Nowhere in the Bible does God address a person’s body size as sinful or holy. Nowhere.
There isn’t a single verse dealing with BMI (Body Mass Index), thigh gap, pant size, or numbers on a scale.
“Whoa!” you may say. “What about the verses on gluttony?”
The idea of gluttony is never used in the context of someone’s weight or body type but refers to a life of immorality and over-indulgence. Gluttony is a heart problem, not a scale problem; it is spiritual, not physical.
Of course, gluttony in regards to eating and drinking can lead to being overweight, but we make a mistake when we assume being overweight is always the result of gluttony. There are reasons, outside of the sin of gluttony, that a person may struggle to maintain a lower weight or slimmer figure.
And for those who do not struggle with their weight, the Scriptures make it clear that does not mean you are guiltless concerning gluttony since people of all sizes can live immoral, lazy, and over-indulgent lives. A person’s weight tells you very little about their spiritual life.
Perhaps one of the best-known examples of gluttony is that of the prodigal son who took his inheritance from his father and squandered it in immorality and over-indulgence (reckless living). His poor choices left him coveting pig slop. I doubt he returned to his father obese, but he had definitely lived a gluttonous life.
Unfortunately, at least in modern times, the medical community, the Western culture, and even the Church often conflate being overweight with being a glutton as if these two things are synonymous, something Scripture never does.
Self-Control is a fruit of the Spirit, being thin is not.
Scriptures emphasize self-control, not a certain weight. Although self-control can be applied to what we eat and drink, it is not limited to that one category. Self-control is to be practiced in all areas of life.
Being thin doesn’t mean you’ve particularly mastered self-control. Being overweight doesn’t mean you particularly lack self-control. Being sinners means we all fall short concerning self-control.
Many pulpits have increasingly put the emphasis on being thin as opposed to practicing self-control. This makes a person’s physical appearance the sin as opposed to the practice of over-indulgence. There will be some sitting under that message who will experience illegitimate shame and some who should be convicted but will not know how the message applies to them.
Here’s the thing, when we call something a sin that God does not, we sin against God and place a burden on people God never meant them to carry.
The Pharisees Jesus encountered during His earthly life had added hundreds of man-made laws to God’s Word. They made things sinful that weren’t and sometimes their man-made laws were actually a stumbling block to true obedience.
In Mark 7, the Pharisees complained that some of Jesus’ disciples didn’t follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. Jesus rebuked them as hypocrites and quoted Isaiah,
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
Jesus goes on to show how the Pharisees often violated the Word of God in order to maintain their own traditions. For instance, God’s law says to honor your father and mother, but the Pharisees’ traditions gave people permission to ignore the needs of their parents.
When we add to God’s Word or subtract from it, we end up sinning and hurting others. We need to be careful we are not creating sin where there isn’t any or taking what God has called sin and making it a sin no longer.
It is a man-made idea that being overweight is a sin and being the right weight or underweight is somehow pious and holy. The Scriptures never address a person’s weight. Instead, God admonishes us against immorality and over-indulgence (gluttony) and exhorts us to self-control.
We need to put the emphasis where God does. Holiness isn’t about being a certain size, but about practicing self-control.
God doesn’t hate overweight bodies. He hates the sin in our hearts.
In Proverbs 6:16-19, Solomon gives us a list of things God hates. Guess what isn’t mentioned…overweight bodies.
In Ephesians 5:3-5, Paul gives us a list of sins that have no place among God’s people. Guess what isn’t mentioned…overweight bodies.
Galatians 5:19-21 lists the desires of our sinful nature. Guess what isn’t mentioned…being overweight.
God doesn’t hate overweight bodies and delight in thin ones. God hates sin. I’ve read several blogs on weight written by well-known Christians who fail to make the distinction between what God calls sin (immorality and over-indulgence) and what He doesn’t (body weights and types).
