Rising Above Food Wars: Eat for God’s Glory
Written by Sharon Kaufman, Contributing Writer
A question – “How do I keep the issue of personal food choices in godly perspective?”
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a young woman asking me how to avoid alienating people who choose not to eat a diet of whole foods. Here, in part, is her email to me:
I wanted to know your thoughts about living a lifestyle of eating optimum whole foods and avoiding processed foods. I’ve been trying to refrain from telling people what I’ve learned from my research about nutrition, but sometimes the topic comes up amongst my peers. At times I get the impression from others that that they think that my hope is not fully in the Lord. I get offended by this.
Isn’t it considered a Christian liberty to have a lifestyle based on good nutrition principles? But even for me to mention anything about sprouted grains or pasteurization, people get sensitive and easily offended. I understand their sensitivity because I’m that way also.
I don’t want something like this to ruin my relationships with other believers, but at times I get to the point where I refrain from saying anything about what I know and have learned concerning nutrition. I want to avoid others feeling uncomfortable.
What are your thoughts?
Examine yourself – Am I judging others?
Eating very conscientiously is important to me also. It is a liberty that no one should judge you about. Yet it happens. But nutrition is also something that I personally never talk about unless someone asks me about it. In fact, I most often take a very light-hearted approach if the subject happens to come up and joke about it to ease the other person’s discomfort.
I blog about my food choices and post recipes that are healthy, but I would not post on Facebook (or other social network) about this topic of eating healthy. Any one of my friends from church can read that and people just do not understand how such food choices could make a difference. They tend to become defensive and often offended. I used to be the same way.
It’s important to me that I make no one feel like I am judging them based on their food choices. I just don’t take it so seriously in front of others that they feel an intensity from me, like it’s all important, though it is. That is what I am more concerned about rather than others judging me.
Prioritize – unity, love, ministry and Christ’s glory are crucial
There should be freedom for any woman to come to me for counsel (regarding any topic) or fellowship, so I don’t want food standing in the way of that. I don’t want anyone feeling intimidated by my food choices. Loving others has to be first. My food choices are hidden behind my love for others, so to speak.
It is important what we eat, but unity is more important. The unity of the church has everything to do with Christ’s glory, the gospel message and eternity. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
“All people” – both in and out of the church – “will know that you are my disciples”. If we, as the body of Christ, are constantly bickering over disputable matters (see note below) like food, to outsiders we will look just like the world. As a result, the gospel message will be invalidated.
And inside the church, Christ will not be glorified either. Paul tells us in Romans 12:9a-10, “Let love be genuine…Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
In Philippians, Paul tells us to be of the same mind and same love. “Do nothing from rivalry…but in humility count others more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:2-3). And of course, we all know the wonderful description of love found in First Corinthians 13. The church thrives when the love of Christ is the core motivation for all we do.
Understand that food choices are important for health but insignificant spiritually speaking
Consequently I will not say a word about any food that is in front of me at church potlucks or when we are invited to someone’s home. I eat everything I can get away with at those times. Yet, I will not eat anything that I know will cause me to be ill; however, I would never draw the host or hostesses attention to that food as an unhealthy choice.
There was a time when I could hardly crawl out of bed and ministry was impossible. But when I began eating whole foods my health greatly improved. For me to now intentionally eat foods that put me back in bed would be sin unless I had absolutely no other choice. People can ask if they’d like and I’d be happy to tell them that in whatever I do, even in what I eat or drink, I will do all for the glory of God (First Corinthians 10:31), both in loving others and in not eating foods that keep me from ministering to others.
Though I am better off physically, however, regarding my food choices, I will never be better off spiritually speaking. Again the apostle Paul puts it well, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (First Corinthians 8:8). God does not hand out spiritual “kudos” for the types of food we choose to eat.
Respond in the opposite Spirit
As for those people who think I look down on them because of the way I eat as opposed to the way they eat, I yearn that they would know how insignificant this important part of my life is compared to my love for them. Could they see my heart, they would drop all their defenses and just enjoy the fellowship we have in Christ.
One person in particular asks me on a regular basis why I won’t eat sweets at church functions. I tell that person, “Because I like to sleep at night”. I’m also asked by this dear saint why I would ever get sick (presently) if I eat such a healthy diet.
