This measured and incisive article by Dr. A. J. Higgins M.D. (New Jersey, USA) sets out the Bible’s teaching on the human body. Dr. Higgins helpfully addresses issues rarely tackled by Christian writers, such as gluttony, plastic surgery, body piercing and tattoos.
“It’s my body and I can do with it what I please!” Really? Are you sure your premise is correct? If it is not, your conclusion will be faulty. Listen to the Word of God: “Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). And again, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1). To abuse your body is to “defraud” God of what is rightfully His (1 Cor 6:19). While we can comfortably apply this to the drug user and alcoholic, it reaches home when we think of more “accepted” sins such as gluttony, and similar sins which we often overlook.
The Corinthian culture reasoned that just as their stomachs were created for food, so their bodies were created for personal satisfaction – whatever form it took. In the context, it was sexual immorality. But the principle is far wider. “Bodies” have a far higher purpose, and a future destiny that “stomachs” do not have.
If the societal view of the human body is that it is mine to adorn with tattoos, pierce with rings, fill with drugs, excite with alcohol and gratify by immorality, what is the Christian view of the human body? For centuries, one of the prevailing philosophies of the day was that the body – matter- was inherently evil. This became systematized into a teaching known as Gnosticism. While the full development of this philosophy had to wait until after the completion of the Word of God, incipient strands of its teaching did infiltrate some of the early assemblies.
A spin-off of this was the monastic movement which took root only a few centuries after the days of the Lord Jesus here on earth. It was a movement which sought to “mortify” the body to avoid sin. Celibacy and various forms of self-inflicted suffering were deemed the pathway to holiness and the control of the “body” and its flesh. Isolation, living apart from others with strict adherence to a rigid schedule of spiritual devotions, was supposed to prevent the body from indulging in its excesses and lead to holiness of life.
But we are not balancing any thinking in our day which teaches the evil of the body; we are faced with an almost opposite problem: the worshipping of the human body. Tragically, however, whenever worship is misplaced and removed from God to the creature or an idol, it leads to the debasing of the object. Thus, the worship of the body has led to the demeaning and debasing of human dignity which God conferred on the body which He formed.
As well, we are not dealing with a societal movement which is trying to control the flesh by controlling the body; in our society, bodies are literally out of control.
Its Dignity Emphasised
Genesis teaches that we were made in the “image of God”. This is a reference primarily to the non-material part of man which gives us the ability to think, communicate, be creative, enjoy relationships and have self-awareness. Yet, the body which God gave to man set him apart from all the other creatures He had made. From the moment Adam took his first breath, he walked upright on his two feet. He was able to lift his head to heaven and to explore the expanse which stretched above him. He was given a hand which was unique and able to function in an entirely different and more excellent manner than the rest of the animal creation. The distinctiveness of the human body is well documented.
God gave to Adam dominion over creation, placing him at the head. His entire being, his material body and his immaterial spirit and soul, were all to be held in sacred trust and used for God in the garden. With the fall came the entrance of death and corruption; but grace, reigning through the work of Christ, will undo the sentence of death in each body. A day is coming when ultimate dignity will be conferred upon these houses of clay: “…the body of our humiliation…fashioned like unto the body of His glory, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself” (Phil 3:21, Newb.). It makes one want to sing the words of M. S. Sullivan’s lovely hymn:
With such a blessed hope in view,
We would more holy be.
Its Dishonor Summarised
Just as the writer to the Hebrews stated in connection with the dominion of man over the earth, we can say the same concerning the ultimate dignity of these bodies: “We see not yet…” Sin, the most pervasive and destructive virus ever unleashed, has touched these bodies and made them mortal, subject to death.
Satan has hijacked the human race and sin has so conditioned humanity that we use our bodies for self-gratification and self-satisfaction. The definition of feminine, created and sold by a persuasive media, is the seductive looking woman, size 2 dress, with airbrushed hair, on the cover of your latest copy of your favourite magazine. Being well-groomed and dressing attractively is not contrary to Scripture. The extreme attempts in beautifying of the body, however, the total occupation with the external, characterizes our age to a greater measure than at any previous time. In the USA plastic surgery is a 13 billion dollar industry. Some of it is an absolute necessity for disfigured and post-surgical patients; but much of it is a vain attempt to defy age or to use the body to feel more significant.
Bodies are abused and dishonored by the habits of men, from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, to sloth and gluttony. The late 20th century saw the coining of the term “couch-potato” to convey the image of a TV watcher on his sofa with remote in one hand and a bag of food in the other; his greatest expenditure of energy being the manual dexterity needed to press the “play” and “next” buttons.
