The word of the day is “body.” Of all the gifts of God, one of the most precious and yet neglected and mistreated is the body. Yet in our reading of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and that you are not your own?” (vs. 19). Today the apostle promotes the attitude of reverence for the body that Christ has “bought with a price.”
In the current pandemic, we have found that our bodies are vulnerable and subject to corruption, that is, to disease, growing old, and dying. Still, no matter whether we spoil or abuse our bodies, the basic bodily functions do their work of keeping us alive. Truly the body is a miraculous gift of God.
The Body’s Need for Discipline
Yet, the body needs discipline. Accordingly, St. Paul says, “But I discipline my body and bring it under subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The Greek word for “discipline” comes from the sense of striking a blow under the eye as boxers do (Strong’s #5299, 260). Accordingly, some versions translate the term as “strike a blow” (NIV 1 Corinthians 9:27) or “buffet” (AMS 1 Corinthians 9:27). All of these terms present the image of an athlete in training who brings the body under “servitude,” that is. They bring it under “bondage” or “slavery” (Strong’s #1396, 73). We might say to bring it under control.
The purpose of such restraint is not to inflict pain on the body. It is to subdue the bodily appetites and passions. The body needs such restraint because it is the source of sensual desire. Thus, the first temptation combined both spiritual as well as sensual appeals. In Genesis we read, “ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6).
A Change of Attitude
How are we to overcome sensual temptations such as those that today’s reading talks about: over-indulgence of food and, worse, sexual immorality? Paul advises that we change our attitude toward the body. We should esteem it with utmost reverence. In today’s reading, the apostle writes, “you are not your own; you were bought with a price” (vs. 19-21). Here the apostle refers to our “redemption.” This term refers to the purchase of slaves in the marketplace to free them (Strong’s 1805, 90). In Galatians, Paul uses this word when he writes, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons ” (Galatians 4:5). In 1 Peter, the apostle uses another term for “redeem.” This word means to be released from slavery by the payment of a ransom: “…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18).
The consequence of this redemption is that we now owe our freedom to the one who bought it for us. In Galatians, that result is that we receive the “adoption” as children God” (Galatians 4:5). In 1 Peter, it is that we live “in the fear of God” (1 Peter 1:17).
Glorify God in Your Body
But note that in our reading from 1 Corinthians, the consequence is that believers are to “Glorify God in your body and in your spirit” (vs. 20). This is a startling statement of the body’s worth to the Lord. Along with the Spirit, it is redeemed and made holy by the blood of Christ along with the spirit. And it is now a means of glorifying God.
The ways of the body develop from how we treat it. For instance, if we treat the body as the vile source of temptation, then it will become a primary tool of the tempter. If we treat it as our enemy, it will become a nemesis that we cannot control. Yet, the way we treat it depends on our attitude to it. Our reading suggests a helpful way of looking at the body. It is a gift of God to be cherished and used to serve our Creator. From this viewpoint, we can use moderation and good sense better to manage the needs and desires of our bodies.
As Lent approaches, we might consider our attitude toward the body during that sacred time of prayer and fasting. Our reading discourages us from thinking that Lent is time to punish our bodies as if they were the cause of sin or the way we can make up for sinfulness.
Rather, Lent is a time for returning to God as the Prodigal Son journeyed back to his father’s house. As we make our plans for this year’s Lenten disciplines, we should keep in mind that this season is not a 40-day marathon designed to test our spiritual rigor and endurance. It is an opportunity for repentance that would redirect our hearts, renew our minds, and re-orient our way of life. With that understanding of Lent in mind, we should choose those practices that will help us grow in our spiritual lives, sustainable practices that can carry over into the Paschal season and beyond. And in keeping with the insights of today’s reading, these disciplines should include the positive, reverent, and wise care of our bodies.