First off, in answering these questions, I don’t get offended. I love this person, so I respond in the opposite spirit. In a light-hearted way, laughing, I say, “If you think I get sick often now, you should have seen me seven years ago.” I don’t get into lecturing about why sprouted grains are a better choice for me than whole or refined grains. I don’t discourse on why raw milk has helped me so much, etc. I just answer that I can now function and minister when I couldn’t seven years ago and laugh when I say it.
When another saint was critical, I invited that family over for dinner and fed them the most delicious meal I could that was organic and locally grown, etc. Their taste buds were delighted and surprised I think, but the topic never came up in our conversation. We just had such a great time and the subject of food has ceased to be an issue. In fact that family’s love for us has grown and there is absolutely no tension regarding this subject now.
Never harbor a hidden agenda
It is also of the greatest importance that you not have a hidden agenda in your relationship to others. Are you ministering with the thought that you might be able to influence others as they get to see how loving you are? God forbid it! Love then takes a back seat to your agenda and Christ will not be honored, nor will you in the long run.
If it should happen that the ones you minister to ask you for information regarding nutrition, let it not be because you had an agenda, but because you didn’t. Your agenda must be love alone or it’s not love at all.
Pray about all of this
Ask God to give you the ability to let any judgmentalism just roll off your back like water off a duck’s back. Ask Him to give you an intense love for the saints, even (rather especially) for those who judge you. Make it a reason to love them all the more.
This is also something you can pray for – that your love would far exceed any important lifestyle choice to the point that you felt that choice was totally insignificant compared to your love for others. Your food choices are important, but compared to your love for others, your relationship to that choice should feel like hatred.
Keep a God-honoring attitude and eat for health
It’s really all about your attitude. Love always wins the day as does humility. Consistently take the low road and think of others as better than yourself, especially those who are critical.
Keep up the good work of feeding your family in the way that produces the best health. God will never fault you for that. But He will fault you when food’s importance exceeds your love for others, though He will not require that you eat differently, just that you think differently – for His glory.
How have you shown love to those who are critical of you regarding your food choices (or other “disputable matters”)? How have you, as a guest in another’s home, lovingly opted out of eating foods that are detrimental to your health ?
Note: “Disputable matters” are matters that are not essential to the Christian faith. We are not defined as Christians by such matters, nor do such matters make any difference in one’s standing before God. As the apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians 8:8, “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off (spiritually speaking) if we do not eat and no better off (spiritually speaking) it we do.” (Parenthesis and italics added mine.)
I really enjoyed this post. I have not fully embraced the whole food lifestyle, not becuase I don’t see the value, but because my husband is not ready and I, for one, am a bit intimidated about the whole thing, including the cost. We are making baby steps, but we still have a long ways to go.
I have felt judged by those on “your” side of the fence and I really appreciated hearing how you take on this topic. Maybe that is why yours is one whole lifestyle blog that hasn’t totally turned me off!
@Nicole, Well, I didn’t write this post myself (one of the writers here, Sharon, wrote it), but I could have written something similar. When I first began learning about health and nutrition, I bet that I often came across as obnoxious or judgmental (or both!) at times, because I was so eager to share what I was learning with everyone, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Time and hopefully a bit of maturity have tempered me a lot, and now I very rarely bring these issues up, UNLESS someone brings it up or shows an interest, in which case I will gently share to the point that I think they are interested and will be blessed by what I share. I have definitely learned the lesson that people and relationships are more important than what we eat, and I sincerely hope that those who know me on and offline do not feel judged by what I share. In fact, my favorite thing is to share with those just starting out in their journeys and just slather them with encouragement over all those little, beginning steps. 🙂
@Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, I really enjoyed this post! I am just beginning my endeavor of providing better food choices for my family and trying to learn as much as possible about whole food options. I just recently discovered your site and have enjoyed every post from the day I began following! It’s a great source of inspiration and information for me and others as well, I know! I love the writer’s attitude in this post, as I need a lot of work in the area of loving others as my top priority over smaller, insignificant matters. I have a hard time not “harping” on my husband over his food choices, especially now that we have two small children, and need to remember that is an ineffective, unloving attitude and not at all the way God intends for me to act (even if one’s intentions are good). Thanks to you and contributing writers for all you do…I appreicate the much needed help!!
Excellent post!!! Couldn’t add a thing or say it better!
This is an area that I definitely struggle with. Thank you for posting this.
