You keep saying, "My body is a temple." I don't think it means what you think it means...
I am 5’9” tall, and for a good, long while throughout my adult life, I weighed less than 100 pounds. I was a walking advertisement for an eating disorder. Which, incidentally, I had.
I have also weighed more than 100 pounds. Some times a good deal more. At the times I weighed more than 100 pounds I also struggled with an eating disorder. Truthfully, the struggle during that period of my life, when I was at a “normal” weight and appearance, was every bit as hellish, maybe more so, than when I looked the part of a woman who obviously degraded her body by unnatural means in order to stay thin.
I share all of this to explain that I wrestled with eating disorders, and various forms of disordered eating, for almost twenty years of my life.
I also share this in an attempt to clarify that appearance is often a poor reflection of what is really going on beneath the surface, in the hidden parts of who we are. There is so much more to us than meets the eye; which is simultaneously terrifying and wondrous. And God, who sees all, the outward and the hidden places, knows all, and loves all. We are fully known. And fully loved.
This is why, to me, one of the most beautiful characteristics of God is that He doesn’t look at the outward appearance; He looks at the heart. But people…unfortunately, they don’t look at the heart so much. They generally only look at the outward appearance.
They look and they judge. Then they become concerned.
It was in this way that I, a pastor’s wife, during the times when I looked the part of someone who had an eating disorder, wearing my dysfunction publicly as a garment of shame, was the recipient of much godly concern. This concern was usually voiced in one familiar, unending refrain. I heard this particular catchphrase of concern so often throughout this time of my life that, at one point, I considered getting a tattoo across my forehead that said,
“Yes, I am aware that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
That was the endless exhortation. “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”
I was obviously completely unaware that my body was a temple, right? What other explanation could there have possibly been for a woman to so abuse her body? Surely, I must have not known that my body was a temple.
Therefore, since I was ignorant of that blessed truth, I needed to be enlightened of it. Hence, the concern.
Really, though, concern had nothing to do with making sure I was properly subjugated by the use of weaponized scripture. The spirit in which that particular scripture was communicated to me was crystal clear:
There was a standard to which God held me accountable in regards to how I treated my physical body. And I was missing it. Obviously.
One day, during the time I was “obviously” struggling, an elder’s wife invited me out to lunch. I was flattered that someone so esteemed in the church would want to spend time with me. As the meal commenced, and the conversation began to flow, this woman, who had so graciously asked me to have lunch, made this pronouncement, “God wants you to know that your body is a temple and He is not pleased with the way you have been treating it.”
The food I had just taken a bite of turned to sawdust in my mouth and I began to stammer, crumbs cascading from my lips,
“I know…I’m trying…I’ll do better. I promise.”
I scrambled for the right way to express that I accepted my deserved chastisement. It was an incontrovertible fact, after all.
My body was a temple.
And God was not at all pleased with me. Not at all.
Your body is a temple…how dare you so insolently lay waste to the majesty of the temple of God…how dare you deliberately vandalize the dwelling place of the Most High...
These thoughts constantly rattled around in the recesses of mind. Every time I skipped a meal, every time I purged, every time I succumbed to a sugary craving, the death-rattle grew louder…YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE. FOR THE SAKE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, TRY HARDER!
It was a bitter pill to swallow; but swallow it I must. It was the medicine that promised to bring freedom and Godliness. How could ever have credibility as a representative of the gospel of Christ if my temple looked like a hot mess? I needed to treat my body better if I wished to certified as a suitable temple in which the Holy Spirit of the Loving God could reside.
That was the ticket to pleasing God.
Or so I mistakenly believed.
I've painted a picture of the ways the Scripture, "Your body is a temple," was thrown at me in hand grenade fashion, by others and by myself. We tend to assign judgment when we wield the statement, “your body is a temple.”
Your body is a temple, you chain-smoking, tattooed, sugar-indulging, temple-defiler. Stop smoking, repent of the body art, stop eating sugar (and for the love of God, EXERCISE), and maybe then, your temple will be worthy for God to call it His home.
Perhaps at this point you may be thinking, well, it's unfortunate that you had a negative experience with the way that Scripture was used, but it doesn't negate the fact that it is true. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We owe it to God to keep them healthy.
Ok, then. Let’s for the sake of being agreeable say that we agree. Although, if we were to apply proper exegesis to the scriptures in First Corinthians that refer to the body as a temple, we would find that they have NOTHING to do with the condition of the physical body as related to exercise, diet and physical appearance. (But, I digress.)
If we agree that our bodies deserve to be kept healthy, who then defines what “keeping our bodies healthy” looks like? Who then defines what “keeping our bodies healthy” even is?
