March 3, 2015

Kale and the Kingdom

by Lyndon Unger

A while ago I was reading Matthew 6:25-34 with my wife and we were discussing the passage while wrapping up our night.  As my wife has been growing in her experience with walking through a passage, tracing an argument and noticing important components, she made a some good observations that ended up in some light bulbs going on for both of us.  Here are some observations that came out of our discussion:

1.  The “therefore” points back to 6:19-23, which discusses money.  In 6:19-21 Jesus warns his audience against pursuing earthly treasure and admonishes them to pursue heavenly treasure (in other words, chase righteousness instead of riches).  In 6:22-23 Jesus warns his audience about the dangers of covetousness, and in 6:24 Jesus drops the hammer on his audience and informs them that people who live for money cannot live for God; it’s one or the other.

two-choices-300x202

So, when Jesus says “therefore I tell you…”, the instruction that follows is not occurring in a vacuum.  Jesus talks about two contrary ways of living involving money, and now he continues on along that same track with a different topic.

2.  Matthew 6:25-34 starts with “do not be anxious about your life”, which is a command.  It’s so easy to pretend that a command is a recommendation or an “in an ideal world you should…” kind of statement, but a command is something that must be done.  Also, the command assumes that people are not doing something that they should.  It’s not a club for the obedient to use against the disobedient, but it is something that is not open to negotiation.

negotiation

3.  The passage isn’t talking about having any clothes at all; it’s rather talking about pursuing clothes for the sake of beautiful adornment.  Notice the contrast between the lilies of the field and King Solomon “in all his glory”?  The thrust there isn’t just daily provision (though that was certainly a larger part of the application for the original audience than it is for us), but it’s also one of beauty/fashion.  I’d dare suggest that Christ isn’t issuing a warning to people to refrain from getting anxious over the possibility of some sort of poverty-induced-nudity.  The idea seems to be something a little higher than that; chasing after clothes as an means to an end (i.e. pursuing fashion in order to gain specific social benefits).  Also, the idea of “seek first the kingdom”, when contrasted with the idea of seeking clothes, gives the impression of an orientation of lifestyle.

Closet

4.  Likewise, the passage isn’t talking just about having enough food to eat (although it does include that); it’s also talking about pursuing food in the form of wealth/security.  Notice how the contrast is between birds of the air and the one who sows, reaps and stores thinking that he can “add a single hour to his span of life”.  The idea of sowing and reaping and having barns isn’t one of struggling to get your next meal, is it?  Not at all.  The person who stores up their food in barns does to to use or sell it in the future.  I’d dare suggest that I’ve generally thought of this passage as talking about some sort of “city under siege” sort of starvation due to extreme circumstances.  In other words, “don’t worry about where your food will come from when you seem to have none; God will take care of you”.  After studying it a little more and thinking about it, I don’t think that’s what Jesus was getting at.  It’s not that God doesn’t promise to provide needs in time of want, but I’m just not convinced that this passage is addressing that issue.

I’d suggest it’s more about an orientation of life that places one’s security in health rather than an imperative regarding extreme circumstances.

Fitness

5.  Notice how in vs. 32, the contrast is between the Gentiles and Christ’s audience.  Jesus says “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”  I’d dare suggest that Jesus isn’t saying “don’t be like the pagans who labor and toil to eat and be clothed; refrain from laboring and toiling for those things and let God provide those things!”  It may also seem obvious, but Jesus also isn’t saying that the way to properly attain the things of the world is by some sort of “kingdom mindedness”, as if once you stop pursuing food and fashion then God will finally give them to you.  That idea has crept into the church all over the place; the secret to getting what you want is by tricking God into thinking you don’t actually want it so that God knows he can trust you with it.  People aren’t that crass about the idea, but I’ve encountered a much more subtle version of that concept many times.

Rather than those two ideas, Jesus is warning his audience about the dangers of seeking after food and fashion in the same manner as the Gentiles. The Gentiles are consumed by them and live like attaining those things are the goal of successful life.  Their lives are oriented around them.  They place their personal value in their beauty and their security in their health/riches, but all those things will disappear given sufficient time.  Again, I’d suggest this is talking more about an orientation of life than extreme circumstances.

50 cent cars

6.  This passage is far more applicable to us than we realize.

For example, the passage attacks the Christian phenomenon of culinary gnosticism.

What is “culinary gnosticism?”

Well, culinary gnosticism is an umbrella term I’ve coined that describes the mentality behind all the health & diet fads that penetrate and divide the church.

