By Pastor Glenn Pease
I don't care how widely traveled you are, I know you have never sailed among the Island of Langerhans, or drifted lazily down the Aqueduct of Sylvius. Nor have any of you ever strolled along the banks of Hunter's Canal, or watched the sun go down behind McBurney's Point. None of you have ever ridden through the Tunnel of Carti, nor have you ever climbed the Pyramids of Malpighi. I can say this with confidence, not because I know where all of you have ever been, nor because all of these places are fictions and unreal. On the contrary, they are more abundantly real than most of the places you have ever been. But I can say this because all of these places are parts of our body.
The Islands of Langerhans are small masses of tissues in our pancreas.
The Aqueduct of Sylvius is part of the brain.
Hunter's Canal is in the thigh.
McBurney's Point is a spot on the right side which is tender to the touch in acute appendicitis.
The Tunnel of Carti is in the inner ear.
The Pyramids of Malpighi is in the kidneys.
The point of this little anatomy lesson is that there is a great deal about our bodies that we do not know. We live in them, but we know more about the house our body lives in than we know about our bodies, which is the house of our spirit. Sophocles said, "Numberless are the world's wonders, but none more wondrous than the body of man." We live in this wondrous temple 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year. We never leave this house in which we dwell until we die, for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
This body we dwell in is the first part of man that God made. Man was a body before he was anything else. As Paul says in verse 46, the natural comes first than the spiritual. Man was first a body as a part of God's creation. Then God breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul. Man is a combination of the creation and the Creator. He has a material and a spiritual reality. He is akin to the animal, mineral, and vegetable on the one hand, and a kin to God and angelic beings on the other hand. In God's ultimate plan we can safely say that man is the best of both worlds. He is a mixture of both the dust and the divine.
As soon as man begins to lose his awareness of the reality of this combination, he loses his understanding of just who man is, and of the role his body plays in God's plan. All through history men have followed three basic philosophies concerning the body. They are-
The body is nothing.
The body is everything.
The body is something.
We want to examine each of these philosophies, for only by doing so can we come to a clear understanding of the biblical view of the body. This is important in understanding I Cor. 15, for this is the body center of the New Testament. There is no other part of the Bible where there is so much on the body, and where it is so basic to Christian doctrine. First let's look at the view-
I. THE BODY IS NOTHING.
This does not mean that those who hold this view reject the existence of the body, but they do reject its significance. They say the body is not a value or an asset, but it is a liability, and so it is to be despised and held in contempt. Heraclitus considered death a blessing because it got rid of the contemptible burden of the body, which he called a fetter and dark abode of the soul. Epictetus called the body a corpse, a beast of burden, a product of filth. He referred to himself as, "A poor soul shackled to a corpse."
Pathogarus called it a soma-semas, that is a body tomb. Plato and Socrates felt that the body defiled the soul, and man could never be at his highest until he escaped the prison of his body and entered into the immortality of the soul. Seneca the Roman said, "I regard the body as nothing but a chain which monocles my freedom." Dr. Ralph Stob in Christianity and Classical Civilization writes, "It can be put down as a mark of the Graeco-Roman world that men wanted a deliverance from the body..."
There was another side to this, and some Greeks had a high view of the body. Aristotle came along and took an opposite stand from Plato, and he made the body of first priority, and he said it was before the soul, even as Scripture teaches. But the negative philosophy is want dominated the New Testament world. It gave rise to the great enemies of Christianity, who were the Gnostics. They picked up on the anti-body doctrine and made it fundamental to their theology. They said the body is evil and the source of all sin. Because of this they rejected the Incarnation. They said that Jesus could never take on a real body, for God is holy and could never enter into sinful flesh. He had to be in a phantom body, for real flesh is totally evil.
This negative body thinking influence both later Judaism and early Christianity. It was a part of the culture and people could not escape it without deliberate efforts to resist it. In the Wisdom of Solomon 915 it was written, "This contemptible body weighs down the soul..." Some Jews felt this way. Some Christians picked up this negative spirit and developed Asceticism, which is a very anti-body form of Christianity. The body was no friend, but was an enemy. You had to fight it constantly and deny it as much as possible. This led to celibacy in the church.
