In the reformed faith (an expression I object to on most days, but not every day), it is not considered sinful to smoke and drink, or even to listen to rock music (alas!). Persons who hold to the reformed faith and do are considered fundamentalists, even by fundamentalists (see the Free Presbyterian Church). That is shocking for people who consider smoking and drinking sinful. It is like not observing Christmas! (I don’t observe Christmas as much as X-mas, don’t smoke and do not drink anything stronger than tonic water with quinine and no sugar added, in case you were wondering, unless I’m at a place where wine is served at communion). Perhaps not elsewhere but certainly among the people I’ve known it is assumed that the proper interpretation of the statement found in 1 Cor 6:19 is that one must take care of one’s body; and this proscribes at least smoking, failure to observe the diet your doctor prescribes, and perhaps also MacDonald’s.
Now here let me say that I’m always irritated when people use Paul’s statement that bodily exercise profits little to show that it profits something. I don’t think the Apostle is commending exercise. It is not a good place from which to establish that we should exercise; it is a good place to establish the principle that godliness is more important than physical well-being, even than health. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to point that out to somebody; I find that often it turns into the irrational assumption that you yourself are opposed to physical well-being (I have and six days a week use a treadmill—just not on the Lord’s day). Which is curious.
Something similar, it seems to me, is going on with the temple in 1 Cor 6:19. Flee from sexual immorality (6:18). Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. So the question I once put to some fellows in Bible college was: how many sins are against one’s own body? And the answer they had to give me was that only sexual immorality is. They were bright fellows and fell to thinking, realizing at once that smoking and drinking did not fall into that category. Now maybe I’m wrong and they weren’t all that bright. Maybe you can shoot holes in what I’m saying. I don’t think so though.
Do you see what I mean, if I’m right? It isn’t really a verse lending itself to the idea that you should keep your body in top shape; gluttony and drunkenness may injure your body (Jaimeson, Faussett & Brown, of all people–they popped up in Logos when I looked up the text), but these do not defile it (the problem with these things, in other words, is altogether spiritual). It is a verse that enjoins chastity. Violations are a unique physical way to achieve spiritual defilement. All sin defiles, but this sin defiles by desecrating the body like other things do not (The metaphysics of sex, it seems, is inescapably physical). And it seems to me it implies that other things cannot. The verse is about consecration, not about keeping up with the Joneses bodies (ours have to be well maintained as the Holy Spirit is not going to enjoy living in a kind of slum, you see, and we must be well dressed, of course). And it seems to me it presents kind of a difficulty for the argument that such activities (smoking, drinking) can defile you if these do not constitute a sin against the body (or at all, in the reformed faith which I believe best represents the teaching of Scripture) the way sexual immorality does.
Which is not to say there’s no argument for preserving the body: I would be really surprised if there isn’t. Health is good, though not the highest possible good. It is to say that the Biblical way of thinking about all that (how, for example, do you think about marijuana?) is perhaps more subtle than at one time we were led to believe. Do you think it doesn’t matter? What are you going to do when you have to live in a world in which two polarities clash like ignorant armies? Do you think these present rearrangements are going to fizzle out? That the aggressive unmitigated secularism advancing the ‘progressive’ agenda will not continue to clash on the one hand with the reactive totalitarian religious zeal we note at the opposing pole? In this present confusion and for the worse that seems inevitable (at least to me) we need to have a clearer grasp of our principles and ideas. The unexamined life is not worth living.