Culinary Gnosticism is when a Christian thinks they’ve uncovered some secret knowledge regarding health or diet, shares it with their believing friends, and then divides their believing friends into spiritual categories based on their response.  For example, if someone somehow discovers a secret “miracle diet” in the Bible and then shares that diet with everyone at church but end up associating with proponents of that diet while condemning critics with some sort of attitude or label reflecting spiritual immaturity or impoverishment, they’re a culinary gnostic.

Our society is consumed with health, dieting, and extending our lifespans by a decade or two (or three at best).  In evangelical churches, dietary fads and food-worship is equally as bad as it is outside the church.  Some of most heated discussions I’ve ever had in church have been with people I know regarding issues of health or diet.  Christians, just like non-Christians, are suckers for pesudo-science and far too many hop on every single nonsense or barking mad healthfad bandwagon that rolls through town.

I’m not talking about buying whatever gym Chuck Norris endorses or living a disciplined life that involves diet and exercise.  It’s one thing to simply be healthy and live an active lifestyle, but I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about believers who look down on other believers because of what they eat or don’t eat.  I’ve been mocked and had received rather negative spiritual judgments, as have many folks I know, simply because we don’t follow someone’s personal revelation regarding the food pyramid.

rawveganpyramid

The more I reflect on Matthew 6, the more I am becoming convicted that many of us have completely missed the contemporary application of the passage.  Too many attitudes of professing believers towards food and clothing (and all the other trivial things that we pursue in life) are indistinguishable from the attitudes of the world.  Too many of us eat and dress as if this world is all there is and treat those who disagree as if they’ve missed out on the secret knowledge handed down from the Lord himself.

Too many believers treat people who hate kale as if they hate Christ.

The very attitudes that many attempt to enforce with judgement and shame are the attitudes that Christ will condemn as “disobedience”.  The very idea that anyone in the Church uses a standard of food or fashion to judge the spirituality of their brothers and sisters is shameful.  That wicked standard will be the standard used to condemn many when they stand before the Lord.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:17.

Now anticipating a common objection, some folks out there will start talking about 1 Corinthians 6:19 and pull out the whole “your body is a temple” line with any number of silly logical arguments like “if you wouldn’t smash the windows in church, why would you smash your immune system with (insert “bad” food)?”.

Windows

1 Cor. 6:19 is set in the context of 6:12-20, and that’s talking specifically and exclusively about sexual immorality.  Exegetical points established on analogies forced outside their context reveals bad exegesis.  Stable theology is built from passages that directly address the question at hand, not stretched illustrations.

Folks, remember that (like it or not) as a believer, you are intimately connected to the other believers in your life:

– “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” – Romans 12:4-5

Pursue unity with one another and love your fellow believers, even when they don’t follow your food pyramid.

Beyond that, if we had kingdom-oriented priorities, our food pyramids might look a tad different:

 

food-pyramid2

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
  • MR

    Thank you for this. I’ve been on the pointy end of that nose too. In all seriousness, thanks. I’ve never thought of that text in any other way than the extreme circumstances.

    • Lyndon Unger

      You’re welcome! I’m glad to be helping push people to contemplate the scriptures more and possibly make them a little more applicable to “life right now”.

  • Johnny

    Are there shades of “cullinary gnosticism” when pastors jump on the pro/anti-vaxx bandwagon?

    • Lyndon Unger

      There can certainly be, sure.

      The problem isn’t so much having an opinion on things. The problem isn’t even having an firm opinion. The problem comes when one’s position on an issue of health/diet becomes a litmus test for measuring someone’s maturity as a believer/faithfulness to Christ and Scripture.

  • Linda Rice

    Lyndon, thank you, and I really enjoyed your punch-image(line).
    First, I hadn’t thought of excess but of extremes.
    Second, for years I’ve had a problem with the interpretation of Matt. 6:33 as if it is an if-then conditional promise. If you seek the kingdom then God will provide. Doesn’t that contradict all that goes before it about a loving Father who provides for His children? It seems to me that the Father promises to provide, so there is no need to worry, and having no need to worry we can focus undistractly on His agenda, resting (trusting) on His provision to be given while we’re busy about the kingdom (including working for our daily bread). If this contradicts your explanation, that is not my intention. I’ll think about what you’ve written, as it is new to me.
    Third, “cullinary gnosticism.” I’m so glad someone is writing on this! I meet it constantly among women. With more of them even explaining sinful behaviors of children and husband in terms of gluten intake, and essential oils being “mood balancing” that will calm your children if you rub it on their skin, I’ve begun calling foods the Christian “respectable psychotropic.” But I also like the nuances inherent in “culinary gnosticism.”

