Two Principles for Righteous Enjoyment of Food

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If the previous article stirred some deeper thinking about the way we eat, I hope this continuation will inspire us to be intentional in our real-life choices. Here are some practical principles we can keep in mind with every meal made and every bite taken.

1. Self-Control

God has given each of us the responsibility to care for our bodies. One of the main tools He gives us to work with is food. But what if we let our brains and taste-buds control how we eat, rather than wisdom and righteousness? 

There is never a time we shouldn’t exercise self-control. In the context of food, it is of utmost importance, although we sometimes wish otherwise. It should flow naturally from a Spirit-filled believer, but so often we remain bound in habits of self-indulgence. How dare we go on preferring to please ourselves when we could please God, and walk in the freedom that Jesus paid for?  These bodies belong to God Who created us, and Who now indwells each believer with His Spirit. One of the listed fruits of the Spirit is temperance, self control over bodily appetites and passions (Gal. 5:22). The Christian theologian Novation, in 235 A.D., wrote, “Nothing has so restrained intemperance as has the Gospel. Nor has anyone given such strict laws against gluttony as has Christ.” [3] 

Jesus’ critics observed him eating and drinking like everyone else (Luke 7:34), and called Him a glutton, yet we know that Jesus never once lacked self-control. I like to imagine Him heartily enjoying the food served to Him, but never indulging in “emotional eating” or gluttony. Paul entreated believers to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against your soul”(1 Peter 2:11). Though we tend to think of more egregious sins when “lusts” are mentioned in the Bible, idolatry of food and drink is just as wrong. Oswald Chambers cuts to the root of the issue: “If I take any part of my bodily life and use it to satisfy myself, that is sensuality. The Christian must learn that his body is not his own.”

Why are there so many overweight Christians? Perhaps it comes from caring too much about food, in the wrong way– a perspective on food that prioritizes what tastes and feels good, closing our eyes to the fact that we are idolizing our belly. The sin of gluttony is a sin we all recognize as shameful, and yet it’s one of the least preached against. 

God warned Israel not to forget Him and His commands after they were established in Canaan, when they had “eaten and were full” (Deut. 8:12). A metaphor in the song of Moses connects “waxing fat” with “forgetting the God which made him, and lightly esteeming the Rock of his salvation” (Deut. 32:15) It is easier to become relaxed and complacent spiritually when our physical appetites are completely gratified. Overindulgence clouds the conscience and fades our heavenly vision– the opposite effect of self control and fasting. 

Writer Jeremy Bell puts it bluntly,

 “We preach to the culture around us that we have self-control to refrain from the passions and desires of our flesh, but too many of us make an exception for self-control in the area of physical health. How can we exhort people to have self-control in spiritual matters when we stand in front of them overweight, out of shape and with no self-control in physical matters?” [4]

There are some body types that can handle an excess of food without changing shape at all. Even then, undisciplined eating is wrong, because it prioritizes our wishes over God’s way of moderation. Matthew Henry, commenting on Phil. 3:19 (“whose god is their belly”), wrote, “They minded nothing but their sensual appetites. A wretched idol it is, and a scandal for any, but especially for Christians, to sacrifice the favour of God, the peace of their conscience, and their eternal happiness to it.” We don’t have to be enslaved to appetites of any kind. The root problem, as usual, is loving self more than God. All the grace of our Lord Jesus is available to us. Nothing hinders a Christian from having self control, except each individual’s self-will—which Jesus requires every follower to deny. 

After every seemingly hard choice to exercise our “discipline muscle,” we’ll find that pleasure in moderation is pleasure doubled. Often the more we have of a good thing, the less we enjoy it. The first few bites of a delicious meal are enjoyed the most, whereas the second serving is sometimes just to gratify our taste buds a little longer. It is a joy to have a clear conscience after a meal in which we restrained ourselves to honor and please the Lord. Unsurprisingly, those meals are the best!

