His-Story

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Gluttony and Spiritual Discipline, Part 2

Last time I suggested that gluttony is the misuse of food and that we can overcome this sin by learning self-control. The foundational passage for this concept is 1 Cor 9:24-27, where the Apostle Paul compares the discipline of a follower of Jesus to the discipline of an athlete. Then he reminds us that the athlete works for a prize that is perishable, but the follower of Jesus works for a prize that is imperishable. This puts our discipline in the realm of spiritual pursuits, thus the idea of self-control as spiritual discipline.

This week is the time of year when we remember the final week of the life of Jesus which climaxes with the resurrection. One of the great truths of the resurrection is that it reinforces the inexorable union between the physical and the spiritual. Christianity makes no dualistic distinction between the body and the spirit. The resurrection is a physical resurrection, thus it unites Jesus with a literal and physical body forever. Our faith is a holistic faith, so self-control is important not only with spiritual pursuits but also with physical pursuits such as food.

But like many other areas of the Christian life, we tend to look for easy ways to accomplish difficult tasks, and learning discipline with food is certainly one of them. “Just give me three rules to follow, 10 foods to eat and a list of foods not to eat and I’m good to go.” Isn’t that just like us Americans! Three steps to success, four keys to overcoming, two principles for freedom. We want formulae that will “get ‘er done!” But self-control is not like that, especially when we deal with the misuse of food. Every day is different. Some weeks we are on the road, some weeks we are on vacation, some weeks we celebrate the holidays, one weekend is a wedding reception, another is a church potluck. It is not realistic to have a set of rules for every circumstance – that’s legalism. Self-control with food is a lifestyle.

Self-control with food does not mean that we never eat anything that is especially rewarding to the palate. Paul warns us about people:

who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, (1Ti 4:3-4 ESV)

According to 1 Cor 9, Paul might add, “and we receive it with self-control!”

One health coach laments:

Eat that %#!* cookie. Whatever that magical, desirable, unforgettable food is that you dream about marrying just to eat at the altar, eat it. Eat some of it, that is. If it’s cookies that get you going, eat a cookie. Eat one delicious cookie, savor it, really appreciate it and acknowledge it for what it is — an indulgence and a treat. Then put the bag away and go on your merry, cookie-high way.

My wife is training me. Instead of eating a double scoop waffle cone, we opt for a McD ice cream cone – small! It is increasingly popular to go out to dinner with your spouse and order one entree and share it. At home, we are beginning to eat till we are full – then stop. Last week I actually took food off my plate and put it into Tupperware for another day! That practice used to happen only at restaurants!!

Granted, there are circumstances when certain foods must be strictly avoided. Addicts have to be militant in order not to fall into the trap of living out of control. I have often said, “If you can’t stop, don’t start.” But that is an individual circumstance. Generally, self-control allows us to freely enjoy food, but to avoid the misuse of food. This is characteristic of a lifestyle of spiritual discipline.

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