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for your thoughts Linda.

      I may be wrong, and I’m definitely wrong more often than I would like to advertise, but a rather large problem occurs when we see an equation of:

      Seek first the kingdom + seek God’s righteousness = God will give you all the things you want or normally labor for.

      If we get the things we want, it becomes a magik formula to manipulate God.

      If we get the things we normally labor for, then God becomes completely unnecessary for those things since the unregenerate world gets them equally as much as believers do, but without the “kingdom mindedness” element.

      Verse 34 seems to indicate a worry for the future, and one needs to ask the question of what food and fashion and finances have with the future. I’d suggest that the point isn’t seeking food, fashion or finances, but rather seeking the benefits of those things (i.e. health, longevity, prestige, security, etc.).

      The only way to truly attain those things is by seeking the kingdom because the only place to truly acquire those things is in the kingdom.

      And when I say “kingdom”, I mean “the coming kingdom”, not the “spiritual kingdom”. The promise is almost exclusively for the future rather than the present.

      As for the culinary gnosticism, it’s getting insane. My wife gets so much pressure from some people to follow “every wind of doctrine” regarding dieting and “alternative medicine” and whatnot, and each person openly judges her when she doesn’t hop on their bandwagon.

      I use the term “culinary gnosticism” because it carries the subtle insinuation of false religion…which is what this kind of crazy fascination with food can quickly become.

  • Still Waters

    This article is greatly appreciated! I went and worked in a developing country for over a year, a place where one had to sift weevils out of the flour before baking one’s own bread (the village bread had a lot of gritty bits). I returned to find all my friends and family buzzing about the “gluten-free diet” and how it was the last word in solving all those pesky health problems. Talk about culture shock. Now some of those gluten free friends have moved to the “paleo diet”, and although I hold my tongue, I want so much to advise a try at the “local-staple-cooked-over-open-fire-with-water-hand-drawn-from-the-well-with-meat-fresh-slaughtered-from-that-goat-carcass-hanging-on-the-wall-over-there diet” – I found it had wonderful purgative effects.

    • Lyndon Unger

      No kidding! Wow!

  • Lyndon – Very pleased. It is good that you are going through these things with your wife.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks Michael! We talk about everything, including the crazy and weird!

  • wiseopinion

    I really appreciate this. After having a discussion about Rick Warren’s Daniel Diet with a dear sister in Christ (I told her the only weight she would lose would be the weight of her wallet, while Rick’s would be fatter and fatter) this is so timely. I freely admit I do not like Kale and I really dislike Quinoa, no matter how many ways you can make it. I don’t look down on people who like Quinoa and I wish they wouldn’t look down on me because I don’t.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Yeah. It’s so strange that Christian churches have spiritual division over such blatantly absurd issues like what you eat.

    • Barbara

      Yeah, thanks for being so brave to post your thoughts about quinoa.. I too am tired of being judged for not liking that stuff! I don’t look down on you! :0)

  • Marla Beale

    Thanks Lyndon. I get a little weary of people who are professing Christians and all they talk about (or post online) is how this food is going to kill us, that food is awful, etc., etc., (and general superiority comes with it). I think your last pyramid says it all. The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking!

    • Lyndon Unger

      Amen. Pass the Doritos.

  • Barbara

    It’s been six days, and I see there’s been well rounded responses, but I wanted to add that the rampage of culinary Gnosticism finds it’s favorite victims in those with chronic illnesses. Somehow going gluten free will now cure all my pain and illnesses, and some essential oils rubbed on my skin will only make things better with my health. If I only would pursue those super healthy shakes, hey, I wouldn’t need “all those terrible pills” A four paragraph e mail from another”concerned Christian brother“ informed me, or getting off of dairy..Most of these folks walk away with the notion that I just don’t care about being my BEST for God, that I’m not taking care of my temple, and that I am the “weaker” brethren. Poor hermeneutics leads to strange ideas. The saddest part? While others are constantly portraying these worldly benefits, we’ve given up trying to find fellowship with them, it’s overly tiring to accommodate all these self imposed food rules, but to folks who won’t have a heart attack about lasagna, garlic bread and Nona’s awesome meatballs, well.. we have a lot of fun with them! Your blog post says so much about good exegesis, and how scriptures apply to us now, today, for everyone in His Body.