Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 1 Timothy 4
How do you tell you’re in the end times? As Paul tells us, in the last days men will come telling you you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that, and you can’t get married.
That’s right, kids: the Spirit has revealed that we can expect the final stages of apostasy to include unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on our freedoms. And we’re not talking about a corrupt godless government enforcing mandatory atheism–these rules are imposed from within the church! Paul warns Timothy of “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” (3). Interestingly, Paul himself might be misread as forbidding marriage in 1 Corinthians 7; his attitude is, in essence, “Staying single to focus on ministry is great if you can swing it.” But he considers marriage an acceptable choice and a relationship in which God can work if the two parties remain committed to the relationship. And that’s a far cry from discouraging it in all cases or banning it outright, which is what Paul says we can expect from misled believers as we approach God’s cosmic endgame.
When it comes to food, Paul similarly argues for minimal restrictions. He explains, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude” (4). I expect that he’s particularly got the Jewish dietary laws in mind here, given how often he’s had to deal with people saying that Christians have to keep Jewish Law in order to be saved. The dietary laws were a symbol of holiness specifically for the Israelites as God’s chosen people; now that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law perfectly, essentially acting as the ideal Israel where Israel themselves could not, pork and shrimp are back on the menu.
I’m reminded of the scene in Acts 10 where Peter repeatedly has visions in which God invites him to eat all kinds of animals designated in the Torah as “unclean.” Meeting the converted Roman centurion Cornelius, Peter interprets his visions as a sign that God admits Gentiles as well as Jews into the body of Christ, but it appears that Peter’s dream was literally true as well. Paul’s principle here is to eat with gratitude, much like his teaching on meat sacrificed to idols. The principle also calls to mind Jesus’ teaching on what defiles a man in Mark 7:14-23: it’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but what comes out of your mouth. Use your words to express thankfulness and build up others.
So, here’s the bottom line: thank God and eat with a clean conscience. Don’t let others restrict your freedom in Christ with arbitrary rules about what foods can and can’t go into your mouth.
Paul’s also got a few words to say on discipline, and you know I’m all about discipline. And as a word of warning to workout junkies, he notes: “[B]odily 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” (8). I try to get in a little fitness every day, even if it’s just push-ups or pull-ups, but it’s possible to overdo it, just as it’s possible to…er, under-do it. It’s not my place to judge the Homestar Runner’s salvation, but I urge you to consider whether he is leading you astray when he tells you to “work out twice a day.” Practice spiritual discipline–and practice bodily discipline insofar as it’s a part of healthy spirituality.
As a final note, I’ve observed that throughout the letter, Paul has at times used variations of the phrase “It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance” (4:9). He employs it in chapter 3 to underscore that it’s good to aspire to the position of overseer (3:1). And in the earliest portion of the letter, he uses it to present the credal conviction “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15). And here in chapter four, the “trustworthy statement” appears to be that godly discipline benefits us on both sides of the grave. I’m not sure if there’s some common thread of meaning here, or if Paul intends to call Timothy’s attention to some connection between salvation, church leadership positions, and the benefits of spiritual discipline. Perhaps he’ll use it again before end of the letter and shed some light on my speculations, or perhaps we’ll see it again in his second letter to Timothy.
Time will tell. See you crew on Sunday with a chocolate review, and on Monday with more of Paul’s words to Timothy.