Saturday, November 8, 2008

Learning Self-Control (Part Three)

Part three of Jean Williams' helpful posts on self control. --Bill

is dieting Christian? (4c) God's words on food: moderation, idolatry, and self-control

When we eat, we should avoid the two extremes of strict self-denial and self-indulgence. So perhaps we're to seek a middle path: the way of moderation.

But moderation is not an end in itself, as if once you've found the perfect balance between over- and under-eating you've found true holiness. The ideal of the "golden mean" is more Greek than Christian. We are meant to love God immoderately! Our passion for God may lead to feasting (for example, to celebrate God's salvation, or the joy of a wedding) or fasting (practised by God's people during times of repentance, mourning, and fervent prayer).*

Yet moderation can be a useful practical aid as we seek to serve God and others in our eating.

The practice of moderation may help you escape the perils of gluttony - ill health, lethargy, poverty - none of which aid loving service. It may lessen the hold of food if you frequently turn to it for comfort. It may help you not to be enslaved by food. It may enable you to sit loose to the pleasure of food, so that you can do without it cheerfully. In other words, it may stop food becoming an idol.

So how can you tell if food has become an idol for you? Here are some useful questions to ask yourself (I have adapted these from the excellent chapter on pleasure in Packer's
Laid-Back Religion, and you could replace "eating" with just about anything which may be an idol for you):
  • What is the motivation of my eating? Do I depend on it regularly for emotional comfort?
  • What is the outcome of my eating? Is it wasteful or harmful to me or others?
  • How hard do I chase after food? Can I do without it cheerfully? Do I know when to stop?
  • What kind of behaviour does my eating produce?
  • How much of my thoughts, energy, money and conversation does food (or dieting) absorb?
  • Does eating prompt me to heedless self-indulgence, or to praise and thanksgiving?

If you answered "yes" to many of these questions, eating may be an idol for you. This is where self-control comes in. It is the fruit of God's Spirit to help us avoid sin, particularly sins of the body, in this case, serving food as an idol. Self-controlled eating is a refusal to use our bodies to pursue the pleasures of food without thought for God or others.

As we control our eating rather than allowing it to control us, we will learn to turn to God for comfort instead of food. We will be freed from the constant drive to eat, so we can make better decisions about how our eating affects those around us. We may have more energy for loving service. We may even have more money or food to give to those who are truly hungry.

Food will become what it is meant to be: fuel for the enthusiastic service of God and others, an opportunity for generosity and hospitality, and the gracious gift of God to enjoy with thanksgiving, as we hunger for the far greater things of eternity.

Let's serve not the gift, but the Giver.

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