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 they think 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?
Self-Examination - 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. 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 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. 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's 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 showing love by not judging 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,
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 added are mine.)