by David Phelps
Early in June, my wife, Charlotte, and I went to Springfield, MO to see our pastor, Kim, get ordained an Elder in the United Methodist Church. That Sunday morning, thanks to the amazing generosity of Kim’s husband, Steve, we had a huge breakfast. But, as we were leaving Springfield, we passed a number of restaurants: Chinese, sushi, donuts, tacos, pancakes, barbecue, a couple of buffets, sandwiches, and just plain food. And with each place we passed, in spite of the fact that we were completely stuffed, we would turn to one another and say something like “Hmmm, that looks interesting.”
After we got on Interstate 44, we started seeing billboards for various food-related attractions: “Candy Factory 32 Miles,” “Chocolate Superstore,” “Cheese Outlet.” (I swear I’m not making any of these up; if you’ve been down that stretch of I-44, you know what I’m talking about.) After a while, it began to seem as if we—or at least I—were haunted by food. I’ve never had any major addictions, except for a moderate caffeine addiction which I still have, but I wondered what someone with, say, an eating disorder might do in my situation.
Food is essential to human—and most other—life. But during the sermon on the mount, Jesus told the people “‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’” (Matthew 6:25 ESV). He also taught his disciples that there was more to life than food. After his encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-29), the disciples urged Jesus to eat something. But he told them “‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” (John 4:34b ESV).
Paul put it even more bluntly: “‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other.” (1 Cor. 6:13 ESV). In this instance, Paul wasn’t writing about food but about immorality. In the previous verse, he wrote, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Cor. 6:12 ESV). What Paul meant was that, while we might be saved by grace and not by obedience to laws and rules, not everything is beneficial to us and we should avoid the things that are not. It would have been lawful for Charlotte and me to stop at any or all of the restaurants, candy factories, cheese outlets, etc. on the way home from Springfield but it wouldn’t have been a particularly good or healthy idea. Gluttony is the second of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Our appetites, passions, and desires are not evil in themselves for the most part but if we can’t control our reactions it becomes a problem. Paul also warned the Christians in Rome about
“. . .persons [who] do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, . . .”(Rom. 16:18a ESV).
I know that for me a day without coffee would be difficult but a day without God would be unbearable. And yet, there are people all around me who are indeed living without God, who are without hope. If I were in a room filled with cranky, sleepy people and I had coffee to share, I’d give them some. But every day I’m in a world filled with lost, hopeless people and I give them nothing. I might offer to pray for specific individuals if the moment seems right but I don’t offer them
“‘. . . theliving bread that came down from heaven.’” (John 6:51a ESV). People all around you and me are starving while we have access to unlimited “‘bread from heaven’” (John 6:32b ESV). We owe it to them and to our savior to feed God’s sheep (John 21:15b, 17b).
“‘Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’ Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” (John 6:27-35 ESV.)