Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
We live in a world where the exploitation of the human body is seen as a badge of honor. There are those who claim that we are at an all time low, but history shows that various levels of depravity have existed over the years in various parts of the world. Yet, many of these people were at times spared further consequences of their actions once they received the truth of God's plan that was intended for the human body.
Paul's quote from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 was written to a community that he established in the city of Corinth. This city can be described as: a commercial crossroads...a melting pot full of devotees of various pagan cults and marked by a measure of moral depravity not unusual in a great seaport.
Still, the apostle was able to establish a Christian community in such a place. Therefore, we must be reminded that while we continue to do the same work in our communities that we are also empowered by the same Spirit that guided the apostle Paul.
The Body is a Temple
There are some Christians who have very negative views of the body and such an idea goes back to the early days of the Church. According to William Barclay:
The Greeks always looked down on the body. There was a proverbial saying, "The body is a tomb." Epictetus said, "I am a poor soul shackled in a human corpse." The important thing was the soul, the spirit of a man; the body was a thing that did not matter.
This led to two responses from those in the early Church. According to Barclay: That produced one of two attitudes: Either it issued in the most rigorous asceticism in which everything was done to subject and humiliate the desires and instincts of the body. Or--and in Corinth it was this second outlook which was prevalent-- it was taken to mean that, since the body was of no importance, you could do what you liked with it; you could let it sate its appetites.
Thankfully, we had St. Paul as well as the Jewish philosopher Philo to teach something entirely different. As James D. G. Dunn tells us: Paul's reply to such thinking was very clear: "You are God's temple" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17); "your body is the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16). The thought is not particularly new. Philo speaks of the body as "a sacred dwelling place or shrine for the reasonable soul." To further expand St. Paul's point about the body Barclay says: God's Spirit dwells in us (so) we have become a temple of God; and so our very bodies are sacred. And more-Christ died to save not a bit of a man, but the whole man, body and soul. Christ gave His life to give a man a redeemed soul and a pure body.
If we take the time to reflect on these words we can see the echo of God's plan from the beginning when He declared that all that He had created was good (Genesis 1:31). That includes humanity and we need to reflect on what this really means for each of us. Yes, we live in a world distorted by sin but that does not take away the goodness of who we are as well as how we are seen in the eyes of God. That is why we need to recognize that God's commands are not an imposition but a guide for all of us. This is why good theology must give us more of the why rather than just the what.
A Deeper Meaning
Following Saint Paul's teaching on the sacredness of the body, we will now discuss one of the whys from the Lord's commands. In Exodus 20:14 the Lord states: You shall not commit adultery. Further, we know that Jesus expanded the definition of adultery when He stated: You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This would be an example of Jesus fulfilling the law (Matthew 5:17), by giving us a greater understanding of the law. Further, we are also commanded by the Lord to: teach them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20) and in today's world, we need to convey the message of Jesus to others with the method that would work best for our audience. In that regard, it will always serve us best to use any other discipline to expand our understanding of the why behind Jesus' teaching.
During the time of Moses the main purpose of not committing adultery was, as stated in the Harper's Bible Dictionary: (to guard) marriage and family against the intrusion of third parties and the socially disruptive questions of the legitimacy of children and the transfer of the family legacy. This is an important concept of a nation looking to establish its social order after being free from centuries of bondage in Egypt. Later, the nation of Israel was established and the people would go through their own challenges when it came to following the Law before Jesus comes to give a more personal understanding of the Commandment. Therefore, the Israelites went from knowing what not to do to understanding how they were called to see their neighbor. This fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah in 31:33 when he said: I will place My law within them, and write it upon their hearts.
Today we have those who call the teachings of the Church outdated and unrealistic with many leaders offering answers lacking in depth. Take for example some biblical literalists who focus simply on what is commanded in scripture. In taking that approach they fail to recognize all that we have discovered about the body that God created and how this knowledge gives us a deeper understanding of why we shouldn't commit adultery.
Let's begin with the words of Jesus from Matthew 19:4-6: Have you not read from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become on flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together no human being must separate.
This is a very beautiful statement and seen by many as a nice metaphor for marriage. Yet, many fail to realize that this whole two becoming one flesh phrase also speaks a deep truth about what happens between two people who have been intimate with each other. Of course if this is done as God intended, within the context of a faithful marriage, then it is a beautiful and unitive experience. Still, that is not without the challenge of maintaining and chaste way of living. As Barclay says: The great fact of the Christian faith is, not that it makes a man free to sin, but that it makes a man free not to sin. It is so easy to allow habits to master us; but the Christian strength enables us to master them.
