A Theology of Body

ht_fit_mom_sr_131204_16x9_992I suppose I should probably take the “high road” and post something this week regarding Nelson Mandela and his legacy of gospel-flavored anthropology.

Nope. I’m going to write about moms working out.

It’s interesting that this topic has struck a national nerve twice in the past couple of months. Apparently it’s an issue.

Back in September, “Fit Mom,” fitness enthusiast Maria Kang, posted a social media photo of her herself, sculpted and toned, flexing next to her three children, all under 3-years-old. She captioned the picture, “What’s Your Excuse?” While I have no evidence, my guess is that this triggered a collaborative effort of Facebook ladies plotting the first ever assassination attempt on a non-profit-founding young mother. Nonetheless, Kang survived the vitriol of like 3 billion middle-aged women, and has since gone onto international speaking tours defending her message as promoting a healthy lifestyle, not just “fat-shaming.”

More fuel was thrown onto the discussion this past week when Caroline Berg Eriksen, a Norwegian soccer player’s wife, posted an Instagram selfie four days after giving birth. She not only looked like she hadn’t been pregnant, but that she’d been spending 3-4 hours in the gym each day.

Where am I going with all this? Well, it’s not going to be “Is Jesus okay with me despising these women?” Rather, health and fitness is actually a topic I’ve been meaning to address for quite some time. However, like most pastors, I haven’t had the guts to speak on the issue – not because there’s no biblical ethic on the matter, but rather that I know we’re obviously hypersensitive to weight issues.

But it’s time.

Let’s start by acknowledging that our society has collectively wavered on the issue of weight and physical fitness. In the 1990s, fashion magazines portrayed supermodels such as Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington as the female ideal, fluctuating around 100 pounds and a size 0 to 2. After an obvious spike of eating disorders in young women, including multiple deaths, America wised up. Or did we. There became a “fat acceptance movement” and national personalities who had struggled with weight, like Oprah, and even former supermodels, like Tyra Banks, became outspoken proponents of how “Big is Beautiful.” Okay. So, we perhaps publicly became less vain. But now we’ve smartened up to the health issues related to obesity (or simply being overweight, as studies indicate hardly anyone considers themselves “obese”). Shows like the Biggest Loser exposed the fact that obesity, leading to heart problems, diabetes, and becoming one of the country’s major contributors to death today, is not okay and, in fact, an epidemic in America right now.

Hmmm. Why can’t we seem to find any healthy balance?

The problem is that we were stilling viewing our bodies as our own. In other words, the gaunt, waif supermodel was saying – “We’ll if I’m super skinny, even to the point of deathly thin, I can garner millions of dollars and tremendous fame.” But the overweight person was saying, “I don’t care what other people think. It makes me happy to eat. So, I’ll eat whatever I want and exercise as little as I want.” You see, it’s essentially the same problem – MY life, and MY body, are MY own. Looking at your life as your own is the single issue that causes the most problems in your life.

How is the Bible different?

Look what the Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians (who I’m convinced were just ancient Americans): You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:13, 19-20) Now what is the principle that Paul is establishing here? It isn’t that we shouldn’t have sex with people who are not our spouses. That’s certainly true, but that’s his application of the principle, not the principle itself. The principle is YOUR BODY IS NOT YOUR OWN. If your body was purchased by Jesus Christ, then it no longer belongs to you. You don’t just get to do with it as you please. Rather, the way you manage your body – the single most important physical gift you’ve been given – is an opportunity to glorify God. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) See?

This means that, for the believer, vanity is not an option (Prov. 31:30; Jer. 4:30; 1 Sam. 16:7). However, gluttony and sloth are also not options (Prov. 23:20-21; Phil. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 4:8).

What’s your motivation to flee such things? Well, I’ll admit that fitting into an old suit or dress in time for a wedding can be influential, but only for a time. You see, once such events are over, all motivation is lost. Furthermore, when the endgame is simply to make yourself look better or even feel better about yourself, if the goal is accomplished, it will invariably cause you to feel superior to others and look down on those who haven’t worked as hard as you. So, let me offer a purer motivation.

Only when you see Jesus use his body to your glory will your heart be melted to use your body to his glory. His body took whips, spit, thorns, nails, and crucifixion all so that your body could one day be raised to be more glorious than you can imagine. (1 Cor. 15:42-44)

The way we manage our bodies is a big part of how we express gratitude for that and testify to that new body’s impending arrival.

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5 thoughts on “A Theology of Body

  1. Thank you, and I’m convicted, guilty of about 100 extra pounds. It’s not that I hate Jesus as I certainly don’t. Myself.. yeah, sometimes. Many times it hurts just to wear socks, so the idea of looking like that lady in your picture is just overwhelming. Really overwhelming. I’m trying to get my head and heart in the right place and hoping my body will cooperate at least some days. Your help and prayers are appreciated.

  2. Sara says:

    I literally woke up this morning with the thought that Christians who are obsessed with body image or body awareness need to realize they are part of a bigger body—the Body of Christ.

    In context, this passage from 1 Cor. 6 clearly seems to be a warning about sexual immorality, not body weight management.

    I could come up with a million excuses why I don’t look like Maria in the above photo. One is that I choose to serve my Lord and Savior by working in a school kitchen and teaching Sunday school. Does that mean I should quit my day job and go back to the gym?

    I think less emphasis should be placed on our physical bodies, and more on how we are serving the Body of Christ.

  3. Sarah says:

    An very interesting post James. Thanks for the insight and reminders. This is so good for so many to hear. As for the “what’s your excuse girl”. I would reply, I had 4 in under 3 years. 🙂

  4. Sarah says:

    And the importance of proof reading typos. 4 kids in 3 years. However, your article is very striking for me. I don’t know why it has hit so much, maybe it’s the beginning. The ever present need to be thin that the media presents. But mostly I think it’s truly that you hit the nail on the head. We were bought at a price! We should give glory to God. My goal is to be healthy; and I not only make that clear with my husband and children but also with many people who know me. I want to be healthy so I can be the wife God made me to be, the mom that can play with my kids, help at church and school, and in the end whatever I am doing. Giving glory to God.

  5. Kathryn says:

    Life is a struggle and filled with many temptations, food being just one. The devil has a way of manipulating us into thinking that a doughnut or something deep fried will bring us comfort which leads many people (including myself) into making unwise food choices or trading the gym for a night on the couch with “comfort” food. The following song, “Lord, I Need You”, came to mind as I read the blog—-It reminds me of how much I need God everyday and in every struggle whether it be food or a gazillion other temptations the devil may throw my way. (I hope people can just click on the link, otherwise just copy and paste it into a web browser). 🙂

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