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The Bible and Food

The Bible and Food – God’s purpose for food
The Bible says a lot about food. But before discussing dietary restrictions, we should first ask about God’s general purposes for food. There are many ways to approach this topic. We all know the pleasures related to eating. Good food is enjoyable, for God intended it that way. As the Bible says:
    “God created [food] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. …[He] richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 4:3, 6:17).
Dining with friends and family multiplies the enjoyment, something even Jesus appreciated. All this demonstrates God’s goodness.

Food also demonstrates our dependence upon God. That thought should make us humble and turn us away from pride. Moses noted these truths when he reminded the Israelites of God’s leading in their lives:
    “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
For all this, God deserves our praise.

Those are the central concepts that have been clear from the beginning. At times, however, God has changed the rules about eating. Adam and Eve were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30). Later, God told Noah he could also eat any animal, but not blood (Genesis 9:3-4). Later still, through Moses God gave very strict dietary regulations to the nation of Israel. That helped make them distinct as His special people. But God also intended that those religious laws create certain problems. He wanted the Israelites to learn that no one was perfect—that no one could do all God required (Acts 15:10; Galatians 4:1-5:3). Later, when Jesus lived on earth, He once again declared that any food could be eaten without fear of breaking God’s rules.
    “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:18-23).
To reinforce that teaching, God gave a special vision to Peter, using him to convey the truth to the then largely Jewish church (Acts 10:1-48, 15:1-31).

The Bible and Food – How does it divide us?
Sadly, instead of uniting all people in appreciation for and dependence upon God, our beliefs about the Bible and food often divide us. True believers in God are more concerned with others than with their own diet. They set aside their natural preferences and social practices in order to love others (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). We need to probe the motivations behind our dietary habits. When it comes to food, we humans can be tremendous hypocrites. If our choice of diet makes us proud, we are hurting not only others, but we damage our own relationship with God. As the great apostle Paul said:
    “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Romans 14:3).
There is also the issue of health. Some of us can’t tolerate certain foods and we should avoid them. More often, however, we lack self-control and eat poorly or in excess, turning God’s gifts into an expression of selfishness and even a means of personal suffering.

Finally, the Bible says that we will eat in heaven. Hooray! There, food will never be misused again. God has the best ideas.

The Bible and Food - What about alcohol?
If alcohol is inherently sinful, then we all have a problem. It’s a well-known medical fact that microorganisms in the human digestive system turn some of our food into alcohol—upwards of two glasses of wine a day. So we all have some alcohol in our blood all the time. In response to that, someone might claim that the body’s internal functions are irrelevant, and that only our purposeful actions matter. There’s some truth to that, but when it comes to alcohol, the Bible is somewhere in the middle.

On the positive side, Jesus Himself miraculously turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He would never have done so if alcohol were a sinful substance never to be consumed. Alcohol acts as a preservative, so wine is to fruit juice as yoghurt or cheese is to milk.

However, as with food, moderation is essential. The Bible is clearly opposed to both drunkenness and gluttony. What’s more, it may be that the unique physical nature of some people predisposes them to intoxication, just like some people are predisposed to gaining excess weight. Each of those two groups should be careful. We cannot live without food, but we can live without drinking alcohol. Others refrain from alcohol as an example of self-control. But whether we drink moderately or abstain entirely, we should not be proud. Personal desires are secondary. Primary should be our desire to glorify God and demonstrate his love for others. As Paul said:
    “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1).
We might note two additional admonitions given by Paul:
    “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20).

    “To Timothy my true son in the faith … Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 1:1; 5:23).
Finally, we should note the words of Jesus:
    “…the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34-37).
So we see that what comes out of our mouths is of far greater importance than what goes in.

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Compliments of Scott Munger, PhD, Biblica, All rights reserved in the original.

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