The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”-and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one flesh.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
I Corinthians 6:12-20
We may not have control of certain circumstances in our lives, but we are in control of our bodies, right? A big part of developing self-control has to do with our bodies, and this begins with understanding what our body is and what it isn’t.
There is a degree to which I have no control over my body – my mother’s father was bald, and so in my genetic makeup there is a predisposition for baldness. I’m going bald. My brother is not. Lucky him. I have no control over this. So, I’m not mad at my lack of hair or jealous of my brother over his perfect head of hair. I have a genetic pre-disposition for high cholesterol. The fact that my cholesterol is high is due in part to genes and in part to my bad food choices. I have some, though not total, control of this. I came out of the womb left-handed. No choice there. I’m blessed with a decent voice but little athletic skills. This serves me well as a priest (my choice) and it’s a good thing I didn’t have a desire to be a professional athlete, because no amount of practice was going to allow me to dunk a basketball or throw a baseball 90 miles an hour (not my choice).
There are some things about our bodies that we have no control over. However, there are a lot of things about our bodies that we have absolute control over. First, we absolutely control what goes into our mouths. Choosing a healthy diet over an unhealthy diet is just that, a choice. Many of us, including me, struggle with self-control when it comes to food. Whether it is eating too much, or too late, or the wrong kinds of food or eating for stress, most people struggle with our diets. No one can force you to eat bad food. However, it takes discipline to eat healthy. I may have a genetic predisposition to have a bigger “frame” so that I cannot be super thin, but 3,500 calories are still a pound and disciplining oneself by counting calories is a proven way to control weight.
It’s not just what goes into our mouths that we can control. We also have control of what comes out of our mouths. Using profanity, gossiping, and lying (or stretching the truth) are also things we can control. We’ve all made the mistake of saying things we later regret. There are obviously some things that are better left unsaid. The choice to do these things again is a choice. No one can make bad words or mean things come out of our mouths. Again, it is a discipline to keep what comes out of our mouths clean.
Our bodies function better when we exercise. This is another choice that many of us do not make, myself included.
Here’s the thing about our bodies – as St. Paul writes, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And we should treat it as such. We should watch what we eat and what we say and how much we exercise, not only because it makes for a healthy body, but because it makes for a Holy body, a body that reflects that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
I read once in a book entitled “It’s Not About Me,” by Max Lucado, two great analogies for how we misuse our bodies even when we think we are using them correctly. Both analogies compare our bodies to someone who is renting a house. One renter changes everything in the house he is renting – changes the paint color, the furniture, etc. The second renter neglects everything – never washes dishes, allows the place to fall into disarray. When the homeowner confronts his destructive renters, both think that the house is theirs to do with as they wish. They forget that they are renters, not owners. Likewise, with our bodies, we are not owners. Our bodies are supposed to be His, they are supposed to be His temple. They are not ours to use and abuse as we sit fit. Yes, we live in an era where we are told our bodies are our own to do with as we please. But really, they are not. They are His.
In the Orthodox Church, we have a Tradition of fasting that is designed to help us maintain control of our bodies. While fasting is a discipline of abstaining from certain kinds of food, fasting helps us to discipline what we say with our mouths and what we think with our minds. It helps us to keep our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, thank You for my body. Thank You for a brain that allows me to think, create and make decisions. Thank You for hands that allow me to do things. Thank You for eyes that allow me to see the beauty of the world. Thank You for a heart that beats, lungs that breathe, ears that hear, and a mouth that can both taste and speak. Help me to control my body – what I see, what I hear, what I eat, what I say, what I think. Help me to honor my body as Your temple. May I glorify You with my body today. Amen.
Strive for a sense of Godliness in what you eat and what you say today. Make it a point to get some exercise as well.