Thank you so much for this post. It is an area I really struggle with because I am so excited over what I am learning about nutrition and eating whole/traditional foods that I tend to attack people with my enthusiasm. I know eating is a highly touchy subject, especially amongst us women. 🙂 Above all, I share with people in an effort to better their families’ lives, but I don’t think it comes across that way all the time. I really appreciate your suggestions and plan to incorporate them into how I talk about nutrition with people (or don’t talk so much). You are right: loving people with the love of Christ should always come first.
Perfect! The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Romans 14:3
Wow. I find it kind of surprising and sad that people are actually critical of your eating choices. I’m not 100% whole foods yet (partially because of availability where we live and partially because it will take a miracle of God to convince my husband to go 100%:), but I personally find the lifestyle you describe as being honorable and impressive. I believe you fully live out The Word’s declaration that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
@Tori, I think the struggle with those who are critical often stems from the fact that they feel an unspoken criticism of their own life and habits, whether we are saying/communicating that or not. Sometimes just knowing that someone has strong convictions in an area where you don’t can make you feel defensive, whether there’s anything to be defensive about or not. I have also experienced this, particularly in church and family relationships. Not all relationships, of course, but in some.
This post was so encouraging and convicting to me. Glad that God has given you this wisdom to share with us!
One of the hardest aspects for me in transitioning to whole foods is that I don’t feel capable of serving others by taking them meals. Every meal is still an experiment at our house as I learn to cook completely from scratch, and I don’t want to share those experiments for fear that I’ll give them an unsatisfying dinner, especially since my taste buds have adapted while other people’s may not have. It frustrates me, so I appreciate this reminder that loving others needs to come first. If I pray for help, I’m sure God can guide me on how to prepare a meal that will be right for the family I’m serving.
@Nikki, Something that I do when it comes to meals for others is I drop my own personal nutrition standards and instead try to make meals that I believe would serve them best. I know that not everyone appreciates the type of meals that my family eats, so I pull out old standard recipes from cookbooks or AllRecipes.com that use more conventional ingredients. I often keep things like regular pasta or white flour on hand, so that I can make foods that taste more usual for others. I still try to keep the meals as healthy as possible, but my point in making the meal is serving them, not pushing my own eating tastes on them. It generally works well and allows me to more easily and freely make meals for others.
@Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, I do the same thing. Early on in my quest for eating whole foods and healthy foods, I was so excited about everything and so passionate, I told everyone how I felt. I realized that 1.) other people didn’t care about it nearly as much as I did, and 2.) pushing my thoughts on food onto them only alienated them. My husband and I also had many arguments on the subject. I finally learned that nutrition wasn’t the god I was making it, and that my relationships with others were much more important. So to that end, I avoid the topic of nutrition with most people unless they bring it up, and then I offer my thoughts only as one point of view, not the end-all on the subject. I also eat whatever is given to me at different functions, and I eat out wherever family and friends want to eat without regard to the food served there. Oh, and that’s why I started my blog, too: so I could have an outlet for my passion for nutrition without offending all my friends and family:)
Hi Nikki, one thing I have found to be invaluable is open communication. Simply ask those you would like to serve what they prefer!
I really appreciate your thoughts and scripture references on this. I think there are so many areas that Christians go to war with one another….schooling children, diapering, foods, nursing and vaccinations just to name a few. I know I have areas where I want to “convert” people to my line of thinking and I really need to reasses my motivation and attitude and remember what is most important – Christ and the cross.
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I love getting to know your heart and seeing how theologically correct you are; so many are wishy washy and little off base these days. Thanks again.
Wonderful post! I’ve been in the same situations and have chosen to not speak unless asked. I find they do ask. Teachers at my school ask how do I get my daughter to eat such wonderful lunches, or ask what am I eating? I also notice those closest to me slowly have started to change what they choose to eat. I love it now when people come to me about food!
Loved this post!
