Saturday, 5 July 2014

What Would The Apostle Paul Make Of Me Stuffing My Face At My Desk?

Well, he seems quite clear about it, and it is a sin I struggle with:

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Phil. 3:19)

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:16-24)

While the Galatians passage doesn't specifically mention gluttony, tie it in with Philippians and you see that this is a desire of the flesh - it comes under idolatry, as for a glutton their god is situated in their stomach.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Cor 6:9-11)

So, there we have it. Short and simple.

Except that's not what I'm talking about. There is a lot in the New Testament about eating which is not about gluttony, but about respect. If we go back to Galatians 5, we find that the Apostle Paul talks about freedom:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (v.13)

We're free in Christ - but this isn't an excuse to please ourselves, but to serve others. And one way to serve is to avoid stumbling blocks.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honour of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honour of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Rom. 14)

Note that Paul is not saying vegetarians have a weak faith. I remember when I started working for Methodist Homes for the Aged and being shocked that meat was being served. I explained that up till then, all the Methodists I had know had been vegetarians. As a result, I had simply assumed that Methodists put meat in the same category as alcohol - something to be avoided.

And can I also say - if someone does hold a different opinion to you, don't smugly assume they are the "weaker brethren". They might be right, and you wrong; or it might not matter either way.

Why does Paul talk about meat? Well, we can look at what he wrote to the Corinthians:

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from Whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (I Cor. 8)

This was an issue in Corinth at the time - all meat sold in the market had been sacrificed to idols. While some Christians would know that these idols were nothing, others could think that a Christian eating such food was engaging in worship of idols, and was adopting Syncretism. That could then lead to a Christian thinking "oh, so it's OK for me to worship X alongside Jesus". With halal meat being served more in the United Kingdom, this could become an issue that will become more relevant as time goes on.

It's not just about food - really it is anything that could lead a Christian to go back to something that was an idol for them, regardless of whether it was an idol for us. I remember a conversation with one Christian man recently - his church had been holding meetings in a pub, as part of outreach to men. Now, I am teetotal, but I don't force that on other Christians. But, he mentioned, there is a slight concern - what about men who were alcoholics before becoming Christians? Christian men can enjoy a pint with their mates, but it just takes one drink for an ex-alcoholic to begin the journey to no longer being an ex-alcoholic. The sight of his brothers sipping beer could be too much for him, and so he goes to the bar....

But what I'm thinking of isn't gluttony. Nor is it meat sacrificed to idols. It's something else Paul wrote about:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (I Cor. 9:19-23).

A tricky verse - Paul is not calling for us to be chamaeleon Christians (or Karma Chamaeleon Christians when reaching out to Hindus).

I have recently started a new job. When in a workplace, there can be huge religious differences. Some places you get the twenty-/thirty-somethings who see Christianity as a relic from the last century and have a world which is post-post-Christian (in a post-Christian society there are still vestiges of Christian heritage). Or, even tougher, the people who are Christians because "this is a Christian country" and "the Queen is Head of the Church of England", and all you need is to be "respectable", not do anything seriously wrong and make sure you do a good turn every day, and you've passed. Or you get the adherents of Christmasianity who want to convert everyone.

And then there is the different environment, one which I am in again. And it's the one I prefer, if I am totally honest. It's the one where you see the turban and the khimār, the colourful shalwar kameez, or where someone shows off her henna tattoo skills.

It's the world where Christianity is just another minority faith.

It's the environment where you work late on a Thursday, ask a passing colleague for help with a case, and his response is to say that he'll help when he's back from prayers.

It's the multi-cultural world.

It's the world that the early Church had to exist in.

What's this got to do with food? Well, it's about food and respect.

I have found myself with Muslim friends. Christianity has developed a reputation for being quite wussy and there are groups - primarily Christian Vision for Men - who are keen to develop a male-friendly expression of Christianity. What I notice about Muslims I have got to know is that there is that combination of rejecting the laddish lifestyle that often seems an essential part of being male ("Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?") and at the same time being macho. There is no contradiction between holding a faith and being masculine - something the church has lost.

Currently it is Ramadam. So for them it is a time of fasting. Through conversations I have learned that it involves a lot of self-discipline, and is tough.

And I snack at my desk.

I'm not the only one, but what temptation does it throw in the path of a faster when he sees people snacking around him?

Now, if it were Christians fasting, then it would be clear cut. Respect that. But when it comes to Muslims? I am leaning towards Paul's "all things to all people" line and thinking that I will not eat around them. Just respecting what they are doing without joining in or agreeing with the faith in which they are doing it.

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