The Bible and the body

Glorify God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:20

Christians live on earth as strangers and aliens with a higher calling towards our eternal home (1 Peter 2:11). The Bible commands us to fix our eyes on things unseen and still, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (2 Corinthians 4:18, Romans 12:2). After all, we await the coming of our Savior and the day when he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). But what does this eternal focus and assured renewal of the body mean for our physical, temporal body now? Furthermore, does Scripture even address this issue? Does God really care how we treat our bodies? Surely, a Christian worldview must take these questions into consideration, but, ultimately, is God’s written Word really sufficient for believers in these matters?

Absolutely. The Bible is fully sufficient in prescribing man’s life before God. The Westminster Confession of Faith declares that the entire word of God revealed in the Scriptures contains all things necessary for knowing him, the purpose of life, and how to live by faith. This means everything that pertains to glorifying God and living a Christian life can be directly deduced from God’s word.

The Bible even attests to its own sufficiency and completeness (2Tim 3:15-16, Rev 22:18-19). God spoke his word through human authors as they were inspired, or carried along, by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). Because God spoke the text, it is authoritative, and we are called to recognize and respond to it as such. Therefore, if the Bible expresses value for the human body, his followers must value their bodies as well.

The body in Scripture

Genesis 1:26-28

In the beginning, we see God create men and women in his image, a truth foundational to a theology of the body. He bodily creates humans with the ability to carry out the divine command to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and exercise dominion over it. God ordained the human body as the means to physically express his image and obey his creation mandate. Imaging God sets humankind apart from all else in God’s creation and enables a particular relationship with him, one expressed with and through the body.

Psalm 119:73, 139:13-16

In both these psalms, the psalmist praises the Lord for his body. David proclaims God fearfully and wonderfully made his body, forming and knitting his inward parts in his mother’s womb. After praising God for these truths, he concludes God’s works are wonderful. Thus, in the context of a human body being formed, the physicality of the body is significant. God made men and women to think, speak, and move. Their bodily processes are specialized and more sophisticated than all other creatures. The capacity and abilities of the human body are incredible, and it comes as no happenstance that body systems improve, becoming more efficient through proper eating and exercise (more on this in future posts). Fundamentally, the body is created to be an avenue of praise to its Creator.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I believe Paul’s words to the Corinthians, specifically 6:12-20, are foundational to human embodiment. (I will post solely on verses 6:12-20 in the future as they are crucial in defining the body.) Focusing on verses 19-20, Paul writes that the Christian body is a temple of the Spirit and as such, a representation of God. Because believers are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, this truth informs one’s treatment of the body. Contextually, Paul speaks against acts of sexual immorality as being directly against the body. But Paul’s command cannot be bypassed without extending it to every area of bodily life. He gives two arguments for glorifying God with the body in all ways. First, because believers’ bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Second, because believers were bought with a price, a reference to the price of redemption Christ paid on the cross.

Don’t miss this: Paul declares the believers are not their own because Christ bought them, and the Spirit indwells them. And through the body, we are commanded to glorify God, the very body Christ redeemed and the Spirit lives in.

Still, something else must be pointed out. The fact Paul commands honoring God with the body implies something important: the command shows believers can potentially dishonor God in the body by what they do with them and the way they treat them. This means we must be intentional in regards to the body, which includes getting exercise, proper nutrition, rest, and managing stress. Body stewardship addresses these issues, and as a key piece of embodiment, it will be discussed in subsequent blogs.

There is one final note on the rhetorical nature of Paul’s initial question, do the Corinthian believers not know their bodies are temples of the Spirit? I believe it offers great significance to the argument for glorifying God with the body and properly caring for the body. His rhetorical statement shows the answer is obvious. The Corinthians certainly knew they were treating their bodies in ways that didn’t respect the Lord or the body. This passage indicates believers should evaluate how they treat their own bodies.

1 Timothy 4:7

The takeaway from this verse cannot contradict other Scriptures that speak to the body’s importance. This text should not be used in efforts to excuse oneself from physical activity. After all, as we have already seen, the Bible does not condone ignoring the body. Still, Paul says godliness has value in every way, and I don’t deny that primacy. But he does say physical training possesses value as well, which is important. Paul’s inclusion of this phrase speaks volumes, as he could have put anything in that place or left the phrase out completely. The fact is he does not denounce physical training or totally neglect health of the body. Like anything else, exercise can become an idol, so believers guard against this potential obsession, primarily by prioritizing spiritual pursuit. But note that Paul didn’t command Timothy to refrain from physical training because of the possibility that it might precedence over spiritual things. Foregoing physical activity – which neglects the body – to focus solely on spiritual matters is unwise and biblically unwarranted.

This is a quick survey of passages from the Old and New Testaments in the Bible that attest to the body’s importance. Thus, respecting and valuing the body must be part of a Christian worldview.

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