Spiritual Junk Food
by Jacob Hudgins
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”(2 Tim 4:3).
We all have to make food choices. We know that some foods are good for us, even if they don’t taste great. We also know that some foods taste great, but aren’t good for us. When Paul speaks of “sound” or “healthy” teaching, he is referring to the kind of spiritual health certain teaching creates. It is possible for us to judge teaching solely by its taste—whether it pleases us or not—rather than by the spiritual life it produces. Teaching that makes us happy but doesn’t make us better is spiritual junk food.
Spiritual junk food does not originate with God. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods…”(1 Tim 4:1-3). Paul warns us that what will cause some to “depart from the faith” will be their interest in teachings that come from demons and liars. It might sound good to us—might sound right—might sound spiritual—but it fails the origin test. While men can possess wisdom and that wisdom can sometimes benefit us, relying on a spiritual diet that does not originate with God is like living solely on donuts. It might taste good, but it doesn’t really help us because it does not come from God.
Spiritual junk food appeals to our passions. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths”(2 Tim 4:3-4). What motivates us to seek out spiritual junk food? We have “itching ears” that want to hear good things. We want to “suit (our) own passions.” Paul also warns of those who are “burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”(2 Tim 3:6-7).
What does this look like? It looks like teaching that never challenges us to real change. It looks like teaching that always seeks to make us feel better about what we’re doing right now. It looks like teaching that purports to teach something new, interesting, and exciting. It looks like teaching that caters to our needs rather than God’s will. Of course we find such teaching appealing; it is created to appeal to us! Paul warns us that a healthy spiritual diet will be about more than our passions.
Spiritual junk food does not get us closer to God. It is possible for us to be “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”(2 Tim 3:7). Spiritual junk food is dangerous because it feels like we are feeding our spirits—just as eating junk food feels like we are feeding our bodies—yet it doesn’t actually help. We are “never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” because we are not really filling ourselves with the truth.
Christians must beware sources of spiritual instruction—whether they are preachers, authors, talk show hosts, Hollywood personalities, or close friends and family members—that may take liberties with God’s word. The only source of spiritual instruction that we can always trust is the Bible. It will not always appeal to our passions, but it will always be good for us. Sometimes reading and applying God’s word will be difficult or painful. Yet this is what is required to get closer to God.
We all have food choices to make. What are you feeding your spirit?