Our bodies are not something that we have as it is also a part of who we are. So, when we go against God's design while also including someone else's body we can cause great harm to ourselves as well as the other person. Consider this comment from the Jerome Biblical Commentary on the human body: Although the body serves as the instrument of sin in other vices (IE, drunkenness and gluttony) it is not intimately united to another person, handed over to the power of another, as it is in fornication. The fornicator sins against his own body, his own person, because he tears it away from the Lord and deprives it from its glorious destiny. To add more from Barclay again: Because of that a man's body is not his own to do with as he likes; it is Christ's and he must use it, not for the satisfaction of his own lusts, but for the glory of Christ.
With the sin of lust being one of the deadly sins we must also consider the words of Raymond Brown when he says: People do not live in a neutral environment. To indulge in loose behavior is not freedom but bondage to compulsions that enslave. Sexual permissiveness affects the Christian's body, which should be evaluated as a member of Christ's body. In other words, it does great harm to us whether we intend for that to be the end result or not. Consider this exchange from the movie Vanilla Sky:
We also have to remember that it is more than just the two people involved in the sexual act. Being a Christian also produces certain realities, such as the baptized person being united with Christ. If Christ is indeed united to us it will not only be ourselves when we are acting as the Body of Christ in this world. He is also united to us when we engage in sexual acts. As Brown says: One's body is a means of self-communication, and so intercourse produces a union between the partners. Union of one who is a member of Christ with an unworthy partner, such as a prostitute, disgraces Christ, just as marital union glorifies God.
Practicing the Christian faith does not excuse us from sin. As Christ says in Matthew 5:27-28: You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Notice He does not say that such a woman would not include one's wife. If there was anyone to look at with the most chaste eyes it would be one's wife but we are still broken with sin and in need of forgiveness. Therefore, let us not allow the reality of marriage to lead us to believe that we are without the ability to sin against our spouse.
That is why Hebrews 13:4 says: Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers. It is most interesting that the author of Hebrews speaks of God judging the immoral and adulterers after he speaks of keeping the marital bed holy. Yes, married couples can behave in immoral ways. And, if adultery is as Jesus says, more than the act of simply having relations with someone other than one's spouse, then such a sin can also occur between two people who are also married and not living a chaste life with each other.
Wired To Sin
Today we see a movement to care for the human mind, which has thankfully led many people to speak with less hesitation about going to therapy. Aside from that we also have people who at times take days off from work or school in order to rest their minds. As a high school teacher I have also seen anxiety now become the one of the biggest problems for our young people so I am very happy to see our culture embracing the importance of caring for one's mental health along with their physical health.
Being a musician I know both the impact of this beautiful art both as a performer and as a fan. As a performer I have always appreciated every opportunity to express myself before an audience while also having the chance to work with so many great musicians. Deane Alban says it best in the following article:
While accepting the positive impact that music we cannot ignore the impact that a negative musical message or mood can have on our culture. I listen to all kinds of music because of the fact that my mood varies but I have also removed some music from my collection because of the negative impact it had on me. Mind you that I have never liked or purchased music that is filled with excessive profanity so I can only wonder the negative impact such songs would have on a listener who is accustomed to listening to such music. That and dialogue that we see in films today...and we wonder why we can't seem to go anywhere anymore without encountering people who are speaking in the same way.
Speaking of film, we cannot ignore the frightening reality of addiction to pornography. There are some who not only deny such a claim but also question the moral dilemma behind viewing pornography due to the fact that such people are only viewing the sexual act. Still, the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:27-28 stand out even more because of the way such people, specially women, are being objectified in such films. Here are some of the serious consequences that come from viewing pornographic material on a regular basis:
Besides looking at Christ's words in Matthew 5:27-28 we also have to consider what He says in Matthew 5:29-30: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.
Powerful words indeed and if we reflect deeply we can see that the sin of lust is indeed a great struggle as the fascination and excitement that comes with it runs deep into the core of our being to the point where it can actually rewire our minds. Therefore, to conquer this sin we need to accept that fact that it is going to take God's grace as well as the acceptance that it is not going to be without great struggle. The pain would probably rival the feeling one has when they lose a part of their body, especially if one's sin includes the participation of another person as the bodies will again do what they were designed to do while participating in the sexual act. Further, the main reason Jesus wants us to rid ourselves of the thing that is causing us to sin is because it has an impact on our whole body. This is most important because if we in fact are our bodies then it can be argued that the human body is a reflection of the human soul so it would not be incorrect to say that our sin actually has an impact on our entire being and not just our bodies.
