Honor God with your body, part 1

Sometimes, when singing worship songs at church, I feel a little strange.  We sing, “Open our eyes, Lord,” with our eyes squeezed tightly shut.  Or we sing, “We lift up our hands,” with our hands folded in our laps.  Or then we stand straight up to sing, “We bow down.”  Of course, if someone actually did bow down, I imagine the worshippers in the immediate vicinity would become very uncomfortable very quickly.

Such observations make me wonder if all lyrical references to bodily worship have become mere metaphors to us; bowing down, for example, becomes a matter of the heart and not of the knee.  One might say–and rightly so–that bowing the knee without submitting the soul would be empty worship.  But have we lost anything by not bowing the knee?  Is the Christian life a matter of the spirit in a way that doesn’t include the body?

It’s not just hair-splitting (okay, that is just a metaphor).  The Christian life is an intrinsically embodied one, by God’s design.  We’re not Gnostics, longing for our spirits to be freed from these fleshly prisons.  Instead, we recognize not only that we can sin with our bodies, but also use them to honor God by the way we live.

As we saw in a previous post, the Christians in Corinth had adopted theological slogans that justified their promiscuous behavior.  Here again is one of their slogans, and Paul’s response:

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.  (1 Cor 6:13-14, NRSV)

It may be that the “food for the stomach” slogan arose out of Paul’s teaching about the lawfulness of eating food sacrificed to idols (see 1 Cor 8).  The argument may have been that “food is just food,” in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching about not being ritualistically defiled by eating with unwashed hands (Matt 15:1-11).

But if so, the teaching has been distorted in self-serving ways.  Look, bodily functions are perfectly natural.  There’s no problem using our stomach for its intended purpose, so why not the same for (ahem) other bodily parts?  Besides, bodily existence is only a temporary state of affairs, so no big deal.  In fact, sexual liberty shows our freedom of conscience!

Paul transforms their slogan and hands it back: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” you say?  Sorry, but that doesn’t mean, “The body for sex, and sex for the body.”  What you should be saying is: “The body for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

The parallels aren’t perfect, but that’s not the point.  Paul’s rhetorical judo elevates the reality of bodily existence to a different plane.  Whatever it means to be holy, to glorify God, to be washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor 6:11), it is neither in spite of the body nor in opposition to it, but in and through our bodily existence.  Why else, Paul insists, would God have raised Jesus bodily from the dead?  Why promise that resurrection to us?

The body is for the Lord; the Lord is for the body.  Might it not be worth pondering that one for a while?