Keep your own body in holiness and honour. †
The epistle for today (the Revised Standard Version which I read from) has an alternative reading, but it provides for the more anciently accepted one . Verse 4 which says “Each of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honour” or more literally “how to control his own body in holiness and honour”. The first thing to note about this more ancient translation "keep your own body in holiness and honour" is this, the body is intended for honour. The body of a human being has intrinsic dignity, it is not a dirty or demeaning thing, but it has beauty and worth.
The Christian teaching on sexual morality is not based on hatred or contempt for the body. The human body is a wondrous thing, an amazing masterpiece that God created at the beginning of time. At the beginning of time for us he said, "It is very good”.
The second thing to note about this is that the body matters to the soul, it is one with it. It is really part of who we are, even if it is not the highest part of who we are. That verse says it is our own, “keep your own body in holiness and honour”. What we do to it and with it, even if nobody is obviously hurt by our doings, truly reflects on our spiritual health. Otherwise St Paul’s teachings on sexual morality would make no sense. He not only forbids adultery in this particular section and harming the brethren but he also prohibits fornication. So, even if there is no adultery. Where it appears nobody rights are infringed, So what he is saying is that what we do with the body does matter with the soul, that these two are integrated.
The reason sex and marriage go together is precisely this body-soul unity. What sex is physically for the bodies involved, the ultimate act of union, total, mutual, self giving. Marriage is for the person. The whole life, body and soul. Ultimate act of union, total mutual self giving. What that is physically tor the whole body and soul, for the whole person - that is marriage - if you think about it. Because what is marriage but the man and the woman saying “I am yours and you are mine”. There is that self giving and it is “till death do us part”. It is whole! It is total! and it is an act of union. What marriage is for the whole person body and soul, the sexual act is for the body. The two are related. When we separate them our integrity is damaged in both senses of the word. This is part of the reason for the church's teaching. It is not just that it says in the bible “Don't do it”, so don't do it. God has reasons for His commandments to do with our health – the health of our body, soul and spirit.
Our wholeness and inner harmony is broken when we break that unity. And thus our honesty is denied if something is said with the body that does not correspond with the commitment of the soul. That is why our integrity is damaged. Integrity means two things. It means both wholeness (everything working together) and it also means honesty. Both of these are affected when those two things are separated.
The third thing to note in this verse is that the body is to be subject to the reason, it says “keep your own body in holiness and honour” so the person is to use their reason and their conscience to subject their body. The properly formed conscience, the moral sense as part of our reasoning is meant to control what we do with our body. Uncontrolled passion or what St Paul calls the lust of prepubescence undermine our humanity and our bodies dignity. We are not mere animals operating solely by instincts. Our body is good, our body is important but is is not meant to override our soul. It is meant to express our highest life of the soul. Indeed the body keeps its honour by being subject to a soul which is subject to God's goodness .
That brings me to the fourth point of this verse and passage. The body is not just intended for honour, as wonderful as that is, but for holiness. “keep your own body in holiness and honour”. Because even better than subjection to a healthy soul is consecration to God. Being filled with the Holy Spirit. St Paul teaches not that our souls are the temples of the Holy Spirit. He says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. So the Christian world view doesn’t separate soul and body. It doesn’t treat is as these angelic souls that just happen to have this annoying thing called a body, which sometimes gets in the way. Yet sometimes that is the way people think. Christians can sometimes think that way. That is not what God wants us to think when it comes to our body. Our body is not just this thing that weighs down the soul although it can do that. It is a thing of beauty and it meant to be in integral unity with our souls but of cause the greatest good for us is consecration to God, it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It is so our whole person becomes a temple of God and then we become involved in the highest life that there is because our body was meant to be instruments of God's loving will.
The fifth thing to note about this passage/verse is that these principles don’t just apply to sexual morality but to all aspects of our bodily existence. Our sleeping, our eating patterns, our exercise, our manual labour, all of this is affected by that principal that our body has an intrinsic dignity. Even the clothing we wear has a relationship to how we view our bodies. We belong to God, he wants the best for us, our body our soul and our spirit. It is in recognising these truths that we can make good descissions about the body. Including apparently small and trivial things like eating and sleeping patterns and so on.
Lets make our bodies temples Of God's Holy Spirit.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen. †