The only thing I’d like to mention is the importance of listening to people. When the topic of food comes up, it is tempting to think that our way is 100% the best. And maybe it is, at least for us. However, there are many people who care deeply for nutrition who do not follow the same dietary practices. Oftentimes, positive research falls on multiple sides of an issue, and many factors contribute to a person’s food choices. I’m not saying we should push for conversations like this, but when someone voices their opinions on food choices (even if it is critical to my own), I find that listening to why they eat what they eat helps me understand them better, and in turn helps me know how to serve them better. Did this person make a purposeful decision about a food that is unhealthy for me? Is this mother too busy to use whole foods? Is this family sincerely struggling with resources? This is a complex topic, and I feel showing love via listening uncritically is a powerful force for building relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thank you, Jessica, for this thoughtful comment. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s interesting too, that when you open yourself up to learn from others (via listening) no matter what their take on food, etc. is, how relationships flourish. Listening is such a wonderful discipline and it takes such dependence upon the Spirit of God. I am just not a good listener, but I so want to be and must depend of the grace of God to be quiet and let someone else have the floor.
Now the post is complete. Thanks for you input.
Well, it looks like I’m not so good at reading either. You are not Jessica I see now, but “beccahan”. My apologies.
@beccachan, Thanks so much for saying this. It was very much what I was thinking but couldn’t put into words. We all make the best choices we can for our families. Not every diet works for every family and as you pointed out, the research is hardly concrete. I have often felt judged by my more “natural” living friends because we vaccinate. But then they don’t use cloth diapers and we do. I can’t even imagine grinding my own fresh wheat flour and some of my friends can’t believe that I make my own bread. We all make the choices that best fit our family situation.
@Laundry Lady, This is so true, too! I’m similar to you – we vaccinate on a delayed schedule, and most of my friends/family think that’s a little strange, but online friends think it’s terrible to vaccinate at all. I don’t have the resources to do a lot of whole foods things that I want to, so I know that there are plenty of whole foodies who look down on me. OTOH, I do things like make my own bread and jam and pickles, and my friends are always more than a little surprised by that. Oh, and we CD too:) Anyway, you said it so perfectly – that we all make the choices that best fit our family situation. We all have to consider our food choices in the balance of our relationships, money, abilities, and even storage space!
Thank you for writing this. It was inspiring, and brought up a few issues I’ve been dealing with. I am on a restricted diet for health reasons. My girls are too (they are ages 2 and 6). I sometimes feel like those at church judge me and think I’m crazy for feeding my girls a certain way (my youngest daughter either is gluten sensitive or celiac. Both girls have reactions to corn and dairy). I bring snacks with us to church for the girls and do not allow anyone to give them food without my approval first. It’s easy to assume no one really understands our situation, no matter how hard I try to explain it. Ultimately, my feelings get hurt… it’s easy to allow the hurt to take over, rather than turn it over to God and let His love shine through. Thanks for the gentle reminder!
I am not a Christian but I agree with so much of what you have written – just in terms of how to talk (or keep silent) about whole foods and dietary changes. I made the mistake of being a bit too excited about my local/organic/non-processed diet to my in-laws and they decided I was “high-maintenance.” It has taken several years to repair the damage of that. I learned my lesson about keeping it light when talking about this type of thing. 🙂
@Rebecca, Thanks for your perspective, Rebecca. I agree that it’s important, not only for Christians, but just for maintaining good relationships in general!
Thank you so much for your post. It was well written and to the heart of the matter. I do know I get overly excited to share things I’m learning about food and heath that could help an ailing friend or two, but I do need to be sensitive and be sure to show God’s love first and foremost.
This is such a wonderful post. I have struggled in the past with looking down on others because they aren’t as “enlightened” as I am when it comes to health & nutrition. It has been and continues to be a struggle to not feel prideful.
I also think most, if not ALL, of these points also relate to another “counter-cultural” issue about which I am passionate: child birth. I’ve had one amazing home birth and we plan, God willing, to have the rest of our babies at home. I don’t necessarily think all women should have their babies at home (and I am indeed very thankful for modern medicine that saves the lives of many mamas and babies), but I feel strongly about the benefits of natural child birth as well as the messed up maternity care system in our country (US, I don’t know what it’s like in Canada!). This is another very sensitive topic and people are easily offended and hurt when you talk about it.
Thank you for this post, I loved it!
Thank you, Emily, for being so honest. At 62 years of age, I’ve had to learn the hard way many times, going through periods of pride that only caused alienation from other Christians.
This article could really apply to just about any area of Christian liberty. I learned what attitudes not to have while I was homeschooling my daughters – so much self-righteousness. But thanks be to God, He delivered me from myself.
