January 2007 Issue
in the Body of Christ
by Wendy Ashley
On any Sunday, you could walk into
almost any Southern Baptist church in America and enjoy doughnuts
and coffee before Sunday School, a potluck dinner on the grounds
after the morning worship service, or an ice cream social in the
evening. Many of our church activities are centered on food. Food
is a gift provided to us by God to enjoy and to sustain our physical
bodies. But are we overdoing it?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), obesity is now the number one health threat facing Americans
and the church is certainly not immune.
A new study recently published by Purdue University Professor
Ken Ferraro examined the relationships between religion and both
body mass index (BMI) and obesity. The study found that church
members tend to be more overweight than the general population,
and Baptists, including Southern Baptists, have the distinction
of being the most overweight religious group in the study.
Unfortunately, our own statistics lend support to Ferraro's
findings. Each year at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist
Convention, GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay's LeaderCare
ministry sponsor a Wellness Center where convention messengers
can take advantage of a free health screening. An Executive Summary
Report of Wellness Center statistics for the 2005 convention showed
that more than 75 percent of the 1,472 participants who completed
the screening were found to be significantly overweight. Compare
this to the national estimate that approximately 65 percent of
adults are considered overweight, and you see a problem that the
church must address.
There is no question that excess weight poses a serious threat
to our physical health, but is there more to it than that? While
some excessive weight problems may be due to medical problems,
being overweight may also indicate a spiritual problem.
Gluttony is a Sin
God created in us both a need for food and the capacity to
enjoy the pleasure of food. Bible stories like the feeding of
the five thousand, the wedding at Cana, and the Last Supper all
center on food or celebrations involving food. The problem comes
when we over feed ourselves and allow our lust for food to control
or harm us.
The Bible condemns overindulgence in many things, including
food. Proverbs 23:20-21 says: Don't associate with those who
drink too much wine, or with those who gorge themselves on meat.
For the drunkard and the glutton will become poor, and grogginess
will clothe them in rags. Here, as in other verses, gluttony
is placed in the same category as other sinful behavior. Yet,
while the church denounces the use of alcohol, we don't often
speak up about the sin of overeating even though the lack of self
control is usually the root of both problems.
When used properly, food should satisfy our bodies' needs.
The problem is when we overindulge with no sensitivity to hunger.
When we look to food to comfort us, soothe our emotions, solve
our problems, or make us happy, we are placing food before God.
Using food to satisfy our spiritual needs is a sin.
Obesity Destroys the Temple
Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy
Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your
own (1 Corinthians 6:19).
As obesity rates rise in the U.S., so do rates of diseases
associated with obesity. In a press release by the CDC, director
Jeffrey P. Koplan said, "Overweight and physical inactivity
account for more than three hundred thousand premature deaths
each year in the U.S., second only to tobacco-related deaths.
Obesity," he continued, "is an epidemic and should be
taken as seriously as any infectious disease epidemic. Obesity
and overweight are linked to the nation's number one killer
heart disease as well as diabetes and other chronic conditions."
Overweight and obese people are at increased risk for developing
conditions like coronary heart disease (CHD), diabetes, stroke,
hypertension, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and other respiratory
problems, several types of cancers, and even death. Statistics
from the 2005 Wellness Center summary showed that more than 70
percent of the almost fifteen hundred participants who completed
the health screening were at moderate to high risk for CHD.
Yet many Christians are destroying the temple of God with excess
food, insufficient sleep, and physical inactivity.
Obesity is Poor Stewardship
of the Body
For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in
your body (1 Corinthians 6:20).
As Christians, we must take care of our bodies in such a way
that we are physically prepared to do whatever God asks of us,
whenever He asks it. Honoring the body means making a commitment
to live a healthier lifestyle by carefully considering the foods
you put into your body, making exercise a regular part of your
life, and getting enough sleep.
Not only is obesity poor stewardship of the body, it's also
poor stewardship of our financial resources. It has been estimated
that annual costs associated with overweight and obesity in the
U.S. are just under $123 billion. This estimate includes more
than $64 billion in direct health care costs for preventive, diagnostic,
and treatment services and almost $59 billion for indirect costs
such as wages lost by people who are unable to work and the value
of future earnings lost because of premature death.
Obesity, defined as having a BMI of more than thirty, greatly
impacts the length of hospital stays and the quantity and cost
of doctor visits and drug prescriptions. This, in turn, has a
direct impact on the rising cost of health insurance in the U.S.
Prescription drugs related to treatment of cardiovascular disorders
and claims related to hypertension and/or heart disease are two
of the most prevalent expenses in GuideStone's medical programs.
Overeating Indicates Walking
in the Flesh Rather Than the Spirit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such
things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
Christians may fear placing too much emphasis on the physical
at the expense of the spiritual, but neglecting the body can be
just as wrong. When we are unable to control our eating habits,
we lack the self-control that is the fruit of the spirit. Balance
is the key. Without taking care of the physical body, we are unable
to concern ourselves with the spiritual.
When we are able to control our appetites, we are usually better
able to exercise self-control in other areas like anger, lust,
and gossip. Walking in the spirit means using food as God intended
to provide energy for our bodies and enjoying food
in appropriate quantities. This places the proper emphasis on
food and allows us to also place proper emphasis on spiritual
A Well-Disciplined Life
The story of Daniel demonstrates a person willing to sacrifice
physical pleasure to honor the Lord. When King Nebuchadnezzar
brought Daniel and several other young men to him: The king
assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the
wine that he drank (Daniel 1:5). However, Daniel determined
that he would not defile himself with the king's food or with
the wine he drank (v. 8). Daniel requested, Then examine
our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating
the king's food, and deal with your servants based on what you
see. He agreed with them in this matter and tested them for ten
days (v. 13-14).
At the end of 10 days they looked better and healthier than
all the young men who were eating the king's food. So the guard
continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink
and gave them vegetables. God gave these four young men knowledge
and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel
also understood visions and dreams of every kind (v. 15-17).
Daniel and his friends showed the wisdom of eating properly
by including fresh vegetables in their diets instead of overindulging
on the king's rich foods. They also demonstrated that by placing
the correct emphasis on food as a tool to nourish our physical
bodies instead of yielding to our lust for food, we are healthier
and better able to follow God's call.
The Church's Response
Changing our eating and exercise habits isn't easy, but with
the help of God, it can be done. First John 5:14-15 says: Now
this is the confidence we have before Him: whenever we ask anything
according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears
whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.
What can the church do? First, ministers need to look at themselves
and determine if the change needs to start with them. Next, they
must speak up and encourage their church members to have discipline
in all areas of their lives. Because the Bible addresses eating,
indulgence, self control, self discipline, gluttony, and other
related sins, we need to be able to address this topic in our
churches without fear of offense. Congregations are blessed when
their pastor encourages them to make changes in their lifestyles
that will ultimately bring glory to God.
Wendy Ashley is Communications Development
Leader and staff writer for GuideStone Financial Resources of
the Southern Baptist Convention.
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