Shelby County Schools’ board members are debating whether to let home-schooled students participate in the district’s sports programs. The question boils down to this: Should the public school systems in Shelby County allow students who are home-schooled to participate in their sports programs?
This issue ought to cause us to reflect first on the link, if any, between faith and fitness. Does faith even have a reason to care about this debate or ones like it? In short, yes.
Let me explain. In 1 Cor. 6 Paul writes about three slogans popular among his readers.
- Slogan one: “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).
- Slogan two: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both” (1 Cor. 6:13).
- Slogan three: “Every sin a person commits is outside his body” (1 Cor. 6:18).
Notice that two of the slogans mention the body. One talks about food in the body. The other speaks of sin and the body. The first slogan is also linked with the body. In essence, it says “I have the right to do anything—with my body.”
These three slogans reveal something going on in the lives of Paul’s readers. Perhaps out of a sense that as Christians they were free from Jewish laws,  or perhaps out of a sense that as Christians they were living in an era of grace,  and perhaps out of undue influence of a popular philosophy of the time,  these Christians believed that their bodies were private property and that they could do whatever they wanted to do with their bodies. They no longer had Old Testament rules telling them what to do with their bodies. They no longer had to worry about earning the favor of God by what they did with their bodies. And, like some philosophies of the day, they seemed to believe that what really mattered to God were the spiritual things like a person’s soul not secular things like a person’s body.
This led to some harmful choices. Specifically, it led some of them to continue the practice of visiting prostitutes. Houses of prostitution were widespread in the Greco-Roman world. Visiting them was not only legal, it was widely accepted. And some of Paul’s readers, after they became Christians, continued their practice of visiting prostitutes. They justified it with these slogans: I am free to do what I want with my body. It’s going to perish anyway. What really matters to God are the higher matters of my soul.
Paul responds by demonstrating the value of the body and emphasizing God’s rights to their bodies. He does this in four statements.
- First, Paul writes that God will raise our bodies: By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also (1 Cor. 6:14 TNIV). Paul draws attention to one important fact: God raised the body of Jesus, not simply the soul of Jesus—and he will do the same for us.
- Second, Paul writes that God owns our bodies: 13 …The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!…19…You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:13,15,19 TNIV). Paul uses two images to convey the degree to which our physical bodies are owned by God. The first image is that of incarnation: Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? One translator suggests this reading: “Do you not know that your bodies are Christ’s limbs and organs?” Jesus intends to use our limbs and organs as his own. How, then, Paul asks, can Christians use their physical bodies in an immoral way? That body of yours is Jesus’ body. Paul uses a second image—the image of a slave being purchased by a new master. Paul says, You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Slaves in Paul’s day could be purchased from one owner by another. In this analogy, God has purchased us. Everything about us, including our bodies, belongs to God.
- Third, Paul writes that God lives in our bodies: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Cor. 6:19 TNIV). Paul’s readers would have been familiar with the idea of a temple in which there existed at least an image of the deity who was worshipped there. When at the temple one was in the presence of a god. Paul’s point is that your body is the temple in which God dwells.
- And, finally, Paul writes that God is glorified by our bodies: Therefore honor God with your bodies (1 Cor. 6:20 TNIV). Paul is saying that our physical body is one of the ways in which we honor God. Our hearts and souls and spirits are not the only tools by which we honor God. Our bodies are as well.
Paul uses these four points to demonstrate the importance of the physical body. And while these four points have implications about sexual morality, I believe they also have something to say about fitness. I am not suggesting that Paul’s words should persuade us to buy into our culture’s obsession with image. However, it does seem that Paul’s words have something to say when it comes to the basic issue of physical fitness. The fact that God will raise our bodies, God owns our bodies, God lives in our bodies, and God is glorified by our bodies suggests that the physical health of our bodies is an important component of our spiritual life. We Christians have often left discussions about fitness to the medical field and the secular culture. But Paul’s words suggest that physical health is a spiritual matter. We ought to care for our bodies in ways that recognize the value God has placed on them.
This is especially crucial in the South. A recent report in the Commercial Appeal pointed out that life-expectancy in counties in the South are lower than in counties elsewhere in the country. Some of the reasons for this lower life-expectancy are risk factors such as obesity. From a faith perspective, we in the South should do everything we can to combat this. Opening up more sports opportunities for homeschooled kids could be a step in this direction. The health of our children is not just a matter of fitness. It’s a matter of faith.
1. Richard B. Hays First Corinthians Interpretation (John Knox Press, 1997), 104-105.
2. Anthony C. Thiselton The First Epistle to the Corinthians The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2000), 461.
3. Hays, 101-102.
4. Thiselton, 458, 459.
5. Richard E. Oster, Jr. 1 Corinthians The College Press NIV Commentary (College Press, 1995), 142.