“Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.” -Peter De Vries
Since we just finished three months worth of holidays, this may be a good time to explore the vice of gluttony.
Between the ages of 20 and 50, an average person spends about 20,000 hours (over 800 days) just eating. Our daily schedules are often planned around mealtimes. Business deals are cut among people who “do” lunch together. We have TV dinners, fast-food drive-up windows and tailgate parties. In one poll, 40% of the respondents said that “getting fat” was what they feared the most in the world. This may be why 65 million Americans are dieting at this very moment and diet book sales outrank all other topics on the market (except the Bible).
I don’t understand what the big deal is!!! We HAVE to eat to live!!! The problem for most people (including myself) is that we live to eat. It’s a mindset and a lifestyle in our North American culture. Just look at any magazine headline at the grocery store “10 ways to lose weight” accompanied by “10 scrumptious desserts” on one magazine cover. We want it all…the small waste line and all the desserts we can shove in our face. When is the last time you ordered a “small” size at a restaurant? You can’t order a small or regular coffee at most coffee shops…something like “grande” is the smallest size they have!!! Many restaurants don’t even offer “small” sizes these days. They call it medium (or something) and that’s the smallest option they provide to you (unless you order from the children’s menu and those sizes are getting larger by the day, too)!!! So, the question I have is…are restaurants just trying to meet the demands of the consumer by providing larger portions or are they telling us to eat more? This kind of “large consumption eating” is not a new idea. In Ancient Rome, some people wanted to enjoy the pleasure of eating all day. So, at the cost of their health and dignity, they would throw up during meals so they could return to the feast and lounge about with their guests. An adult has a stomach capacity of one-quart can you even imagine how much food was consumed and wasted at a feast like that?
“Gluttony: Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, Gluttony is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or intoxicants to the point of waste.” Depending on the culture, it can be seen as either a vice or a sign of status. A wealthy group might take pride in the security of having enough food to eat to show it off, but it could also result in a moral backlash when confronted with the reality of those less fortunate. Thomas Aquinas took a more expansive view of gluttony, arguing that it could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods. He went so far as to prepare a list of five ways to commit gluttony, including: eating too soon, eating too expensively, eating too much, eating too eagerly and eating too daintily.
We all know that gluttony is eating without restraint. But we can open it up to get to the center of the sin by considering it as the abuse of God’s earthly gifts. It is not the indulgence of sinful things, but the over-indulgence of things lawful. In food, drink, even recreation and work gluttony, in principle, involves the mistreatment of the good things that God has given us. How often do we hear sermons on the sin of gluttony? The Bible names gluttony as a sin associated with wastefulness, stubbornness, rebellion and disobedience. It exists on the same level of drunkenness (Deut. 21:20; Pr. 23:20, 21). In fact, gluttony is more dangerous than drunkenness because it goes on with no one mentioning the issue.
Gluttony is seldom, if ever, admitted to, confessed and repented of because it is the norm. We stuff our faces and boast about how sick we feel and no one is offended. Richard Baxter said in A Christian Directory, “when gluttony becomes the common custom, no one will be offended unless men eat ’til they spew.” (Even then, I’m not sure it would produce more than some laughs.) He went on to say, “And so every man is an example of evil to another, and encourages one another in the sin. If gluttony were but in as much disgrace as whoredom, yea, or as drunkenness is, and as easily known, and as commonly taken notice of, it would contribute much to a common reformation.” And so gluttony continues on in the church, and we do little about it. It not only destroys the body, but it reinforces the American value of instant and excessive gratification.
If gluttony were the abuse of God’s gifts, if it is self-centered overindulgence, what would repentance look like? The cure for gluttony is not abstinence from the gift (a.k.a. “not eating”), but understanding the gift itself. For example, food is a gift of God given for us to enjoy while being refreshed and strengthened for the tasks He has given us to do. Gluttony only sees the gift as something to be enjoyed. In fact, gluttony hardly recognizes food as a gift, for if it did we would be thankful for it and gratitude would restrain the abuse. In this case repentance would look like the proper enjoyment of God’s gifts, not the severe refusal of them. Speaking about this issue John Calvin said, “First of all, if we want to curb our ungodly passions, we must remember that all things are made for us, with the purpose that we may know and acknowledge their Author. We should praise His kindness toward us in earthly matters by giving Him thanks. But, what will become of our thanksgiving, if we indulge in danties in such a way that we are too dull to carry out the duties of devotion or of our business? Where is our acknowledgment of God, if the excesses of our body drive us to the vilest passions, and infect our mind with impurity, so that we can no longer distinguish between right and wrong?” The key for Calvin is to “enjoy abundance with moderation.” In essence we let faith work. We acknowledge God as the Author of good gifts, and from this recognition emerges gratitude, which produces enjoyment and moderation.
But the more I think about it, I don’t struggle with gluttony (over indulgence); I really just lack temperance (self-restraint). The Lord will have to do some spiritual surgery on my heart to get this one out…I seem to have a death grip on it lately. Oh, may the Lord’s will be done and not mine.
“He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.” (Proverbs 28:7)
“While dining with a ruler, pay attention to what is put before you. If you are a big eater, put a knife to your throat; don’t desire all the delicacies, for he might be trying to trick you.” (Proverbs 23:2)
“Do not carouse with drunkards or feast with gluttons, for they are on their way to poverty, and too much sleep clothes them in rags.” (Proverbs 23:20-21)
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
“When a man has a stubborn son, a real rebel who won’t do a thing his mother and father tell him, and even though they discipline him he still won’t obey, his father and mother shall forcibly bring him before the leaders at the city gate and say to the city fathers, ‘This son of ours is a stubborn rebel; he won’t listen to a thing we say. He’s a glutton and a drunk.'” (Deuteronomy 21:20)