“The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth.” These two sentences, from John Piper’s book, A Hunger For God, are jolting. I don’t know about you, but I had to reread it several times to first see if I agreed with it, then a couple more times to realize and come to grips with the implications of its truth.
As you perhaps still contemplate whether or not you agree with him, let me add something clarifying to what he wrote; I would add this phrase to the end of this chapter: “The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts”—taken to an idolatrous place.
Take food, for example. On the one hand, food is clearly a good and kind gift of the Lord. The apostle Paul speaks forcefully against those, “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods” (1 Tim 4:3). Why? Because God created food, “to be received with thanksgiving…For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4). Other passages of the Bible could be looked to as well to defend the statement that food is not inherently evil and, even more, is to be seen as a blessing from God.
On the other hand, food (a good gift of God) can become an idol. Take the Israelites as an example (as 1 Corinthians 10:6 tells us to do). Here they are, fresh off of an incredible deliverance from Egypt (filled with many astounding miracles), and what do we find them doing? Grumbling. We read in Exodus 16:2:
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
Amazingly, God provides Israel with bread from heaven—providing their daily needs in such a manner that they ought to have had yet more confidence that the Lord Himself would sustain them through the wilderness. This foreshadows the lesson that Jesus applied to the Devil’s temptation that Jesus turn the stone into bread, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
But Israel didn’t see this. In fact, we read in Number 11 that things get worse. In verse one there’s more complaining. This is followed in verses two and three by a fire breaking out in some outlying parts of the camp as God’s judgment against the people. In spite of this, we read in verses four through six:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.
Get ready for some sarcasm here: Sure, I bet you had lots of amazing food as slaves to the Egyptians!
Israel certainly had more variety than only Manna in Egypt, I’ll grant them that, but they clearly exaggerate things here. Why is that? Because they have made an idol of food (among other things). As the Psalmist comments about Israel at this time, “They had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert” (Ps. 106:14).
Israel, in spite of all that God done and shown about Himself, rejects God. They love their food more than God. And they suffered for it (take time to read Numbers 11 if you forget the details). Memorably, God “satisfies” their idolatry:
You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?” (Numbers 11:19-20).
This should be a powerful lesson for us, beloved. Food is a good gift from the Lord. But it is never meant to substitute for God. None of God’s many good gifts are to replace Him. In fact, any gift given from God should bring us to the Giver himself. He is to be the One we find our ultimate Joy in; He is the One who we trust in and rely on. Bread is good, but God is infinitely better!
If you are struggling with food crossing into an idolatrous place in your life (which is easy to do in our culture which loves its food—ex. Food Network Channel), please consider fasting. Say no to food (or your favorite foods) for a meal or two—or for a whole day—in order to say to God (and to yourself for that matter): God, I need you and want you more than food itself
You know, there’s a reason we “give thanks” before we sit down to an enjoyable meal. Yes, we do so thankful for God’s provision. But even more, we do so to express thanks to God for giving another reminder of how He is our sustenance. So much more than food, God satisfies. We as Christians ought to know this especially through what we’ve been given in Jesus, the “Bread of life.”
Have you have nibbled long at the table of the world? Is your soul stuffed with small things such that there is no room for the great? God did not create you for this. If you are a Christian, there is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. John 6:47-51
I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with a simple fast: This much, O God, I want You
Hungering for more,