Whole Person Love (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12)

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (New International Version)

Everyone intuitively knows that love is supremely important. Yet, what some may not realize is that love is designed to effect the entire person – body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

Love is spiritual. It involves receiving love from a spiritual source and using it to give love to others. (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31)

Love is emotional. It is a matter of the heart and must felt deeply. (1 Peter 1:22, 4:8)

Love is thoughtful. The human brain requires love in order to mentally mature and operate with efficiency. (Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8)

Love is physical. The body is our means of putting hands and feet to love. (1 John 3:17-18)

A true Christian spirituality is an embodied spirituality which puts both mental and emotional energy into loving God and one another.

Consider for a moment some of the things you have done today… For me, I arose early, had a workout, ate breakfast, showered, went to work, etc. Yeah, typical stuff we are familiar with. These things I just mentioned all have to do with the body – and those things are good and holy.

Sometimes we may get a misguided notion that purity and holiness only has to do with activities that take place in a church building; or special works like serving at a homeless shelter; or, that the meeting of physical needs is merely a means to reach the soul.

Yet, there is neither a secular/sacred dichotomy nor a dualism of body and soul anywhere in Holy Scripture. Love demands the whole person, not part of the person.

We in the western world have inherited a long tradition of Platonic thinking. It undergirds a lot about how we think of the body. Plato (c.427-327 B.C.E.) embraced a dualistic nature of people – an existence of body and soul in which the spirit is trapped within physical flesh. Plato considered the soul to be the true nature of a person and tended to denigrate the body as an earthen vessel which will eventually be discarded. Our physical existence was nothing more than a necessary evil for Plato.

The problem with Plato’s anthropology is that it fails to discern the holistic nature of body and soul and the need for integrity with these human dimensions. Historically, Plato’s view has tended to come out sideways through lack of care for the body and seeing bodily actions as insignificant.

Thus, sexual immorality is common with a dualistic idea because our physical selves are less significant, temporary, and disposable. In all fairness to Plato, he did not encourage misuse of the body or sexual immorality, yet his philosophy opened-up to generations of people in neglecting their own bodies and inflicting harm on other bodies.

When we exalt the soul as supreme over the body, we are living out platonic thought, and not biblical love.

All of life is sacramental – the body is sacred, and, so, ought to be treated as holy – with great care and careful attention to breath, movement, exercise, eating, sleeping, playing, and, yes, even sex. The body is to be celebrated as our means of glorifying God on this earth.

And, at the end of the age when Christ returns, we will be reunited with our bodies to live forever as embodied creatures. So, what we do with our bodies now matters to God.

Inattention to the body God has given us will inevitably lead to a lack of boundaries in which others are open to violate us and we are unaware of violating others. We end up running roughshod over each other, spiritually and physically.

In other words, disregard for the body creates a disregard for love. An embodied and grounded spirituality helps us clarify what holiness and sanctification looks like in relationships and everyday life.

God has called us to holiness in all of life, in every physical activity we do. We have been designed by our Creator to walk the road of purity and peace. 

The way in which we use our minds, wills, emotions, and bodies – aligned and in agreement with the whole person – are of much interest and great concern and interest to almighty God. 

God cares about:

  • Food and whether I eat to his glory and give thanks; or, whether I have no interest in those that are hungry but just stuff as many groceries as I can in my distended stomach. 
  • Rest and Sabbath; or whether I compulsively work every waking moment of my life. 
  • Vocal chords and the content of my conversations with my family and friends – whether I am using my tongue for encouraging and building-up others, or whether it is slanderous, gossipy, and unhelpful.

Everything in all creation belongs to God – including me, you, and everything we do. God cares about all of life’s activities and leisure time because God is the Lord of Love.  

Whether tying our shoes or teaching a Sunday School class, it is all to be done with a sense of holiness and connection to the God that makes it all possible. 

Christian spirituality is an embodied spirituality. So, let us engage in all kinds of good loving works for the benefit of the body, whether little or large, with the time and talents God has graciously given us. 

Lord God, I belong to you – set apart and sanctified so that I may always walk in holiness and please you in everything I do. Help my life today to reflect the purity you have given me through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  May he be glorified through me now and always.  Amen.

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