The other day I was at lunch with a friend (who shall remain nameless, but he knows who he is). On that particular day I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. My friend ordered a salad with no dressing. You read that correctly—there was no dressing on the salad. We each stared at the other’s plate judging one-another for our food choices when my friend broke the silence: You shouldn’t eat that. Those things are bad for you. He proceeded to explain that I needed to eat healthier as he choked back his dry lettuce.
A Guilt Trip
He should’ve been a travel agent because he booked me on a rather extended guilt trip.
Do you feel the pressure? I do. Everywhere you look there is a new diet and exercise regimen being hailed: Weight Watchers, Weigh Down (remember?), Jenny Craig, Atkins, South Beach, Cross Fit, Curves, your best friend’s unique method. Everyone—everyone—has a different take on the best way to lose weight, but they all have one thing in common: we must get skinny.
As I listen to the cacophony of voices impressing thinness on us, I hear two dominate concerns. The first concern is the one for health. Many look at the diet of most western Christians high in fat and sugar, and are concerned that we are hastening to a death by caloric intake.
The other concern is appearance. The wealth of Western culture affords a unique opportunity to consider aesthetics, and everything here is beautiful. Our cultural role models are beautiful. The people on television, in movies, and splashed on the cover of magazines are all beautiful. This beauty is usually measured in inches. I am convinced that many Christians concerned about weight are more concentrated on their appearance than anything else.
There is some value in these concerns. I am all for stewardship of your body in health and appearance. There’s no virtue in not bathing or in constantly eating deep-fried double-decker bacon burgers (a real menu item in the restaurant I am sitting in as I write). Though there is some value, I am absolutely persuaded that what drives most of these concerns is fear. Concern for health and appearance is one thing; fear is another.
We’re afraid we’re going to die. And we’re afraid people will think we don’t look good. There are a couple of problems with this. First, in the Bible we are not called to be motivated by fear. Fear is at odds with faith (Matt 6:30) and believers are urged to be motivated by faith in the son of God (Galatians 2:20). The second problem is that these fears—like all other fears (Matthew 6:27)—are a waste of time. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are going to die. One day all of us will be in a car accident, contract cancer, get caught in a crossfire, have a heart-attack, or look into the sky and see the Son of Man coming on the clouds. When that happens, life as we know it on earth will end. You can’t stop it.
To keep the bad news coming—if you live long enough sooner or later nobody will think you’re physically attractive. You’ll get liver spots, wrinkles, white hair, lose your colorful hair, and have your body parts spread out.
On the day we meet Jesus or find ourselves sitting in a rocking chair decades removed from a body once smooth and svelte the only thing that will matter is the character we forged during the years we spent obsessing over our food intake. Because that is true, I want to remind us of a few virtues we should pursue when we eat. I think these virtues are often forgotten as Christians talk about eating fewer calories in order to lose weight, look good, and live longer. We’re told in Scripture that whatever we do—whether eating or drinking—we should do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Surely that means there should be more on our radar than adding years and attractiveness to our life.
Here’s a crack at several other things we should keep in mind.
1. We should eat in a spirit of discipline and self-control.
For Christians, eating ought to happen along a spectrum of feasting and fasting. There will be seasons of fasting when we avoid food so we can draw near to God. There will be seasons of feasting when we celebrate God’s blessings to us. Most of our lives, however, should be lived in the middle of these two poles as we eat in a self-controlled and disciplined way. Many Christians I know select diet plans that will allow them to eat the maximum amount of food without ever feeling hungry. I am far from an ascetic, but when did mild feelings of hunger become torture? These feelings of hunger give Christians an opportunity to be self-controlled—to say no to our appetites. They afford an opportunity to do as the Apostle Paul commended, beating our body and making it our own (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). This will look different for different people (especially when they have health struggles like diabetes), but many of us need to view food—not only as an opportunity for satisfaction—but also as an opportunity to say no and mortify the flesh.
2. We should eat in a spirit of thankfulness.
The biblical balance to this previous point is to eat with a heart full of gratitude. Our responsibility to food is not merely to say no to it for the purpose of discipline. We should also say yes to it for the purpose of receiving God’s good gifts. As I ate my cheeseburger that afternoon at lunch I was aware that I am the recipient of uncommon blessings. I ate more that day at lunch than some Christians across the world will eat in a week. It is possible for us to get desensitized in American culture by the vast amounts of food available to us, rail against the unhealthy stuff, and fail to be thankful for the good hand of God in overwhelming us with blessing. Try eating with thankfulness. Sometimes when eating a meal I make a self-conscious effort to be thankful for every bite
3. We should eat in a spirit of service.
A problem with a picky eaters is that they can be rude. I am not talking about people who have legitimate dietary restrictions because of allergies and other health issues. I’m talking about unkind people who exalt their preferences over others. I know a lot of people who have been guests in someone’s home and rudely reject food they are served because it doesn’t fit with their diet or they think they might not like it. That’s rude. Philippians 2:3 says, “In humility, count others more significant than yourselves.” That applies to people on a diet as much as anybody else. I have been a guest in many homes where I ate things that weren’t my favorite or else clashed with my dietary sensibilities because God thinks it’s important to serve the interests of others and not try and get my way all of the time. Think about serving your brother or sister in how you eat, and not just enforcing your dietary restrictions. They’ll appreciate you, God will be honored, and you won’t die because of it.
4. We should eat in faith.
This gets back to what I mentioned at the very beginning. Whenever we eat in fear we’re wrong even if there is justification for dietary behavior because “anything not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). In Matthew 6:27 Jesus asked, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” That means fear-motived eating won’t extend your life. Don’t you know God cares for you? Don’t you know the hairs of your head and the length of your days are numbered? Don’t you know that when you do die you’ll be in heaven and get a glorified body? Obviously you can go overboard with this and fail to be a disciplined steward of your body. What I’m concerned about here though is when we go overboard on stewardship believing it is ultimately our role to care for our bodies and forgetting that’s a job God does best.
Be biblical in how you eat! If nothing else that means we won’t eat with fretful anxiety that we might not be as good-looking as that other guy or girl or that we might—perish the thought!—die. It means we are free to eat serving God and others with discipline, gratitude, and faith.
That means you can eat a cheeseburger every now and then. At least you can put some dressing on your salad.
Join the Conversation
What is your assessment of these four principles for eating?
What other biblical principles would you add?