I first met Sam Allberry three years ago in Dallas and have remained grateful for his pastoral tender-heartedness and biblical faithfulness, to me personally and to so many others. Sam always seeks to embody the goodness of Jesus and to help all of us taste of it in every area of life. This post, and the new book related to it, shows us Sam as the insightful and gentle pastor, encouraging the body-shamed and insecure to look again to Christ. It’s a grace to welcome Sam to the farm’s front porch today…
“I need prayer –– this is going to be a tough day.”
It’s not what you expect to hear from a friend you know is on vacation in a beautiful part of the world and about to spend said day at the beach. But the text wasn’t sarcasm. It wasn’t rubbing in the fact he was in paradise. It was genuine.
The follow-up messages showed why. He was indeed heading to the beach (one of the top beaches in the world). He was indeed heading there with good friends. What was the issue?
“He was feeling acutely self-conscious, and it was causing significant anxiety.”
He knew he’d have to take his top off, and he hated his body.
This friend is not particularly overweight. But by his own admission he’s not especially toned either. He also has some minor disfiguring on his abdomen from a sloppy operation a decade or so earlier. In contrast (so he said), he was with two friends who could easily pass as models and had the physique to prove it.
He was feeling acutely self-conscious, and it was causing significant anxiety.
Many think that body image issues are mainly faced by women, but this is to spectacularly miss the mark. I’ve been teaching on and studying what the Bible says about our bodies for around 5 years now.
Whenever guys ask what sort of things I cover in my book about this, and I mention that one of the many issues is body image, it’s not uncommon for them to look over their shoulder and then in hushed tones open up about some of their own particular insecurities. It might be some aspect of their appearance, or the shape and proportions of their body, or some sense that they do not measure up to what a man is supposed to look like. Many have shared very personal and painful stories of having been mocked because of their physical appearance.
Underlying all these experiences is one powerful idea: that there is a particular standard for how male or female bodies are meant to look. The further you are from that standard, the worse you should feel about yourself; the closer to are to that standard, the better you can feel about yourself.
Spring-time adverts admonish us to start getting our “beach body” ready for the summer. We’re encouraged to feel inadequate if we don’t have a flat stomach and toned physique.
“When it comes to our bodies, we’re all followers.”
All of which is to say, when it comes to our bodies, we’re all followers. Someone is determining how we feel about the way we look. Someone is the functional master of our physical selves. They might be running a Hollywood studio or a Madison Avenue fashion house. They might be the primary ringleader of our social circle. They might be a member of our family.
But whoever it is, it is someone. All of us have a master when it comes to our bodies.
Which is why the gospel is such good news. That might seem tautologous to say –– gospel means “good news” after all. But the fact is, the gospel is not just good news in some abstract or remote sense. It is good news for every aspect of life. And it is good news specifically for our bodies.
“The gospel is not just good news in some abstract or remote sense. It is good news for every aspect of life. And it is good news specifically for our bodies.“
The reason for this is encapsulated by Paul in this brief but potent statement:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:19-20, NIV)
We may be familiar with the idea that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. But we may be less familiar with the idea that immediately follows it –– our bodies do not belong to us. We have been bought. We are owned. We are not our own. Our bodies are now for someone, someone else. We have a new master.
In any other context this would be horrific. (It is hard to talk of having been bought and being owned and not think of the horrors victims of human trafficking have had to endure.) But in this context they are liberating. It could not be better.
This is what my anxious friend needs to hear as he heads to the beach. This is what he needs to know as he nervously contemplates taking off his t-shirt. As a Christian, he now belongs to Christ. His body now belongs to Jesus. And Jesus is a far kinder master of our bodies than any alternative.
“If our bodies belong to Jesus, then the only one who needs to be pleased with our bodies is Jesus.”
If our bodies belong to Jesus, then the only one who needs to be pleased with our bodies is Jesus.
We find in Him a much more humane approach to our bodies. His apostle, Paul, urges us:
Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1, NIV)
The body that is pleasing to Jesus is not necessarily one that would adorn a billboard advertisement by a highway or turn heads at the beach. It is a body consecrated to Jesus –– given over to Him, to be fully used in His service.
It doesn’t need to be good enough for the cover of a fitness magazine to please Him. It just needs to be given to Him as part of our whole-life worship. There is no one more worthy of this than Jesus, and no one more good to us.
So next time my friend anticipates a day at the beach, he doesn’t ultimately need to think about whether his body pleases the culture around us.
If it doesn’t (and let’s be honest, most of ours don’t), that’s OK. What others think about it is not the issue.
They didn’t give up their own bodies on a cross to redeem it so that their own spirit could now dwell within it.
Jesus did. It was His good pleasure to.
We have been bought by Him at the infinite price of His own life. And as we look to Him and continue to endeavour to put Him first, Jesus has no buyer’s remorse.
For nearly twenty years Sam Allberry has served the church as a pastor, apologist, speaker and writer. Sam has served at various churches and ministries in his home UK and is in the process of moving to Nashville, Tennessee to join the staff of Immanuel Church Nashville. Sam has also recently been appointed to serve as a Canon Theologian for the Anglican Church in North America. He is the author of acclaimed books such as 7 Myths About Singleness, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? and Is God Anti-Gay?
Sam’s latest book, What God Has To Say About Our Bodies, relentlessly shows the ways in which Jesus is good news for our bodies. Sam opens up the consoling and encouraging message of the Bible, along with examples and applications drawn from many years of pastoral work in this area.
This is pastoral theology that is both practical and heart-warming, showing how our bodies are now not defined by what we have done with them, or what others have done to them, but by what Christ has done for them.