Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only
one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to
receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the
air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to
others I myself should not be disqualified. (NRSV)
Yeah. That's one of them. The athletic reference is a metaphor, encouraging us to press on toward the victory of an imperishable wreath (yes, I'm quoting Philippians, which happens to be a favorite metaphorical passage).
But is the body stuff a metaphor for his spiritual discipline? It may well be, but for some reason people hear the metaphor in the first two verses, but make the end of this passage a literal one.
Maybe it's not Paul's fault, except in the sense that he forgot people tend to be bloody literal-minded. Maybe it's us, or not you and me, but other people too inclined to make his word unimaginative and anti-literary.
The body stuff bothers me because for so many centuries we've extended it to include the earth and earth's creatures, enslaving them, using them for whatever might forward our agenda, whether spiritual or military or material. It's a usage mentality, a beating myself or you or whoever into submission sort of dominant-over-matter mindset.
And there are still people putting forward an anti-body agenda, or perhaps a better word would be unembodied or postembodied, asking us to focus like mad on the apocalyptic arrival of Jesus. I guess there have always been pockets of those people, people enamored with the idea of leaving these bodies behind for something celestial.
But I am becoming convinced that living into these bodies is part of the experience to which God calls us. Why else embody us in the first place? And I don't buy the enslaving image, for body or spirit. Jesus came to set us free from those bonds, not to command us to cinch them tighter.
So whether it's our interpretation or Paul's personal neuroses at fault here, I reject the idea of enslaving the body as a path to the imperishable wreath.