Truly spiritual people would not marry and engage in the practice of sex, for this was a body centered activity. Some of the church fathers said that sex even in marriage was a polluted way of life. Origin, one of the church fathers, went so far as to castrate himself to thrust the foul desires of the body from him. We do not have the time to trace the impact of Greek thought and Gnosticism in the history of the church, but let me assure you that it can be traced even into the present day so that many Christians feel about their body that which comes from Plato more than that which comes from the Bible. Christians are often more a product of their Western culture than they are a product of God's Word. The reason is obvious. They live in the culture 24 hours a day, and live in God's Word maybe 24 hours a year. The Greek view is not the biblical view, for it says the body is negative, and what matters it the immortality of the soul.
The anti-body feelings were so strong that at one point in Christianity it was considered giving comfort to the enemy to bathe. Some of the saints went for years without a bath, and vermin would fall from their bodies as they walked, and this was proof of their hatred for their body. Some of you probably have children who have a touch of Gnostic philosophy because they hate to bathe, but fortunately most Christians who have anti-body feelings do not carry it to such a logical conclusion.
Christians can, however, as Christians were in Corinth, carry their low view of the body into their theology and corrupt the Christian doctrine on the resurrection of the body. The idea that the body is nothing is anti-Christian, and totally out of line with the biblical view of the body. Next let's look at-
II. THE BODY IS EVERYTHING.
Novalis expressed this view as strongly as anyone when he said, "There is but one temple in the world, and that is the body of man. Nothing is holier than this high form...We touch heaven when we lay our hand on a human body." The materialist says the body of man is all there is of man. There is no non-material spirit, but only matter. This is the view of the atheist and the secularist. The conclusion you come to with this view is, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." If the body is everything, than all life is good for is sheer animal pleasure. If it feels good, do it, for physical pleasure is all there is.
In contrast to those who say the body is evil, this view says the body is the only good, and anything that deprives the body of pleasure is evil. This leads to the rejection of all moral restraint and a libertine life-style. The body becomes an idol, and men worship it by devoting all their time, talent, and treasure to its exaltation. This view is totally anti-Christian, but it is a very popular view in our culture.
Evolution is taught in the schools, and youth get the impression that they are just another animal, and if their is a soul and a spiritual part of them, they do not get much insight into that. They become almost totally secular. I wonder how many young people are writing things like this essay I found on anatomy written by a young boy: "Your head is kind of round and hard and your brains are in it and your hair is on it. Your face is in front of your head where you eat. Your neck is what keeps your head off your shoulders, which are sort of shelves where you hook your overall straps...You arms you got to have to pitch with and so you can reach the biscuits. Your fingers stick out of your hands so you can scratch, throw a curve, and add arithmetic. You legs is what you got to have to get to first base, your feet what you run on, and your toes are what gets stubbed. And that is all there is of you except what is inside, and I ain't seen that." We live in a culture where this is the common view. The body is everything, and without some instruction that will be the total view of persons. Next we look at-
III. THE BODY IS SOMETHING.
Between the two extremes of those who say the body is nothing, or that the body is everything is the biblical view that the body is really something. It is not a trivial something, but a tremendous something, and a something without which we can never be fully what God made us to be. When God made the first human body, that of Adam, He had made the body out of which every other human being would come. For out of Adam He took Eve, and out of them came all other humans. In Adam all humanity was in a single body, and God pronounced it, not just good, but very good.
This body was the handiwork of God, and God made it to last forever. God was not just playing around with clay forming a body only to squash it and roll the lump into some other shape. He made Adam's body with the potential for immortality. He tells us this in Gen. 3:22, "And the Lord God said, the man is now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take hold of the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So God banished Adam and Eve from Eden, which was a place where they could have lived forever had they not eaten the forbidden fruit. The body God made was not weak and inadequate house for man. It was created to be his eternal palace. But they ate the wrong fruit, and God did not want man to live forever as a rebel, and so access to the tree of life was cut off. Even so, Adam lived 930 years before his body gave out and he died.
Death was an enemy and a punishment, but you can also see how death was essential for God's plan to save man. If he never died, he would be an immortal sinner like Satan. God did not want such a fate for man, and so it was ordained that he die. This made if possible for him to be redeemed and resurrected to life, not as an immortal sinner, but as an immortal saint. Even the great enemy death is used in the long run for the good of man. Better to die and rise to live forever holy than to live and never die, but be forever unholy. The choice was to let man live forever in hell, which is separation from God, or let him die and be raised to be forever with God. With these two options I think we can all agree that God made the best choice for us, even though it would cost His Son the tasting of death for every man.