Bodies are abused and dishonored, not only by what we put into them, but by what we put on them. The craze for tattooing the body has become so widespread that professional people as well as others all proudly display their tattoos, now euphemistically referred to as “body art”. To this are added piercings in every conceivable place. No longer content with the earlobes, lips, noses, necks and other body parts have been volunteered to serve as locations for rings and other piercings. Centuries ago, God addressed the custom of heathen nations to mourn for their dead by cutting their flesh: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:28). “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh” (Lev 21:5). These cuttings are not the same as the piercing of bodies today, but do suggest that God viewed the body as something whose use He had the right to legislate. It could well be argued that this is Old Testament teaching and that we are not under law; the point is granted. But God wanted His people to recognize the significance of their bodies and to avoid the practices of a heathen world all around. If I recognize that my body is not mine, and am aware of the dignity God has conferred upon it, it will control my use of the body.
Its Deliverance Analyzed
It hardly needs to be asked, but for completeness and to “stir you up by putting you in remembrance” (2 Pet 1:13), what did it cost God to take these bodies that sin had dishonored and to ensure them of the glorious destiny He has planned? Paul’s brilliant rebuttal to the faulty logic of the Corinthian philosophers, as mentioned earlier, affords us the answer. “Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ?…Your body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost…Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:15, 19, 20).
While the full and final purpose of God for our bodies lies in the future, there is now the great privilege of our bodies being temples in which the Holy Spirit dwells. Also, our bodies are viewed as members of Christ; so that all that I am – body, soul, and spirit – are His and should be at His disposal for His service. The “price” with which we were bought allows no retreat from the altar. A “body” was suspended upon a cross, that my “body” might be purchased and placed on the altar as a living sacrifice for Him to employ in His service.
Its Destiny Recognized
God has great things in store for our bodies. We are awaiting a day of redemption, when these bodies, now subject to the same afflictions as unregenerate people, and perishing outwardly day by day, will know an incredible transformation. The full entail of Calvary will eventually deal with all the havoc and damage that sin has caused. That will include the change it brought to our bodies. We are waiting for the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:23). These bodies, now controlled by the “soulish” part of man (1 Cor 15:44), will one day be controlled by the spiritual side of man. That does not mean that we will not have real bodies. Quite the opposite. Those real bodies of flesh and bone will not be subject to natural or soulish things, but will be dominated by the spiritual life and realm for which they are fitted.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, we are told that, in a future day, we must all “appear (or be manifested) before the judgment seat of Christ…to receive the things done in the body.” The word “done” is in italics and it may be that the teaching here is that we will receive in our bodies in keeping with what we have done. This may mean varying degrees of glory expressed in these bodies.
Can you think of a greater destiny for your body or mine? When the body of a loved one is lowered into the earth, to await the resurrection morn, it has been sown in weakness. But it will be raised, not just by power, but in power. At present, we cannot shout, “Oh death where is thy sting? Oh grave where is thy victory?” Death still has a sting. Ask any lonely widow. The grave is still the victor, swallowing and feasting upon all it can take into its realm. But a day is coming when death will be swallowed up in victory, and then we will mock death and the grave with our taunt! What a day that will be!
Its Devotion Energized
The Roman epistle traces the human body from its defiled condition in chapter 1; to its domination by the principle of sin in chapter 6; through the despair linked with it in chapter 7; the deadness of the body in chapter 8 with the longing hope expressed, looking for the deliverance from this “body of death” in Romans 8:33. As a result of what grace has done, the Spirit of God now challenges us to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
Our bodies are the vehicles through which we can serve God acceptably. They are the vessels which must be kept clean so that He may fill them with His power for service. Our bodies are now a “stewardship” granted to us to be used to accomplish His will. As such it should not be abused. That would encompass not only the gross evils of drunkenness and drug use, but gluttony and laziness. It would temper any idea that I can adorn my body to attract attention by tattoos (a traditionally heathen and idolatrous practice), and body piercing. Some well-intentioned believers have had Bible verses tattooed as a “witnessing” tool. Our lives and our lips are to witness to the gospel; a proper use and self-control of our bodies will testify better than a tattoo. Far better to be “the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor 3:3).
Paul told Timothy that bodily exercise profits “to a little”. There is value to maintaining your physical body in a healthy state. This will enable God to use it and you. We are not to abuse our bodies by sloth or by misuse. Someone who tips the scales at 350 pounds would be better not preaching on the sanctity and use of the body!
In Romans 12 Paul urges the believers to willingly surrender their bodies based on the mercies of God as seen in the previous 11 chapters. In 1 Corinthians 6 the appeal is based on the indwelling Holy Spirit and the purchase price given by Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5, the fear of the Lord and His love for Christ is what impels Paul to devoted living (2 Cor 5:11, 14). A fervent fear of being disqualified in the race stirred him deeply to bring his body “into subjection” (1 Cor 9:27). He would not allow the demands of his body to dictate to him the terms of his service for Christ.
Motivation for consecration comes from many quarters. Any one of the streams of grace should make us willing sacrifices; the combined magnetism of them all precludes any room for selfishness and defrauding God of what is His.
(Used with permission from Truth and Tidings magazine)