Are you prepared to be the judge of that? Are you prepared to be the judge of who is or is not a temple defiler? If someone is confined to a wheelchair, does it matter if the tragedy that put them there was the result of their own recklessness or the result of someone else’s? Should it matter? The end result is the same: a “broken down temple”. Would you judge someone with type 2 diabetes as a temple defiler? Someone who goes to Weight Watchers? Someone who has anorexia? Someone who has cancer? Are they a temple defiler? Their temples have been defiled, there is no denying that.
You might say, "The person who has cancer could not help their condition, but the person with diabetes caused their condition." Are you sure about that? What kind of cancer did she have? Did she eat too much soy? How about heart disease? Was it stress-induced? Hereditary? Did her father have heart disease, too?
Are blame and intent considerations when we deem a body a worthy temple or not?
Who then judges that? Who then judges the intentions of a person’s heart?
It is said the road to hell is paved with good intentions...or at the very least, it is paved with the the judgments of what others believe our intentions ought to be. Which is sad. It is a tragedy, in fact, that the very things we all have in common with one another--our humanity and our deep-rooted need to find meaning in this life--are dissected and judged and found wanting.
It's equally a tragedy that the very language, "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit," has been hijacked to mean something diametrically opposed to its original intent.
And the original intent was beautifully revolutionary.
When the Apostle Paul wrote the words "Your body is a temple" to the church in Corinth he was saying this: You no longer have to go to a building, an ornate, gilded temple built with your blood, toil and sacrifice, in order to meet with your god. No, now you are the temple. You are place in which your God will dwell. And your God has built this temple in you with His own blood, toil and sacrifice."
How typical of human nature to take this radical, free gift of love and immediately turn it back into what it was before. Only now, instead of requiring a suitable building, we demand a suitable physical body; maintained in accordance with strict rules and regulations, in the great hope that it would be considered good enough for a holy God to make His habitation there.
But make no mistake, the holy God that humbled Himself to death, even death on a Cross, does not require a temple built of gold, adorned with perfect ornamentation, in keeping with the fashions of the day.
He requires one thing. A yielded heart.
Looking back at that pastor’s wife in the restaurant, who was me, shamed and defeated, I often feel sad. I wish I could talk to her. I wish I could slip into the seat beside her and squeeze her hand and assure her that God’s feelings for her had nothing to do with the way she was treating her body.
But I know that I can’t. And I know that I wouldn’t, even if I could. Because that shame choked moment was refining me, even then. A seed had been planted of defiance. The kind of defiance that looks lies and injustice in the face and declares, “No more!” Or in my case, to declare, “This way of thinking and speaking to others is not helpful. At all. Using Scripture in this way is at best, irresponsible, and at worst, damning.”
For the Word of God is not a message of condemnation.
It is Good News of Great Joy for ALL people.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God? You are not your own: you were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
As a believer in Christ, the temple of my body already IS worthy for God to call it His home. It became worthy the minute Jesus suffered and died, giving His life as a ransom for many. The minute the angels clothed in robes of white lightning, sentinels to an empty tomb, said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen.”
The minute a pastor’s wife shook off the shackles of the shameful pronouncements of others and believed that gospel really is good news. It really is.
Yes, there is a standard. But, yes! The standard has already been met. We have been bought with a price. Therefore, we honor God with our bodies. Not the other way around.
"In view of God's mercies...offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1). We don''t offer our bodies to obtain mercy. We offer them because His mercy has already been given. The writers of the New Testament vehemently fought against the legalism of the Pharisees, to the point of laying down their very lives, to make sure this beautiful, revolutionary order of operations was kept straight: We honor God because He first loved us.
How wonderfully liberating this realization is! This realization turns condemnation on its head. It strips the world’s standards--what we are conditioned to believe our physical bodies are supposed to be--of all power to define who we are in Christ. I don’t need a fit temple. I need a temple that is filled with the resurrected glory of the Holy Spirit. And guess what? I already have that! I don’t need to restore my temple. My temple was restored the moment “God so loved the world that he sent His only Son. That whosoever would believe in Him would not die, but would have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
I am a suitable temple because I have been bought with a price.
And, it was a great price, indeed.
Besides, I have learned that the seed of righteous defiance can indeed grow into a revolution. A revolution that delivers victory to those who are oppressed, joy to those who are downcast, recovery to those who have eating disorders, life to those who are dead. For when we lay aside our preoccupation with making sure our temples will pass muster, we will discover that out temples never belonged to us anyway.
They are His.
And that’s good news.