|Auguste Rodin's The Thinker|
As pastors, we often think of ourselves as spiritual practitioners – “physicians of the soul.” And so we are. We are charged with keeping watch over the souls of our people (Heb. 13:17). And we are ministers of the new covenant, ministers of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3).
But we must beware of forgetting that all human spirituality is by necessity embodied spirituality. We are physical, earth-bound creatures and all of our relating to God, Christ, the Spirit, the Word, and one another is defined by our physicality.
To treat people as if they are bodiless souls is to be one step removed from the reality in which they live. People have bodies and their bodies matter.
This is a good thing. God created us with bodies and said that they (along with everything else he created) were very good (Gen. 1:31). The doctrine of creation reminds us of the goodness of the physical.
But even more amazing is the fact that Word by whom all things were created (John 1:3) became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God took on a body! “A body you have prepared for me,” Jesus said (Heb. 10:5).
Christian orthodoxy has always held that the body of Jesus was a real body, not a phantom body (as was taught in the old heresy of Docetism); furthermore, that he rose again, ascended and was exalted in this very real human body. So the doctrines of incarnation and resurrection join the doctrine of creation in reminding us of the intrinsic value and importance of the body.
It is no wonder then that the New Testament places such importance on the body.
- Paul prayed for the sanctification of the body: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23, ESV).
- James warned us that goodwill which fails to minister to bodily needs is nothing more than dead faith: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17, ESV).
- We are exhorted to flee sexual immorality precisely because it is a sin committed against the body – the body which is God’s temple, God’s gift, and God’s purchase: “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” (1 Cor. 6:18-20).
- Paul further teaches that we will “all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10, ESV).
- And our great Christian hope is that someday Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philip. 3:21, ESV) and that “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53, ESV).
Is it any wonder then that we are exhorted “by the mercies of God, to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1, ESV)?
The conclusion of all this is that people’s bodies matter. We must minister to our congregants as embodied souls, remembering that they (like we) are but dust (Psalm 103:14) with flesh that is weak (Matt. 26:41).
We must remember that they physical needs as well as spiritual needs. And we must beware of implicitly teaching the Gnostic error that the body is evil.
Instead, let’s remind people that our bodies, though fallen, are gifts of our good and wise Creator God who has revealed His glory in the body of Jesus Christ and has promised to not only save our souls but also to raise our bodies in glory; therefore we should use our bodies for thankful worship and sanctified service to him.
Making It Personal
- Do I take into account the fact that human beings are inescapably physical beings, and that this is a good thing?
- Is my ministry marked by an appropriate concern and compassion for people’s physical needs (food, clothing, health) as well as their spiritual needs?
- Do the great doctrines of creation, incarnation, and resurrection have due impact on the way I think of the body?
- Have I unconsciously taught people that the body is evil or that physical things are unimportant?
For a helpful book length treatment of human physicality from a Christian perspective, check out Matthew Lee Anderson's Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith.