This last third of the oath is further split between our duties to “maintain” our bodies, minds and spirit.
Without fulfilling our duty to self, we undermine our ability to “help other people at all times” and follow through on our higher responsibilities such as our duty to country and duty to God.
The simple explanation is, “If I can not take care of myself, I am of little use in taking care of others.” In fact, if I can not take care of myself, I may become a burden for others.
Looking at it another way – we must take care to not only avoid becoming a burden to others, but we should work to develop what we might call “excess capacity” – the ability to take care of ourselves while also having the energy, skills and desire to help address the burdens of other people, too.
A book called “The Scout Law in Practice” by Arthur Astor Carey (published in 1915) states; “A strong body, an alert mind, and a pure, unselfish will are the things which this part of the oath promises to cultivate to the greatest possible extent. The three things belong together, because the body is the outermost part of a man; the mind is contained in the body, in the sense that it works through the brain; and the will or spirit is the inmost part of the man, or his very center, which lives forever, in which his deepest purposes come into being, and by which he may keep in communication with the will of God. Thus we see that these three promises are really one promise, …”
Why do we have bodies? It may sound like an odd question since we’re born with a body, but one reason could be that God gave us bodies to transport our spirit and the Holy Spirit while walking the earth:
- 1 Cor 6:19-20 – Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
I’ve heard our pastor call our bodies “earth suits” – kind of like a “space suit” contains our physical body in the harsh environment of space, our “earth suits” contain our spiritual/mental selves in the environment of the physical world. (Deep, huh?)
Our duty to care for our bodies is both implicit in our duty to God and explicitly revealed in the Bible through rules for living. Can you think of some of these references?
It’s interesting to read in the Psalms how sinning, rebelling against God’s plan and directions can have a direct affect on our bodies:
- Ps 31:9-10 – Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress. Tears blur my eyes. My body and soul are withering away. I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within.
- Ps 32:3-6 – When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Interlude Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
Working out to build muscle, reduce excess weight or “flab” are important. Bad habits that place us at risk of injury or illness (i.e. smoking, drinking, riding a cycle without a helmet, etc.) should be avoided. Learning to be prepared for first aid emergencies, dealing with extreme weather and other emergencies are also part of being physically strong – being able to take care of your body in all circumstances.
This has to do with exercising your mind to keep sharp or focused on your daily tasks. This also includes making plans such as planning for upcoming camping trips, being prepared for possible problems like knowing what to do if a scout becomes injured while on a trip.
The second part about being “awake” can also be a spiritual focus. Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to your are spirit and life.” Reading and memorizing God’s word, meditating on the promises of God, and learning more about what it means to be a Christian gives us life – it wakes us up to the reality that God is active in our lives and has a plan for each one of us. Are you seeking God through his word in order to be awake, or are you sleeping your life away?
Most importantly, the word of God shows us the way to eternal life. Consider that five verses later, in John 6:68, Peter says “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” While it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that enables us to be sanctified and secured for eternal life, our faith must be practiced and we will seek to act on our faith.
And Morally straight…
Morally = adverb. Straight = adjective. Noun = ME.
- Morally – dealing with principles of right and wrong behavior; conforming to a standard of right behavior.
- Straight – free from curves, bends or irregularities; lying along or holding to a direct or proper course or method; coming from a trustworthy source; having the elements in an order; exhibiting honesty and fairness; correct; marked by no exceptions or deviations in support for a principle; not deviating from an indicated pattern of what is accepted as usual, normal or proper.
Put it all together and you’ve got a recipe for living in a consistent manner:
- As a scout, I will not bend or deviate from the ideals of scouting to which I’ve pledged my honor.
- The ideals of scouting are subordinate to my duty to God and Country (I begin with what I have been taught about God’s rules and the rules of the my state government, but then progress to the Scout Law, etc.)
- To the extent that I do make a bad choice, I will submit to the authorities, correct the situation/make restitution, and try my best to live correctly from that point forward.
For our troop families, we take our principles from the Scriptures [Note: You don’t have to be Christian to be a scout, but in our troop, our families share a Christian faith so we explore how scouting ideals and Christian ideals may share parallels). Therefore, our recipe for living in a consistent manner may look slightly different:
- I will not bend or deviate from the central truths of scripture as a Christian (Duty to God comes first).
- My moral dealings will be consistent and based on a foundation of principles delivered from God.
- I recognize the authority of the state government in it’s role to deliver, enforce and test laws of society where they don’t conflict with scriptures. Where they do, I’ll prayerfully seek to have them changed or reversed through appropriate legal actions.
- Scouting ideals cover any moment-by-moment situations that are not already addressed by scripture or state derived laws.
- If scouting ideals are changed to conflict with my duty to God, I may seek to have those issues changed or reversed. Ultimately, I may separate myself from BSA if the issue is irreconcilable (God comes first, and I will not bend or deviate from His principles delivered to us through scriptures).
To the extent that I do make a bad choice, I will submit to the pertinent authorities (God, state, scouts, etc.), correct the situation/make restitution, and try my best to live correctly from that point forward. (1 John 1:9 (NASB) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.)
The real challenge for us as scouts is to follow those principles on a daily basis.
We need to demonstrate that our principles have meaning and value and that we choose to live by them. As A. A. Carey stated in his book “…and the will or spirit is the inmost part of the man, or his very center, which lives forever, in which his deepest purposes come into being, and by which he may keep in communication with the will of God.” What does that ‘inmost part’ of you look like to other people? You show them a glimpse through your actions.
Interestingly, the Bible talks about avoiding false prophets by looking at their fruit (actions, not words) since the consequences of being misled have eternal consequences:
- Matthew 7: 15-23 – “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
- Luke 6:43-45 (New International Version) – “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
What sort of fruit is borne by your choices, attitude and actions? Are your actions consistent with your principles?
Are you working to develop spare capacity to help others, or building up muscles to give you power over other people (i.e. by becoming a bully)? Are you developing your mind in order to be prepared to act in emergencies when others stand idly by wishing they knew what to do? Or are you mainly focused on beating your friend’s best “high score” on a game? Do you develop your knowledge of the scriptures to “win arguments” with your fellow Christians about rules, or to fulfill the great commission?
Ultimately, my point isn’t about video games, muscle building, or learning sound doctrine to better understand your faith principles – it’s that you have to exercise a choice and decide WHY you pursue the pledge to be “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight”.
I hope you make your “Duty to Self” to be focused on how you can benefit others. In doing so, you’ll still gain the immediate benefits of a strong body, mind and spirit, but you’ll be doing it with a selfless (instead of selfish) perspective.