1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NIV)
We were not a camping family, but I do remember our tent. I have no idea how often we used it, but I do remember how difficult it was to set up. It was not attractive, but it did provide a place to get out of the rain and a place to sleep at night. It was functional, for a time. I seem to remember that it was handed down to us after we got married, but I do not remember ever using it with our family. At some point we unrolled it and discovered that it was rotting away and into the garbage it went. Now we live in the age of planned obsolescence. The new high-tech tents are much lighter, easier to set up, and probably last longer, but in a few years the new tents will have new features that will make the old ones obsolete and into the garbage they will eventually go.
Paul describes our bodies as tents. The older I get the more appropriate that description becomes. There are some people in the world whose permanent dwelling is a tent, but for most of us a tent is a temporary shelter. The life expectancy for someone living in the United States is close to 80 years. This is not forever. Unless Jesus comes first, we all live in a temporary body that will die at some point. Diet, exercise, and regular health checkups might extend our lives by a few years, but at some point, our bodies stop working and physical death is the result. Despite the best care we can provide ourselves, aging produces more and more groaning with each new day.
Paul wants our groaning to come not from our physical pain, but from an intense desire to move out of our tent into a glorious mansion in heaven. This is what we were created for. Just as it makes sense to clean and dry the tent after every use to maximize its life, it makes sense to care for our bodies. However, when care for our body has become our number one priority, I think our lives and worship are out of order. We should care for our bodies to provide the strength required to love God and our neighbors. How do I know that my priorities might be mixed up? When I am more concerned about the diet and exercise plans of family and friends than I am their spiritual well-being I might be putting my faith in the wrong gospel. When the time I take to care for my physical body leaves no time for building and strengthening relationships within my family I am probably too focused on self.
I am convinced that God wants us to care for our bodies just as He wants us to care for all the resources he provides us with. Abuse of our bodies is not what Paul has in mind when he talks of groaning for the future. Where are you on the continuum between the poor stewardship of bodily abuse and the idolatry of body worship? My hope is that we will understand our purpose here and thank God for this incredible tent He has provided us with while we are here.