Do you not know that your bodies are temples 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 bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
“Don’t smoke! Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!”
“Eat organic! Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!”
“Dress modestly! Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!”
I’ve heard Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians framed almost exclusively in terms of behavioral prohibitions. The people who discipled me as a new believer were of the “Don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t go with boys who do” conservative arm of the Evangelical movement. There was alcohol served at my wedding reception, and I remember fretting a bit about what my church friends would think of this. Most families in the congregation wouldn’t set foot in a movie theater unless the flick was a G-rated Disney film – and eventually, with concerns about the nefarious social agenda and witchcraft-friendly plotlines of many of those movies, even Bambi and Dumbo moved to the “no” category for some in our circles back then. And I knew a few who wouldn’t use a regular deck of playing cards as they were associated with gambling. Uno was the game of choice for these folks.
As a result of this this approach, I assumed glorifying God with my body was nothing more than using a bit of stoic self-control. I got the message that my body was nothing more than a biodegradable container for my heart, soul, and mind. I would have been horrified if someone had charged me with the heresy of gnosticism, but the truth was I functioned with a low-level modern Christian-y version of the gnosticism for years.* The body was far less important to my spiritual life than the heart, soul, and mind. The closest I got to thinking maybe I’d gotten it wrong was watching the movie Chariots of Fire, and hearing athlete Eric Liddell utter those famous words, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure”. That might have been OK for him, but the idea of having my decidedly non-Olympian body bring glory to God simply didn’t compute for many years.
Never mind that the context for Paul’s words to his friends in Corinth called them to sexual purity. He frames this calling in the language of bodily resurrection and union with Christ. There are prohibitions in his words to his friends in Corinth because sexual sin carries additional consequences and complexities, but Paul also affirms that the reason sexual sin matters is because our bodies were created first and foremost to glorify God. He compares the body of the believer with the indwelling Spirit to the Temple in Jerusalem, with it’s Holy of Holies where the presence of God resided. Thus, thinking of the body as a biodegradable container for the really important stuff is an exercise in completely missing the point – and divides our created selves in a way that limits us from fully experiencing God’s wholeness and shalom.
I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate this verse over the last few weeks. About an hour after I wrote this celebratory post in June, I slipped on a wet, muddy deck and dislocated my left knee. As a result of the fall, I have bone chips floating around in the knee, a torn meniscus, and a broken tailbone just for good measure. I’ve been through a major reconstruction on this same joint nearly 30 years ago, and I’m scheduled for what my surgeon jokingly called a “tune up” this Wednesday. (I covet your prayers for no infections or complications, and a productive rehab.)
Before this accident happened, my husband and I were already dealing with a number of trials. My husband lost his job in late March. Our uncertain housing situation, ongoing challenges related to mental health issues among a member of our extended family, and the accident on top of my own ongoing chronic health woes have made me more aware than ever that there’s no loophole in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that excludes aging or broken bodies.
Our culture celebrates youth, beauty and cut abs as the only “temple” worth having. But I’m pretty sure Paul didn’t have Shape or Men’s Health magazine cover models in mind when he wrote those words. He’d seen God heal the ailing bodies of others, yet recognized that his own physical frailties and limitations didn’t disqualify him from glorifying God. Instead, he recognized that his weakness allowed him to magnify God with his aging, broken body:
…therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
So though it takes some imagination to consider how weeks of laying on the couch (because of that painful broken tailbone), gimping to doctor’s appointments on crutches, and otherwise being homebound (a particular form of suffering for this extrovert) can glorify God, I am learning that he called this body to be a temple of the Holy Spirit.
What about you? What has your experience been? Is your body friend or foe of your spiritual life?
*One former pastor of ours used to say, “I’m preaching heresy. I just don’t know what it is yet.” In other words, he recognized that he didn’t have all the answers, or the correct emphasis in all of his teaching, but he was open to continue to learn, adjust, and acknowledge where he fell short.