As I'm doing some research for the month of February and our series of sex-oriented discussion with the youth group, I ran across this really funny quote from Robbie Castleman's "True Love in a World of False Hope":
"It's amazing how many blurry snapshots I have taken of people who are trying to avoid having their picture taken! 'I look awful!' is the common protest from very ordinary-looking women. The ordinary-looking guys just tend to duck, turn away or make a face. Not many of these blurry folks look awful at all. They look like who they are. Now, not many would end up on the cover of GQ or Glamour, but I just want these friends to end up looking like themselves in my photo album".
Too often we take the Bible entirely literally. Nobody actually reads the Bible perfectly literally. Even if they claim to, they would never suggest that Jesus literally meant to cut out your own eye if it will cause you to sin. Just like all human writers, the writers of the Bible use rhetorical devices.
So what's my point? We often devalue our human bodies. When Paul writes about hating his flesh, he does not necessarily mean his physical body. In fact, many of these Pauline references are a direct attack on pharisees of the day. One problem the pharisees had is that they put their faith not in God, but in their religion. They literally trusted their flesh (read "circumcision") because their flesh was literally marked. Rather than depending on the deeper truth of being chosen by God because God desired a relationship with all people through his chosen Abraham, they focused on their exclusivity because of their own merits (obeying the Torah esp. through circumcision).
So when Paul refers to hating his flesh, ask yourself if he is talking about his bodily desires, or attempts to fulfill God's law through his own merits. More often than not he means the latter.
Why does it all matter? Because between Christians and the world, we have created a false ideal for our physical bodies. We are constantly bombarded by media's attempts to show us how our bodies should look (six foot tall, size 0 ladies...muscular men with washboard abs). Meanwhile, well-intentioned Christians claim the same body is evil and can't be redeemed.
God himself came in bodily form. If Jesus, as a perfect person, had a body it cannot be inherently bad. It is fallen, but not evil. In fact, God created us as whole human beings, body AND soul. We should not sell our bodies for validation, nor should we deprive them of their true value. In fact, our physical body is the place where God chooses to dwell. It is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Adam and Eve were created "very good" with bodies. Our bodies will be resurrected.
Application? We must treat our bodies with respect. We cannot deprive them of our bodily impulses (though we can discipline them). We cannot become gluttons of our bodily impulses either, though.
Sex is truly awe inspiring precisely because it involves our entire person: body AND soul. Dr. Castleman puts it like this: "I began to understand that sex was awesome because it involved all of who I am. And who I am is a beloved child of my heavenly Father who wants the best for me".
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