“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”– and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. (1 Corinthians 6:12-14, RSV)
What’s your favorite flavor? For millions of Americans the answer to that question is “chocolate,” although many of those millions make noises of regret, as though they wish it weren’t true. Chocolate is pictured as holding influence over some peoples’ lives on a par with powerful drugs, like cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. We sometimes hear people refer to themselves as “chocoholics.” Chocolate is a frequently cited culprit where weight problems exist. It isn’t too unusual to hear of someone who’s trying to lose weight breaking their diet by going on a chocolate binge.
Personally, I grew up on chocolate. It was without doubt my favorite flavor, consumed with great regularity as chocolate milk, chocolate pudding and pies whenever I could get them, chocolate cake and candies whenever they were to be had, and chocolate ice cream and milkshakes as the only possible flavor choice. Though my consumption of brown sweets diminished during my teens, I didn’t really get weaned off of chocolate until I went to college. Then, for some reason, I lost interest in chocolate almost totally. Now, once or twice a year, I may get an appetite for something chocolate, but a small helping will suffice, and then I have no further interest for months.
A Brief Lesson in Horticulture:
Cocoa (“bitter”) is a native American plant, carried back to Spain in the early 16th century. It was brewed into a beverage with vanilla and other spices. Sugar was added in Europe, and in the early 18th century milk solids were added to produce milk chocolate. Cocoa grows on trees throughout the year, producing seeds in elongated cantaloupe shaped fruit, with lots of pulp. The fruit must be harvested, cut open, and fermented for several days. Then the seeds are removed, cleaned, dried, ground (ground dry seeds become chocolate liquor), and pressed (into cocoa & cocoa butter). Chocolate (“sour water”) is cocoa with the fat intact (cocoa butter-fat-makes up 50% of the unrefined cocoa bean) or with extra fat added. Cocoa grows only in the tropics, within 20 degrees of the equator. The annual cocoa crop is about 3,000,000,000 lbs. Each 25 ft. tree produces about 6,000 blossoms/year, resulting in 20-40 fruits, 6″ to 14″ long, with 20-40 seeds per fruit, and a cocoa yield of 1-2 lbs per tree. Worldwide about 9,000,000 acres are used to grow cocoa with a yield of about 350 lbs/acre. Remember, this is cocoa, not chocolate products. U.S. consumption is about 30% of the world total of cocoa. The U.S. plus 4 other countries consume 80% of the total crop, and the U.S. plus 9 other countries consume 95% of the total worldwide cocoa crop. That is, counting the U.S., just five countries consume 80% of all the cocoa grown, and just ten countries consume 95% of the crop.
All for what? An indulgence. It isn’t that cocoa has no food value, it does, but that has nothing to do with its consumption. People don’t eat chocolate to round out their intake of protein or carbohydrates. They eat it because they like it, and that’s the only reason. I like it myself. Now and then I like a chocolate ice cream cone, made with good smooth chocolate: creamy, not too bitter, not too sweet, not too hard. A good chocolate cone is really a wonderful product. The only reason I would eat one of those cones though, is because it sounds good, because I have an appetite for it. I wouldn’t think to myself, “hmmm, I need a little extra protein and some fat today, maybe a few carbohydrates; better go get a chocolate cone.” When I eat that chocolate cone, I recognize it for what it is, an indulgence; a splurge. And by the way, I don’t get two scoops, I just get one, because for me, two scoops of chocolate is overindulgence, too much of a good thing, and the second half is no longer enjoyable.
Now you know, when I was a kid, I didn’t understand this idea of chocolate being an indulgence rather than a necessity. It has been said of me that I “had to have my chocolate,” and that was pretty much true. It was an indulgence then too, but it didn’t seem that way to me. The only way my day started right, and ended right, was by having my lukewarm glass of Mom’s chocolate milk when I got up and when I went to bed. I felt that I needed what was really a luxury and a privilege. I’m glad that as time went on I learned the difference between a want and a need, at least in the subject area of chocolate. That’s important to learn, the differences between what we need and what we want, what’s good for us and what isn’t, and we don’t always learn it in a painless process of maturing. Sometimes we have to have difficult experiences. Sometimes others have to impose restraints on us.
Now really, that’s what God’s laws are all about. They’re to inform us of the difference between needs and indulgences, what’s good for us and what isn’t, and to help us form appetites that don’t overindulge in the wrong things, lying to ourselves about the value of what we consume. Several scriptures speak of this idea of God’s revelation informing us and shaping our appetite so that we don’t lose control and harm ourselves by overindulgence in things that are not good for us.
Rom. 7:7-12… Isn’t it a curious thing about the human appetite that for many people, the idea that chocolate is not good for them makes it all the more appealing, creates a stronger draw, while the idea that certain fruits or vegetables with their own wonderful flavors are healthy foods makes them unappealing? There is an aspect of sin and awareness of God’s law that works like that if it’s against the commandment it must be desirable. But that’s a perversity of human nature, not a flaw in God’s commandments. His commands inform us of what is good for us, what balances our lives, what is enjoyable without being destructive. And you know, in terms of food, there are so many good things to eat, I’d never want to displace them now with chocolate. In terms of behavior, there are so many good things to do, acceptable ways to have fun, there’s no good reason to choose fun that destroys and hurts me or anyone else.
