not all of us were scouts but we can all take the essential points of the oath and make it part of our own personal mission. We could say something like this:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey His law;
To always help other people;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

So, although I stated that this essay is simply about one aspect of the Greatest Commandment, we see in life something most of us have experienced, that is, that when each part of the Commandment, to love God with our whole, heartmindsoul, and strength, work together they each contribute to the other.  If I am determined to love God with my whole mind it is easier to love Him with my whole heart, and if I love God with my whole strength is easier to love Him with my whole mind or as the Boy Scout oath puts it to keep mentally awake. 

It is amazing to see God’s gifts and skills exhibited in God’s greatest Creation, us! We are made, after all, in His image and likeness.  When those gifts are working well in us it is like Poetry or a Dance, often in motion. The Olympics are coming up this summer and we will be in awe that human beings can perform in such a spectacular way. We do not necessarily see all the challenging work, the literal blood, sweat and tears that went into developing these God given skills. 

Witness to God’s Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

There is a lesson here. We need to recognize the unique gifts and skills God has bestowed on us and be willing to put our all into developing them. So, in our life, even in our bodies we can exhibit or witness His Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to the world. When our focus is on God, we more easily see the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in those around us, great teachers, architects, doctors, landscapers, plumbers, and clergy are just some examples. We need to see these gifts not to compare but to appreciate.  

Importance of ‘Re-Creation’

There is another purpose or goal of athletics and again I want to put this in a wide category, recreation.  Sports, hiking, camping, swimming, even working in the garden are there not only to compete for a prize but to simply recreate or Re-Create. When life gets burdensome, we need to step back and recharge. This is helpful to know especially when I am on the golf course, “I am here not just to compete but to recreate.”  Physical activity can help us recharge. 

Was Jesus a “fit athlete”?

So, was Jesus and athlete? I think so.  Let me glean from some short passages in Scripture to make the case.

So, first, athletic prowess was in His DNA. 

“As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it…

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.”

 1 Samuel 17:4 & 48-49

David, certainly trusted in God and trusted that God would act but he was also physically fit. As a shepherd he protected the sheep from the lion and the bear, grabbing them “by the beard and slaying them.”  1Sam.17:34-35 David was agile, eluding the spear of Saul in close quarters         1 Sam.18:11.  He became proficient in swordsmanship. We can make an assumption that these athletic skills were passed down through the generations, particularly if we find evidence of them in Jesus Himself.  

Did David’s DNA find its way to Jesus? What about His athleticism?

“And from there (Gennesaret) he arose and went away to the region of Tyre ….  And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.  But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.  ……. Then he left from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.   Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon, to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.”  

Mark 7:24-31

What do we know from these lines? First Jesus is with His disciples, and He does not want to be known. He goes first to Tyre, a shore town on the Mediterranean and when He is discovered there, He goes on to another beautiful shore town Sidon. Here He is finally off the radar. Now He can truly recreate or retreat with His disciples. With a little imagination, we can see Him swimming or walking on the beach, watching the sun rise, maybe even doing a little fishing.  From there He goes into the hills and here, in the southern part of Lebanon, the cedar forests still existed.  He proceeds down past Mt Hermon. Again, with our imagination we can see Him, after climbing the mountain, singing Psalm 133 with His friends.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
    running down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life for evermore.”

Psalm 133

Finally, they return to the Sea of Galilee and the Region of the Decapolis.  

On this map, if we begin at Gennesaret and end at the Sea of Galilee Jesus and His disciples “hiked” at least 180 miles, most of it off the radar. At a leisurely pace of 10-12 miles a day that would take a minimum of 2-3 weeks. The hike would have taken them through the coast land and up into the mountains. Putting myself in that situation, four natural things would have been happening in my body. My muscles would have stretched, building up my physical stamina and endurance. My endorphins would have been stimulated, decreasing stress, and making for a better night’s sleep. I would have built close relationships with those who took on this challenge with me.

Lastly, I would have grown in appreciation for God’s impressive creation. That would have helped me to be re-created.  All of this would have helped me to fulfill my mission in life, to keep going to re-charge so I could complete what the Lord has called me to do. I am sure it was that for Jesus and for the apostles. I am sure that Jesus and His disciples were physically fit. Jesus worked as a carpenter with hand tools.  No electric drills, saws, or planers. Many of the apostles were fishermen, another physically demanding occupation. They stayed fit by traveling on foot throughout the Holy Land. All of this would have prepared Jesus for His ultimate Mission, the ultimate Prize, His ultimate Victory. He was able to physically endure the Passion, carrying the Cross for the redemption of our sins.  

Let me have a little fun, hopefully without being irreverent, and ask the question, was Jesus a skilled athlete? I mentioned how awesome it will be to watch the athletes this summer in the Olympics. They will exhibit grace and a kind of poetry in motion. 

How about this witness of Jesus athletic skill and how He exhibited it for the Glory of God? 

“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, by the waves, for the wind was against them.  And in the fourth watch of the night, he came to them, walking on the sea.  But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came to Jesus.” 

Mark 14:22-35

We have not seen the sport “walking on water” in the Olympics yet but maybe someday. After all Peter, who was just one of us, did it even for only a few minutes. As a purely human he holds the world record. Jesus was after all was both God and man, so we need to put an Asterix* next to His name in the record books. When I think of heaven, I sometimes imagine myself walking on the water, diving in off a high wave and coming up again on top. It will be a blast. Poetry and dance in motion

So, let me try to sum up with five points. 

  1. Broaden your view of what an athlete is, more than school sports, any mostly physical activity that helps us to be fit and learn to push beyond what we think we can do.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to other’s skills and gifts but appreciate their gifts and most especially recognize and be grateful for the unique skill sets God has bestowed on you!
  3. If we keep ourselves physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
    We will be more able to do our best, To do our duty to God, and to Love Him and our neighbors at all times.
  4. To See Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in those around us, teachers, architects, doctors, landscapers, plumbers, clergy, not to compare but to appreciate. 
  5. Sports, hiking, camping, swimming, even working in the garden are there not only to compete for a prize but to simply recreate Re-Create. When life gets burdensome, we need to step back and recharge. Physical activity can help us here. Jesus did this and so should we. 

Image credits:

top image: Jesus walking with his disciples on the road to other villages, AI generated artwork created © by Edner Denale, source seaart.ai.

2nd and 3rd photos of family wedding and golf outing courtesy of Brian Murray. 

Biblical map illustration: from https://www.bible.ca/maps/

1 thought on “Was Jesus a “Fit Athlete”?”

  1. Thank you Brian for this beautiful inspiring essay. Being a sportsman ( with an athletic mind), I naturally see myself as an athletic disciple running the race, my eyes fixed on the prize , Jesus prepared for all who complete the race. Physical, mental and moral strength all nurture each other, in our complex being.

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