Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Corinthian Church - Your Body As God's Temple


Paul talked quite a bit to the Corinthians about what they ate. in our spiritual understanding of God we wonder if God really cares about what we eat or how we take care of ourselves. We wonder if we live as God has called us; if we love and care for God’s people and God’s creation, why does it mater how we eat or drink or exercise or rest? Paul takes this up with the Corinthians as he speaks to us today.
When we look at God’s relationship with his people in the stories of the Old Testament one of the first acts of God is to take them to Mt. Sinai where the people receive what we know as the “levitical laws”. We generally don’t like ‘laws’ and this institution of all these rules God’s people had to live under - 613 to be exact- seems to be very oppressive. How can anyone possible follow that many rules! But when we think about what these laws were, I bet that you follow that many rules and don’t even think about it.
Think through your day and consider how many things you do routinely because you know they are good for you - taking your vitamins in the morning, brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, taking a shower or a bath, washing your hands, eating our proper amount of ‘correct’ foods, drinking water and we could go on. And think about how many additional rules there would be if we actually did all thing things they tell us to do to keep us healthy - exercising 30 minutes each day, getting 8 hours of sleep and the list goes on. So when we begin to examine these Levitical Laws what we find is that these laws are basically things that we do routinely that were unheard of in ancient times.
During the time in history of the Hebrews, little was know about science or hygiene. People did not understand the correlation between personal habits or eating habits and sickness. Sickness was simply believed to be a result of angering the gods and not because you sneeze on your hand and then touch another person. Spoiled food or tainted food just tasted bad and they didn’t understand that bad food could make you ill. This is a little bit of trivia - but one of the reasons for the use of the ‘hot’ type of spices was to mask the taste of bad meat….
So God takes his people to Mt. Sinai, gives them the 10 Commandments and the 613 Levitical Laws and the people begin to live as God has instructed them. Not because they necessarily understood theses rules were good for them, but because they wanted to please God - and out of fear that God would punish them if they didn’t follow this Law.
The result of the Hebrew people living this new way was the development of a people who were more robust and healthier than any other group of people in this time period. In fact it was noted by other cultures about the heath of this particular group of people. Even though they hadn’t figured out that it was because they followed the dietary and living laws - they just assumed they were healthier because God was taking care of them! And, I guess, he was.
Here are some great examples of these laws as they applied to food and to hygiene. If a person found mold or mildew in their living space, they had a special way to clean it and they had to leave their home for 3 days. We know mildew is bad but they didn’t even know what it was or that it was a cause of disease. The Hebrews had to wash their hands after certain acts and ritually during the day and - imagine this - before and after they ate! As far as food was concerned, they had what are called in the Levitical Laws clean and unclean meats. They could eat clean meat and could not eat unclean meat. And if we go through this list it is obvious that with their ways of food preparation, there were some meats that could be properly cooked and some that could not. Pork is the one, of course, that we always hear about. We know now that pork, more than many other meat, has to be properly cooked or we get sick. They could never have achieved this proper cooking so the meat was banned. They couldn’t
eat shellfish which again was a result of impurities and bacteria that were in the shellfish that they couldn’t deal with. They were encouraged to make their main meat chicken, quail and other types of foul and the red meat from cows was only to be used for special occasions or feasts and festivals. They were told not to eat fat…. and encouraged to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Sound familiar?
But God also undertook the value of rest. The 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy was not only to help the people keep focused on God, but was also designed so that the people would have one day a week to rest. When we talk about being healthy and taking care of our bodies ‘plenty of rest’ is right there among the most important things we can do for our health. But in our hectic, over scheduled, over committed, ‘puritan worth ethic’ life, rest isn’t a priority. And then here is God saying to his people - and to us - this idea of sabbath is not meant to be oppressive - the law itself says that ‘it is a gift from God’. Here is God saying to you - “Hey! I give you permission to rest; to take some time off!” because God knows it is good for us. We often read in the gospels about Jesus and the disciples going off to rest - Jesus knew the value of taking some time to rest and relax. None of us can use the business card to explain why we don’t rest - none of us can say we are busier than Jesus who had only 3 years to save the world.
But it was diet that was always at the forefront of the Hebrew life and something that distinguished them from others around them. We read the story of Daniel earlier. Daniel has been brought into the court of the king of Babylon and is being trained to be one of the heads of the cabinet positions in the kingdom. One of the perks of the job was to be required to eat at the table of the King - which would have been the best food in the kingdom. But Daniel is a good Jew and lives his life by the Levitical Laws that have been handed down to him which means there are only certain foods he can eat. But in the Persian culture, not eating the food you are served is considered rude and even a punishable act. So by not eating what he is served and following his Hebrew law, he is breaking the law of the Babylonians! What a conundrum. So in order to make his point, Daniel convinces the King to have a contest. Daniel will eat his diet and the others can eat the food they are served, and if Daniel remains healthy and at a healthy weight eating only what he is allowed by Jewish, then the King will allow the kitchen to continue to serve Daniel his special food. And of course Daniel, eating a diet mainly of fruits and vegetables, gains weight and is very healthy after the prescribed time period…. and as a result is allowed to continue following God’s diet.
In the Old Testament, God lived in the Temple. God’s spirit actually lived, not in heaven, but in the temple. When we get to the teachings in the New Testament, we are taught, first by Jesus and then later by the Apostle Paul, that God’s spirit no longer lives in buildings, or even just in heaven, but inside of each one of us. Therefore we, as followers of God, begin to be called, “The Temple of God” because like God once lived in the Temple in Jerusalem, God now lives inside of us. We are the new Temple - so just like the Hebrews took great pride in caring for and maintaining the Temple - just like we take great pride in caring for and maintain our church building - we are called to care for and maintain this body, this dwelling place for God’s spirit. We cannot do God’s work if we do not take care of ourselves - unless we do what we can to maintain our health.
In today’s culture, health is an obsession. Magazines and gyms and programs and shakes and medications and diets and special equipment. It is not that God wants us to be obsessed with our health, but we are reminded we are God’s temple, God lives within us and he just asks us to take care of his house!