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Healthy Habits and the Christian
By Gary F. Zeolla
This two-part article is continued from Healthy Habits and the Christian: Part One. That part presented my reasoning as to why it is appropriate for Christians to follow a healthy eating plan and a sound exercise program. But what does the Bible have to say? Before answering this question, a little background would be helpful
Life in Bible Times vs. Today
Life in Bible times was considerably different from life today in the United States and other advanced nations. Back then, there was no such thing as “junk food.” Unhealthy food ingredients that are commonplace today simply did not exists at the time, such as: refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined grains, hydrogenated oils, and artificial food ingredients. Moreover, food preparations methods like deep fat frying did not exist, nor did the technology to highly processed foods.
As such, the foods mentioned in the Facebook post and email that opened Part One did not exist. There were no Doritos, cheeseburgers, French fries, Twinkies, pizza, root beer, cheese puffs, pizza rolls, or any other junk foods commonly eaten today. The only foods available were whole, natural foods.
As such, there is not and could not be any mention in the Bible about whether it is a “sin’ to eat junk food or not and whether God cares if you eat junk food or not. And any verse mentioning “eating” or “food” cannot be referring to junk food or to God’s opinion thereof.
Moreover, in Bible times, for the vast majority of the population (the 99% in today’s terminology), their main concern in regards to food would be where their next meal was coming from. In other words, most people were poor and were in constant danger of starving to death. The common person simply would not have been tempted to overeat, as they would not have had access to sufficient food to allow overeating. This is why the Bible only rarely mentions gluttony, as it was not something the vast majority of people would have been tempted towards.
Only kings and the very rich (the 1% in today’s terminology) would have been capable of gluttony. This is why the only person described as being “fat” in the Bible was a king (“So he brought the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. (Now Eglon was a very fat man.)” Judges 3:17; NKJV).
For the record (and in contradiction to the claim the emailer made in Part One), gluttony means, “Excessive eating. The act or practice of eating and drinking to excess. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins in Christian tradition” And “glutton” means, “Somebody who habitually eats or drinks too much” (Encarta dictionary).
In addition, people in Bible times did not exercise to stay in shape. Such a concept would have totally foreign to those of the time. The reason is simple: daily living was exercise, at least for the 99%. People walked everywhere they went. And when they got where they were going, they worked at manual labor jobs. And when they got home, they chopped wood, dug fields by hand, manually fed and milked animals, manually cooked meals, manually washed clothes, manually made clothes, etc., etc., etc..
Only the 1% could go through the day without engaging in some kind of physical activity, as they would have servants or slaves to do the manual labor for them. Again, that is why only a king is described as being fat in the Bible.
But today, the picture is completely different. Both the 99% and the 1% have access to abundant amounts of inexpensive junk food. Both the 99% and the 1% can easily go through the entire day, day after day, without engaging in any kind of physical activity.
It is for these reasons that, “More than one-third (or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese” (CDC: Adult Obesity Facts), and “More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese” (Overweight and Obesity in the U.S.). That is a far different picture than would have been the case in Bible times.
Misused Bible Verses
Now to look at what the Bible does has to say on this topic. All verses will be quoted from my Analytical-Literal Translation of the Bible, unless otherwise indicated.
First, let’s look at the two verses the emailer referred to in Part One. The first was 1Timothy 4:8. It reads in the NKJV, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”
Knowing this verse was quoted in this regard, I really took my time when translating it to get it as accurate as possible. My rendering is, “For bodily exercise is beneficial for a few [things], but godliness is beneficial for all [things], having promise of the present life and of the coming [life].”
I think my rendering makes Paul’s point clear: physical exercise does have some benefit, but godliness is far more important. No argument there, but this does not give anyone an excuse not to exercise. Moreover, if you want to follow Paul’s example, then walk everywhere you go, and when you get there, engage in a manual labor job, like Paul’s tent making (Acts 18:3).
That said, as indicated before, Paul is not actually talking about exercising to stay in shape, as such simply was not done at the time. Most likely Paul was talking about the training of athletes preparing for the original Olympic Games. But still, Paul is not degrading athletics, but is saying godliness is more important. Again, no argument there.