Self control in eating is a rare but rewarding virtue, and one every Christian ought to cultivate. Thomas Hibbs, in his article “Hungry Souls”, remarks that one point of temperance is “to make possible… an experience of pleasure at the right things in the right way.” He says that temperance is ”marked by ease and delight, not calculation and anxiety.” The enemy of our souls wants us to believe otherwise. Self-restraint is not bondage; habitual overeating is bondage, and Jesus wants to set us free. When in faith we bear the Spirit-fruit of temperance, we reflect the character of Jesus to the watching world and to the next generation.

This brings me to another point: teaching self control to children. It is saddening to see children that are more “chubby” than is natural for their age and stature. Whether a sedentary lifestyle, junk food, or gluttony is to blame, something is wrong. Are their parents not paying attention and helping the child make wise choices? Maybe they aren’t setting an example of self control, and the poor child simply mirrors their eating habits. These children are the next generation of disciples of Jesus. It is unfair to teach, by example or the lack of instruction, that it doesn’t matter how we as Christians view food. It is only fair that we teach them while young to restrain their appetites, and model God-honoring eating habits every time we gather around food.  

2. Thankfulness

Let us always eat with thankfulness. We all know we’re supposed to, but we have to be purposeful or else we take food for granted. “There is grace upon grace in even a simple meal, if we will but see it,” writes Dr. Paul Brand. [5] There really are hundreds of people to whom good food isn’t available in abundance. We live in a place and time of plenty– thank God for it! 

Every time our Lord Jesus ate or drank, He first thanked His Father aloud. The apostles followed His example. But even after the prayer, (which we do too easily out of habit, not from the heart) we should keep being thankful. Remember what a gift food is, and thank God who gave it richly for us to enjoy. Wonder at how each ingredient was -hopefully- made from the ground up (we’ll discuss this more in a future article). Be in awe of God when you consider all the micro-miracles that went into the growth of the plant or animal. No less miraculous is the way God designed our bodies to handle food. Have gratitude for the farmer or gardener, and don’t forget to thank the cook. (Unless you’re the cook, then thank God for the ability to prepare, taste-test, and serve!)

Food has a way of bringing people together, so take the opportunity to connect more deeply with others at the table. Slow down, if you have time—or rather, make time to slow down—and enjoy food with them. We too easily just eat out of habit and fail to really see, smell, and taste our meals.  Gastroenterologists agree that eating in a calm, grateful, fully present state is key to maximum absorption and digestion of food. [6] So we can do our physiology a favor, as well as our relationships.

The pursuit of good food easily becomes a distraction, when the motive is not whole-being love for God and others. There’s no need to be stoical; we can still find wholesome enjoyment in food. Solomon advised in Ecclesiastes 9:7: “Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart…” But God and His Kingdom must remain our ultimate priority. 

As a foretaste of the heavenly feast yet to come, we can share special meals with a circle of friends. Eating food we grew ourselves is another healthy pleasure, and a step back to God’s first decree to humankind (Gen. 1:28). But our greatest pleasure should be found in God. In John Piper’s words (more in this article), “God receives the greatest pleasure and glory… when we find and enjoy Him in every aspect of His creation.” [7] With a little thought and intention, our food can be one of those aspects in which we glorify God.

In the final article of this series, we’ll delve into one more area that I believe is essential to consider in the development of a healthy foodview. Until then, let’s mull over—and pray about—how God wants us to view, choose, and enjoy the food we eat.

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About the Author:

Karissa is an artistic, idealistic middle child, aspiring to love thoroughly God and others. Her ideal (and current) life involves truth, intention, and beauty. In the margin of the day-to-day, Karissa dabbles in graphic design, music, and the study of various topics including theology and tea.

1 thought on “Two Principles for Righteous Enjoyment of Food”

  1. I love the emphasis on thankfulness. And I wonder if eating without self-control is even compatible with a thankful attitude. Whenever I lack self-control in something, and do it merely because I crave it, that thing never has meaning for me. If we recognize what food means and the wonderful gift it is, we will hardly overeat. Just a thought.

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