Of Freedom & Foodolatry

Apologies in advance if this bit of gay food porn
causes anyone to stumble or offends.
-The Management
Early in my days as a preacher, I thought that sex and gender related issues were the most offensive things that one could talk about from the pulpit. After some time, I began to think that money was the most offensive. People seemed to be more upset when you told them what to do with their wallet than what to do with their genitals.

But now I think the most offensive issue has to be what people put in their mouths (and that’s not a reference to the first set of issues previously mentioned). The subject that people get most defensive about is the food they eat. This makes a pastor’s job a challenge as the Bible actually says a good deal about food. 

Sadly, to avoid stirring conflict, many ministers fail to address the subject at all. This is cowardice and doesn’t actually serve the flock of God. It is also tragic as our generation has numerous problems with food ranging from anorexia and bulimia to the obesity epidemic that is destroying the health of millions in the UK, the USA, and many other Western countries. Some churches are good at addressing proper alcohol usage and the issue of drunkenness. But these same churches lack consistency in addressing food consumption. Most of what the Bible says about food can be placed in three broad categories.

First of all, the Bible repeatedly instructs us to be grateful for our food. We are to receive it from God as a gift, not a right. We are to ask Him for ‘our daily bread’ and we are to be sincerely thankful when we get it. The Bible says that when Jesus took the fish and loaves, ‘He looked up to heaven and gave thanks’. God could’ve made our physical absorption of nutrients a boring process. We could be created in such a way as to inject some dull, gray matter once a week to keep us going. Instead, we get to stop our work and have a celebration of God’s goodness three times each day by enjoying the food he provides. Let’s do more than say a token prayer of thanks before we eat. Come to the table to celebrate and be reminded of God’s goodness and generosity.

God’s first word to Adam about food was one of freedom: ‘You are free to eat from the trees of the garden’. Only after establishing that freedom did he give the warning. The New Testament then goes on to teach that believers can now eat whatever food that God has created. Jesus had fulfilled the dietary cleanliness laws of Moses through his death.  Paul writes to Timothy, ‘For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude’. You want to eat whale? You can eat whale. Bacon? Yes. So long as you are thankful. Bear steak wrapped in bacon? A double amen. We may eat all God-created food with grateful hearts and we are not to judge those who eat differently than us.

Among other things, this means no divisive food philosophies. You want to eat paleo or vegetarian? Fine, but do not let it interfere with the table of Christian fellowship. When on mission we are instructed by Jesus to ‘eat what is set before you’. This means that sometimes I eat something that I would not prefer or consider healthy for the sake of Christian unity or the sake of not giving offense. Relationships and witness are more important than the food we put in our body.

We enjoy our freedom, but we are instructed by the apostle, ‘Do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge the flesh.’ That means that though we can eat whatever good, God created food is out there, we should not misuse that freedom. There are sins of gluttony and food idolatry. Proverbs notes, along with warnings of excessive alcohol, that ‘It is not good to eat too much honey’. If the wise men of the ancient world saw that excessive amounts of natural sugar can be bad, how much more should we pay attention in our day of refined sugar, glucose, and artificially processed food-like stuff?

Paul speaks of those whose ‘god is their stomach’ and foodolatry is as much an issue in our day as it was in his. We often eat too much. We eat man-made foods that have toxins, are addictive, and make our bodies susceptible to disease – all when we have the option of eating otherwise. We go to the refrigerator more than to the Bible when we are feeling low and need comfort. It’s not by chance that ‘food porn’ is the banner under which attractive pictures of food on social media are tagged.

Sadly, churches that take a firm stance on drunkenness often turn a blind eye to gluttony. Food is not sin. It is God’s gift. So is alcohol. But the undisciplined use of either brings harm to our bodies and does not glorify God. As Christians, we should eat to live, not live to eat. This is one of the reasons God’s people throughout the Bible would have times of personal or corporate fasting – to make sure that their spiritual life was leading their fleshly life and not the other way around.

Food is a great gift. But it is a cruel master. The wisdom of self-discipline will keep this good angel from becoming a taxing devil.

Food is a big theme throughout the Bible. Mankind first sinned through eating what it should not have and salvation is presented to us a meal of bread and wine. At the end of human history, a wedding feast awaits us. May we eat thankfully, freely, and wisely until that day.


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