Christians have done something similar concerning unwed pregnancy. Although sex outside of marriage is a sin, God never calls a preborn child a sin regardless of how he or she is conceived. In Western culture today, and all too often in Christian culture, sex outside of marriage is regarded as the new norm, while becoming pregnant outside of marriage is shameful and to be avoided at all costs…even the cost of the preborn child’s life through abortion.
Similarly, a lack of self-control (which God has called a sin) is celebrated in our culture while being overweight (which God doesn’t address as sin) is harshly judged and condemned.
We should never bring shame where there is no sin and where there is sin we should speak the truth with love, gentleness, and patience. When it comes to our physical bodies, God doesn’t honor one size over another or one type over another. He’s concerned with our hearts.
Let’s keep the focus where God does: faithful obedience. As Christians, we should practice self-control and not just concerning the food we eat but in all of life. The goal should be to live a faithful, obedient life.
If we make being thin the goal, we may inadvertently encourage a distorted view of the body and the eating disorders and abuses that come with that distorted view. We may spur our brothers and sisters in Christ toward covetousness: having an ungrateful attitude regarding the body God has given them and coveting the body types seen as more desirable. In other words, like the Pharisees, we may actually prevent people from true obedience.
If a person is overweight due to overindulgence and a lack of self-control, then what needs to be rectified is the over-indulgence and what needs to be encouraged is the self-control. Shaming people for their looks accomplishes neither, and obeying God doesn’t mean we’ll end up with the ideal figure.
Inversely, there are people who are naturally very thin and are not practicing an eating disorder or abusing their bodies in any way, yet, they have also experienced false judgment. When they’ve tried to confide their own body image issues, they’ve been shut out of the conversation because they are too thin to understand.
Body image issues have less to do with the bodies we’ve been given and more to do with poor theology and misplaced identity. It’s incredibly sad when the Church participates in furthering broken, worldly ideas about the human body as if there are certain figures that are good and certain figures that are bad or certain body types that allow you access to the life of the Church and certain body types that exclude you.
Don’t forget, Jesus was accused of being gluttonous and a drunkard because he came eating and drinking. And John the Baptist was accused of having a demon because he didn’t come eating and drinking (Matthew 11:18-19). Without knowing someone and their story, without understanding their heart, it’s easy to misunderstand and falsely judge them.
Take care of yourself, but don’t over-spiritualize your body and health.
When we emphasize weight and health, which are physical realities, over self-control, which is a spiritual discipline, we unwittingly adopt a prosperity gospel: good Christians are thin and healthy and bad Christians are overweight and sick. Jesus doesn’t promise us that following Him will give us health, or wealth, or a perfect body (whatever perfect means).
There was a magazine featuring an overweight model in a swimsuit on its cover. Regardless of the ridiculous fact that we always have to strip women down to a swimsuit or less if we’re going to feature them in a story, I was saddened by the reaction of many to the cover image.
I saw Christians on social media lamenting that our society had become tolerant of overweight bodies and obesity. Unfortunately, if that same model had starved and abused herself into a tiny figure and posed in a bathing suit on the cover of a magazine, nothing about her health would have been questioned or criticized. I think this attitude shows that our concern isn’t with sin or with health, but with looks. So much for loving thy neighbor.
When we make our physical bodies the problem, the sin, then the temptation will be to alter our bodies, even going to extreme measures to do so, instead of dealing with our hearts. As far as I could tell on social media, there were a lot of Christians displaying pride, self-righteousness, mockery, impatience, rudeness, unkindness, and hatred, and while God never condemns bodyweights or types, He absolutely condemns those attitudes.
Exercise and diets can give us the false sense that we are actually in control of our health. Exercise is good; self-control is biblical, but fit people still have heart attacks. Eating well and taking your vitamins doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer or suffer an accident or face a disability.
Being thin doesn’t automatically mean you’re healthy and being overweight doesn’t mean you aren’t. Health is much more complicated than just being thin or being heavy. Our individual stories and the struggles and sufferings we each experience in this life cannot be adequately summed up with diet and exercise. It’s never that simple.
