Monday, April 22, 2013

Stewardship, Part 2: Food

The next topic of stewardship I'd like to discuss pertains to food. This relates to the previous topic on our stewardship of the earth, because food sources are part of God's creation and go hand-in-hand with our efforts to protect the environment while trying to feed all creatures on it.

First let's go back to the Garden of Eden. What was God's original design for our food source?

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Genesis 1:26-31
26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." 29 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 2:7-9
7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:15-25
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."

18 Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,

"This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man."

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Now, I'll be honest, I was really surprised to read this for myself. I have read Genesis a number of times before, and if you had asked me in the past what food God originally intended for us to eat, I would have said both fruits and veggies from the Garden of Eden and the meat from the animals that mankind rules over. Because I honestly thought that's what God had said, that animals were created to be a food source for mankind. So you can imagine my surprise when I re-read these verses after having made the decision, for health reasons, to no longer eat meat or dairy. Do you think these verses mean what I think they mean? That it was God's original intention for all humans and animals to eat only plant-based food sources? You did catch that right? That even the animals' food was "green plants". Is there anywhere else in Scripture that can shed some light on God's original design about this?

Isaiah 11:6-9
6 And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
7 Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.

I'm not sure whether this passage is speaking literally of life in the restored Kingdom on earth, after Christ has returned, or if this means something else symbolically about Israel or something. Either way, for us, we choose to see this description as supportive of the Genesis 1 verses above -- that God's original design for the earth was for humans and animals to live in harmony, eating a plant-based diet. And so logically, it would make sense that the whole point of the restored Kingdom would bring back God's original design to the earth.

But as a result of the Fall, sin entered the world, which perverted God's original design, as we see in so many other ways (sex, marriage, money, life, etc.) When God flooded the earth, destroying all vegetation and leaving only Noah and his family and those selected animals alive, only then did God allow something different than His original design:

Genesis 9:1-7
1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. 3 Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. 4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

6 "Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.
7 "As for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it."

God has a history of guiding us (mankind) even as we deviate from His plan. Divorce was not part of His original plan, but He addresses the issue in Matthew 19:3-8 when he says "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way."

So when the people leaving Egypt were grumbling in the desert about not having meat, God provided some (Numbers 11, Psalm 78:17-18). To protect the sanitary conditions of His people, God provided very specific instructions on which animals were okay to eat and how (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 12:15-27; chapter 14). But it is clear from Genesis 1 that eating meat was not God's original intention, "but from the beginning it has not been this way."

There are accounts in the Bible of God blessing some who choose to eat according to His design. Daniel 1 tells the story of some young men who are taken into captivity by the king for three years. The youths were to be fed the king's choice food and at the end of three years were to be evaluated for entering a life of service to the king. Daniel and his friends requested to eat a special diet unlike all the other youths - they asked the guard to feed them vegetables instead of the king's choice food. God blessed their obedience by making them strong and appear better than the other youths. Daniel and his friends were the ones chosen to enter the king's service.

Now, I want to address one of the questions I raised at the introduction of this blog series: But didn't Jesus eat fish?

Yes, He did. As described in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, Jesus fed fish and bread to the crowds, and we can only assume that He too ate this miraculously provided meal. Since we know that Jesus was the perfect, sinless substitute for each one of us, then we can clearly state the fact that eating fish is not a sin, because we know that Jesus did not sin. But it is not clear from Scripture, or Jesus' example that eating fish is the best thing for us to eat on a regular basis or how often He chose to eat meat. Perhaps Jesus knew that a little fish was okay to eat, or that in times of "starve or survive" fish was consumed, and that is why we see that in Scripture. The Bible is not clear about the specifics of Jesus' diet, so I can only speculate, as only can you. We personally speculate that Jesus and others living in that time period primarily ate a plant-based diet with meat only on special occasions. But no one can know for sure. But one thing is certain: there were no factory farms or excessive demands for animal products (meat and dairy) like there are in America today. So don't use Jesus eating some fish as a justification for you eating a diet stuffed with meat, dairy, fat, and processed sugars and foods. I guarantee you that Jesus did not eat like the present day American.

So what are some takeaways from our research?
1) God's original diet for us is plant-based. I think it's clear from Scripture that God's original design was for humans and animals to live in harmony and eat only a plant-based diet. When sin entered the world, things changed. Death, disease, and evil entered the world, which had an affect on so many things, including the human diet. We believe eating a plant-based diet or eating a meat-containing diet can both be obedient to God, assuming of course that you are not sinning in some other way by eating animal products (this is a hint to the topic of the next two posts).

2) Due to sin entering the world, we have the choice to eat meat. We do not think we are better than "meat-eaters" because we choose to eat a plant-based diet. Like I said above, after the Fall, God allows animals to be a source of food, and Jesus ate some fish, so it is not a sin to eat meat. We choose to avoid meat entirely because we personally feel convicted that it's the best way to honor our bodies, the value of animal life, and the planet He has given us; and this choice was relatively easy for us because we do not crave meat anymore. It's everyone's personal choice to make for themselves. We have made our choice, and present our reasons for that choice on this blog. You are free to disagree and choose differently, but we should each be respectful of one another's right to make that personal choice (i.e. you're free to start your own meat-loving blog). Now, here's an interesting verse: Romans 14:1-3, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 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." So are we "weak in faith" for eating "vegetables only"? Dr. Constable's (source) commentary said this regarding the "weak in faith" portion of the verse: "The weakness in faith to which this chapter refers is not weakness in basic Christian faith but weakness in assurance that one's faith permits one to do certain things..." Again, we agree that including meat in the diet is permissible Biblically, as seen in scripture only as a result of the fall of man, but that optimal health and striving for God’s original plan includes a plant-based diet.

3) Don't major on the minors. No matter what, the issue of food should not take away from the bigger issue as a believer, and that is the Good News of Jesus Christ. There are many passages in the Bible that describe how morally-neutral personal choices lead to disagreements and conflict between believers. These morally-neutral choices, such as eating and drinking (assuming gluttony is not involved), are the topic of the following verses:

Later on in Romans 14:13-23, Paul talks about not becoming a stumbling block to your brother or sister in Christ:

13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

This concept is repeated similarly in 1 Corinthians 8:

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

It's also important to note that food should not become a source of pride or legalism for anyone.

Colossians 2:16-23
16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

1 Timothy 4:1-10
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. 6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

So in summary, each person should decide for themselves what food they will eat and how they will nourish and take care of their bodies, but we must not let those personal choices take away from the main purpose of bringing glory to Jesus Christ. As a temple of the Holy Spirit, our most important task is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).

Next we will discuss how we can be good stewards of the animals God has created.

Next: Stewardship, Part 3: Animals

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