Belly Worship

We’ve been talking about food and gods in 1 Corinthians 8 in our current sermon series, about the connection between eating and worship. In Philippians 3 Paul warns about those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” and it also has to do with an idolatrous relationship with repast.

“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory on their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (verse 19).

The four phrases seem to work backward from the end. These men are occupied with physical things and so that’s where they get their standards. Earthly standards lead to an exchange between glory and shame. When shame gets taken for glory, self must be the god. And because we can’t ever successfully exchange God’s world for our imagined world, self-as-god ends in destruction, where the verse starts.

“Their god is their belly” is quite a striking, almost crude sounding description. The comforts for self, the satisfactions for self, all serve self. Note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a “fat belly” (Buddha-like) god, it could be a “free range only belly” god or a “flat belly” god; the focus is still on self. These are enemies of the cross which crucifies self.

Those who are, by contrast, friends of the cross, if we can call them that, are not defined by what they do or do not put in their bellies, they are defined by their bellies being servants of God rather than gods to be served. They are appropriately ashamed in their shame, and they anticipate the true glory when Christ transforms our “lowly” bodies “to be like his glorious body” (verse 20).

There is no neutrality. Either we will worship the Creator or something in creation. Our bellies will show shame or glory, not measured by girth but by gratitude.

The Gluten of Your Family


One of the reasons God gives us fathers is so that we can learn what is good, including what is good to eat. It’s not that God expects every father to be a nutritionist, but He does provide father’s with the opportunity to be examples. Father’s will inescapably teach their children about eating, the question is what lesson they will teach.

What is a balanced meal? Who says what is “balanced” and based on what (verse)? Is that even worth pursuing? How do you handle the food being a bit late to the table? A lot late? Do you ever help to prepare the meal, or clean up from it? How big, or small, are the portions you dish out? Is eating a thing done in silence or amidst confrontation or amidst laughter? How do you handle items on your plate you don’t prefer (I’m looking at you, Brussels sprouts)? Is there more fear about where the food came from or ingredients in the food than there is fear about not giving God appropriate thanks for it? Even if you’re actually allergic to gluten, does your attitude glue the family together?

The lesson here is not as much about what goes into your mouth and more about what comes out of your heart. The Pharisees constantly missed this, and yet they made a lot of converts to their discriminating but dead righteousness. Fathers aren’t paid to follow their kids around and police what goes into their mouths. Father’s are given to children to care for them and show them the ways of Christ. The same is happening at the Lord’s Table. Fathers, I urge you, eat and drink in the way you want your kids to imitate, because they will.

Gravy That Requires Forks and Knives

One passage that Joe Rigney readily and rightfully keeps on repeating in The Things of Earth is 1 Timothy 4:4-5.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

I’m not sure how many week’s worth of exhortations are latent in this rich Scripture soil, but as we’re studying Genesis 8 and 9 at church, with Noah back on dry ground and God adding a whole protein-packed page to Noah’s menu, I thought we could think through at least one exhortation.

Many believers will get to heaven trudging on the sidewalks outside hell’s walls. I don’t mean this like other preachers have, as a portrayal of carnal Christians. Instead, I mean it as a reference for the religious who try to separate themselves from all earthly things. They don’t drink, smoke meats, or go with girls who do. Certain abstainers are monkish, mendacious, and Paul says that they are devoted to demon doctrines.

True, Puritanical pilgrims, “those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3) have yet to find a piece of meat too skunky for Scripture seasoning and a prayer marinade. That’s part of what quiet times are good for: to cook out light and fearful thoughts over the heat of a theology fire. Daily devotions ought to flour the broths of life into a gravy that requires forks and knives.

They Spirit says that some men will depart from the faith and try to be spiritual in infernal ways, while truly spiritual persons will be cooking with gratitude and the holy men will have second helpings.

Ad Nauseum Wholus Foodus

What we eat matters. God made us to eat. All sorts of bodily systems, some obvious and some more obvious when things aren’t working properly, are given by God for us to bite, taste, swallow, digest, use, and compost food.

Eating is routine and what we eat identifies us. We know it ad nauseum wholus foodus in our current context. Organic used to mean that you ate something derived from living matter, not that that’s what made your life matter. Local meant the pizza place that could deliver the fastest. Gluten-free meant it was meat. Now we’ve got corporations intent on selling an identity, and I don’t mean Monsanto.