Caring for the physical body is a billion dollar industry. There are no shortages of diets, supplements, exercise plans, or equipment. Some diets even claim to be blessed by God or to ensure a blessing from God.
I’m thinking about writing a book called, The John the Baptist Diet Plan. On this plan, you only eat locusts and honey and practice a minimalist life out in nature. When you purchase the book, I’ll send you a free garment of camel hair to wear. I guarantee you’ll lose weight…and maybe a few friends, too.
Of course, I’m kidding.
My point is that God hasn’t given us many directives concerning what we eat, and just because someone in the Bible ate a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s the diet blessed by God.
There are health issues that may direct personal food choices. Fitness and career goals can also influence what a person does and doesn’t eat.
Michael Phelps, an Olympic swimmer, could consume somewhere around 12,000 calories in a day. That wasn’t gluttonous for him because he was burning as many calories as he was taking in. He needed all those calories to achieve his goals. But, for someone like me who doesn’t burn anywhere near that many calories a day, a 12,000 calorie diet would be gluttonous.
Food choices will also differ according to where we are from and the cultures we experience. Consider what works for you and your family and practice self-discipline.
In general, take in the calories you need for life and don’t over-indulge. It’s wise to consider the nutritional value of the calories you take in and make sure junk food doesn’t make up the bulk of those calories. Other than that, there’s actually a lot of freedom concerning food.
Practicing self-control doesn’t just mean not over-indulging, though. It also means not falling into the abuse of our bodies through excessive deprivation and exercise. When food is our master in either extreme, we are not living the Spirit-filled lives we’ve been called to (Luke 12:22-31).
As far as God’s blessings, they are secured for you in Christ’s finished work (Ephesians 1:3-14), not a certain number on the scale. It’s true that a life lacking self-control will be marked by chaos. Bringing your desires under submission to the Word of God will naturally result in greater order and peace. Actions have consequences, after all. But, whether or not you eat carbs doesn’t change God’s love for you, and neither does the size of your pants.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-16). Your weight struggles have no bearing on your worth or value. God can work His good purposes in you and through you today just the way you are.
If you have the ability to exercise but don’t, then add it to your life. If you need to adjust your relationship with food, do so, but don’t think your life as a Christian can’t begin until your body is a certain size.
Repent of any sin in your heart and embrace God’s forgiveness and mercy in Christ. Then, go out and live today to its fullest in faithfulness and obedience to God. Your worth, your value, and your place in this world and in the Kingdom of God are not dependent on your size, weight, or body type.
If you struggle to have a healthy relationship with food, your diet may not be your main battle. It may be that your primary battle is medical or emotional.
Eating disorders can be connected to certain illness such as autoimmune or post-infectious autoimmune encephalitis and can arise from traumatic experiences and past abuse. Over-indulging can be a sign of trying to meet an emotional need through food or some other pleasurable activity. Unexplained sudden weight gain or weight loss can be indicative of a health problem. If any of the above rings true for you, please seek out a counselor and/or physician you can talk with.
Here’s the truth, our bodies are wasting away (2 Corinthians 4:16). No matter how many miles we run or how much broccoli we eat this week, we’re still going to die one day. Take care of your body, practice self-control, exercise if you can, be mindful of the nutritional value of what you consume, but don’t over-spiritualize your weight or health. These bodies of ours are going to return to dust (Ecclesiastes 3:20) and one day Jesus is going to raise up for us new, glorious bodies (Philippians 3:20-21).
Prioritize what God prioritizes: the things of the heart. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
It’s of no use to hyper-focus on self-control to the exclusion of the other fruits of the Spirit. If your relationship with food and body weight means you do not experience joy or peace, that is not of God. If you harshly judge different body weights and body types so that you are not practicing love, patience, kindness, or gentleness towards other Christians, that is not of God.
The Christian life isn’t about being thin; it’s about being obedient and faithful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Take care of your body, but also trust God with it.