Scripture Text: 1 Timothy 6:6-19
What’s on your plate these days? Chances are your first response to that question had little to do with food and more to do with how full your calendar and “to do” list are. It’s amazing how Americans have become so obsessed with food that we even envision our lives as a dinner plate! What we seem less obsessed with, however, is what we put on our dinner plates in the first place.
Despite an epidemic of obesity and numerous warnings that our plates are full of harmful foods, Americans still tend to consume what’s bad for them. In fact, our frenetically busy lifestyles might be the precise reason we tend to eat the worst kinds of foods – those that are fast, cheap and easy. Flip through those health magazines at the doctor’s office while you’re waiting to find out what’s making your stomach churn, and you’re likely to find a list of foods that are making you sick in the first place.
Everywhere we look, warnings describe our unhealthy eating habits. Look up “harmful foods” on your search engine, for example, and you’re going to get a belly full of information about stuff you probably have in your pantry right now or that you were thinking about grabbing at the local Casey’s or 7-Eleven on your way to or from work.
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen the Probiotic America ad that screams: “4 Foods that are Absolutely Harmful to Your Health. New research says ingesting these 4 foods will take years off our lives! The scary thing is, 70% of Americans will have at least one of them in their kitchen right now!” If you actually click on the link, you’re subjected to a lengthy infomercial and you don’t learn what those four foods are until about 23 minutes into the video.
Don’t worry, because I’m going to tell you what they are right now: Azodicarbonamide, a whitening agent used in flour, Diet soda (“shocking new studies” . . . etc.), Coffee (mostly the sugar we put in coffee), Alcohol (affected by gut yeast). Are you afflicted with brain fog, body fatigue or a “leaky gut” (whatever that might be)? According to Probiotic America, at least one of these four items is responsible.
Other sources have different kinds of killer foods on their lists, but one of the common characteristics of all harmful foods is that they are “rich” in ingredients that contribute to a high calorie count. Here are some of the main culprits: sugar, “diet” products, processed foods and fried foods. There’s a reason we call these “junk” foods. They contribute nothing good to our overall health and well-being and, instead, make us feel like . . . junk. Even worse, because they promise great taste and pleasure, we gorge ourselves on them, never being content with enough.
So, what’s the alternative? How can we fill up our plates, both the culinary and the spiritual, in ways that make us rich in health and vitality? In writing to his young protégé Timothy, the apostle Paul outlines a strategy for getting rid of the over-enriched junk in our lives and, instead, becoming rich in the good things that matter.
In chapter 6, Paul warns Timothy of those who think that “godliness” is a means of material gain (v. 5). In Paul’s Jewish world, many believed that serving God would lead to financial wealth. Thus, they pointed to their good works in expectation of a blessing. We might think of it as an early version of the “health and wealth” gospel where one just “names and claims” wealth as a blessing from God. For Paul, however, this is the first-century equivalent of a diet can of soda or a processed bag of chips.
It looks and tastes rich, but it’s a diet full of empty calories.
Instead, Paul says, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (vv. 6-8). Paul argues for what we might call a diet of “enough-ness,” or that feeling of being full of enough of the right things that we don’t crave the wrong ones. Just as “rich” food can be harmful to the body, so too the pursuit of material riches can be harmful to the soul. In fact, Paul offers up his own list of four harmful things that people can consume that will “plunge” them into “ruin and destruction” and “pierce” them with “many pains” (v. 9-10).
Here are the four harmful “foods” that will absolutely destroy your spiritual life!
Discontent (v. 6): Just as excess sugar is the basis of a lot of those harmful foods we consume, so too does discontent permeate a life that is bent on overconsumption. We seem always to want what we cannot have instead of wanting what we already have. Paul argues that contentment is a key to health, that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. Contentment is recognizing that we are dependent on God’s provision (“our daily bread” as Jesus puts it). It’s not something we earn, but is rather a gift from God. When we are content with what we have, our appetites tend to be satiated and we can easily bypass the junk.
Harmful desires (v. 9): The pursuit of riches can cause people to fall into temptation and leave them “trapped by many senseless and harmful desires.” Junk food can be addicting and junk riches can lead us to fill up on the empty promise that material gain will make us happier. Many are those who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit
of money only to find that, in the end, they were poorer for it.
Love of money (v. 10): The old saying that “money is the root of all evil” isn’t actually what Paul says here. It’s not money itself that’s the problem, just like fat and sugar themselves aren’t the real problems in our diets. We actually need them to live, just like we need money. But we need them in moderation and we need them in perspective. When we crave money instead of merely building it into a healthy lifestyle, we’re bound to make ourselves fat with it. Jesus warned us what would happen if we did so (Luke 12:16-21).
Eagerness to be rich (v. 10): When we’re eager to fatten up on riches, we can become envious of those who have more than we do. The more we pursue a lifestyle beyond our means as a way of keeping up – putting our faith in money to make us happy – the more likely we are to wander away from the faith that actually sustains us.
Paul tells Timothy to avoid these things like we should avoid the junk food aisle in the grocery store. Instead, we should go for the things that have a high value in spiritual nutrition: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (v. 11). These are things you can consume and share as much as you want! In fact, says Paul, these things come to us unprocessed and straight from the source – from “God who gives life to all things” (v. 13) and from Jesus, who will bring about the fullness of his kingdom on earth “at the right time” (v. 15).
Because God supplies what we need, Paul encourages Timothy to put those in his congregation who are wealthy on a real diet where they can see their riches as a tool to be used by God. They should adjust their consumption. They should choose good spiritual food over junk spiritual food – and so should we. We do this in three ways.
We need to …
1) Set our hopes on God and not on our riches (v. 17): Junk food doesn’t ultimately make us happy or healthy, and neither does an accumulation of junk bonds, for example. Only God – the One who “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” – can make us happy and content.
2) Be rich in good works (v. 18): A diet only works if there is good food to replace the bad. Paul urges people not to be known by the size of their bank accounts. Instead, they should be rich in the amount of good they do for others. Putting money to work for others provides good, nutritious fuel for the soul, burning off the excess fat and making others healthy in body, mind and spirit.
3) Be generous and ready to share (v. 18): When we share with others, we “store up the treasure of a good foundation for the future.” Jesus called it “treasure in heaven,” or that which puts us in line with the way of God’s kingdom. A good spiritual diet will lead us to less consumption and more distribution so that others may come to know Christ and experience real, eternal life and health.
A full plate can either be a good thing or a bad thing. It just depends on what fills it up! An old adage says: “You are what you eat.” Are you fast, cheap and easy? Or are you taking the time and care to eat right, spend right and share right? Are you gorging on junk food from your pantry and your bank account, or are you filling your plate (both culinary and spiritual) with good food, and using your time and money wisely in the service of others? What’s on your plate?