Wed January 31st, 2018
Obesity is a problem in the western world and if it is a problem that we face as a society then it must also be a problem for the church too.
After the rationing of the second world war (which continued until 4th July 1954 in the UK - what an independence day?), food became more plentiful and was seen more than just a necessity but also a treat. Eating out began to be accessible to all social groups. As lifestyles has become more sedentary and urban, exercise has become less a focus of every day life and sitting for 8 hours a day in an office has become a regular occurrence to many. With less physically hard work the obvious reduction in portion sizes hasn’t generally happened and the increase in average weight has continued.
As sitting in front of the TV or computer became a mainstay of British downtime, the influence of advertising has encouraged the consumption of snack foods at a time when our bodies don’t need anything to eat. The idea of three square meals a day has remained but has been augmented by the addition of many snacks that have made us to be grazers – always nibbling.
As a man who suffered a cardiac event in the last year, I must confess a possible conflict of interest in this subject, as I have had to lose some weight and still have a half stone to lose by June. My wife’s constant reminders to cut down have been overtaken by the Dr’s instructions! So, whereas I have been guilty in the past of a less than healthy lifestyle, I have learned a lot in the last 6 months, so please forgive me if I sound like an ex-smoker condemning smoking!
What does the Bible say?
The Bible has something to say about the way we treat our bodies. This passage is often quoted regarding sexual immorality, but is also true regarding gluttony (over-indulgence is pleasure, normally of eating food).
Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body. 1 Cor 6:19-20 NLT
Honouring God with your body includes a little healthy exercise.
For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come1 Tim 4:8
Here the writer is offering us a little hyperbolae – we all know that bodily exercise is good for you, but godliness is better – which doesn’t excuse us for not taking exercise!
People who eat to excess are talked about as worshipping their stomachs.
For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, 20 but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself. Php 3:18–21
The truth is that in ancient times being overweight was looked upon as a measure of your wealth, so that the rich were also often obese, but our treasure is in heaven and we should look after our bodies because they are for God and we don’t want to slip into idolatry – which is what Paul is saying in Philippians.
The disease of the age
Whereas obesity is often referred to as the disease of our age, it is rarely seen in Japan, and Asian cultures, it is also much lower in those with a Mediterranean diet. The truth is that in the UK we eat a lot of processed food that is both rich is sugars and other carbohydrates and we eat far too many crisps and chocolate. Teaching ourselves to say ‘no’ to sweet things is a challenge but something that we ought to do for our health. We should look after our body so it is fit to serve God. We should look after our body so that we don’t get health complications. The price of travel insurance goes up and the maturity value of life assurance goes down with obesity. Health complications arise – the need for joint replacements and issues like diabetes increase with our weight. A simple check with a GP of what our body mass index is will give us a weight loss target which if we achieve it may keep us away from killer issues like heart attacks and diabetes and will help us learn self-control which is a virtue in every area of life.
What does it say about us if as Pastors and preachers, worship leaders and church workers if we do not have the self-control to limit our eating?
I have known a lot of people over the years who have piled on weight because of medication that they have been on e.g. steroids. We need to be understanding of people who are maybe overweight because of treatments, and the fact is that we should always be slow to judge people by their appearance. We need to get to a place where we can have a healthy conversation about our weight without getting prickly and defensive about it.
It is hard to lose weight, especially if you need to lose a lot. Some people can lose a couple of stones in weight and you can’t tell, because they were so overweight to start with – this is not very encouraging for the person who is trying to manage their body – but we must hang on and carry on.
The magnitude of sin
People will often say that there is no difference between sins – any one of them can keep you from God, but that isn’t entirely true. Paul makes the point that sexual immorality has some unique side effects because you sin against God and against your own body. Obesity also has its issues, bluntly you have to face up to the New Testament’s condemnation of it as idolatry, to the fact that in a world that is so image focussed it may make it harder for people to hear your testimony because they see tour weight and the call of God on your life to present your body to him as His holy temple.
The problem that I think the church has with obesity is that we struggle to talk about it because we don’t want to offend (and I certainly don’t want to offend!) but we also seem to emphasise particular sins – such as sexual immorality but we often let other sins such as gossip and gluttony pass without a mention.
Paul talks about those of you with widows in your family should look after them so that the church isn’t burdened (1 Tim 5:16). In a world facing a huge health time bomb with obesity, we should look after ourselves so that no one is burdened, so that we can remain active and healthy for longer for the sake of the gospel and so we can be examples of self-control to both the rest of the church and the world too!
We must be a church that loves everyone, but loving sometimes means that we must have hard conversations and whereas we will never throw anyone out of church because they now need two chairs, we do need to realise our responsibility and not’ throw our teddy out’ when we have to face up to our problems.
Let’s learn to talk openly and honestly about our problems, whether they are obvious (like obesity) or invisible to the naked eye. Let us all be gracious to one another and help one another with the burdens they bare, and above all let us continue in love one for another.