If we apply this kind of reasoning to sexual activity, the Bible is very plain in extolling sex between a husband and a wife (Heb. 13:4), encouraging a married man and woman to satisfy one another, and flatly teaches that there is no other healthy kind of sex. Period. Sex before marriage, including the stimulation of fondling and handling one another; sex outside of marriage, with someone not your spouse; sex between people of the same gender; voyeurism, whether viewing someone or an image of someone; cross dressing or transvestitism; sexual language, as in contemporary telephone sex; sadism, masochism, child molestation, and whatever else you might think of adding to the list, it’s all excluded, because it all harms. It harms spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and/or physically. Sex in any other context besides loving partners in marriage damages the ability to trust, to form open and lasting relationships, damages self-image and the perception of human dignity. Condoms don’t make non-marital sex safe, at best they remove the danger of one specific narrow sort of damage, but they do nothing to protect the fragile soul, the mind or the emotions.
And you see, sex is an indulgence, like chocolate only more so. Its a wonderful thing, in its proper context, only a lot of people seem to want to tell themselves that it’s basic to a good diet, full of protein and body building nutrition. And how many resources are dedicated to the exploitation of it? Really, most of the things that become sin in our lives are indulgences, wanting two scoops too often when one or none would be better, and trying to justify the appetite as basically healthy and OK, or proceeding on with full awareness that we’re being self-destructive but bingeing anyway.
The fact is God has allowed us lots of indulgences to satisfy our appetites for pleasure. Wonderful indulgences that really do satisfy in the proper context and in appropriate quantities. As I said, sex in marriage is one of them. Moderate consumption of chocolate is too. Just don’t confuse what you want with what you need; what’s good for you, with what isn’t. Pay attention to God, he knows what he’s talking about. Heb. 5:13-14… His preferred diet can become our preferred diet, and learning to eat good things will reduce our appetite for those things that are merely indulgences.
Now consider this about chocolate: Would anyone grow a food crop that only yields 1 or 2 pounds of food from a 25′ tree only perhaps 350 lbs per year from an acre? It’s a silly comparison, but think of an apple tree good sweet fruit that needs no special processing to be useable, and good for you. While a good cocoa tree about 25′ tall might produce 2 lbs of chocolate in a year, an apple tree the same size might produce 30 bushels of fruit. Who would raise apple trees if the whole year’s crop from a tree would fit into a one quart jar as applesauce? But when we talk about tastes and indulgences, we’re talking about things that go beyond simple sense. You don’t hear about people going on apple binges either or being appleholics. The tasty pleasure of processed chocolate notwithstanding, the world wastes its resources on things that don’t matter, and then despises itself for its frenzied consumption of them. That just isn’t how it’s supposed to be with us. We’re not only supposed to know better, we’re supposed to do better, to cultivate better appetites for what is wholesome and keep indulgences in their place, with a clear perspective of what matters, what’s good, what lasts. 1 Cor. 6:12-13…
But wait a minute. Did you know that the second scoop is usually cheaper than the first one? Two scoops are a better value, ounce for ounce, pound for pound. Pound for pound. There is such a thing as false economy, and the world reasons that way. It’s true that it’s not good for me, but the more I take the cheaper it gets. I can go to restaurants all over town and buy a meal I enjoy for under $5 that is all I want to eat, and yet there is an attraction in going to the buffet for $6.50 and having them tell me that I can eat all I want. So I pay a little more than I might have for a meal of similar quantity, and since I can have “all I want” I eat too much. Curious reasoning, but I’ve done it many times. It’s the world’s way. If a little is good, take a lot. But it’s not God’s reasoning. God’s reasoning says, “I’ll take care of you! There will be plenty of manna. Just take as much as you need.” But human nature says, let’s fill up some extra baskets. And the camp stinks. We need to learn trust, and in trust, control. 1 Thess. 4:3-7… God has plenty of good things in mind for us, plenty of fun, plenty of pleasurably safe indulgences. I’ll have my occasional chocolate cone, one scoop if you please, not because of great will power or self-denial, not because I’m terribly health conscious, but because it’s enough, it satisfies that urge quite adequately for me, and two scoops really don’t too much spoils what might have been a good thing. I’m not interested in making a meal of chocolate.
Now, how about you? What appetites are you cultivating? Have you got a taste yet for what Peter called pure spiritual milk the word of God no additives, no chocolate or sugar, just the real thing? Have you tasted that the Lord is good? If your appetite for God has not been formed or satisfied, maybe we can help. If your appetite for indulgences is wrecking your relationship with God, or other people, maybe we can help. God certainly can help, and we’ll do our best to help you understand his will for your life. If you need help to get your life under control, God’s way, his church and his people can help you find his help.Share this article: