In our last Calvary Review we discussed eating and the times when eating becomes sin. Not all eating is sin, but when food masters or controls us so that we are unwilling to say no to our desire for food or if our eating harms our bodies or if it causes a stumbling block to others because we are being hypocritical, showing partiality, or being insensitive to their convictions, then eating becomes a sin. We also learned that obesity is a serious problem in America being the second leading killer of Americans. Overeating is also a major contributor to other deadly diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Finally, we discussed why sins of indulgence, and overeating in particular, need to be addressed. Some of the reasons are as follows: 1) overeating is harmful to our bodies and the Scriptures tell us to take care of our bodies, 2) the Bible says we are not to be mastered by anything, 3) the Bible says we are not to show partiality, condemning some sins and ignoring others, and 4) we are to avoid hypocrisy in condemning sins of indulgence in others when we ourselves are engaging in those same kinds of sins.
For this Calvary Review we want to examine more closely what the Word of God says about eating in general and indulgence and lack of self control in particular. Once we understand what the Scriptures say in these areas, then we can begin to apply the biblical principles to our own eating habits.
Scriptures Addressing the Purpose of Food
In Gen. 1:29-30 God said Adam and Eve could eat “every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.” Later in Gen. 9:3 God said, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.” These texts tell us that God created all edible plants and animals for us to eat. When the law of Moses was given, later in Israel’s history, God declared some foods to be unclean. God did this for some reasons we are not sure of, but part of the reason is that He wanted Israel to be separate or distinct from the pagan nations around them. Later, after the church was started, God again declared all foods to be clean (Acts 10:8-15). In fact God desires us to enjoy all foods again and describes those who teach abstinence from certain foods as teaching the “doctrines of demons” (I Tim. 4:1-4).
The next question we might seek to answer from the Scriptures is “why” God has given us food to eat. Psa. 104:14-15 says God, “causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart.” Here we learn that God has given us food as a blessing to enjoy, to make the heart glad, and to allow us to survive. In Eccl. 9:7 Solomon says the same thing, “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” These verses teach us that food and eating is a blessing from God that we are to enjoy and give thanks for.
Though eating is a blessing from God, we must also realize that if we ever had to choose between obeying God or eating, we would have to obey God. In Job 23:12 Job says, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Jesus said in Jn. 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” Daniel, when taken captive as a young man, refused to eat the king’s choice food, knowing it was first offered to idols (Dan. 1:8). He was forced to choose between eating the best food of the land or obeying God. So while eating may be a blessing and necessary for physical sustenance, we must never make eating a priority above obeying God, for when we do that, eating becomes a sin.
Scriptures Which Address the Sins of Indulgence
Now that we have looked at some of the Scriptures which speak to the blessing and the priority of eating, let’s focus our attention on Scriptures that tell us how we are to regulate our eating. First let’s consider Scriptures which address fleshly indulgence and being mastered by things that appeal to the flesh. In Rom. 16:17-18 the Apostle Paul tells his readers to “keep your eye on … and … turn away from” false teachers who “are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites.” In Phil. 3:18-19 Paul, speaking of false teachers again, says, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”
A distinguishing characteristic of false teachers is that they are enslaved by their appetites or fleshly desires. What that means is that they are mastered by their flesh and cater to their fleshly cravings rather than submitting their fleshly desires to the will of God. In reality, their slavery to their lusts is a form of idolatry as they choose to satisfy their flesh rather than God. Obviously, our lives should not follow or exemplify the lives of false teachers.
In I Cor. 6:12-13 Paul speaking of his liberties in Christ, that is his freedom to do things not specifically forbidden by God, says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” Here Paul says that though he could eat food, he was not free to be “mastered” by it or anything else. The two sins of the flesh Paul mentions in the text are being mastered by the pleasures associated with food and the pleasures of immorality. Both eating indulgence and immorality are sins which cater to our fleshly desires. Both food and sex, when engaged in outside of God’s will, become sins. It is Satan’s desire to enslave us to blessings God has given us so that we place them before God.
Surely out of control or indulgent eating is forbidden by the texts above. Godly people should never be characterized as being mastered by anything, including food. Of course it is difficult sometimes to determine if someone is eating for pleasure within the acceptable limits of God’s Word or not. We will discuss this in another Calvary Review in more detail, but what we must not escape is that indulgence and over eating are serious sins as they are a form of idiolatry. Placing our appetites before obedience to God is sin. Because of the indulgent nature of the culture we live in, every Christian needs to prayerfully consider their eating habits in light of what the Scriptures teach.
Though we might be tempted to move on to other issues, we need to look at some more specific Scriptures which address indulgence. In Mt. 23:25 we find Jesus condemning the self righteous Pharisees saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” Notice that the Pharisees tried to look one way on the outside but Jesus, knowing their hearts, said they were “full of … self indulgence.” The Greek word translated “self-indulgence” comes from a word that means “to have power, lordship, or dominion over.” In the case of sinful eating habits, our desire to please ourselves with food dominates or lords it over us, so that we submit to our flesh rather than God.
In Gal. 5:19 & 21 the apostle Paul lists some of the deeds of the flesh “i“mmorality, impurity, sensuality, … envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” All of these sins are sins of the flesh and one of the sins covered in the phrase, “like these” are sinful eating habits. The scary part is that Paul goes on to say he has warned them before, “that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (see also I Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:4-5; Rev. 21:8).
Gal. 5:19-20 is not saying we are saved by our good works or eating habits, but what it is saying is that those who are characterized by a life of fleshly indulgence reveal that they are not saved. Those who consistently display slavery to their fleshly desires declare by their slavery to sin that they are not the children of God. Think of the implications this has to the local church in the area of eating! There are some people who call themselves Christians who think, talk, and live for food. They are consumed, mastered, enslaved with the pleasures of eating. Paul makes it clear that these kinds of people “do not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Now if you think this verse is a fluke and maybe it doesn’t mean what is says, consider Eph. 2:1-3. In this section of Ephesians Paul is discussing the unsaved, spiritually dead state of those he describes as “sons of disobedience.” In vs. 3 he includes his pre-conversion self in this category and says, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” Paul says that before he repented and placed his faith in Jesus Christ he was characterized by fleshly indulgence and describes all who are as “children of wrath.”
The author of Hebrews reminds us in Heb. 12:16 of Esau, who was more concerned about his stomach than the blessing of God. He exhorts his readers to make sure, “that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.” Peter, in II Pet. 2:9-10, describes the “unrighteous” who are “under punishment for the day of judgment” as “those who indulge the flesh.”
John, in I Jn. 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh…, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” All of these texts warn against fleshly indulgence and slavery to our lusts.
Food is a blessing and is good. God wants us to enjoy and receive pleasure from eating as long as it doesn’t cause us to sin. The Scriptures tell us much more, but for now, ask yourself this, “Am I in control of my eating for the glory of God or is my desire for food in control of me for the pleasure of self?” May we strive to be holy even in our eating.