As Christians, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our bodies. We spend a lot of time thinking about the state of our hearts, minds, souls, but not the physical miracle that we carry them around in. So as I start a new series on what the Bible says about the different parts of the self listed in The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), I thought I would start with the body.
The reality is that we let secular culture dictate a lot about how we feel about our bodies. I know so many Christians, men and women, who are caught up in diet culture or obsess over using exercise to change the way they look. Then there are the times when we have purposely used our bodies to manipulate other people through the way we dress and move it. Yet when we look at the Bible, it becomes clear that this was not God’s intention for our bodies. Instead our bodies were made to be used to glorify God. This isn’t just some crazy idea I have plucked out of nowhere. It is right there, in the Bible for everyone to read and see.
Before I get on to the verses that are specifically about the Bible, I want to share one that I think will set the tone for this series.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”Genesis 1: 26-27
These verses are in the very first chapter of the Bible. From the beginning, God intended for us to be image bearers. To be representative of Him on earth. While I don’t think this means that He has to physically look, feel, think, or be like us, it should make us stop and think what that means for being human.
God created us in such a way that simply being human sets us apart from the rest of creation. This should change how we treat our bodies as much as our hearts, souls and minds.
Us and Our Bodies
Like I said earlier, we don’t really think about our bodies in the light of the Bible. We’re more likely to turn to Pinterest for exercise routines, Instagram and magazines for advice on weight loss, or do our best to ignore it and hope the problems will disappear. Effectively, we detach our bodies from our spiritual life to place in it’s own box.
This isn’t a post on diet culture though. (There will be one of those at some point because 😡) It is about having a view of our bodies, and eventually our whole self, that reflects what God has said through the Bible. So I also want to address those who have suffered from physical abuse and/or self-harm. I do not and cannot know what you have gone through. I do understand the desire to inflict pain on yourself in order to just feel something… and to not feel anything. This post is for you too.
Bodies in the Bible
If the Bible says anything about our bodies, it is that they have one consistent purpose: to glorify God in one way or another. However, I don’t expect you to take my word for it. To that end, I’ve chosen six Bible passages to start you on your way to exploring how God intended your body to be used.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139 is one of the most famous psalms going. It feels like there isn’t a situation that it doesn’t cover. This section of three verses is such a wonderful reminder that we are not accidents. Instead, God knew exactly what ew would be like when we were born. He knew that we would grow up to be dark/fair, tall/short, curvy/slim, and all the other ways we can describe our bodies. Not only that, He designed us to be exactly who we are. If you are curvy, then that’s because God wanted you to be curvy. The same goes if you are naturally slim, dark, fair, tall, short, or anything else. God made you that way. In fact, He made you fearfully and wonderfully. That includes your body!
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Sex is good. God made it therefore it is good. However, when we misuse our bodies in regards to sex then we end up hurting ourselves and our relationship with our bodies. God does not want us to be hurting ourselves with something that he intended for our good.
The fact that Paul follows this up by telling the Corinthians that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. In other words, when we become Christians God dwells in our bodies with us in some way. This does not mean that we are gods!!!! However, it does mean we need to care for our bodies because God wants to make His home in them with us. So when we use sex in a way that opposes how God intended it to be used, we’re not just hurting ourselves but also abusing something designed to honour God.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
This verse and the surrounding context speaks directly in to a number of different topics, from idolatry through to diet culture (though you could argue idolatry is involved there). So how does it apply to our bodies?Effectively, whatever you do, do it to glorify God. In this specific situation, that meant thinking about whether food had been offered as an idol’s sacrifice and whether eating it was honouring to God and helpful to other Christians. Today, it might not be food and drink. It might be tattooing your body, dying your hair, even getting a piercing. Anything that we do to our bodies, both on the outside and what we put inside, comes under this.
