Oliver Twist could hardly be accused of gluttony when he voiced his politely audacious request, “Please sir, I want some more.” But an identical demand from the overstuffed mouth of young Augustus Gloop, the obese candy addict in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, would elicit a call for temperance from any dietician worth her salt.
Gluttony is not that peckish sensation of wanting seconds when you haven’t had enough food to satisfy your hunger; it’s the sin of unrestrained overconsumption. Gluttony is thus the kissing cousin of drunkenness.
Proverbs 23:20-21 Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
A temperate enjoyment of food and fermented beverage is heartily commended in Scripture (see Deut 14:26; Eccl 9:7; 1 Tim 4:3-4). However, Scripture decries dissolute overindulgence of any sort as a sub-Christian, feckless deficiency in self-control (Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 3:8; Titus 1:12).
What makes gluttony such a difficult topic to fit into our theology, is that identifying the sin is not as obvious as one might expect. It seems axiomatic that the corpulence of a person’s waistline is inversely proportional to their self-control—the less you can curb your appetite the more holes on your belt you’ll need to bypass. And it likewise seems as plain as a pikestaff that a thin person must possess unwavering gastronomic discipline. But this rudimentary “eyeballing it” assessment can actually prove quite misleading.
A metabolically fortunate individual may imbibe calories like a vacuum cleaner, while a person endowed with the metabolism of a hibernating bear turns asparagus into cellulite without breaking a sweat. Thyroid malfunction is another common cause of unavoidable weight gain, while myriad diseases incite unwanted weight loss. There simply is no universal visible indicator of the sin of overindulgence. Or you might say, there is no test that’s one-size-fits-all.
A glutton could be thin, and a nil-per-mouth could be portly. The people of Jesus’ day understood this. The Pharisees accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matt 11:19), presumably despite his physical appearance, not because of it. It is highly doubtful that Jesus was a man of girth—it would have taken a long while to simply recover from his emaciating forty day fast, especially in light of his exceedingly ambulant itinerary.
That said, there is also a hefty probability that many Christians in our churches are succumbing to the temptation of intemperance in their eating habits. Pastor Rick Warren recently admitted that the idea for his enormously popular dieting program, The Daniel Diet, came to him while baptizing an exhaustingly long line of inordinately corpulent congregants. (We’ll overlook that Daniel’s diet made him fatter, not thinner. See Dan 1:15).
The sin of gluttony is invisible in our churches in that we intentionally ignore it.
Here are five possible reasons why:
- Most of us are not at our fighting weight, so we feel like hypocrites calling out someone on their overconsumption, because we know we don’t have self-control either.
- Those who are at a healthy weight, and who understand the struggle to get there, have sincere sympathy for those who aren’t, and so perhaps are loath to add to their emotional burden by confronting them on sin.
- The pastor of the church is overweight and who wants the unenviable task of confronting him? Not me. He is, after all,more godly than I am in many other areas of his life.
- We don’t think of overeating as a serious sin because there are so many more pernicious sins that hurt other people.
- We don’t know if the person has a genuine medical reason for their appearance, and who wants to ask? It’s easier to assume the best of them.
As one who has been larger than is healthy, I can testify that a loving, concerned conversation from a close Christian friend was enough to make me realize my eating was a spiritual issue.
My immediate and immature reaction was to point out to my friend that there were many others within our circle of acquaintances who were way, way “more guilty” than I was. His reply was encouraging and convincing: “Yes, but you invited me to help you grow spiritually, and a victory for you will equip you to help others.”
I took my health more seriously, got more committed to a balanced, moderate diet, and made it a matter of prayer and worship to the Lord. What happened? My struggle with gluttony has gone underground.
Now that I am in better shape and fitness, no one bats an eye when I scarf down more than I should. So, I want to emphasize again: gluttony is not about weight gain/loss and exercise, it’s about spiritual growth and your walk with the Lord (1 Tim 4:8).
Physical health is an internal battle more than an external one. But it is a matter that Christians should help each other address. We don’t need more diet books, we need grace from God. We need support from friends. And we need the fruit of the Spirit.
And when you are hungry for grace from God just pray, “Please Lord, I want some more.”