The principle of you are who you eat from goes back to the first garden. When Adam and Eve ate from the hand of the dragon, they identified themselves as discontents. Later, the Serpent-killer said, “Take and eat,” but His promise was honest.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51)

It’s as if Jesus said, “In the day that you eat of it, you will have eternal life.” Unlike the devil, Christ wasn’t playing word games. When we eat from Him we identify ourselves with Him as Giver as well as with our family. And families who eat together stick together.

How to Go Glutton-Free

Previously I took a crack at a predictable sin among dieters. In light of the abundance given to us by God, a certain sort of calorie counting and package reading panic belongs with, and nurtures, a discontent person. He is not thankful for the gifts or the bounty and he thinks too much about No and not enough about Yes.

I mentioned that I might chase that exhortation with one about gluttony. Restrictions in dieting and asceticism, whether of all food or of culturally taboo foods, is often the rejection of good. Gluttony must be the opposite, craving and consuming too much of the good.

Though we might focus the contrasts between dieting and gluttony, both share the most common ingredient of discontent. Abstaining tendencies tell God (usually in an ill-defined thought) that He’s wrong for giving too much, while overindulgent tendencies tell God He hasn’t given enough. In both cases a man is being selfish. In both cases he’s telling God that He is wrong.

A man might become a glutton because he’s lazy, like the Cretans who were “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Being drunk on food is a way to get out of working for food. He’s discontent with God’s plan to work. A man might also become a glutton because he’s afraid. He’s unsure when or if he’ll see food again so he eats four helpings to give himself some padding. He’s discontent with God’s promise to provide.

The only way to go glutton-free is in Christ. It’s by eating and drinking in thanks. We see again how the insidious yeast of discontent makes skinny souls and how thankfulness raises fat ones.

That Big Piece of Leftover Cheesecake

I want to address a subject where angels fear to tread: dieting. I could give an amount of qualifiers named Legion. Gluttony is a sin out of the shrink-wrapped box; maybe I’ll try to tighten a belt around that later. I’m also aware that we should be good stewards of the temple of the Holy Spirit, that nourishment and activity are important. To be disciplined is not a sin. To diet itself is not to sin, but there is a certain sin that threatens dieters more than that big piece of leftover cheesecake in the fridge. The threat is discontent.

In Genesis 1:29 we read that God told Adam and Eve to behold all the fruits and vegetables for food. After the flood He includes meat on the menu for man. And the New Testament is full of warnings about those who require abstinence from certain foods, who say do not taste, and who define righteousness by foods eaten or rejected. Those who do that are in danger of denying what God says is good.

Maybe you need to discipline your intake. Maybe. But why? Who says? Was it an afternoon television doctor? And how do you think about food during the day? How are you thinking about the One who created and provided that food? It is possible for a person to be counting calories out of contentment, but it is very difficult. To be in this ample position, we have probably not needed to pray too often, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Perhaps we’ve eaten bread from five days in the future, and there are plenty more carbs where that came from. This provision, and the need to be disciplined rather than desperate, is a blessing. This is God’s gift. Our ability to give thanks is likely to give out before our waistline.

If we are giving thanks in want and in plenty, content in all our circumstances, joyful in feasting and dieting, then we are likely living in fellowship with God. If we are grumbling (or feeling guilty) because we’ve got too much, or grumbling because we’ve have so much we must forgo, then we are likely not in fellowship with Him and good chances are that we’re not in fellowship with each other either. How we eat or drink or don’t is an opportunity to glorify God.

Dinner and Devotions

As we think about how God wants us to honor Him in His image, the opportunities are surprisingly practical. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul makes a series of arguments based on the fact that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” One result is that we can eat with unbelievers without worrying which gods they sacrifice to and, in our day, that applies even to the twin gods named Green and Gluten-free. We don’t need to ask questions about sustainable farming practices and fair-trade prices when we’re having dinner with our neighbor. Eat, enjoy, and don’t worry for sake of conscience. If you can partake with thankfulness, why should you be denounced because of that for which you give thanks?