The second verse was Matthew 15:11, “The [thing] having entered into the mouth does not defile the person, but the [thing] coming out from the mouth, this defiles the person.”
Is Jesus saying that God does not care if you eat junk food or not? Again, such did not exist at the time, so it cannot be what Jesus was referring to. In context, Jesus is responding to a question by the Pharisees, “Why do Your disciples transgress the handed down tradition of the elders? For they do not [ritually] wash their hands whenever they are eating bread” (Matt 15:2). So Jesus is saying if people eat without this ritual washing of hands they will not be defiled. It has nothing to do with junk food.
Another verse often quoted in this regard is Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in [the] Holy Spirit.” This verse is often quoted by way of saying God does not care if you eat junk food or not. But again, such did not exist when Paul wrote this.
Most likely, Paul is referring to people who think their self-imposed dietary restrictions will somehow please God and earn them a place in heaven. I quote this verse in this capacity in my *God-given Foods Eating Plan book in reference to vegetarians who think their diet will prepare them for heaven. Such simply is not the case. And eating healthy food will not either. But again, only whole natural foods were available in Bible times, so we cannot say if God is pleased or not with people eating junk food from this verse.
One last misused verse is Matthew 6:25, “For this reason I say to you*, stop being anxious [about] your* life, what you* shall eat and what you* shall drink, nor [about] your* body, what you* shall wear. Life is more [than] the nourishment, and the body [more than] the clothing, is it not?” This verse is again often quoted as saying God does not care what you eat, whether junk food or healthy foods.
But note the first words “For this reason.” Anytime you see such a conjunction beginning a verse it means the verse is related to the preceding one, “No one is able to be serving as a slave to two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other; you* are not able to be serving as a slave to God and to worldly wealth” (Matt 6:24).
Jesus’ point is related to the preceding section: most people at the time were poor, and thus they were in constant danger of starving to death due to lack of food or of freezing to death due to inadequate clothing. As such, most people wanted to be rich, as that would be a safeguard against such dangers. But Jesus’s answer to the dangers of lack of food or clothing was not to seek “worldly wealth” but to seek righteousness and to trust in the providence of God to provide such necessities, “But be seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these [things] will be added to you*” (Matt 6:33).
So yes, seeking God and righteousness is more importantly than any worldly thing, be it food, clothing, or anything else, but the verse has nothing to do whatsoever with eating junk food. Again, such didn’t even exist at the time.
Gluttony and the Bible
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt 6:11; NKJV). This is the more common rendering, but my ALT has, “Give us today the bread sufficient for the day.” Either way, the point relates back to what life was like in Bible times: most people were concerned about where their next meal or the next day’s food was coming from. But again, Jesus’ answer to the very real possibly of starvation was to trust in God to provide each day’s bread. But an important point my rendering brings out is we are not to pray for an overabundance of food, but just for “bread sufficient for the day.” This leads to the next point.
In the definition of “gluttony” quoted earlier, it was said that gluttony was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But what does the Bible have to say on it?
And they will say to the men of their city, ‘This our son is disobedient and contentious; he does not obey our voice, [he is] being gluttonous [and] drunken’ (Deuteronomy 21:20).
When you sit down to eat with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you; And put a knife to your throat If you are a man given to appetite (Proverbs 23:1; NKJV).
Do not mix with winebibbers, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags (Proverbs 23:20,21; NKJV).
Having found honey, eat [only] the sufficient [amount], lest having been filled, you vomit (Proverbs 25:16).
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you* say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Humanity came eating and drinking, and you* say, 'Look! A man, a glutton, and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinful [people]!' (Luke 7:33-34).
The last passage needs a little explanation. John the Baptist was an ascetic, meaning he did not drink alcohol at all, and he only ate “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). But Jesus drank wine and ate bread and other more tasty foods. The Pharisees exaggerated this to Jesus being “a glutton, and a drunkard.” Of course, Jesus was not a drunkard, as that would have been a sin, but Jesus never sinned (1Cor 6:10; John 6:46). But by the same token, Jesus was not a glutton, as that would have been a sin as well. That is why the Pharisees mentioned it.
