A few weeks ago, my church started a new series titled “The Bible Doesn’t Say That” which explores some of the ways our culture has taken scripture out of context and made it look like it says things that it doesn’t. As a Christian, I believe that the bible is the complete, inerrant word of God, and that it’s really dangerous to add or subtract from it, or to manipulate it to try to make it say something it doesn’t say.
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to do this with lots of different areas of life, including our approach to food. I have seen diet culture run rampant even in churches, which makes me angrier than many things in life. Many well-intending ministry leaders take scripture out of context in the attempt to use it to motivate dieting, exercise, and weight-loss efforts. Not only is this a violation of scripture which is bad enough in its own right, but it leads to a sense of shame and unnecessary hurt, which have no place in the church. (If you ask me, I’d say that diet talk has no place in the church, period.)
Diet talk has no place in the church. Period.Tweet
Sinfully delicious, guilty pleasure…
Eating delicious food isn’t a sin, and it’s dangerous to call something a sin that isn’t. Even though the phrase usually is just comparing the pleasure of something like dessert to the pleasure of something sinful, this feeds the underlying idea that eating delicious food is bad, like engaging in sin is bad. Here’s the thing though…the bible doesn’t say that!
In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon recounts his journey of looking to worldly things to satisfy the deepest needs of his heart. He even tries to find fulfillment in abstaining from pleasure, as some today try to do. Unsurprisingly, he is not successful in these endeavors, and resigns himself to the fact that a fulfilling life can only be found through Christ, the giver of all good gifts. In chapter 9, verse 7 he writes,
Go, eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.Ecclesiastes 9:7
In other words, neither gorging ourselves on food nor abstaining from pleasurable tastes will bring us satisfaction in life. What will satisfy us, however, is recognizing the gift that food is and drawing nearer to the God who gave it.
Doing penance for eating ___________.
In case you need the reminder, circle back to point #1 and read: eating food is not a sin. Therefore, there’s no penalty to be paid. However, diet culture leads us believe that we need to “earn our food” through exercise. This concept is nowhere to be found in the bible!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
Exercise doesn’t erase our sins, and it doesn’t have the power to make us holy. It doesn’t define our worth, and neither does the food we eat.
Be a good steward of your body.
In light of the fact that our bodies are a good gift from God, sometimes the church wrongly teaches that in order to steward that gift well, we need to do everything we can to keep it in perfect, tip-top shape (i.e. keep it looking “good.”) But here’s the caveat…we don’t have the final say over our health, and it actually is a waste of our time, energy and resources to obsess over what’s going on with our bodies. Furthermore, God didn’t come up with our culture’s beauty standards…our society did.
One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.Romans 14:2
It’s actually a sign of weak faith to believe that we need to follow diet rules in order to honor God. Instead, when we read the bible, we learn that diet rules are futile, that diets are idols which are nothing at all in the world, and it’s actually a manifestation of trust in God when we eat a variety of foods and denounce the temptation of food rules.
Running the race…for faith?
Have you ever seen workout advertisements with bible verses on them? Here are a few common ones:
- “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…” (2 Timothy 4:7)
- “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
- “But I discipline my body and keep it under control…” (1 Corinthians 9:27)
Here’s the thing though…none of those verses have anything to do with literal running, strength training, or physical training at all. Rather, they are referring to the long haul of resisting temptation and sacrificing ourselves for Christ. When we take scripture out of context and use it to support, say, exercise efforts, it promulgates the idea that exercise is a virtue and that those who don’t exercise are less holy. This simply isn’t true. Look to 1 Timothy 4:8 for proof:
For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.2 Timothy 4:8