Let Not Food Destroy the Body

Laying Aside the Weight of Preferences

My teenage daughter came home from school telling me of a friend who berated herself for eating a single Oreo. Her friend was appalled that she had allowed such garbage into her body. It had ruined her clean-eating plan (at least for the day). What horrors would the processed sugar do to her? My daughter saw the red flag in her friend’s response, and now looked at me with questioning eyes.

Food fixation has become a new normal in American life. Whether it’s the latest popular baking show, or the newest fad diet, or being a self-proclaimed “foodie,” it’s no secret that many of us are obsessed with food. Asheritah Ciuciu describes food fixation as “the inordinate preoccupation with thoughts and longings for food” (Full). We might be tempted to think someone fixated on food is obese and given to gluttony, but gluttony (defined as living a life of excess) can also manifest through excessively counting calories or obsessing over clean and organic foods. Both diets expose the same main course: the golden calf of food idolatry.

So, how should Christians think about food? How do we balance being good stewards of our bodies while not becoming consumed by a certain diet or exercise plan?

God Says Food Is Good

God created a garden full of delicious fruit for the first man and woman on earth (Genesis 1:29). Food was meant not only to nourish their bodies, but also for their own enjoyment. God created man with taste buds to delight in the sweetness of an apple or the tanginess of a lemon. As our stomachs rumble with each passing hour of the day, God reminds us of our dependence on him to nourish and sustain our bodies with food.

And the gift of physical food points to the ultimate source of satisfaction we find in Jesus, the bread of life (John 6:35). Whether he has provided us with filet mignon or a box of Oreos, 1 Timothy 4:4–5 reminds us, “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” The New Testament gives us no specific regulations on what kinds of foods we can consume. In fact, against all the laws God had given Israel for hundreds of years, Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). We are to eat what God provides, whatever God provides, with a grateful heart, offering up prayers of thanksgiving to God.

“Food is a good gift from God, as long as we are not consumed with our diets and menu plans.”

Our motivation in eating, of course, isn’t our own comfort or stress relief, but that God would be magnified. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is how God guards our mouths and governs our diets. If we can eat what is in front of us in a way that magnifies who he is, and what he done for us (including giving us bodies to steward), then we can enjoy, with peace and confidence, the wide variety of foods God has given and blessed.

Food Can Divide the Body

All too often, our food preferences isolate us from one another. Maybe we catch a friend eating a pre-packaged frozen meal or lunchmeat with nitrates, or watch them open a bag of potato chips filled with preservatives and fat. We are tempted to indulge in food-righteousness, in thinking we’re the better person for eating sprouted grain bread with organic almond butter.

Our gospel, however, doesn’t leave room for self-made righteousness. Before God, apart from Christ, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Jesus died on the cross and suffered the punishment for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to work for our righteousness. It is a free gift from God, not based on the merits of our behavior — or our food choices. That doesn’t make what we eat meaningless, but it should make us, of all people, humble about what we choose to eat.

While Paul was writing about disagreements over Jewish food laws in Romans 14, the principles are every bit as relevant to clean eating and organic food controversies today.

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:2–3)

“Our love for the gospel should make us lower-maintenance people when it comes to food and drink.”

What were those believers missing? “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). The explosive power of their shared desire to honor Christ, in eating or in abstaining, should have consumed any hostility in their (heated) disagreements over the Christian diet. They did not need to agree on food to enjoy deep and abiding fellowship in Christ.

Low-Maintenance Fellowship

Food preferences are just that — preferences. In a culture saturated with money, restaurants, healthy food options, and locally sourced meats, fruits, and vegetables, we’re able to be more and more picky (and proud) in what kinds of foods we’re willing to eat. While being able to eat healthier is a privilege and even a stewardship, it also can become a massive stumbling block for fellowship and hospitality.

Do we only eat with people who we know will accommodate our demanding diets? Do we need to have the best coffee beans in order to enjoy meeting with a friend? Our love for the gospel should make us lower-maintenance people when it comes to food and drink. We should be able to gratefully enjoy a burger from Wendy’s, when love calls for Wendy’s, as much as we might enjoy one from the local grass-fed cattle farm.

Table fellowship with other believers can be broken, or significantly hindered, simply by refusing to eat certain foods. Please know that I am not referring to life-threatening food restrictions or food allergies, but to chosen preferences — wants instead of real needs. Our fussy food inclinations and preferences can isolate us from enjoying meals with those around us. Whether we decline an invitation as a guest or avoid inviting others who we know are high maintenance, food preferences have the potential to destroy sweet Christian fellowship.

Food Catalyzes Relationship

Just as easily as food can divide Christians, food also can unite the family of God, even bringing new people into this family. What church fellowship doesn’t have a meal or snacks to enjoy? Serving and enjoying food with others carries a powerful dynamic we witness over and over in the Bible.

“We are tempted to indulge in food righteousness.”

Jesus dined with the least popular crowd, tax collectors and sinners, while the Pharisees accused him of being a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19). Jesus miraculously provided food for the hungry crowds that were following him (Matthew 14:15–21). He chose bread and wine as symbols to remember his sacrifice (Luke 22:14–20). He used dinner parties and wedding banquets as pictures of the future kingdom of God (Matthew 22:2; Luke 14:16–24).

Food is a good gift from God, as long as we are not consumed with our diets and menu plans. Sharing a meal with our neighbors or meeting a friend for coffee provides an atmosphere where hearts are shared over a table. When babies are born, or a friend is sick, food is delivered to help ease the burdens of the one in need. Food provides opportunities for outreach as we host ice-cream socials in our backyard or hand out apple cider on Halloween.

As Christians, let’s be known as people who enjoy the good gifts God has given us, whether that be grass-fed steak or Oreo cookies. And let’s use the food God has given us as a means to show hospitality, to reach the lost, and to share the generous love of Christ.