Saturday, November 8, 2008

Learning Self-Control (Part Two)

Jean Williams continues to teach us from Scripture about the fruit of the Spirit: self-control. --Bill

is dieting Christian? (4b) God's words on food: self-denial and self-indulgence

In our eating, as with all our pleasures, there are two equal and opposite pit-falls to avoid.

The first pit-fall is asceticism - extreme self-denial of bodily pleasures as an aid to spiritual purity. Paul makes it clear that this is the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-5) and is worse than useless for overcoming sensual indulgence.

"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of thebody, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Colossians 2:20-23).

Self-control isn't an end in itself, as if every time you refuse a piece of chocolate cake you're being godly. If self-control helps you to achieve a proud indifference to food, it isn't godly.

Self-control is not the refusal of the pleasures of the body, but the refusal of the sins of the body (Rom. 6:11-13, 8:13, 12:1, 1 Thess. 4:3-8). We shouldn't refuse pleasures because they are pleasurable, but because they are unloving, self-indulgent or idolatrous.

Does this have implications for dieting? I'm not sure, except to say that legalistic guidelines, or periods of strict self-denial, may be a poor way to achieve long-term godly self-control.

The second and opposite pit-fall in enjoying God's good gifts is hedonism - the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure's sake. This is self-indulgent idolatry, a worship of something else besides God. It's love of the world rather than love of God. It puts ourselves and our pleasures firmly at the centre of the universe.

"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes ot from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever" (1 John 2:15-17, and see Lk. 8:14, 1 Cor. 7:29-31).

There are many ways of turning food into an idol. Gluttony, delicacy or fussiness, and a devotion to fine dining, may all be signs of food idolatry. Obsessive dieting can also become an idol.

Food makes a particularly pointless idol: in the mouth, through the body, out the other end, and into the toilet (sorry about that, but Jesus said it first - Matt. 6:17). How foolish and shameful to live to serve our stomach, which is headed for death (Deut. 32:15, 1 Cor. 6:13, Phil. 3:19). Better to hunger and thirst for things that last into eternity: for God's Word, for righteousness, for peace and joy (Is. 55, Matt. 4:4, 6:6, Jn. 4:23, 6:27, Rom. 14:17).

Luxurious or excessive eating is not only idolatrous, but unloving, for it ignores the needs of the hungry. It's short-sighted, for like pigs, we are only fattening ourselves for the day of slaughter, when God will judge us for our selfish indulgence (Jam. 5:5).

Gluttony is also unwise. Proverbs pulls no punches here: gluttony produces poverty and drowsiness (23:20-21), vomit (25:16), disgrace (28:7) and, oddly, gullibility (eat with someone, be influenced by someone? - 23:2). Eating sensibly is a wise way to stay healthy (1 sTim. 4:8, 5:23).

Over-eating can make us ill and lethargic (trust me, I know) and perhaps even poor. We may have less energy for loving and serving others. If you find it hard to concentrate when you listen to sermons, read the Bible or pray, have a close look at what and when you eat.

In our eating, as with all our pleasures, there are two opposite pit-falls to avoid: self-denying refusal of pleasure, which may look like godliness but doesn't really help us overcome the sins of the body; and selfish indulgence, which is idolatrous, unloving, short-sighted, and unwise.

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