Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Pastor John, we have an episode on fasting which has proven to be quite popular: “What Is the Purpose of Fasting?.” But in this podcast series we have not talked much about food more generally. Food is such a big part of everyone’s lives. Pastor John, how does the Bible instruct us on right and wrong ways to think about food?

Well, I thought about this, Tony. I think it would be helpful to take five passages of Scripture and bullet them as a primer on a theology of food. It will function as a kind of protection against idolatries in the misuse of food. We will see food’s proper and improper places in our lives from these texts. This is very incipient. I hope people will just take these and think with me rather than thinking this is the end of the thought. This is really the beginning. I have got five passages. I will just mention them and add a comment or two.

Gift to Be Sanctified

First, 1 Timothy 4:4–5: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” Paul is talking about food and sex. Food is God’s idea, including both nutritional value and 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.

Food is not automatically honoring to God. I say it does not automatically honor God, because Paul says you need to sanctify it by the word of God and prayer. 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 turn it into something holy by prayer and the word, then enjoy it with gratitude. In this way, you embrace that holiness.

Means to God

Second, Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” This is important because here God is to be tasted. We only know the meaning of the word taste because we have tongues, taste buds, and food. Clearly, food is a type or shadow or pointer or parable, so that when God is brought into our consciousness, we will have appropriate categories for how we feast upon God.

The very word feast implies I have 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. What we enjoy in food we should find in God. In fact, we should find God in the very enjoyment of our food.

Not God

Third, 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 not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

That is an amazing statement. The Lord is for the body. Food and stomach are not ultimate. They are going to be destroyed someday. Don’t treat them as your idols. If you treat them as gods, your gods are going to perish.

“What we enjoy in food we should find in God. In fact, we should find God in the very enjoyment of our food.”

Food is lawful, but not as a master. That is what Paul says here. As soon as food moves from being your servant to satisfy your appropriate hungers, to send you with thrill of thanksgiving to God, and to know that God tastes even better than anything you just ate, it starts to become a master. And Paul said not to be mastered by anything, especially food. 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.

Sacrifice for God

Fourth, Matthew 6:17: “When you fast, anoint your head and 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.” Notice that it says, “When you fast,” not, “If you fast.” Fasting is normal. Why would that be? Why would God build fasting into this age? Why would he have us abstain from something he created which is perfectly good?

I think he did because fasting is a way of saying that I am not mastered by my delight in my food. I am mastered by my delight in God. And I want to intensify that. One way to intensify it is by abstaining from alternative pleasures, so that, without calling them evil at all, I can say God is better.

So, I think we should say with our bodies periodically (and there is no New Testament rule here that tells you how often to fast), “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.

Manna Not Enough

Finally, Matthew 4:3–4: “The tempter came and said to [Jesus] ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from 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 themselves if they really believe that. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life. 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 their supreme satisfaction, or an appetite for food that would then be idolatry, because it would seem to say that food is more satisfying to them than God. This is a concluding exhortation to us all: Let’s cultivate a taste for God, an appetite for God and his word, that out-satisfies everything.