I have been overweight all of my adult life.
While not everyone’s additional pounds are directly linked to sin, I know many of mine are. Historically, I’ve gone through seasons of facing my sin directly, and other seasons where I’ve completely avoided dealing with it and allowed indulgence to rule the day. However, this past year, I’ve experienced a measure of victory both in my heart and, perhaps in smaller measure, on my bathroom scale.
From years of gains and losses, I know that a few lost pounds do not mean the battle is over. The good gift of weight-loss comes by God’s grace, but it also requires my own sweat and tears. Waging war on sin happens one day at a time, through weakness and temptation, prayer and confession, and through better eating and regular exercise.
Thankfully, God has given me precious friends to walk with me through weight-loss. Through their compassionate words, their encouragements to persevere, their hard and probing questions, and their condition-free love and acceptance of me whatever my weight, they have spurred me on towards Christ-likeness. These friends have been solace to my soul in a world that often views extra pounds as a scarlet letter — even inside the church.
As the church, we must strive to be a gentle refuge and a cheering squad for each other. If you’ve been put by God in the life of a brother or sister like me who is battling body weight, here are five ways you can walk with them through weight-loss:
1. See the whole picture.
Sometimes sinful, gluttonous choices result in extra weight. Sometimes, sin isn’t part of the picture. Our bodies are beautiful, and broken. Intricately created and beautifully functioning, they also bear witness to the curse. This means none of our bodies work exactly as they should, all the time. Aging, pregnancy, hormonal imbalances, and a host of other factors often lead both men and women to experience the undesirable result of weight gain.
Extra pounds aren’t always the result of ongoing or unrepentant sin. Don’t be afraid to ask a couple questions, but assume the best about a person until you know their weight is the result of sin in their life.
2. Be patient.
Allow us time.
Be patient for God to convict the sinner.
Be patient for the sinner to ask for help.
Be patient for the sinner to accept help.
Be patient for God to work inside their heart to conform their desires. Be patient for all the Spirit’s work on the inside to produce the visible results on the outside.
Long-term battles with sin and flesh take time and energy, and the fruit of obedience may bloom slowly. Unlike fast-acting fad diets, God most often changes people through the slow and steady process of sanctification. Not only must we be patient, but we must also encourage our struggling friends to be patient with themselves as they wait for God’s work.
3. Point us to the gospel.
To the overweight or obese believer, extra pounds can feel like a spiritual failure or divine punishment. But Christ already bore all of our punishment and God is no longer wrathful towards those who’ve placed their trust in him. Body fat cannot separate believers from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our friends aren’t required to lose weight, fit a certain size, or hit a specific number on the scale in order to come to Christ and receive help in their time of need.
The gospel — not weight-loss — is the only answer to brokenness and the only hope for lasting change. We’ll relate well to our friends when we find fellowship in our shared need for Jesus, not in our success at the scale.
4. Encourage spiritual fitness.
Learning to discipline the flesh is challenging and tedious. More than burning calories, we all will benefit from an exercise regimen that disciplines the mind. The brain and heart are often our most out-of-shape muscles and must be conditioned to reflect the new life we are to put on as followers of Christ. We must hold our friends accountable to pumping iron in our personal pursuit of God, in our training in righteousness, so that we might be strengthened by all the truth of God’s word.
5. Celebrate the grace of perseverance.
Compliment more than changes in physical appearance. While noticing a friend’s slimming waistline can offer positive affirmation that his hard work is paying off, a good word aimed at the heart, assuring him of the ways you see God working, will be more meaningful and longer lasting. When we strive to cheer on the inner man, we encourage the one being conformed to Christ-likeness, and outward change will follow. Instead of simply celebrating lost pounds, celebrate God’s grace enabling the good works of perseverance and self control.
Weighing in the Light
The friends that have helped me the most through the years have been the ones who see my heart needs before seeing my weight problems. They’ve spoken truth in love, stuck around through my weakness, celebrated victories, and journeyed with me toward holiness in gracious and restorative ways. These friends have waited patiently for the Spirit’s work in my life without any measuring tapes or weekly weigh-ins.
If losing weight is in your future, find this kind of friend. If you’re hoping to restore or strengthen someone who battles weight problems, be this kind of friend. Energize one another through God’s word and the gospel. Strive together for holiness (Hebrews 12:14). In all your thoughts and “helpful” words, love. I urge you, church, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak and over-weight, and be patient (1 Thessalonians 5:14) as you walk with one another through weight-loss.