In any case, that is not a lot of evidence, but it does show God is not pleased with gluttony. Moreover, gluttony has long been considered a sin because it shows a lack of self-control. And there are many verses in this regard:
But while he [i.e., Paul] [was] reasoning about righteousness and self-control and the judgment, the one being about to happen, Felix having become terrified, answered, “For the present be going, but having time, I will call for you” (Acts 24:25).
But everyone competing exercises self-control in all [things]. Now these indeed [compete] so that they shall receive a corruptible victor's wreath, but we an incorruptible [one]! (1Corinthians 9:25).
But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace [or, freedom from anxiety], patience, goodness [or, kindness], moral excellence [or, generosity], faith, gentleness [or, considerateness], [and] self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
Therefore, it is necessary [for] the overseer to be blameless [or, above reproach], a husband of one wife [fig., a one-wife kind of man], temperate, self-controlled, sensible, a friend of strangers [or, hospitable], skillful at teaching (1Timothy 3:2).
For it is necessary [for] the overseer [Gr. episkope] to be beyond reproach, as a steward of God, not self-willed [or, stubborn], not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not violent [or, quarrelsome], not greedy for dishonest gain, but a friend of strangers [or, hospitable], loving what is good [or, tireless in activities prompted by love], sensible, righteous, holy, [and] self-controlled (Titus 1:7-8).
But also [for] this very [reason], having applied all diligence, provide with your* faith moral excellence [or, virtue], and with moral excellence knowledge, and with knowledge self-control, and with self-control patient endurance, and with patient endurance godliness, and with godliness brotherly love [fig., affection for fellow-believers], and with brotherly love [Gr., philadelphia] love [Gr., agape] (2Peter 1:5-7).
Note especially Paul saying an overseer must be self-controlled. Someone gorging himself on junk food would not have much credibility to counsel people on other vices that are the result of a lack of self-control. I would even say it hurts any Christian’s witness for them to be seen gorging on junk food, as discussed in Part One.
Exercise vs. Sloth
As for not exercising as so many Christian are apt to be guilty of, that is very often the result of laziness. But “sloth” is another of the Seven Deadly Sins, and for good reason, the Bible has a lot to say about it, especially Proverbs. The passages are too lengthy to quote, but see 5:6-11; 11:16; 18:8; 21:25; 22:13; 24:33; 26:13-16.
Granted, these verses are mainly talking about people being too lazy to work and thus coming into poverty as a result. But again, work in those days involved manual labor. So both physical conditioning and financial stability would be attained by not being lazy. Moreover, today if someone is diligent at a desk job but forgoes exercise, the resulting health problems could leave him destitute, so the warnings of Proverbs still apply.
But my favorite verse is, “A lazy [person] makes excuses, and says, ‘[There is] a lion in the ways and murderers in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13). This sounds like so many people today trying to explain why they do not exercise, when in fact it is mere laziness.
Being a Burden to Others vs. Serving Others and God
The next verse is very instructive, “Listen! A third time I am ready to come to you*, and I will not be your* [financial] burden. For I do not seek the [things] of you*, but you*! For the children ought not to store up [or, save] for the parents, but the parents for the children (2Corinthins 12:14).
Paul did not want to be a financial burden to his converts, so he worked with his own hands to provide for his own needs. But if you allow yourself to become disabled due to self-induced health problems, you will become a financial burden to others, if not directly to your loved ones, then indirectly to others with the same medical insurance as you through their higher premiums, or if you are on some kind of government insurance like Medicare, then to tax-payers at large. And note that parents should provide for their children, not vice-a-versa, but you will need to be provided for by your children if you allow yourself to become disabled due to self-induced health problems.
On the issues of being concerned about how your habits affect others, Paul writes, “Stop being concerned each one about the [interests; or, concerns] of themselves, but each one also [about] the [interests] of others” (Phil 2:4).
Many Christians have Ephesians 2:8-9 memorized. But the next verse is very instructive in regards to being healthy enough to accomplish the works the LORD has ordained for you to do:
8For by grace you* have been saved, through faith, and this [is] not from you*; [it is] the gift of God, 9not by works, so that no one shall boast. 10For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we should walk about [fig., conduct ourselves] in them (Eph 2:8-10).