There can never be unity in the church when each of us insists we are right and those in disagreement are wrong. We must remember what the essentials, what is eternal. Everything else is passing away and will not make one iota of difference when we stand before Christ.
But like I said in the article, each one of us must do what is glorifying to God in regard to Christian freedoms without passing judgement on others. Humility and love always win the hearts of others, not the promotion of our own agenda.
Thanks for your insight and transparency!
Truly, this article could not have been said better! She shows a lot of wisdom.
This is such a well-written, encouraging article! I feel like you really answered the question, while keeping Christ-like love at the forefront. I know I harbor a spirit of judgement many times, and this was a good reminder to me that I need to repent of that and ask God for forgiveness as soon as judgmental thoughts enter my mind. Thank you for reminding us that eating, like all other things, should be done for God’s glory, not for our own glory.
How refreshing your comment was to read, Jennifer. Love always triumphs. But we tend to forget that and dig our heels into our preferences, expecting that others will see how sensible our choices are and follow suit.
But how restorative repentance is. I think it is a Christian discipline that is too often forgotten, at least by me. So I continue to pray like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
And God is faithful to do so. Thanks again, Jennifer, for your comment.
Hands down the best post I’ve read in weeks! So much to think about here, both in the way I react to others and what I say and how I serve. So well written!
Because I love to research and enjoy sharing what I have learned (but fear overwhelming my friends and family), I started a blog to chronicle my whole living “experiments.” I have tried to strike a balance between hard data and personal trials (and tribulations) to show that everyone is in a different place… and that’s the way it should be!
Having worked in churches for years, I am surprised at the number of Christians that are openly negative about whole living. For me, being a good steward of the earth means taking an interest in gardening, reducing waste and eating whole foods (the way God created them and not man). I delight in meeting others who share this respect for nature, but try not to force my opinion on them. Thank you for the article!
This is a great post! I know that I have come across judgemental in the past and I didn’t really realize it until now that I have ha my priorities way out of whack! This is really great!
I have a lot of thinking and reflection to do now.
Thanks so much!
Thanks, Nikki, for being so honest. This is what the Christian life is all about. How grateful I am that God is the God of all grace. Where would we be without His free, unlimited grace? I need forgiveness everyday and He’s never refused me. What can we do but pass that grace and love onto others?
You are so tender and pliable. God can so freely pour out His love to you and through you when you’re putty in His hands! May He bless you beyond all measure as you sit at His feet.
I love your perspective on this issue. I had in mind to write a post about “real food” idolatry soon because it can certainly become that. You put healthy eating in its proper place. It is important for health reasons but not a matter to cause divisions over.
this is one of the best put together perspectives i have heard on the topic. i totally agree and appreciate that you wrote it and put it out there. we should never be divided on issues that are not eternally significant to our salvation but so often we are so! humility in our relationship is really transforming and breaks down the walls between us.
Well written. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis, and most importantly the pointing to God. May He be glorified in your love for others.
I don’t know that I’ve truly experienced judgment either way. I would hope that I haven’t come across that way to others, and if I’ve been judged for my choices, it’s been hidden (mostly-think I overheard something I wasn’t supposed to, but since I didn’t hear it all I’m not sure it was even me they were talking about).
I do feel though, that not at least sharing a helpful tip or anectdote when we come across someone that we think might benefit from eating real food would be similar to not sharing the Gospel when given an opportunity. How I wish someone had shown me a better way long before I stumbled across it! Granted, had it been pushed at me in a manner of “thou shalt” I wouldn’t have listened, but if the proponent had shared how eating real food had helped her or him, I would have been interested in learning more.
We can worship God thru our food choices-do we choose to eat it the way He created it, or do we choose the “modern” (and thus somehow better?) version man has come up with? Do we continue, as Sharon stated would be sin, eating what we know is bad for us, simply because it’s our Christian liberty to do so? Yes, we have the freedom to choose as we desire, but those choices are not w/o consequences. I know this idea strays from the topic of not judging others for their choices, or feeling holier than thou as a result of our choices, but it kept crossing my mind while reading.
Thanks for a great post!
Beautifully written! I love your big picture approach!
Bravo Sharon – walking that fine line between acceptance of the current place others are in and the “judgemental” sharing of Truth is always such a delicate task Only the inspiring grace of God can provide sure footing on that tightrope – you’re doing a great job!
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