Have you ever considered how you eat, what your diet looks like, to be part of showing glory to God? Because I would suggest that this verse encourages you to do so. It might not contain sacrifices to idols but what you put in your body or do to your body says something about what your heart really glorifies.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
This is one of my favourite verses. The whole passage is really kind of amazing. It acknowledges that as Christians, it can feel like dying would be the better thing because we will join Jesus in heaven. Yet Paul sets the example of remaining in the flesh, i.e. staying alive, in order to continue making Jesus known to the Philippians. In verse 20, he talks about honouring Christ is his body. He also repeatedly implies that being “in the flesh” means doing Jesus’ work, so there is no separation between our spiritual work or our physical/bodily nature.
While going to the gym probably doesn’t count as “worship”, using exercise, for example, as a way to look after our bodies so we can do Jesus’ work for longer is a way to honour Him. It is about the mindset of what our bodies are for. We can use them to further our own pleasure or we can use them to fulfil God’s good plan for us.
I also want to directly talk to those of you who have self-harmed, felt suicidal, or purposely injured your body. When I was reading this passage, I honestly felt like Paul was making subtle references to suicidal thoughts. I have no academic references to back this up so I may be totally wrong. However, he is very clear that the better thing is to keep living. Yes, as Christians, it can be tempting to wish for death because when we are in heaven things will be better. We need to balance this truth with the rest of this passage; that Christ needs us to continue doing His work here and to use our bodies to honour Him in our life. I know this is hard to hear when you are just looking for some relief from the life you live but I hope you will think and pray over this passage. While we are here, Jesus has work for us to do and it is good work.
Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Our bodies are important. They need to be fed, watered, exercised, and honoured. BUT THEY ARE NOT EVERYTHING! Today, we put too much emphasis on the way we look. In fact, we always have. It seems to be part of humanity’s biological make up. Something to do with sexual attraction 🤷🏻♀️
However, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul makes it very clear that our bodies should not be our priority. Instead, it should be in training ourselves to be godly. In other words, serving Christ should be more important than our own bodies. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look after our bodies. This is one of the few verses that says specifically exercise (bodily training) is good (of some value) so clearly we shouldn’t be lazing around, not looking after ourselves. More importantly though, it is very clear that if our exercise habits get in the way of our relationship with God something has gone wrong. Our bodies are given to us to serve God, not us to serve our bodies.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
We’ve talked a lot about how our bodies are for God’s glory. However He made us, our bodies are primarily here to honour Him, showcase His work, and to enable us to do keep doing that good work. So eating healthily, exercising, and caring for our bodies are all good things in their right place; our main focus should still be on glorifying God in how we use our bodies.
Yet, as with so much, God doesn’t just see our bodies as a physical thing. Instead they are a beautiful representation of how He sees His Church. We might be many individual people but when we come together, as Christians we are able to make something even better. When we come together, God has designed us to work as one body with many parts. It’s a beautiful image of harmony; one that we are reminded of literally everyday as we walk around in our own bodies. Just us we use our bodies to get work done, God uses the Church as His body to get His work done.
Unfortunately, how we feel about our own bodies can impact on more than just ourselves. When we dislike our bodies, this can carry over into so much more about ourselves and affect how we work with those around us. Changing our thoughts around body image isn’t an easy thing. If you are struggling with it and seeing it impact your wider life, I encourage you to go back over some of these passages and reflect on them. Remember, your body is wonderfully and fearfully made; it was made to glorify God; and He designed it to reflect His Church.
Your Body is Part of Your Whole Self
The aim of this post was to reflect a little on what the Bible says about bodies, how we should use our bodies, and what they were intended for. However, it is important to remember that our bodies are only one part of our whole selves. Over the next couple of months, I will also be sharing about what the Bible says on our hearts, minds, and souls.
I started with bodies because it is probably the one we are all the most hung up on. My hope is that you will leave this post knowing that your body is not an accident, inconvenient, or unwanted. The opposite is true. God purposely made your body so that you would be able to do His work and give Him the glory. There is nothing unwanted or inconvenient about that!