I. Love. Bacon. Seriously. Other words I use for it are “meat candy” and “crispy fried yum.” I cannot remember any time in the past when I have not loved bacon. I would say that my brain was hard-wired to simply love bacon. And, there is some medical evidence that pretty much points out that our brains really love bacon. So, why can’t I eat as much bacon as I want?
Anyone who has any knowledge of dietary and nutritional health can give you a pretty solid answer. Words like “obesity,” “cholesterol” and “sodium” play into what is unhealthy, physically, about unrestrained consumption of cured pork products. But I think if you look around our culture here in the U.S., even with the easy access to such health studies, these warnings are generally unheeded. Why is that?
I can do what I want
If it’s not hurting you, what do you care how much bacon I eat? It’s my body; I can do what I want. You would be correct in saying that. From the perspective of simple freedom, there is nothing wrong with eating bacon unrestrained. At the risk of hyper-spiritualizing things, under the New Covenant law of grace and mercy, we are free from legal condemnation in eating as much bacon as we want.
First Corinthians 6 comes to mind. Paul was specifically addressing certain ethics and moral issues that were contextual to the city of Corinth. In a city with a very strong cult for Aphrodite, human sexuality was very licentious. Many of the Christian converts gathering in the Corinthian communities of believers would have come from this worldview and would have found great freedom within the New Covenant law of grace. Paul even quotes them in his letter using the excuse, “I have the right to do anything.” And Paul doesn’t dispute this. He does give a two-fold response, though.
First, he says to ask, “Is it beneficial?” Is eating bacon good for you? In limited quantities, I think science would agree it is. And Paul isn’t exactly saying it is bad, morally, to eat pork. But there is a problem with excess. In Paul’s discussions on sexuality with the Corinthian church, he doesn’t deny that Christians can have sex. But there are boundaries to avoid excess. Upon becoming a new creation, our physical body is not exactly our physical body any more. By eating as much bacon as I want with my individual physical body, am I giving a good representation of Christ?
Beyond that individualistic view, there’s a subtlety that Paul puts in here. It’s very curious that the 1 Cor. 6:19 is almost word-for-word, in the English, 1 Cor. 3:16. But in the Greek, the chapter 6 passage deals with the individual “you,” and the chapter 3 passage is a corporate “you.” In other words, for Paul, when it comes to the physical body, the actions of the individual person play a part, corporately, for the whole body of believers. If I eat bacon unrestricted, I have to ask myself what it does to the whole body of believers. If there are serious concerns as to the impact of my actions, then perhaps I need to reexamine my bacon consumption.
The second part of Paul’s response has to do with who is in control. If you pull in the Amplified Bible version, you get the following:
Everything is lawful for me, but I will not become the slave of anything or be brought under its power. — 1 Cor. 6:12b
Again, Paul is not disputing that the sexual behavior he is speaking about is lawful. Under the New Covenant of grace and mercy, there is no law about it any more. So, for me, again, unrestrained bacon consumption is just fine. BUT, Paul makes a very important note in this section concerning who is the master.
The simplest Christian confession of faith is, as Bruxy Cavey puts it, Jesus is Lord. Everything else takes secondary status in light of that confession. So, the question that Paul is putting forward in his second response to “everything is allowed” is, “Is it mastering you?” When I eat bacon, am I truly in control of my appetite? Or does my appetite control me? If God would require me to not eat bacon (like if I was called into missions in an Islamic state), would I be able to? If not, I would be in violation of that simple Christian confession because I would have to say, “Jesus is Lord . . . except when bacon is involved.” If my appetite controls me, then perhaps I need to reexamine my bacon consumption.
Bacon was made for eating and I was made for eating bacon
Another argument people use is that, human beings have many parts of our digestive system that were specifically designed for digesting animal fats and meat proteins. And, as alluded to above, even our brain chemistry seems to be wired to find pleasure in the consumption of bacon. So, to paraphrase that part of 1 Corinthians 6, “Bacon was made for the human body to consume it and the human body was made to consume bacon — and it’s all going to go away anyways, so why worry?”
Wrapped up in this statement is a view that what is done with the physical body doesn’t have eternal significance. But Paul points out that this isn’t the case. Because Jesus, himself, was a human “in the flesh” and was resurrected “in the flesh,” this means that the “flesh” body is actually as important as the spiritual body. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t into some sort of super-spiritual being; he ate and drank with his disciples to prove that his body was back.
When people look at us and look at what we do with our physical bodies, either as individuals or in the context of community, they need to be able to see Jesus, not just more physical bodies acting like the rest of the world.
Our identity, individually and corporately, needs to be tied to our identification in Jesus, not our “fleshly” appetites. We need to consider ourselves as those extensions of Jesus’ body in everything we do, whether it is sex like Paul was addressing or my own appetite for bacon.
Whatever we do with our bodies needs to be done in a way that gives honor to Jesus. Paul is not trying to create a new law code in the style of Moses. Instead, he is giving a way of framing out our physical lives through the eternal Kingdom. Our bodies are for the Kingdom and for doing Kingdom work. Our appetites in those bodies should no longer be in control. There is only one Lord.
We must consider how all our actions impact our mission as the people of God. Is it beneficial to us, individually, and our ability to carry out that mission? Is it beneficial to us, corporately, and the mission of the larger body? Or are we succumbing to our appetites and passions in a way that detracts from our primary identity as members of Christ’s body? These are where we wrestle, where we discern, and where we travel together in our individual walks and in our walks as the church.
Ultimately, we need to remember:
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. — 1 Cor. 6:19b-20
Robert Martin blogs thoughts, reflections and stories regarding theology and the Christian walk at The Abnormal Anabaptist, where a version of this post originally appeared.
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