Before completing my first marathon in 2008, food was exclusively framed from a fitness standpoint.
We eat food for a myriad of motivations—for fitness, for how it affects our physical appearance, for pleasure, for comfort, for nourishment, for weight loss, and more.
What did Paul mean when he wrote, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31)? The surrounding verses provide us with some helpful answers.
A Question of Conscience
Prior to speaking of doing everything for God’s glory, Paul addressed the Corinthians about food sold at the meat market. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” (1 Corinthians 10:25). What’s the question that provokes the conscience, you ask?
Paul instructed the Christ followers in Corinth not to ask the question of whether the food for sale at their markets had been sacrificed to an idol. He clarifies the situation two chapters earlier: “But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (1 Corinthians 8:7).
Paul says not to raise the question of whether to eat this meat sacrificed to idols because, “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (1 Corinthians 10:26, NIV). He instructed God’s people to simply give thanks and partake as he did (I Corinthians 10:30).
In his letter to the young Timothy, Paul writes, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is made holy by the word of God and by prayer” (I Timothy 4:4-5).
Everything is Permissible
What is eaten will understandably vary between people, but God’s Word says that all foods are permissible for Christians.
Everything is permissible because Christ, the perfect sacrifice, died for our sins, and clothed us in his purity. Paul writes that Jesus is our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). And, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Therefore, we who follow Jesus are pure and righteous before God in Jesus Christ, regardless of what enters our mouth.
There is a caution that follows this exhortation, though.
Not Everything is Beneficial
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (I Corinthians 10:23-24).
Our relationship with food impacts our relationship with others. Paul speaks of our eating habits becoming stumbling blocks for others. Though verses 9-13 tend to be applied today to drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, food is by no means exempt from this command.
For example, let’s say someone you know is fasting from meat for a season, be it a few weeks or a few months. The next time you meet up for a meal, you might consider ordering an alternative to meat so as to not create a temptation for them to “wound their conscience” (I Corinthians 8:12).
Love God by loving those closest to you in terms of what you eat (or don’t eat) for their sake. Why? To be imitators of Christ. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3). Real love, as Jesus loves, means taking care that we don’t becoming a stumbling block for another. And Paul writes a severe warning that to neglect the care of my brother’s conscience by causing them to stumble is to sin against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:11-12)
Flee From Idolatry
I’ve yet to be served food that was sacrificed to an idol, but it’s not a stretch – not by any means – to assert that food has become an idol for many people today. Anything that takes priority over God in our life, even food, is an idol.
Be it through Godiva chocolate, Chipotle burritos, or Chick-fil-A waffle fries, the happiness food promises beyond our nourishment is short-lived and contends with our affections for the Lord. We have been restored to God through Christ, and should thereby guard against allowing anything to compete for our complete attention on and affection for him.
Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (I Corinthians 10:14). In other words, what foods we eat are less important than the place they occupy in our lives. The rightful place, says Paul, is inside the body.
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Should food be enjoyed as a gift from God? Absolutely. But keep in mind that “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (I Corinthians 6:13).
Paul tells us that God wants us to live by the maxim “eat to live” instead of “live to eat.” The former is concerned with livelihood; the latter, gluttony. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul spoke of the enemies of Christ allowing their stomachs to become their god. “Their glory is in their shame,” he lamented (Philippians 3:19).
Eating and Drinking to the Glory of God
Food is not our master; Christ is our Master. He is our Lord. Food, sadly, can and will become our master if our love for it or for its effect—weight loss, muscle gain, a better body image—eclipses our love and pursuit of Jesus. Food, like money, can become a demanding master, and we know that man cannot serve (worship) two masters (Matthew 6:24).
What’s your relationship with food? Is it governed by emotions or by the Good Book? Does it have a rightful place in your life, or is it exalted above God? Let’s take a moment and recap.
First, God’s Word given through Paul to the Corinthians instructs us to eat and drink to the glory of God. Enjoy food as a good and perfect gift coming down from the Father, before whom you have been made pure in Christ (James 1:17).
Second, make sure it has a rightful place in your life as your physical nourishment for the day so that you can serve the Lord well. Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), who provides eternal sustenance. So go to him with the hunger of your soul, that you may be satisfied.
Lastly, consider others and the impact your eating habits and choices of food and drink will have on them.