A Christian Ethic of Eating: Part 2

This is part two of a series on developing a Christian ethic of eating. You can read the first installment here.

Before considering how our eating habits may affect others, it’s wise to think on how they might affect our body. This is the first board of the structure that will be our ethical eating framework. In some circles of Christian thought, the importance of the physical body has not always been properly acknowledged. Instead, our spiritual nature, or our soul, has been emphasized to the neglect of the physical. When this happens, taking care of the the physical world, including our bodies, isn’t seen as a particularly important aspect of Christianity.

Thankfully, theologians have corrected this misguided teaching, making clear that God values both body and soul. In fact, Jesus took on flesh to ensure the salvation of man’s entire being, not just the soul. The apostle Paul goes into detail in 1 Corinthians 15 concerning the resurrection, and he clearly expects us to have physical bodies in the new heavens and new earth. While believers have the hope of a future physical and spiritual redemption, how does this impact, if at all, one’s treatment of his body presently? Let’s look at some pertinent passages that discuss the significance of physical bodies and the purpose for which food was created.

First, it is important to note that the Bible describes a Christian’s body as a temple, or a dwelling place for the Spirit of God. In 1 Corinthians 6:18–20, Paul encourages the Corinthians to flee from sin because their bodies are temples. This theological fact causes the apostle to exhort them, “Glorify God in your body. ”Bringing God glory in one’s body involves more than refraining from sin though. This is simply the first step. The reality of believers being a temple of the Lord should drive this question into each person’s mind: what is the proper care deserving of the dwelling place of God? Or to put it another way, are one’s eating habits reflecting the fact that their body is a temple of the Most High God?

We need only to consider how the Old Testament portrayed the temple. Extravagant materials were used by Solomon to build the temple, and beautiful designs were seen throughout this holy structure. It was held in highest regard. Now, because of our God’s triune work of redemption, we are temples in motion. How will we honor our bodies in light of that?

Second, Christians must ponder the Lord’s intention for eating, and that will help us determine what food choices line up with His revealed will. Simply put, food is intended to be enjoyed and to nourish human beings. The Old Testament often speaks of the strengthening effect that “bread” has upon man. For instance, the psalmist writes in Psalm 104:14–15, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (see also Gen. 18:5; Judges 19:5, 8). As Christians make the decisions concerning their food, we would be wise to contemplate whether the food will strengthen or possibly harm our bodies.

Of course, some would infer from this that only health food should be consumed, and unnecessary food items should be left off the grocery list. This is wrongheaded. After all, God did create the cocoa bean and the sugar cane and declare that they are both “good.” These foods and others were created for our pleasure and to point us to the satisfying nature of God. Psalm 63:5 says, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food.” King David is telling us that the feeling of fullness and satisfaction that we experience after a delicious meal gives us a small glimpse of the pure satisfaction that God offers. God has graciously given man food items for our enjoyment and to point us to Him, and we should keep this mindset in our view of food.

When contemplating our dietary decisions, we must not only consider what to eat but how much to eat. Being a good steward of my body and ensuring it is ready to serve the Lord means it’s probably a bad idea to eat until I’m in a food coma. If I’m enjoying BBQ until my arteries are screaming at me, that’s probably not the best way to me to glorify God in my body. We are not slaves to our stomach, but to Christ. Therefore, we need not gorge ourselves on food. Instead, we fill ourselves on Christ. After all, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

The individual who wants to develop an ethical framework for eating must first ask what personal effects a particular item might have. If it will adversely affect one’s health then wisdom dictates that the person should avoid the food. Likewise, if the food is beneficial to one’s overall health, the individual is free to decide whether or not they want it. Ultimately, this category comes down to viewing one’s life, which includes physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects, as a gift from God to be stewarded. This body has been given to us to serve in the court of the King, not the food court.

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