The body is a God-made wonder, and should be honored as such. There is nothing Christian about treating the body like dirt and thinking that one is more spiritual because his body is weak, drab, filthy, or suffering. You don't have to go to the other extreme and replace praying with jogging, but the fact is, there is nothing anti-spiritual about a clean healthy body. Adam had the best and there is no hint in the Bible that the body of Jesus was anything less than an ideal specimen of health and strength. There is no virtue in being sickly or unkempt. Many a fool has developed muscles of steel and the lungs of a race horse, and still broke all the commandments, and so there is also no ultimate virtue in health and strength in themselves.
The Christian view is that the body is not everything, but it is something, and something important to the total man. It should be treated with honor and loving care so it can be the best of what God made it to be. You don't worship it, but neither do you whip it. You work it by discipline to be a tool for God's glory, and you dedicate it as a temple in which God can dwell. The defamation of the body is anti-Christian, for it is a denial of the body as God's handiwork. The deification of the body is also anti-Christian, for it is idolatry, and it puts the body in competition with God.
In between these two extremes is the dedication of the body to be what its Creator intended; recognizing that He loves His handiwork enough to send His Son into the world to redeem the fallen body of man as well as his lost soul. In cooperation with God's plan the Christian is to love his body and discipline it to bring it under the control of God's standards. We often blame the body for our sin and folly, but the fact is, it is not the body at all, but our minds choices to force it, or to not discipline it. C. S. Lewis gives us an insight into the plight of the body by means of this verbal conflict of body and mind;
"You are always dragging me down, said I to my body.
Dragging you down replied my body, well I like that!
Who taught me to like tobacco and alcohol? You, of
course, with your idiotic adolescent idea of being grown-
up. My palate loathed both at first, but you had to have
Who put an end to all those angry and revengeful thoughts
last night? Me, of course, by insisting on going to sleep.
Who does his best to keep you from talking too much or
eating too much by giving you a dry throat and headache
Well what about sex? said I. Yes what about it retorted
the body. If you and your wretched imagination would
leave me alone I'd give you no trouble. You give me orders
and then blame me for carrying them out.
Lewis is making a powerful point. The problem is not the body, but the things the body is forced to do by the mind. Sex is absolutely no problem as far as the body is concerned. God made the body for sex, and He built the body to enjoy great pleasure in sex. He told man to practice sex and populate the world. Then in the New Testament Paul makes it clear in I Cor. 7 that sex is to be a regular part of married life. Paul goes so far as to say, not only is it not a sin to have a lot of sin, but it is a sin not to, for soon as you cease to satisfy one another in marriage Satan will tempt you to find satisfaction outside of marriage.
The Christian method of preventing immoral sex is not to denounce the world of sexuality as the devil's plot, but rather to promote moral sex, and to exalt the joy and pleasure that God intended for the body. Don't blame the body is the point. The body is good and its sexuality is another of God's wondrous works of art. The way the body functions is not man's problem, for that is God's gift. The problem of man is that he will not discipline his body to function within the guidelines God has established. If you want to blame anything, blame the disobedient spirit of man, but don't blame the body and start dragging in all this Gnostic heresy and foolish Christian asceticism that rejects the body as evil.
The body is not evil and sex is not evil, and nothing the body does is evil. There is no evil function of the body. It is God's handiwork and it is good. If it is treated right and loved right it will not seek the false and fake love that makes it a tool of evil. Nobody knows more about the immorality of the body than Paul. He wrote more about lust, impurity, debauchery, orgies, and all forms of sexual immorality than anybody. You can't add anything to Paul's knowledge about sexual corruption. Nevertheless, Paul says sex is good and the body is good, and is even the temple of the Holy Spirit and the agent by which all the gifts of the spirit can be expressed.
The point is, you do not fight evil by rejecting the good. You do not hold the body in contempt just because it is a gate Satan so often uses to get to us. This is as senseless as breaking down your front door because you are sick of germs getting into the house by that route. Satan is clever. He has convinced Christians all through the ages to throw out some of God's best blessings because he gets his agents to use them as weapons. If evil can use the body to promote its line, then the Christian says we must attack and reject the body. We do not fall for this in conventional warfare. If Russia comes out with a tank or a supersonic airplane, we do not demolish our tanks and planes, and refuse to use the same weapons as an enemy. Instead, we say how can we make our tanks and planes better, and more efficient and powerful.
