Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Discipline of Health

What is the purpose of food? Biologically, it's to feed and nourish our bodies, right? Because God is gracious that way, He made eating enjoyable, since it's something we've got to do to survive. I think we've got it a bit switched around now, at least here in America. These junk "food" items are not fulfilling their primary purpose at all, they are almost completely contrary to fueling and maintaining our bodies, but they are fulfilling the secondary purpose of enjoyment, while we slowly kill ourselves with unhealthful choices.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this topic in Discipline: The Glad Surrender  by Elisabeth Elliot. In chapter 7, "Discipline of the Body" she says this regarding food:

"A body needs food. Food is a question of discipline for us who line in very rich, very civilized, very self-indulgent countries. For those who have not the vast array of choices we have, food is a fundamental matter of subsistence and not a major hindrance to holiness."

"Christians ought to watch what they eat. I do not refer here only to overeating, which is a bad thing, but to eating the wrong things. Too many sweets, too many rich things, too much junk."

"In ancient Jewish times a stubborn son who was a glutton and a drunkard was stoned to death. Gluttony, one of the more obvious modern sins, is generally tacitly accepted. Little is said about it from the pulpit. It is too embarrassing; it gets down too close to where the people, often including the preacher, live." 

"Hindrance to holiness"? "Gluttony" a modern sin? What is gluttony anyway?

That chapter inspired and motivated me to write on this topic that I've been pondering for a while. Let's start with defining gluttony. What do you think of when you come across that word? I can only recall coming across it in the Bible a couple of times, I've certainly not heard it preached on, as Elisabeth Elliot pointed out, it's rarely mentioned.

In the Bible, gluttony is often referenced with drunkenness, as like in the case of the stubborn Jewish son who would have been stoned for such sins.

20 Be not among drunkards
    or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
    and slumber will clothe them with rags.
-Proverbs 23:20-21

"‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’" was wrongfully said of our Lord in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34 by the religious hypocrites. (Of course, we know that was a false accusation because Jesus didn't sin.)
So, if a drunkard is someone who drinks excessive alcohol, lacking self-control and contrary to the health of his body, I believe gluttony can actually encompass a lot more than just overeating, which is the vague notion I used to have about gluttony.

My working definition of gluttony is this: any consumption of food that is unnecessary and/or contrary to my health.

That means I might be eating the healthiest meal ever, but if I eat more than my body needs for fuel and sustenance, then I'm eating gluttonously.

It also means that I might want to eat something I know is unhealthy for me, but I want to eat it because it tastes good, that's also gluttonous. 

As Elisabeth Elliot said, gluttony tends to be tacitly accepted. Christians tend to brush aside and ignore the sinfulness gluttony. Many of these same Christians may suffer from diseases like cancer or diabetes, or any other health condition caused by unhealthy food choices, and then they will likely say that God sent them this health trial. I've seen it many times, and it always frustrates and saddens me.

I know it's not a popular position, but I dare to say that the diseases that plague our country are the consequences of our sinful eating choices. If you fill your body with foods that God did not intend for us to eat, and ignore the healthful choices that He created, then you will get sick, and yes, God will allow us to reap the consequences of our sin. I do not believe that He gives people sickness. He gives you the choice of what foods to eat, and if you choose wrongly there are natural results.

Alcoholics suffer from health problems related to alcoholism, smokers suffer from health problems related to smoking, and both of those are generally considered sinful by churches. Whether your church believes moderate alcohol is okay, or that all alcohol is sinful, I think we pretty much all agree that drunkenness is sinful, and it's widely accepted that smoking is bad. Why are we so much more accepting of junk food? 

Even though I had been thinking that wrong eating choices could be sinful, until I read Elisabeth Elliot's words: "a hindrance to holiness" I hadn't even considered that my eating habits could affect my spiritual life. I tend to separate my body from my spirit and soul too much, I guess. I know that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit:
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
 And of course we're supposed to take care of our bodies, but I never directly related my bad eating choices to my struggling spiritual growth. It really puts eating into perspective, if that junk-food "treat" is not only harming your body, but your spirit! I can tell already I will be pondering this topic for a while!

Fasting is another aspect of bodily discipline that modern Christians often seem to neglect, I know I do. I've been practicing a bit of intermittent fasting to help my body switch from "sugar-burning" to "fat-burning" but I haven't really paid any attention to the spiritual aspect of fasting, or done any full-day fasts recently. I'm so inspired by what I've read so far!

God has used Elisabeth Elliot's book to help me understand so much already, I'm looking forward to what else I will learn about discipline and I'm excited to merge my quest for health with my striving towards God's will for my spiritual growth.

"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control..." - 1 Corinthians 9:25-27

Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts on this topic! Please feel share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Wow, I've never thought of gluttony that way. I guess you could apply the principle of over indulging to other areas (TV, my computer)? Thanks for giving me something to ponder! And I’ll have to check out that book some time

    1. Oh, definitely, Bria, Elisabeth Elliot mentioned those in later chapters! I definitely need work in those areas. I highly recommend the book, you should definitely check it out! Also, you're welcome to borrow my copy if you don't mind all my underlinings! ;)