Gluttony is enslavement to our appetite. This sort of relationship is out of order. Paul says food is for the stomach and the stomach for food and both will be destroyed—meaning, both are temporal. It makes no sense, then, to elevate food or our hunger pangs to a place of authority over our wills. The context of this passage in 1 Corinthians 6 is a discussion of repenting of sexual immorality, but the principle remains the same. Food has a purpose and servicing our prideful self-worship isn’t it.
Gluttony is the big fat elephant in the room of the evangelical church. I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon or lesson on gluttony when I was growing up, despite the fact it was rampant all around us. I remember plenty of talk on the dangers of sex and alcohol and even rock and roll music, but nary a word on over-indulging in food.
I grew up in a traditional Bible Belt environment, and while the church of my childhood was more “contemporary” than most, we still made no compromise when it came to potlucks, dinners on the ground, ice cream socials, and the like. We were from the South. We were supposed to eat, buddy. On top of that, I come from a border town in South Texas, so if we weren’t in the mood for fried chicken, biscuits, and sweet tea, there was plenty of Tex-Mex to be had. The botana platter at Garcia’s was a gift from Dios himself. And my dad, summoning the spirit of the half of him that is Hispanic, could cook the daylights out of some fajitas, y’all.
But I digress.
Can you tell I like food? I like it a lot. In fact, a few years ago as I studied for a sermon on the sin of gluttony it occurred to me not just that I’d never heard such a sermon before but that it was also a sermon I really needed to hear. Like you, I have struggled with all seven of the deadly sins off and on throughout the course of my life, but next to lust, gluttony is the sin I have battled (and continue to battle) most.
If you’ve ever given much thought to combating this sin, you’ve probably run into the same problem I have: there doesn’t seem to be much help out there. Certainly the sentiments of the world aren’t going to do us any favors. We live in the land of all-you-can-eat buffets, Big Gulps, and super-sizing. When portions at restaurants aren’t big enough to feed three people we feel cheated. We’ve even turned eating into a competitive sport, with one of the umpteen ESPN stations broadcasting battles to eat the most hot dogs.
Once upon a time, C.S. Lewis used the image of a “strip tease” revealing a mutton chop or bit of bacon to demonstrate the folly of sexual lust. The illustration was meant to be obviously silly. I think Lewis might be shocked today if he watched television commercials or flipped through magazines. We are inundated with ads that amount to little more than a food strip tease! We hardly care that what we purchase at the fast food joint barely resembles what gleamed so tantalizingly in the ad.
We don’t live in a world where we are encouraged to stop consuming, be it food or anything else. In our culture’s estimation, there is no such thing as “enough.”
But many of us don’t get much help from the Christian culture either. And this is really surprising when, if we expand gluttony to encompass more than food, we realize just how gluttonous so many of us are. In his book on the seven deadly sins, Billy Graham writes of gluttony, “It is a sin that most of us commit, but few of us mention. It is one of the prevalent sins among Christians.” We never seem satisfied. In some sections of evangelicalism the effort to reach bigger, higher, better, and faster as it pertains to our ministries or programs, the emphasis on outperforming the previous year as it pertains to income and attendance, and the consumeristic adoption of the world’s standards of popularity or appeal are all evidences of what insatiable eaters we all are. The question is posed to us “How much is enough?” and we answer “A little more. OK, a lot more.”
1. Gluttony is saying “more” to anything when you should say “enough.”
At its core, gluttony is about dissatisfaction. Not all dissatisfaction is bad, of course. But given all the good gifts we have in the developed world, the reality that most of us don’t have to worry too much about where our next meal will come from, it is profound act of selfishness to cultivate dissatisfaction.
In this way, gluttony isn’t just about food. Just as we can lust for things other than sex, we can over-consume things other than food. Indeed, those who struggle with gluttony when it comes to food will likely find this true with a little self-reflection. In my struggle, gluttony rears its head most evidently when it comes to my diet, but it is also there when I entertain a sense of entitlement about other things. Why am I crushed when I can’t sit next to an empty seat on an airplane? It’s because I don’t want to be satisfied with what everybody else has. Why do I want every vacation to go perfectly and feel personally hurt when little things go awry? Because I am not simply satisfied to be away with my family doing something fun. It must also be complication-free. I won’t be satisfied with good. I always want better. Why, after I am thanked and encouraged by people after preaching a sermon, do I wonder why somebody else or more people didn’t do the same? Because I’m a glutton.
Gluttony is in operation when we indulge in workaholism or “retail therapy” or hogging the bedspread. We have to be careful in understanding gluttony that we don’t just limit it to consumption of food.
Similarly, we have to be careful that we don’t automatically connect someone who is overweight with the sin of gluttony. They may eat very well but struggle with other physical or medical issues that makes staying physically healthy problematic. Likewise, some of the most gluttonous people I know don’t appear overweight. And that may be part of the problem: their body is not (yet) revealing the rotten fruit of their lack of self-control, so they assume full speed ahead with the fast food is no big deal.
In the Bible, gluttony refers almost exclusively to food. It is often paired with drunkenness, since eating and drinking go hand in hand. When Jesus is accused of sin for sharing meals with sinners, he is accused of being a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:17; Luke 7:34).