By Brady Thompson
Americans are “foodies” infatuated with all things food and drink, who eat as a hobby rather than for survival. Search “foodie” on Google and you’ll get 120 million hits.
Growing up in a two-stoplight town in the Texas Panhandle, we had a Dairy Queen, a doughnut shop, a drive-in, and our gourmet restaurant The El Camino. If we wanted Italian, we had good old Chef Boyardee. But since then, economics, availability and TV networks have fueled our infatuation with food. The wealth of America has led to more hobby eaters than probably any other time in history. The top 20 percent of wage-earners spend half of their budget eating out, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
This appetite helped launch the Food Network in 1993, a proliferation of TV shows about food in its wake. We have shows about raw food, strange food, exotic food, big food, small food, cooking contest, eating contest, baking contest, etc., ad infinitum.
This is the cultural soup in which we live.
We should rejoice in the creativity of chefs, who — with the rest of humanity — bear the image of the Creator. But admiration out of balance can turn into idolatry. We should be asking ourselves, what does this infatuation with food in this age of wealth and access mean for the believer? What does the Bible have to say about food and the care of our bodies, which the Bible says are temples of the Holy Spirit? What do these principles mean for daily living?
Two of the most common food-related temptations are to eat too much or turn healthy eating into a type of legalism. Both are sins, ditches on opposite sides of the road. But scripture helps us avoid these pitfalls.
Principle #1: If you eat too much food, you will forget God
Deuteronomy 6:6-12 (KJV) begins with these words: “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” This passage shows us the nature of true worship — and its perversion, idolatry. What you love, you worship.
In verse 12, the Spirit warns us, “Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” Just prior to this warning, God tells them about the land he was about to give them where the houses were already built, the vineyards already planted and the wells already dug. When you have everything you need, He says, “when thou shalt have eaten and be full,” then beware.
The principle before us is this: When we have everything we need, we forget God. Especially when we have “eaten” and are “full.” Full bellies can lead us to forget God. People who trust God for their daily bread, as Jesus teaches us to pray, have the most vibrant, trusting faith. When we don’t need to depend on God, we don’t. So, what does that mean for us overfed Americans? It means that we are in great danger of spiritual lethargy, because of our overindulgence. And as this passage in Deuteronomy began, we are to love God with every part of our being — including our stomach and appetites. One of the greatest dangers to our faith, joy, and obedience is losing control of our appetites. Are we eating to live or living to eat?
The great Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards sets a good example for us, as recorded in his diary (Works, I, xxxv): “By a sparingness in diet, and eating as much as may be what is light and easy of digestion, I shall doubtless be able to think more clearly, and shall gain time; 1. By lengthening out my life; 2. Shall need less time for digestion, after meals; 3. Shall be able to study more closely, without injury to my health; 4. Shall need less time for sleep; 5. Shall more seldom be troubled with a headache.”
For further study, see Deuteronomy 32:15 and Amos 6.
Principle #2: The battle for our bodily appetites starts with the stomach
The prophet Ezekiel tells us the sins that led to the sexual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, which ultimately resulted in its destruction: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). Not disciplining the body’s appetite for food is one of the root sins that eventually led to the sexual immorality in the cities.
Does this picture from ancient history sound familiar? It should, for we are seeing it played out in front of our very eyes in America in 2017. Pride, gluttony and idleness are leading to an obesity epidemic. The experts don’t get that the real root cause to the problem is mankind’s spiritual condition. Our sinful hearts lead us to overindulge in an effort to fill the infinite hole in our souls that only the Creator of all things can fill. Because believers live in this culture, we are affected by the culture’s sins. I ask you, is this progression from pride, to gluttony, to idleness, to sexual sin not the very thing we are witnessing today?
Principle #3: Fellow health nuts, don’t expect everyone to hold to our views
We read in Romans 14:1-4: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”
I’m one of the people who, because of significant health challenges, has had to learn through pain that the typical American diet will not keep me alive for very long. Pain is an effective behavior modifier. When eating causes pain, you find something that does not cause pain. Through education, blood testing and data collection, I have found there are foods that can improve the health, repair damage and energize the frame. But it is easy to expect everyone to accept these learnings, even though your path has taken you years of pain, chronic fatigue and study. For those like me, we are in danger of becoming Pharisees and making our food regimen our phylacteries. We write our little sayings on the post of our doors, and between our eyes: “Eat to live, don’t live to eat,” “Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food,” etc.
But the church is unified in Christ Jesus. We are not to have disputes about food, as Paul told us in the passage to the Romans. One believes he may eat all things, for the Word says it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. Another who is weak, like me, eats herbs. We are not to despise each other over our diets. Christ is the master, we are not to judge His servants in this matter. God is able to make us all stand in our diets and walks of faith.
The source of true fullness
In the foodie culture we live in, we need the Word of God, the indwelling Spirit of wisdom and each other to ensure we do not fall into either of the two ditches: of overeating, which leads to other sins, or of holding up our diets as the model that everyone should follow. If we love Christ and fellowshipping with Him, we will fight food idolatry, be good stewards of these bodily temples, and seek to glorify Him in all things — including our diets.
“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” (Lu 21:34)