A Bite-Sized Theology of Food
The following is a transcript of the audio.
Pastor John, we have a podcast on fasting which has proven to be quite popular — “What is the Purpose of Fasting?,” episode #72. But in this podcast series we have not talked much about food, more generally. Food is such a big part of all our lives. Pastor John, how does the Bible instruct us about right and wrong ways to think about food?
Well, I thought about this, Tony. What seemed to be helpful here would be to just take five passages of Scripture and bullet them as a kind of primer on a theology of food, which will function, then, as a kind of protection against idolatries of the misuse of food. So food’s proper and improper place in our lives growing out of these texts. So this is very incipient. What I hope people will do is just take these and think with me rather than thinking this is the end of the thought here. This is really the beginning. So I think I have got five passages. And I will just mention then and add a comment or two.
Number one, 1 Timothy 4:4-5. Everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer. And he is talking there about food and sex. So food is God’s idea, both its nutritional value and its taste. We will see that more in a minute. It is for believers, not just the world in general. God made food for his children. It is not automatically honoring to God. I say it is not automatic, because Paul says you need to sanctify it by the Word of God and prayer. So food is not ultimate. It is not the final good. You have to do something with it in order to experience it as part of the final good. You have to in prayer and in the Word turn it into something holy and then enjoy it with gratitude as an expression of your embrace of that holy. So that is number one.
Number two, Psalm 34:8. Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. Now, the reason that is important is because God here is to be tasted. Now the only way that we know the meaning of the word taste is be-cause we have tongues, we have taste buds and we have food. So clearly food is a type or a shadow or a pointer or a parable so that when God is brought into our consciousness, we will have some appropriate categories for how we feast upon God. And the very word feast implies I feasted. And if I say taste and see that the Lord is good, then I have tasted bread and I can know what it means that he is the bread of life. I have tasted water and I can know what it means that he satisfies my thirst. So what we enjoy in food we should find in God. In fact, we should find God in the very enjoyment of our food.
Number three, 1 Corinthians 6:12–13. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated or controlled or enslaved by anything. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food. And God will destroy both one and the other. The body is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body. That is an amazing statement. The Lord is for the body. So food and stomach are not ultimate. They are going to be destroyed some day. Don’t treat them as your idols. If you treat them as gods your gods are going to perish. Food is lawful. That is what Paul says here, but not as a master. As soon as food moves from being our servant to satisfy your appropriate hungers and send you with thrill of thanksgiving to God and know that God tastes even better than anything you just ate, as soon as it ceases to be that, it starts to become a master. And Paul said: Don’t be mastered by anything, especially food. So the Lord is for the body. He is not against it. That is why he does not want us to be mastered by anything, but himself.
Number four. This is Matthew 6:17. When you fast anoint your head, wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. It says, notice, when you fast, not if you fast. Fasting is normal. Why would that be? Why would God in this age build fasting, that is the abstinence from something that he created and that is perfectly good, why would he do that? And I think he did it because it is a way of saying: I am not mastered by my delight in my food. I am mastered by my delight in God. And I want to intensify that. And one way to intensify it abstaining from alternative pleasures so that without calling them evil at all I can just say God is better. And so I think we should say with our bodies, periodically—and there is no New Testament rule here that I know of that tells you how often to fast—but periodically say: I love you, God. I love you more than I love food. I need you more than I need food. I want you more than I want food. You taste better to me spiritually than food tastes to me physically. So that is number four.
And, finally, Matthew 4:3–4. If the devil said to Jesus: If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. And he said: It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Our final nourishment is not material food, but spiritual food. We need the Word of God vastly more than we need physical food. I think everybody who has time to eat breakfast in the morning and no time to have devotions should ask: Does he really believe that? The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life. And so the Word that mediates the love of God is more important than life sustaining food.
In the end, everyone is controlled by appetite, either an appetite that glorifies God by showing he is our supreme satisfaction, or an appetite for food that would then be an idolatry, because it would seem to say that food is more satisfying to me than God. So a concluding exhortation to us all: Let’s cultivate a taste for God, an appetite for God and his Word that out satisfies everything.
Yes, Amen. Thank you Pastor John. And speaking of food, we’d love to hear other food-related questions from you. Email those questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. So what is fasting and what is the purpose of fasting? We tackled that way back in episode #72 of this series, if you’d like more information, check it out. And next time we’re back and we’re talking about sin and the speed limit. Is it wrong to drive 5–10 MPH over the speed limit? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Until then, I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.