Over the last several months I've encountered several Christians who have attempted to vegan. As someone who loves a good steak, this caught me by surprise. In talking with these individuals they all had one thing in common, they were all brought to this point by watching the documentary What the Health. This documentary makes a unapologetic pro-vegan argument which tries to scare, disgust, and guilt people into becoming vegan. As a pastor I know when I encounter multiple Christians struggling with the same thing, there are certainly many more.
I am convinced the Bible gives us truth and guidance for every area of life, this includes eating. It may surprise people, but the Bible speaks a lot about food. From God commanding mankind not to eat from a certain tree in the Garden, to God’s command to Noah after the flood, to the dietary laws of Israel, all the way to when Peter receives his vision declaring all foods clean we see that Scripture addresses food all the time. The Bible has a lot to say about, but the question is, "Are we listening?"
Most Christians probably don’t have a conscious theology of how they should eat. This is complicated by at least three trends. First, for years we have had access to whatever food we want whenever we want it. This has led to an epidemic of constant over-eating and high levels of obesity. Second, younger generations have swung the pendulum in the other direction by equating certain diets being hip and even morally superior. Third, often when the church enters into this discussion it is done without taking into account the whole testimony of Scripture. Instead, well-meaning Christians try to ride the diet fad of our culture by myopically focusing on texts which fit that narrative. In doing so they do not have a comprehensive understanding of what Scripture teaches about eating.
I want to give us an introduction to the basic principles of what God’s Word says about eating so that we can build a biblical foundation in this area of life. Wanting to eat right and to be healthy are praiseworthy goals, but we need to start our understanding with Scripture and not biased documentaries. Here are ten principles Christians need to consider about eating as they try to glorify God in every area of life.
Documentaries Are Never Neutral
This really should go without saying, Christians shouldn’t treat documentaries as gospel-truth or even like reading a textbook. Much like our news media is biased in one direction or the other, the same is true of documentaries. Documentaries try to persuade others to join their position. Sometimes they do this by twisting facts and downright lying. What The Health is a prime example of this as it is has been demonstrated by several sources that the documentary is less than honest (click here, here, and here for more information). This should not be a surprise. Proverbs 18.17 reminds us of a crucial truth, “The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him.” This documentary is only one side of a story, and it appears to not even be an honest account of available information. Christians need to be careful to not be tossed to and fro by every truth-claim presented in a stylistic and appealing format.
If you want an authority on how you should eat, turn to Scripture first, not documentaries. This doesn’t mean you need chapter and verse for every item you eat, rather it means if you understand what God has said in his Word it will certainly shape how you eat.
We Should Steward Our Bodies Well
Mankind is created in the image of God and this includes his physical body. As both image-bearers and those who will be physically resurrected, we place a high-value on the body. It is not God-honoring to abuse our bodies in any way, including how we eat.
Our Bodies Are Not to be Worshiped
While our bodies are important they are not a temple in the modern sense of the word. They are not untouchable. The health and preservation of our bodies is not the chief concern of Christians. Rather our bodies in this age will waste away (2 Cor. 4.16), no matter how healthy we eat or how much we exercise. If the Lord tarries all of us will die, whether you forgo steak or not. So pass the steak sauce.
Do Not Let Your Diet Rule Over You
The Christian is to be mastered by nothing besides Christ (1 Cor. 6.12), yet too many of us are slaves to our diet. This can take the form of being a slave by desiring food too much, or you can be a slave to your diet by placing too many rules on yourself (and others) so that there is no freedom in the way you eat. Both legalism and licentiousness are wrong in all areas of life. If your diet rules your life by either excess freedom or strict rigidity, then you are not eating as a Christian should.
All Foods Are Lawful for the Christian
In the Old Covenant, there were certain foods which were off-limits for God’s people, but that is no longer the case (Mark. 7.14-23). For the Christian, it is far more important how you live morally than what specific items you eat or don’t eat. There is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat, and there is nothing wrong with not eating meat. The Christian has freedom. But we must guard against treating our diets, whatever they may be, as a source of personal righteousness or moral superiority.
Food is Meant to be Enjoyed
One of the blessings God has given to mankind is food. The biological purpose of food is for nutrition and sustenance, but another purpose for food is for us to enjoy it. When food tastes good, even when it is covered in sugar, it is a blessing from God not to be ignored. Ecclesiastes 2.24 says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” Notice our enjoyment of our food is “from the hand of God.” This is a grace God has given us. So eat food you enjoy, have treats occasionally, but do so responsibly.
It Is a Good and Holy Thing to Feast
God commanded his people to observe many feasts in the Old Testament. These feasts were celebrations of God and his goodness. At these feasts, people would eat more than was necessary to survive. This was God’s design and his good command to this people. In feasting we eat lots of food in celebration of God and the good things he has given us. Whether it is a wedding feast, the feast of tabernacles, a celebration of the return of the prodigal, or the wedding feast of the Lamb, it is a good and holy thing to use good food to celebrate God and his many graces to us. Holy individuals know how to feast in such a way as to honor and glorify God. There is no need to feel guilty about feasting in such a way as to praise God's goodness.
Do Not Let Your Diet Become a Wall of Division
Another purpose of food is to bring people together, but far too often people’s diets drive divisions between one another. We must remember food is not more important than people. Unless you have a legitimate food allergy, you should be able to forgo your dietary preferences whenever you go to someone else’s house out of love and deference to them. 1 Corinthians is again helpful here, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.’ If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Cor. 10.24-27). We must consider others as more important than our dietary preferences and by doing so we display the gospel in a tangible way.
It Isn’t Sinful to Eat Food Which Wasn't Produced Ethically
One argument consistently used today to promote certain diets is that it is morally wrong to eat food which arrived at our plates through what is suggested as unethical ways like the mistreatment of animals. Many people will only eat organic, free-range, fair-trade, or even vegan because they view the processes of the production of that food to be immoral. This argument assumes that if someone buys and eat unethically produced food then they are just as guilty as well. t is here that 1 Corinthians 8-10 needs to be studied carefully. In the church of Corinth, there was division over whether or not Christians should eat meat which was sacrificed to idols. This is a serious question as this meat arrived on people’s plates through the breaking of the greatest commandment—to love the Lord God above all else. There is nothing more unethical than that. Would Christians be sinning if they eat bought and ate meat which was sacrificed to false gods? Paul tells the Corinthians that if the meat is sold in the marketplace they do not need to ask or care how it got there (1 Corinthians 10.25). It would not be wrong for them to buy meat which arrived in the marketplace through less than ethical means. In other words, it is not immoral for Christians to buy food and eat it even if arrived in the marketplace through unethical production. Christian, you do not need to know where your food before you eat it. You are not responsible for the sins of others.
Seek to Glorify God in How You Eat
The Christian life is about glorifying God through Christ in all we do. This is only possible because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is that gospel which must shape our entire lives including how we eat. There is nothing wrong with eating meat, and there is nothing wrong with not eating meat. There is freedom for the Christian in eating, but this freedom is not more important than other people. Christians must examine their hearts and reasoning before the words of God. Only then we will do what Paul exhorted us to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We glorify God when we think and eat according to the truths God has displayed in his Word. Scripture, not documentaries, must be our primary lens for understanding how to eat. I hope these ten principles help you to eat unto the glory of God and not man.