The body is weak.
It wasn't a whine, the Apostle Paul's frank catalog of personal hardship in 2 Corinthians 11, 12, and 13. Sharing personal details like this was typically uncharacteristic of his style and relationship with the churches. In fact, in several verses he declared that he was speaking as a fool or out of his mind. He just didn't complain very often. His readers would have known the Pauline legends and his place in the dramatic beginnings of Christ's church. Still, he usually didn't wave banners about the suffering he experienced as he traveled planting churches and serving them. These chapters have been my Bible study companions for a couple of months now, tutorials in human weakness. They explain levels of spiritual, emotional, and physical weakness that most of us moderns can hardly imagine, with the exception of our spiritual kin in other parts of the world. Paul's reflections are reservoirs of spiritual strength that produce peace, endurance, steadfastness, patience, and faithfulness in weak humans.
Human physical weakness is evident in his descriptive narrative. He wrote about being struck in the face, imprisoned, beaten many times, being near death, adrift at sea, in danger from every believable source, sleepless nights, days without food or shelter, and the thorn in the flesh that troubled him all the time. Each of them is a strong reminder that fear, pain, fatigue, and the frailty of the human body are weaknesses with which we must all wrestle. They remind me of the truth Jesus revealed to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: "...the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41, ESV). Truly, this miraculous body of ours is a weak and fragile vessel.
That is more apparent to me now than in previous years. We laugh about it some, but Harriet and I are in the season of life when our physical resources are diminishing to some degree. Yes, I slogged five plus miles this morning. But, there was a cost and it took much longer than a few years ago. My body aches and pains are always more evident after the daily slog. And, we're losing some of our faculties---you know, dropping keys several times trying to get in the house, the puzzled or astonished responses to faulty hearing, or memory on the slide. But, that's just one of the biblical lessons about how we are to deal with physical weakness: it can never limit God's use for us. Just remember Abraham as one prime example. To the church at Rome Paul wrote that Abraham "...did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old) or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb" (Romans 4:19, ESV). Physical weakness, whether in reference to pain, age, fatigue, or any other bodily malfunction cannot override God's intention for us. That is so evident in the words Paul shared with the believers at Corinth.
Just the same, there's plenty of Bible truth about the care and maintenance of our physical lives. Believer's have been bought with a price and therefore must honor our bodies and physical attributes as temples of the Holy Spirit. In Paul's list of suffering and physical abuse are references to lack of sleep, little nourishment, and physical pain. Obviously these are contrary to what should be expected of us physically. Surely there is a biblical expectation that we nourish our bodies with care so that we can be vessels of honor for Christ. Yes, my physical condition cannot confine God's planned use of me to honor him in mission. At the same time, that freedom doesn't give me license to abuse my body or fail to nourish it.
One day Jesus saw the wear and tear on his closest disciples. They had been teaching the multitudes and traveling the rugged terrain of Israel. Jesus had healed many. The news of John the Baptist's death had reached them. The twelve were on a spiritual, emotional, and physical learning curve that is hard to imagine. Their fatigue and human weakness must have been obvious to him. Mark wrote, "And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31, ESV). Jesus knew that they needed rest. That they had reached their limits was obvious to him. They needed to experience Step 5 in the Steps to the Finish Line, The Step Away, that of refreshment. Our weak bodies often need a dose of refreshment too.
That's such a neglected word and concept today, the idea of rest. We've become a culture of workaholics because rest smacks of laziness, the exercise of slackers. Yes, there's a spiritual dimension of the sabbath and the eternal rest that Christ introduces to his followers. But, there's also the plain, simple truth of bodily rest for these weak human vessels. Everyday I pray for a long list of pastor's and spiritual leaders who are running at warp speed all the time. But, the list is bigger than vocational servants. Most Americans are fatigued and worn, often empty. We can find strength and comfort in the truth that God has chosen to live and work in the lives of weak humans----spiritually, emotionally, and physically weak. But, there's also the truth that they are his bodies, minds, and spirits, and should be treated as such.
It's true. The spirit is usually willing, but the body is weak. That won't stop God from doing what he wants to do in your life. And, it should propel each of us to get a little rest along the way.
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