Whether on TV or at the gym (not that I go to the gym), there’s a stereotype of a bodybuilder who goes around saying, “My body is a temple”. They brag about their weightlifting ability, their frequency of exercise, and their carefully-managed habits, all designed to maintain their appearance.
Whether or not this stereotype reflects any actual people, their purported statement is probably referring to the following verse:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
1 Corinthians 6:19 NASB
However, that passage, in context (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), is talking about immorality. And, for the church in Corinth, it may be more specific to pagan practices at heathen temples. So, here is the question: Does this verse really tell us that taking care of our bodies is the most important thing in honoring God?
Consider that leaders of the early church, like Paul, endured substantial harm to their bodies. Were they lacking in faith or obedience to God by doing so? I think of the laborers today, whose hands (but not hearts) are calloused, whose limbs are scratched, and whose muscles are torn as they work in Jesus’ name (see Colossians 3:23). Whether they are working to earn an honest living, or volunteering to serve others, it doesn’t seem like they are sinning, does it?
Martyrs of the faith could have often spared their lives by hiding or recanting their belief. Instead, they chose to stand up for the truth, even when it cost them their mortal lives (but not their souls!).
To further put this verse in context, let’s look at the verse that immediately follows the one above.
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:20 NASB
Perhaps this command – glorifying God – should be our number one priority, as we decide how we should make use of these temporary “tents”, in which God has placed us.
I propose that our bodies are worth maintaining, but our physical health might not be the most important thing. Instead, what if we considered our bodies (that is, our souls’ “earth-suits”) to be tools that we use for God’s work? Beyond that, what if our goal is to not just to use them, but maybe even to “use them up” for God’s work?
To explain that, consider this: In more affluent parts of the world, much goes to waste, as extra food that is thrown out because it didn’t get eaten. In other situations, perfectly usable electronic devices are discarded because a new version has more features. Extra energy (which must come from somewhere) is burned by leaving lights on and furnaces (or air conditioners) running, beyond what is required for the inhabitants of a house.
We can recognize forms of waste like this, but what if we get to the end of our lives and realize that we had more energy in our bodies that we could have used for the Kingdom of God? Will we think back, and realize that there was so much time that we could have used for others, rather than ourselves? To be clear, I fully believe that everyone needs the right balance of rest and recuperation; however, I know that I can easily find areas of waste in how I use the life that God has given me.
There’s a compelling scene at the end of the movie, Schindler’s List, which I saw in a clip shown one Sunday morning at church. In it, the title character looks around at his remaining belongings, and realizes that there was more that he could have done with them to rescue people from a Nazi concentration camp. Despite all that he had done for good, he regretted that he had not found ways to do just a little bit more. I have thought of that scene many times.
To be clear, we can invest in our health and rest, in order to serve others. However, when our appearance and our personal comfort take priority over the purpose that they are meant to serve, our temple may be holding services to worship the wrong person. Exercise and leisure have value, but when their cost outweighs the benefits to our living a balanced life, we aren’t making the best use of the resources that we have been provided.
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16 NASB
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.