EATING AND DRINKING
Written by Doug Ponder on March 11, 2016
Eating and Drinking to the Glory of God
Doing something to “the glory of God” means doing something in a way that honors God and pleases him. This extends to the entire scope of human existence, so that anything can be done to the glory of God (or not), including eating and drinking.
But what does it mean to glorify God through eating and drinking? Five short questions help us discover the answer.
There’s no shortage of fuss about what we eat and drink. Every day websites with so-called “clean” recipes and “clean eating” groups seem to pop up faster than weeds in your yard. It’s especially ironic that these groups use the word “clean,” since this is the same word that Jesus used when talking about how we can glorify God with what we eat and drink. In the most straightforward verse we read, “Jesus declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).
That’s abundantly clear, but because we are hardhearted creatures, God had to tell us again and again. For example, God had to command the apostle Peter to eat some bacon (Acts 10:9-15). Most of us don’t need a special command from God to eat bacon, but Peter refused to do so. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean,” he said (Acts 10:14). But God straight Peter straight: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).
So nothing is verboten on God’s table. On it you’ll find both Twinkies and quinoa, both kale chips and potato chips, both Diet Coke and craft beer, both keffir and Kool-Aid (I hope it’s Purplesaurus Rex). The only thing you won’t find, of course, is anything that isn’t actually food.
Yet don’t let the Food Pharisees and Apostles of the Appetite scare you by saying that certain foods are “poisons.” Real poisons—like arsenic and cyanide—actually kill you; they don’t just increase your chances of maybe developing something unfortunate by the time you’re 80 (maybe). Besides, everyone knows that certain foods are better for us than others. That’s why we can’t just ask, What?, we must also ask, How much?, if we want to know how to glorify God when eating and drinking.
How Much? (Volume)
The biblical word for “too much food” is gluttony. It’s a problem of eating more than what is acceptable. But who sets the limits? God does. He designed our bodies to tell us when we’re eating too much, which is why they swell up like a bee sting after a steady diet of burritos. And this is not a small matter. God says, “Put a knife to your throat if you are prone to gluttony” (Prov. 23:2). Now I don’t for a second think God wants you to kill yourself, but he probably does want us to see that gluttony is a form of killing yourself. We all know the stats on obesity and the related diseases, so I won’t quote again here. Suffice it to say that gluttony is a serious offense in God’s eyes. It is one of the “seven deadly sins” after all.
The biblical limit for too much drink is drunkenness. “Do not get drunk with wine,” the apostle Paul tells us (Eph. 5:18). Isaiah says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine” (Isa. 5:11). Drinking alcohol itself is never condemned in Scripture, but drinking too much always is. Drunkenness is condemned because of its inherent lack of self-control. When someone is drunk, they are foolish and dangerous, both to themselves and to others.
None of what we have said rules out feasting or celebrations. Indeed, Jesus apparently ate enough food and drank enough wine that his enemies called him “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matt. 11:19). They were dead wrong about Jesus, of course, but his actions do show us that occasional feasts and celebrations are entirely appropriate uses of food and drink. They whole point on such occasions is to eat more than ‘what is needed’ as a way of delighting in God’s superabundant grace. This raises the question of why we eat and drink.
When faced with the situation of having to eat a boring or unpleasant dish, a friend of mine likes to say, “Food is fuel.” This is simply his reminder to be thankful for every meal and for the strength and energy it provides. And he’s right; food is at least fuel. But we’re wrong if we don’t recognize that the purposes of food extend beyond mere sustenance.
Remember that God didn’t have to make a world with apples and pears. Just one of those would suffice. The same goes for oranges and tangerines: we don’t need both. When you get down to it, the incredible variety of tastes and textures and colors of all the foods in God’s world tell us something important about God himself: he delights in delighting his children. That is to say, food is for more than fuel. Food is also about fun. God made a world with foods that taste good, and he didn’t have to do this—he wanted to!
But as with all of God’s blessings, the goodness of food can be soured by sin. This happens when to turn to food for something more than harmless fun. For example, many people turn to food as a kind of god-like comforter, hoping that when the ice cream bowl is empty, our souls will feel full. It never works, of course, and so we keep returning to food again and again as we “eat our feelings” to escape boredom, stress, anxiety, difficulty, etc. Instead of casting these cares on Jesus (1 Pet. 5:7), we turn the gift of food into a false god that cannot help us. Indeed, it only makes things worse. Thus the reason why we eat is essential, and it is closely connected to how we eat, too.
There are really only three ways to eat. Some eat idolatrously, as we just described above, turning to food for the kind of comfort only Christ can bring.
Others eat self-righteously, using their food choices as an occasion for great pride: “I would never eat that.” “This isn’t organic.” “Don’t you know what they put in their so-called food?” “Parents who really love their kids would only shop at Whole Foods.” The list goes on. People have always been self-righteous about food, reaching back thousands of years. The motto of these people has always been, “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col. 2:21)—and they are quick to give anyone around them an earful about why their diet is the right one, the best one, the healthy one, and so on.
Meanwhile, God’s children gladly eat whatever is set before them, just as Jesus instructed (Luke 10:7-8). And they do this with deep gratitude to God: “They received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Christians know that food is an occasion for thankfulness because it is a sign of God’s blessing. This is why we “say grace” or “give thanks” to God before each meal. There is no room for self-righteousness in a heart that is full of thankfulness, replacing judgmentalism with generosity.
With Whom? (Context)
Popular wisdom on the Internet says, “When you have more than you need, build a bigger table—not a higher fence.” For once the Internet has gotten it right! The final way to glorify God with our eating and drinking is to bless others in his name. This means blessing our children with ample food on the table and with desserts full of butter and sugar. It also means blessing those around us who may not have food, showing them mercy in a time of need. And, of course, it means sharing food with friends. Food and friends undeniably go together, which is why food is the centerpiece of table fellowship at parties, on dates, and at every major holiday.
I think Christians typically understand the value of sharing food in all those ways. It’s an ingrained habit for many, such that we share our food with such people without even thinking about it. But it seems to me that we too often fail to realize that food and drink are also a wonderful way to share time with our neighbors and co-workers, especially those who don’t know Jesus. Simply put: meals are opportunities for mission, so our generosity should not stop with sharing good food—it should also include sharing the best news in all the world. Or as one of my favorite authors has said, “Gratitude is a confession that God is good, Jesus is Lord, the company is kind-hearted, and the potatoes are hot.” That kind of thanksgiving can’t help overflowing into the lives of others, helping more and more people taste and see that Lord really is good after all (Ps. 34:8).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works by various authors. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.