"One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth."—Titus 1:12-14
While the thrust of this book is about the danger of legalistic Pharisees who command us to abstain from various foods in order to be nutritionally pure (Nutritianity), there is plenty of evidence that the opposite danger of gluttony is equally pervasive in America. While many are obsessed with diets and abstaining from foods for self-righteous purposes, there are just as many or more who seem to have never given any thought to abstaining from any food or drink in any amount. Here some would surely suggest that I have just left the realm of preachin’ and have gone to meddlin.’ So be it.
The inhabitants of Crete had the distinguished privilege of being labeled as lazy gluttons by one of their own prophets. Paul added his “Amen” to this indictment. Could the same thing be said about Americans today?
There is no country on earth like America when it comes to the abundance and variety of food. Even the poor in our country are rich compared with most of the world. Few of us have ever known real hunger. Gluttony has become an acceptable sin in our country, and the pervasive obesity of Americans proves that it is not a rare one. Our conscience will sometimes accuse us when we are eating too much, but we have learned to ignore it, make jokes about it, and bury the guilt under another helping. We will often notice when others are eating too much and make our own judgments, but we will rarely speak about the sin of gluttony, lest we rob ourselves of the privilege.
In spite of the silence on this subject from American pulpits and conversations, the Bible is not silent, as the following verses prove. Though the word gluttony is not found in all of these verses, the concept of gluttony is inescapably present.
“Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags.”—Prov. 23:20-21
"For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”— Rom. 16:18
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”—1 Cor. 6:12-13
“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”—Phil. 3:18-19
“For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you.”—1 Pet. 4:3-4
In all the aforementioned verses the word gluttony or the idea of it is conveyed. It is a running into excess. It should be pointed out that it is difficult to determine exactly what constitutes gluttony. Obesity is usually an indicator that you are a glutton (or that you have been a glutton at one point and have never lost the weight), but it is not always so. You can be a glutton, even if you are not overweight, and it is likely that every American has been guilty of gluttony many times, no matter how thin he or she might be. We can be gluttons with respect to drink —coffee, tea, pop, etc.—as well as food.
Gluttony of alcohol is usually verifiable because the glutton is drunk. However, many people have built up a tolerance for large quantities of alcohol over the years, and what used to get them drunk no longer does. The fact that they can now drink four beers without getting drunk does not vindicate them of the sin of gluttony. After all, most people who chug down four beers in a relatively short period of time are usually not trying to quench thirst.
When it comes to food, is gluttony eating more than I need? How much do I need? Is it going back for seconds? Is it eating past the point of feeling full? Is it eating to the point of feeling sick and bloated? It is very difficult, if not impossible (and unhelpful), to judge someone else in this matter, because an amount of food that would constitute gluttony for me may not be gluttony for someone else. It will not help me much by comparing myself with others.
We would expect a grown man to eat much more than a child. We would also expect someone with a physically demanding job to have a greater appetite than someone whose job was not physically demanding. We expect pregnant women to have a greater appetite than women who are not pregnant, and perhaps a greater appetite than many men. I may eat a lot compared to someone who has a reduced appetite due to an illness or a medical problem. Conversely, I may eat little compared to someone else at a given meal, but it may be because I don’t like the food that is offered and the other person does.
Furthermore, in the Bible, we see the category of feast. Feasts are generally called feasts because there is an abundance of food and a freedom to enjoy that abundance. There are times of celebration where we can perhaps enjoy greater varieties and quantities of food than normal, but how much more? The point is that there are many difficulties in judging gluttony. We would do well to judge ourselves and our own hearts. If we concentrate our energy here, we will likely find that it is not difficult to sense when we have simply gone too far—when normal appetite has become lust, idolatry and sensuality.
This gets at the heart of what gluttony really is— idolatry. Food or drink becomes an idol that we worship. We may not bow down to it, pray to it, or sing hymns to it, but we adore it, crave it, love it, and run to it when we are lonely, depressed, bored or empty. Shouldn’t God be the one we run to in distress? Isn’t God the source of peace and joy? To be more specific, self is the great idol underneath all idols; food is simply a tool gluttons use to serve self. Think about it in another way: Idolatry is spiritual adultery. Consider the audacity of someone saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the adultery he was about to enjoy. We would not think of doing such a thing. Yet, ironically, we often give thanks to God for our food and then proceed to commit spiritual adultery through gluttony.
Like all sins, gluttony comes from the heart of man. It cannot be measured by looking at the outside of the cup alone. Food going into the mouth is not the problem. The problem is the gluttony coming out of the heart.
The question then is this: Why do we eat too much? Why do we take more than we need? At the surface level, the answer might not seem very complicated. We simply eat more than we need because we feel like it. We do it because we want to. Often times there are other contributing factors. We may eat too much of a particular food because it is our favorite and we don’t have it very often. We may eat too much at an all-you-can-eat buffet because there are so many things we like and we want to get the most for our money. We may have developed the habit of eating too much and now our stomach requires the same abundance in order to feel satisfied. We may eat too much because we are trying not to waste food that would have to be thrown away. But, since when is gluttony good stewardship? It will either go to waste or to our waist.
(This is an excerpt from a book I recently published entitled "To Eat Or Not to Eat? Examining Modern Nutrition Wisdom In The Light of Scripture." It is available from the sermon audio web store.)