The well-known conclusion Paul makes after the above is, “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). A body that hungers and thirsts, lips that can sip and teeth that can chew and tongues that can taste, food and drink themselves, are not only God’s ideas, they are God’s ideas about how He wants us to glorify Him. He made the things, and He made them means by which to honor His name.

How we do dinner is as important as how we do devotions. We aren’t necessarily glorifying God in doing devotions because it is a “spiritual” act any more than we necessarily can’t glorify Him in dinner because it is an “earthly” act. Which is better? Devotions done in the flesh (to honor you and how much you know and how disciplined you are) or dinner done in gratitude? Duh.

Let us not be more spiritual than God. Let us not decide for ourselves what glorifies Him. We don’t obligate Him by doing more of the activities that we think are Christian especially if we ignore the rest of what He says, including “whether you eat or drink.” And let us not grow weary in doing good. Once we realize that anything lawful could glorify Him, even our daily dinner, we may be tempted to be overwhelmed that there is so much. Do what you can, with the food on your table and the person sitting next to you.

They Would Be Dead by Now

Many people are alive today who, had they been living even 100 years ago, would be dead by now. What I mean is that many hurt, weak, sick, or diseased persons are able to be healed, strengthened, cured, or at least treated or relieved today for things that would have likely caused their death a century and more ago. We have done a lot things, including modifying food and developing medicines, that have made it so that we see a lot of people with a lot of problems, but at least they are still alive. Allergies aren’t good, but they are better than death. Does this matter? Should we care?

Research doctors, practicing physicians, and other medical personnel have a worldview. Every man has a worldview though that doesn’t mean that every man lives out his worldview consistently. Nevertheless, in general, keeping people alive belongs with those who believe that living is worth the cost. More than that, finding ways to treat the underdeveloped, the elderly, the chronically sick, and the terminally ill belongs with those who believe that God does not despise persons in those conditions. He cares. So should we.

Paul uses this argument figuratively related to how we treat one another in the Body of Christ. All the parts need one another. “[T]he parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22). We are connected so that “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

This analogy depends on the reality that a personal God created persons and cares about persons. If we are artifacts of ebullient goop that couldn’t contain itself, and if our best hope is abstract progress, and if the strong should be selected to survive, then we should, in order to be consistent, kill babies in utero who appear to be damaged, we should pull the plug on the geriatrics who’ve used up their usefulness, and we should leave the weak and sick to fend for themselves. The weak are like weeds sucking away nutrients for the healthy blades.

We ought to be thankful for the cultural effect of the doctrine of creation by a personal, Triune God and the doctrine of His gospel. Though it is slipping, we have the remnants of our fathers’ beliefs that living is better and treating the weak and sick is worth it. We ought to proclaim the glory of the Creator and the Christ. We also ought to match our attitudes accordingly toward those fellow image-bearers who need help.

Trimming the Fat

We are at the threshold of a new year, a customary and fitting time to evaluate if we were worshipping any idols over the last twelve months that should be dethroned. Call it resolutions, call it repentance, we should examine if we are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Many new year pledges seek to unseat the gods of gluttony and lethargy. So many July garage sales will be stocked with treadmills and stationary bikes onto which so many January hopes were placed. And, if you have been laying around like the cows of Bashan that the prophet Amos addressed, then you probably should trim the fat, sure. Let’s just not get carried away considering where the cow came from.

Paul addressed some Roman Christians who were divided over food, over what was clean and unclean. They were concerned whether they were eating food offered under the shadows of altars to false gods. We have taken on a similar concern in our culture. We want our food (coffee) grown under shadows, and we didn’t even have to cut down or carve the tree into an alter or totem pole first. How convenient for us, and how pleased Terra Godessa is with us.

But Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). This isn’t to say that eating and drinking, what or when or how, is amoral; we can glorify God in it or not, just as in whatever we do. But we glorify God or not based on what is in our heart, not based on what we put in our mouths.

So whether you need to cut down on the sweets or drink more wine or take a couple laps around your neighborhood or whatever you repent from and resolve to pursue, do it for righteousness more than your waste line. Do it for peace’s sake, not because you’re ashamed of harvesting practices. Do it for joy, because that will show whether your new year plans pursue His kingdom or yours.