Taking this a step forward is a very famous saying of Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life on behalf of his friends” (John 15:13). Many only take this literally, as referring to someone dying on behalf of others. This is something that would be very commendable and a sign of great love. But unless you are a soldier, law enforcement officer, or firefighter, then most likely you will never be in the position of literally dying for someone else.
As such, many expand this to refer to anyone who devotes his or her life to the service of others. And a care-giver would definitely be such a person. A care-giver has laid down his life in the sense of giving up his life’s interests on behalf of the care-givee. But, as discussed in Part One, you need to be reasonably healthy in order to be a care-giver, as it is a very demanding job. But if you have been abusing your body through gluttony and sloth your entire life, then there’s a good chance you will be the care-giveee not the care-giver.
Now for the Facebook post that opened Part One of this article. The person said it didn’t matter if he died young due to eating junk food as he was going to heaven anyhow. Paul’s discourse in jail while awaiting possible execution is very instructive in this regard:
21For to me to be living [is] Christ and to die gain! 22But if [I am] to be living in [the] flesh, this [will mean] to me fruit from labor [or, fruitful labor]. And what will I choose [or, prefer]? I do not know. 23But I am hard-pressed by the two, having the desire to depart and to be with Christ, [which is] far better, 24but to be remaining in the flesh is more necessary for your* sake. 25And having become convinced of this, I know that I will remain and will continue with you* all, for your* progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:21-25).
I’ve always found this passage intriguing. Paul is in jail awaiting judgment. He reasons that because he still has a purpose to accomplish on earth he will not be executed, as if his reasoning will change the judge’s mind. But this shows his strong faith in the sovereignty of God.
But the point here is that yes going to heaven is “far better” than being here on earth. But Paul realized that it “is more necessary” for him to remain for others’ sakes. The point, it is pure selfishness to purposely eat yourself to an early grave. With such an attitude, you are not thinking of all of the good you could accomplish for others by living a long, healthy life.
In addition, the Bible puts much emphasis on the importance of having “seed” (descendants; Genesis 15:1-6; 26:24; 28:1-4). This is why Jacob was overjoyed that he lived long enough to find out that not only was his beloved son Joseph still alive, but that he even had grandchildren by him (Genesis 46:30; 48:11). And this is the whole point of the Book of Ruth. With Naomi’s husband and two sons having died (Ruth 1:3-5), she was in danger of not having any seed. But by the Law, a child born to her daughter-in-law Ruth and a close relative of her departed son would be considered her seed (see Deuteronomy 25:5-6). And thus her friends praised the LORD when Naomi’s grandson was born, who in turn became the grandfather of David (see Ruth 4:13-17).
The point is, if you die young due to an unhealthy lifestyle, you might not live long enough to see the birth of your grandchildren let alone your great-grandchildren, thus you will die not knowing if your seed will continue. Take it from someone who never even had children; you will regret this as you lay on your premature deathbed.
And finally, it should be the desire of all Christians when they die to hear, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things, I will put you in charge over many things; enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt 25:21,23).
However, if you’ve spent your life stuffing yourself with junk food, becoming obese and unhealthy, leading to you be dependent on others rather than serving others and the LORD, I doubt very much you will hear those words when you reach the Pearly Gates. You will still be saved if you have genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ for your forgiveness and salvation, but I doubt the LORD will be pleased with how you wasted your life.
It is true that spiritual disciple is more important than physical discipline. But to forgo physical discipline in regards to eating healthy and exercising is to set yourself up to be a burden to others, will render you ineffectual for the kingdom of God, ruin your witness, and hurt those who love and care for you. Think about those points the next time you’re tempted with junk food or to forgo exercising.
For much information on how best to go about starting and following a healthy eating plan and a sound exercise program, see my fitness Web site and God-given Foods Eating Plan book. And for the more serious athlete, see my Starting and Progressing in Powerlifting book.
Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Third Edition. Copyright © 2012 By Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian). Previously copyrighted © 1999, 2001, 2005, 2007 By Gary F. Zeolla.
Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old New Testament: Volume One: The Torah. Copyright © 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).
Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old New Testament: Volume Three: The Poetic Books. Copyright © 2013 By Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).NKJV: New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Healthy Habits and the Christian: Part Two. Copyright © 2014 By Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article was first published in the free
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It was posted on this Web site October 24, 2014.
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