A refrain common to both secular thought and religious thought is, “My body is a temple.”
But while the wording is identical from individual to individual, we do well to understand that there is a key difference between what different people mean when they say this.
Key to understanding the difference is understanding what a temple is.
A temple is a place of worship. It is a place where you come to venerate that which is sacred and holy, offering praise and adoration.
For many, the body is indeed a temple, but its a temple to themselves. There is a sizable number of individuals whose primary focus in life is self. We hear this in the saying, “You need to look out for number one,” with “number one” being self. We see it in the way people behave, putting their own interest before those of others.
For the individual whose body is a shrine to themselves, we should expect that the focus of caring for said shrine would be on self. And indeed, when many people talk of their body being a temple, their focus is indeed on the physical. They mean that they take care of what they eat, how they exercise, and the like. They monitor their health and the goal of caring for their temple is to keep their body in the very best shape that they can for as long as they can.
Alas, for such individuals, they are fated to fail for the ego is a false and vain God that cannot answer prayers, even to the saving of self from death. Every single individual who has ever made their body a temple to self has, throughout history, suffered the same fate: they died and their body rotted and their glorious temple to self was reduced to dust and ash.
The Bible teaches us that our body is a temple, but not one to self. Rather we read, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
The Christian, having, through baptism, been saved from sin and given the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38), is now a part of the body of Christ and their body belongs to God. Therefore that body should be used, as a temple of God, to glorify God.
When the apostle tells us to “glorify God in your body,” he has in mind a very specific kind of glorification and it has little to do with what you eat or how much exercise you get. Indeed, Jesus taught us concerning our food, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:11) and elsewhere, concerning the Christian diet we are told that God created all foods to be received with thanksgiving and “nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” (cf. 1 Timothy 4:3-4) Likewise, concerning exercise, we read, “bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)
Returning then to the Scripture’s claim that the body is a temple, what is meant by “glorify God in your body?” The context itself makes the meaning abundantly clear: God is glorified by righteousness and self-control. As Jesus noted, its not what you put into your body that makes you unwholesome to God, its what comes out of your mouth. As Paul taught Timothy, exercise has minimal value, but godliness is truly profitable. And to the Corinthians, Paul tells them to “flee sexual immorality,” for such sin is an affront to the God that died for you and purchased you with His blood. (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
Your body is a temple, and you need to decide who the altar of your heart is dedicated to. Are you living for self? Or are you living for God? Those who serve self, whose god is their belly, are enemies of the cross of Christ and fated to perish (cf. Philippians 3:18-19). But those who serve God, in obedient righteousness, have a house everlasting in the heavens, a home not made by hands.
At the Church of Christ, we invite you to serve and worship God with us. Won’t you please join us for worship and study at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.