That question was asked by a church member as I recently preached on gluttony. Why might we ask? Christian culture approves of giggling about gluttony in ways that it would never bless laughing at lust. We probably laugh more comfortably about gluttony because the right use of food and drink is a very public matter where the right use of sex is a very private matter.
But the fact that we giggle about gluttony might reveal it as a most pernicious sin. The English word comes from the Latin and means “to gulp.” Gluttony idolizes food to feed our own self-love. The holidays being upon us, it’s a good time to ask the question. Is gluttony really that serious? Consider the following:
- Gluttony plunged the whole human race into a state of sin and misery with the first transgression (Genesis 3:6).
- Gluttony, or “excess of food,” helped earned a curse of utter destruction upon Sodom, the standard example of God’s wrath and judgment (Ezekiel 16:49).
- In Moses’ day, When Israel craved meat in the wilderness, the Lord sent quail. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague.” Strikingly, the name of the place was called “Kibroth-hattaavah,” which means “Graves of Craving” (Number 11:18-34; Psalm 78:26-31).
- Drunkards (liquid-based gluttons) will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10).
So, yes! Even a quick glance at Scripture shows us that gluttony is a big deal. It is no laughing matter; it earns eternal judgment. But there are also more immediate consequences:
- Gluttony is often connected with idolatry (Philippians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 10:7), and leads to deadness of heart (Psalm 115:4-8, 119:70).
- Gluttony and hopelessness go hand in hand (1 Corinthians 15:32).
- Devotion to food for Christians gives birth to legalism and judgmental-ism in Christians (Romans 14:13-17).
- Gluttony induces laziness (Titus 1:12) that brings forth poverty (Proverbs 23:21).
- Gluttony is a visible expression of rebellion against God and man that destroys life (Deuteronomy 21:20).
How can we identify this sin in our lives? Gregory the Great and Thomas Aquinas laid out five everyday expressions of gluttony (Summa Theologica Part 2-2, Question 148:4):
- Eating too soon. Being mentally consumed with what you will eat next is gluttony. Think of Esau who sold his birthright for the pot of beans that he thought he couldn’t live without immediately (Genesis 25:29-34).
- Eating too expensively. Focusing too much on the quality of the food draws our attention from the Creator to the creation. The Israelites in the wilderness craved the meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic that had been in Egypt. Bread that God delivered every day from heaven in the form of manna just wasn’t high-brow enough for the faithless foodies in the wasteland (Numbers 11:4-6). Our culture is full of foodies seeking satisfaction in every new and better flavor.
- Eating too much. Sodom was guilty of “excess of food” (Ezekiel 16:49). While weight is not of the essence of gluttony, one can suspect that gluttony in an increasing matter of the heart in our nation based on the number of bulging waistlines and the “shrinking” size of stadium bleacher seats.
- Eating too daintily. Picky eaters may idolize food preparation, or they may idolize NOT partaking of certain foods (1 Timothy 4:3). People with eating disorders engage in gluttony in this way too.
- Eating too eagerly. The Israelites learned that God can judge faster than we can eat when they died with the meat still between their teeth (Number 11:18-34).
What then, is the solution?
First, we need to confess our self-love that we express with food. We need to call this sin what it is and recognize that God hates it. We must also see that we will never be satisfied when we seek hope in food. We indulge in comfort foods to mourn a life-crisis, and then find that the comfort flees but the calories remain. Sin never delivers on the lies it promises.
Second, we must recognize that Christ came to save gluttons. He came so close to tax-collectors and sinners that he himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). If you are guilty of gluttony, know that Jesus came to save people of your ilk. He died for them. And he feasted with them, and he fed them. He satisfied them. Only Jesus can satisfy the longing soul and fills the hungry with good things (Psalm 107:9). My grandfather was converted in his late 30s. He knew how to party, and he loved his cigars. The man who led him to Christ watched Grandpa’s relationship with his stogies during the Bible study on the Gospel of John in which he was converted. Grandpa sat in a back corner of the living room with another man nursing their stogies week-by-week. The leader knew that something was happening in Grandpa’s heart when the cigar he so loved went out in his hand. Instead of tending tediously to his tobacco, he was taken with Christ. The stogie ceased to burn; a new passion was beginning to burn in his heart. No food, no drink, no smoke will ever satisfy. But Christ does, and when he does, doing the will of the Lord becomes more consuming than the need for food or any other substance.
Third, we need to discipline ourselves daily with a few questions to ask with every bite of food we put in our hands to eat. As Christians, we await the Lord’s feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow and of aged wine well-refined at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Until then, those who have experienced the wonder of Christ find that food has better flavor than ever, rightly used. Here are a few we can ask ourselves each day to kill the sin of gluttony before it kills us:
- Is it time for me to feast? There are times when God calls us to feast. We are even called to eat “too much” in celebration of God’s grace (Deuteronomy 14:25-26). Godliness does not consist in keeping a 2,000 calorie per day diet. It requires wisdom. We need to know when to feast, but we also need to ask:
- Is it time for me to fast? The discipline of fasting teaches us many things, one of which is that we are not to be enslaved by food (Matthew 4:2-4), and that we cannot generate enough earthly strength to fulfill God’s will (Acts 13:2-3).
- Is it time for me to moderate my food so that whether I eat or drink I do it all to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
- Can I receive this next bite of food as a gift of God with true thanksgiving and with holy gladness (1 Timothy 4:4, Acts 2:36)?
- Do I know that this food will serve as fuel to give me strength to seek and serve the Lord? Do I need these calories to accomplish the Lord’s will or not (e.g., Acts 9:19)?
- Does my “body-conscience” allow me to eat this? Is my belly communicating that it is full enough or not full enough? Are my pants growing too tight? Just as the conscience can be seared in other ways, so we can become comfortable with sinful eating patterns and make adjustments to make our sin less painful, we should still pay heed to the warnings God has built into our physical bodies.
- Can I legitimately say to other younger Christians looking on, “Follow me as I follow Christ by taking this next bite?” Paul recognized that he could not fail to follow Jesus in food and drink—the most basic elements of daily life—and expect others to follow him in deeper matters of life and theology. So he said, “I discipline my body and I make it my slave, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).