Monday 18 July 2016

Body Matters

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

Paul uses the language of the temple here – in words like ‘offer’ and ‘sacrifice’ and ‘worship’. But that earlier way of doing things is now transformed.

What is it we offer? Our bodies, says Paul.

As Christians, we can have a lingering ambivalence about our bodies. It’s all too tempting to think that the ‘real’ me is something ‘inside’ me – the ‘soul’ bit or the ‘spiritual’ bit. But Scripture often insists and everywhere implies that the ‘real’ me is embodied.

So, as Paul writes in Romans 3, human fallenness reveals itself through our bodies: in tongues which practise deceit; in lips which spread poison; in mouths which are full of bitterness and cursing; in feet which are swift to shed blood; in eyes which turn away from God. Then, several times in chapter 6, Paul calls us to ‘offer’ (the same word as in 12:1) our bodies as an ‘instrument of righteousness’, while in 8:23 he looks forward to ‘the redemption of our bodies’.

If Christianity involves a recovery of what it means to be truly human, it should come as no surprise that the body is caught up in that restoration. God has saved us – the whole of us. And the whole of us is offered back to him – hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth. The challenge is to take seriously what we will do, even today, with our hands or our eyes or our tongue or our brain. The delight is that all that makes us who we are and are becoming in Christ – all the joys as well as the limits of bodily life – can be seen as an ongoing act of worship to God.

But there is something more going on here. We are physically embodied, but we are also socially embedded. Paul’s appeal that we offer our ‘bodies’ (plural) as a ‘living sacrifice’ (singular) suggests he has in mind the whole community of Christians in Rome. This is not a sacrifice made by a wealthy patron on behalf of others in the church, but an act in which all God’s people take part.

So, it’s not just that the body matters, but that every body matters. And there is something about the goal of this sort of worship that allows the church – you and me, even today – to be the embodied presence of Christ in the world.

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