The Problem of The Problem of Obesity

Is there a problem with being obese?

Most Christians take a strong stand against certain sins. There is a holy rejection of sexual immorality, whether it be adultery, fornication or homosexuality. The pro-life movement is strong with its plea for the life of the unborn. Alcoholism and drug abuse are rightly condemned by Christians. Pornography and lewd movies are abhorred. But there is a common sin, which is acceptable among Christians. Missionary friends from South America commented recently that when they returned to the United States they were amazed at the number of people who are overweight.

Obesity is already a problem in the United States and in Europe a progressing one. Statistics indicate that 30-50% of Americans are too fat and it is a health problem. ‘You notice it especially at the beach. With one out of two adults and one out of four children overweight, it’s almost abnormal to be normal weight. Fewer manual jobs, more computers and television, parents afraid to let their kids outside to play without supervision and increased dependence on cars all contribute to the fattening of America. But that’s only part of the equation. The food industry spends billions of dollars each year on advertising and promotion to create an environment that constantly pressures us to eat. And it’s not ‘hawking carrots and celery sticks’, Nutrition Action, vol. 25, no. 8.

But is obesity a sin? If a person enjoys eating, what is wrong with that even if he tends to overeat? Should not we guard against legalism in this area? After all, aren’t there some preachers who are too heavy and God uses them?

Does scripture say anything about the matter?

Under God’s law in the Old Testament, parents with a rebellious son were told to bring him to the elders of the city. ‘And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard’. Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear’, Deut. 21. 20-21 NKJV.

Gluttony is linked with drunkenness as evil. That is strong language. ‘Do not mix with winebibbers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat’, Prov. 23. 20. Once again, overeating is linked with drinking and is warned against. In the New Testament Paul affirms of the people of Crete, quoting one of their own race, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’, Titus 1. 12. There were certain national traits and overeating was one of them. It is hardly a commendation. Paul describes some as ‘enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly’, Phil. 3. 18-19. Apparently, these lived for sensual pleasure and eating was one of these obsessions. One remembers the drunken and gluttonous orgies of the rich Romans of ancient times and where that led.

But what of the accusation made of the Lord Jesus Christ? ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children’, Matt. 11. 19. The Lord Jesus said they criticized John for his ascetic lifestyle, living like a hermit, eating locusts and wild honey, living off the land. The Lord comes and fraternizes with people, eating in their homes and reaching out to sinners. They criticized him for such conduct. The truth is that they rejected the message of God. The word for glutton here is phagos literally an ‘eater’. They were attempting to discredit and to ridicule Him. It was a slanderous remark. Certainly, the Lord Jesus never was drunk nor ate to excess. One must consider the source of the remark.

So why do some of us struggle with overeating? Often it may be because of emotional stress. Eating is pleasurable and satisfying. It helps one forget unhappiness or pain. At times it may be falling into wrong patterns of living, like lying on a couch reading or watching TV while munching all of those calorie-laden goodies. We don’t need the food but it tastes good! A sedentary lifestyle plus overeating spells weight gain.

What can be done?

So are you as a Christian a little convicted and concerned about your weight? Maybe your doctor has cautioned you that your weight is endangering your health. As a Christian you realize your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit 1 Cor. 6. 19-20. Your body belongs to God and should be maintained carefully for His use and glory.

Is there some emotional need or stress in your life that food seems to satisfy? Surely God can satisfy the needs of our hearts as we turn to Him. Doctors tell us two things are necessary to maintain proper weight, unless there is some organic problem in one’s body. One of these is exercise. The body was made to be active and many times one’s employment simply does not give adequate exercise. Paul says, ‘For bodily exercise profits a little’, 1 Tim. 4. 8. He is not belittling exercise but simply contrasting it with the eternal value of godliness. Some brisk exercise 3-5 times a week will burn up calories and tone up one’s muscles. Some are able to have a work-out in a gym but many are not able to do this. But all can walk briskly for 30 minutes or so daily. Choose your own exercise and be consistent and disciplined in doing it.

Then there is the matter of food! Proverbs gives advice to the man going to eat with a ruler of his people and states, ‘And put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite’, Prov. 23. 2. It is good advice for all. Control your appetite on a regular basis. Crash diets are ineffective because after the initial loss of weight people go back to their old eating habits. Learn to take smaller portions and refuse seconds. Reduce your fat intake. Go on a low fat diet. Beware of fast foods that are often laden with fat. And eliminate snacks between meals. Eat more fruit and vegetables!

What about those times when food seems so desirable and tempting? The urge to open a bag of potato crisps seems overwhelming. Surely this is a time to read, to meditate and to pray. ‘Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ Ps. 119. 97, 103. Honey is such a delicious sweet, sweeter than sugar so use it. As a beekeeper for many years I can affirm its sweetness. But the psalmist asserts that God’s word is much sweeter and even more satisfying.

It is of course readily recognized that obesity can occasionally be caused by a person’s metabolism and has nothing to do with overeating or a lack of exercise. In such instances professional medical treatment is the best resort. May we as God’s people find supreme joy and satisfaction in our God and in His word and by being careful in our habits and healthy in our minds and bodies.



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