Scripture Reading: Romans 14:13-23, 1 Corinthians 8:8-13, Ephesians 4:25-32, Ephesians 5:1-2
I’ve always heard this passage in Romans 14 interpreted according to clothing, music, alcohol, smoking, and more—all in terms of “not being a stumbling block for others.” I was tender to my power to be a stumbling block of every sort, both to the believing and the unbelieving, checking over my shoulder to see the carnage I’d left in my wake. Truth was, I left hardly any, but it didn’t stop me from metaphorically cutting off arms and legs, gouging out eyes and the like, in pursuit of protecting my brothers and sisters.
The Christian life, I thought, was more about what I couldn’t do than what I could.
How glorious, then, when the true gospel began to take root in my heart. I began to understand that freedom in Christ meant I was truly free to live. As it turns out, Christ had declared me more than clean. He’d declared me redeemed.
For all the ways I’d formerly applied this passage, though, the one I’d not considered was food. I knew all food had been declared clean, that we’re no longer under the law of Moses in our dietary restrictions. But what I didn’t understand was the law of our current world with regard to food: the diet and exercise industry. Everywhere I look, the acceptable Christian message of caring for the temple of the Holy Spirit turns into what I imagine Paul might’ve called the “god of the belly” (Philippians 3:19).
In Philippians 3, Paul warns of the dangers of gluttony. But today, in modern culture, the opposing god—though a no less despicable one—is the one who demands less food, more restrictions, better supplements, flatter stomachs, tighter abs, and the list goes on. In an attempt to care for the temples of the Holy Spirit with eating and exercising, we can destroy our bodies (which are wasting away, whether we like it or not) and cause harm to the impressionable hearts and minds of others who jump on every new regime or diet we offer.
We want to be well, to eat healthy, whole, good food. We love the rhythms of feasting and fasting we see in Scripture. We want to move our bodies, staying limber and active. But we don’t want to destroy our hearts by lusting after what we don’t have: slimmer physiques and sculpted thighs. We don’t want to destroy our bodies by rebounding from one quick-fix supplement to another. We don’t want to destroy our minds by believing our approval comes from certain lifestyles or appearances.
There are countless difficulties in life, opportunities to be divided over race, gender, theology, and history. And food, instead of becoming a means to crush those divides—to draw near to one another, armed with soups, fruits, breads, vegetables, and meats—has become one more line of division.
Christ died for all; this is what the Bible says. I don’t want to be known by what I eat or don’t eat. I want to be known by how I love and Who I’m loved by.
So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food (Romans 14:19-20).
Whatever struggle you’re caught in the throes of today, know that you are loved by Christ. He spread His own body, bleeding and broken, to fit a cross you could never bear on your own. Don’t destroy your own body by what you do or don’t eat. Christ died for all—every curve, every bulge, and every stretch-mark—all of it.
For “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). God gives us food as a means of provision, not division. Instead of fostering false divisions today, let’s bake a cake, make a soup or a sandwich, and share it with someone in the pursuit of peace.
Lore Ferguson Wilbert is a writer, thinker, and learner. She blogs at Sayable, and tweets and instagrams at @lorewilbert. She has a husband named Nate, a puppy named Harper Nelle, and too many books to read in one lifetime.