Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea. (Acts 27:33-38, NIV)
Paul and his fellow-shipmates were headed for some physical exertion. Prophetically, Paul knew exactly what was about to take place. The ship would run aground, break apart, and they would have to swim for their lives. In the meantime (I’m no sailor) there were sails to hoist, gigs to untie and rigs to tie, cargo to jettison. Demanding, physical work.
Paul gives simple advice – you need your body for these tasks and your body needs nourishment. Have something to eat.
Years before, Paul dealt with a theology that was creeping into the church that said anything physical – food, drink, pleasure – was bad and fundamentally unspiritual. On the other hand, anything “spiritual” was inherently good. So to be a good Christian, they taught, one should live an ascetic lifestyle – one of denial. Here’s Paul’s response: Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:20-23, NIV)
As you can imagine, this wasn’t the most popular theology around. More popular was an opposing heathen theology that taught if something feels good, do it – eat, drink, and be merry. God will forgive you. Here’s his response: Do you not know that your body is a temple 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 body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)
The Apostle deals with both of these head-on. Asceticism is false spirituality. Licentiousness is disobedience. Both, from different extremes, make a “god” of the body. And in this Acts passage we see the underlying principle: God gave us our bodies for a purpose: to bring glory to Him. Paul’s body took him from town to town preaching the gospel and planting churches…he was currently on the way to Rome to take the gospel. His body was a tool for ministry. To fulfill that task, his body needed to be cared for. In the same way, the sailors needed their bodies for the coming tasks they faced. Hence his insistence: “Have something to eat.”
So, Paul’s approach to the body? 1) Care for it – it is the only one you have and is important to carry out the task God’s given you. 2) Enjoy the things in the world God has created for us to enjoy within the boundaries of God’s law and without making these pleasures our life’s objectives. Our bodies are tools…not gods.
Now, off to lunch…