That is the biblical approach with the body. Satan does use the body as one of his primary weapons. Some Christians react by saying the body is an enemy, and they develop anti-body life-styles. The Christian who listens to God's Word will see the body as a key weapon in the battle for righteousness. The body is not our enemy. It is an ally and one of our greatest friends. It is made of the dust of the earth, but it is not contemptible. It is God's doing and the source of all who gives us life. We do not despise the earth even though its dirt can be used in negative ways. It is not always pleasant when it gets on your rug, and the body has it unpleasant side as well, but it is nevertheless a friend and source of great blessing.
The body of man is something because God made that body to live forever. We tend to think that death is natural to the body, but it is not. Death only happens to the body as a judgment. It does not die naturally. It has to be killed by force or by disease. The body is designed to keep renewing itself. The cells that form the body keep replacing themselves so that we have a new body every 7 years. There is no reason why they should not keep doing this indefinitely. Science can only tell us that for some unknown reason degeneration sets in, and each generation of cells becomes less efficient until death occurs. It is not natural at all. It is unnatural and contrary to the way the body is built. It is built to experience natural immortality. Adam and Eve's bodies would have lived forever had they not sinned, but ate of the tree of life.
This is not a far fetched idea, for we have examples of natural immortality even in God's fallen creation. The Ameba does not get born, grow old, and then die. They divide into two daughter cells, and pass on all their substance, and leave no corpse behind. If they die, they die by accident and not by nature. The Paramecia also live forever if no accident kills them. Man has protected a single celled Paramecia as it went through 20 thousand generations in the lab over a period of 37 years. That first cell they started with never died, but it lived on and on for an equivalent of a quarter of a million years.
The living for nearly a thousand years by Adam and some of his descendents is not in the least hard to accept in the light of what we know about natural life and the potential of cells. Before man loused up the body it was designed to live forever. Sin poisoned the system of God's cellular renewal, but it took time to destroy this marvel of God's handiwork. And so for generations the body still lived on for centuries as it renewed itself.
Even today the body does not die naturally. It has to be killed by external forces. Arthur Constance says there has never been a case of natural death on record. Dr. Hanns Selye, the world's authority on stress, says that he never found in all his autopsies a man who died of old age, and he does not think one will ever be found. Everybody dies because something kills them.
The point is, man's body is not like a car or a pair of shoes. These things age naturally. They only have so much potential and no more. When that is gone they are worn out and useless. But the body of man is built with far more potential than is ever used. But death comes as an intruder and as an enemy of the body, and it robs it of its potential. Paul says death is the last enemy to be destroyed, and when this enemy is out of the way man will have a body that will live forever.
Modern man has already discovered in the lab that death is an outside force and not anything that is inherent in life itself. They have confirmed that death is a foreign agent and not natural. They have taken the cells of rats and chickens and have nourished them in test tubes for 30 years. They just go on dividing and living without death being a part of the picture. Science has already demonstrated that if you can get an environment that is free from the poison fingers of death, cells can live forever. This excites man to try and figure out how to conquer death, but he never will be able to do it. But God can, and He has promised to destroy death and give us bodies that will never die.
What man can get hints of, but can never produce, he can have freely as a gift of God. He can have eternal life in Jesus who submitted His body to death that He might conquer death and give all who trust Him victory over death. This body is such a gem of God's creation that He will not be satisfied until it is totally redeemed. Paul in Rom. 8:23 says this too is what we wait for as Christians, which is the redemption of our bodies. In Phil. 3:21 he says again that we eagerly await the coming of Christ because He will, "Transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body."
To be anti-body is to be anti-Christ, for He lived in an ideal body in time, and He dwells in a perfected body for eternity. His goal is to see that all who love Him have their bodies raised and transformed like His. To be in any way negative toward the body as a philosophy of life is to be on the opposite side from Christ. Satan's goal is to see both body and soul cast into the lake of fire. The goal of Jesus is to see both body and soul saved and united with each other and Him forever in heaven. The body was made to live forever, and the plan of salvation is not completed until man is in a body that will do just that. So the body is not everything, but it is something, and a powerful, valuable, and honorable something.