Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16
I imagine all of us have things in our lives which irritate us. Not, perhaps, to the extent of getting us grinding our teeth, but certainly “getting under our skin” as the saying goes. Here’s one of mine.
I’m a bit of a newspaper addict. I don’t feel my day is complete without having a leisurely read through the morning paper. So some time between six and seven in the morning you’ll find me heading for the local paper shop, a gentle walk of about a mile (feel free to be impressed).
Now, on Saturdays the paper is twice its normal size - all sorts of extra bits, colour supplements, etc.
And nearly every Saturday one of those extra bits has a major feature on physical fitness. This is what makes my heart sink: “Oh, not another article about staying young/being beautiful/eating properly/keeping fit!” I think to myself. “Is there really anything new to learn?” In the end they all come down to the same basic advice: eat well - plenty of fruit and veg, not too much fatty stuff, salt and sugar; get plenty of exercise; don’t drink to excess or smoke. And so on. Big yawn.
It’s not just the tedious regularity with which this kind of stuff is churned out that irks me; it’s the way it encourages a fixation on our physical bodies.
And I want to shout, “Listen, people! - we’re all going to die one day! Get used to it! Who cares if your hair is grey, or largely missing, and your muscles are a bit flabby? Who cares if you’re no longer the stunner you were thirty years ago?”
Not, of course, that physical fitness is unimportant. No, not at all. The Bible tells us, after all, that our bodies are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and that means we should look after them and treat them well (1 Corinthians 6:19). There’s no getting away from that.
But to make this the be-all and end-all... oh, what a waste of time, effort and, probably, money too - once you’ve paid your gym subscription and bought your vitamin supplements, your hair colourings, your fitbit, and your speciality foods...
Does anyone share this irritation of mine?
How refreshing, then, it is to read Paul’s words to the Christians of Corinth: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
Yes, that’s the way it is, folks; we’re slowly but surely “decaying” (as those words “wasting away” could be translated).
Ah, but “inwardly we are being renewed day by day”.
We mustn’t misunderstand what Paul means here. He is not saying that there are two parts of us: your soul, which is good but invisible, infinitely renewable, and therefore destined to be eternal; and your body, which is bad and (as a Christian friend once put it to me) “just an envelope” for the soul. Not at all. No, our bodies are good, and when we rise from the dead to be with Christ, we will rise in our bodies, even though then they will be gloriously different.
The contrast Paul is drawing is between the “now”, temporal, me, and the “future”, eternal, me. Just as Jesus himself was put to death in his earthly body but raised to life in that same - albeit transformed - body, so will we. And what matters is the real us, the us becoming daily more like Jesus, whatever may be happening to our outward form.
Hamlet, in Shakespeare’s play, comes across a couple of grave-diggers busy doing their job. With his friend Horatio he notices a skull lying at the bottom of the new grave, presumably having toppled over from the neighbouring one.
“Who is this?” he asks. They tell him Yorick, who was once the king’s jester. “Yorick!” he exclaims - “I knew him well, Horatio...” Apparently when he was a small boy Yorick used to get down on the floor and play games with him.
Hamlet picks up the skull, stares at it and then talks to it: “Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come...” Stinging words!
The challenge is unavoidable: which me do I focus on, the outward me which is slowly decaying, or the inward me which is gradually becoming more like Jesus, and therefore more fitted for the glories of eternal life?
“We do not lose heart,” says Paul. He means: we’re still working cheerfully away, aiming to do God’s work, whatever the state of our bodies.
Hopefully we can echo Paul’s words, even if we are getting a bit creaky, wrinkly, saggy and baggy. Who cares! - we are never, literally never, past our use-by date.
So... Don’t lose heart!
Lord God, thank you for the gift of the body. Help me to look after it well, as the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, so that I can serve you till the day I die - but to remember too that one day it will be transformed to be perfect and eternal. Amen.