Regardless of the challenge of lust, Christ can strengthen us if we accept His message and allow His grace to change us. The reason why chaste living helps us see through the media messages in terms of what our culture teaches us about sex is because a deeper understanding of the body gives us a greater insight on the reason for living a life of both modesty and moderation. We would know first, what we don't want to do to ourselves and second, what we would not want to do to another. Again, the Christian message is never just about us as we are always called to love our neighbor.
So many sinners give in to social expectations due to the fear of rejection. How different would our culture be if we really took the time to understand and accept the truth of the human body with a confidence that could only come from the Holy Spirit. In doing so we would truly be free.
If we are truly in Christ we would be as stated in Matthew Henry's Commentary: There is a liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, in which we must stand fast. But surely he would never carry this liberty so far as to put himself into the power of any bodily appetite.
The Whole Person
There are times when Christians tend to focus solely on sexual purity and not the well being of their whole body. For example, what is the point of living a chaste life if we ignore the importance of adhering to a good diet while also taking the time to exercise? Our bodies were also meant to work and for various forms of expression including how we worship the Lord so how are we to do that if we do not prepare for and/or maintain our ability to do such things?
What some people may not know about me is that aside from working full time as a high school theology teacher I am a also a professional drummer that works part time in the local music scene and occasionally in the recording studio. Most of my performances are 3-4 hours in length and that is no cakewalk for a drummer. I am not getting any younger and to do this while carrying a full work load during the week along with my family obligations takes a lot of strength and endurance. Therefore, I do some regular strength training and cardio activity while also doing what I can to take part in a healthy diet. That and the fact that my father passed away in his 60's after a long illness, which caused me to question my own mortality. Overall, it made me think of my desire to be there for my family as long as I can and while there are certain things I can't control I do not want to my passing to be because of the things I should have done to better myself.
We as Christians have to look beyond sexual purity, which in turn would show ourselves and the rest of the world how much we value the bodies that God gave us. As Cathi Douglas said: Paul warned against sexual immorality, but there are numerous other pitfalls we must avoid to honor our physical selves. Self-respect and respect for God means that as adults we need to refrain from destructive actions such as heavy drinking, overeating, unsafe driving and extreme risk-taking. As children, we need to be taught personal hygiene, including bathing, brushing our teeth and wearing clean clothing.?
This is in fact something that is part of our Church's legacy from the very beginning. As stated by Cheryl Dickow: The health of the body is so important that, even after Jesus’ ascension, the apostles are able to carry on His work of healing. In Acts 3:1-10 Peter heals the Crippled Beggar. We see in this passage that a healthy body, as well as the gift of healing, glorifies God. The apostles certainly also healed people for the same reasons that Jesus did, to be signs of God's Kingdom (Luke 11:20).
However, Christians are also called to continue the work of Christ. As stated by Dickow: Oftentimes, we come to know illness as a cross to bear or as a part of our earthly journey. But at other times we ought to look at illness as an impediment to our ability to do God’s work. We also have to remind our children, who are not just the future of the Church but members of the Church right now that they need to care for themselves. Again, Dickow says: Helping our children become aware that they are spiritual entities connected to God, and yet live in physical bodies that require care, will help them learn to live a life of balance and good choices. Teaching them to treat their bodies, and one another’s bodies, as temples to the Holy Spirit translates into a mind, body, soul, and spirit ready to be devoted to our Lord.
Aside from our physical health we also need to ask ourselves if we are caring for our entire being. What type of relationships do we have with others? How do we care for ourselves in terms of getting enough rest? Then of course there are the other things that have already been cited in this discussion. Still, take a moment to see what JB Cachila has to say:
So we need to ask ourselves: how do we live? Do we eat a diet that glorifies the bodies that God gave us? Do we also not consider many of the natural delicacies that God has provided for us that were meant to nourish and sustain our bodies? Do we exercise as a way to strengthen our bodies in order to take care ourselves, our loved ones while also doing the will of the Lord? Do we also understand that our ability to do such movements is in fact a gift because we are still able use our bodies in this way? Finally, do we understand that a healthy body is a reflection of our attitude towards the body? Think of the evangelizing that can be done with this approach especially when we state that our healthy attitude towards our bodies come from Christ, who is not just the source of our joy but also the author of the human body?
Again, to paraphrase St. Paul: We are a Temple of the Holy Spirit. Temples are sacred therefore you are sacred. Therefore, glorify God with your bodies knowing that there are so many ways for us to express our holiness.
- BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
- Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
- Speaker with Catholic Speakers Organization