The dieting crazes which have swept our country in recent years seem to prove one fact: of all the seven deadly sins, the one we seem most interested in avoiding is gluttony. The dictionary defines the term simply as “excess in eating.” But how much is excess?
The question has been around for millenia. Here was the spectrum in the first century.
Many of the Romans sought pleasure at all costs. Their “vomitoriums” were famous–they would gorge themselves, throw it up, and return to the banquet. Prostitution, concubines, and homosexuality were rampant. Gluttony was a way of life.
The Epicureans, a group to whom Paul witnessed at Mars Hill (Acts 17:18), advocated pleasure as the point of life. Happiness comes from seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. But they cautioned against excess, because it could cause pain. Thus they advocated drinking wine, but not drunkenness. Pleasure in moderation would be their goal.
The Stoics were another group present at Mars Hill. They saw the purpose of life as duty. Eat only what you must to be effective in life. Eat only when you are hungry. Pleasure is a side effect, not the purpose. Health is a means to the end of doing what you are required to do in life.
At the remote other end of the spectrum lived the Cynics, a third school of philosophy current in the New Testament era. They argued for the most ascetic lifestyle possible. The body is evil, so it must be punished and restrained. Eat only what you must to live. One of their leaders spent years living in a barrel which also clothed his body. He owned only a wooden bowl and spoon, until he saw a beggar boy eating with his hands, was shamed, and threw his bowl and spoon away. I imagine the boy would have liked to have them.
How much is excess? And why does the answer matter so much? Cicero remarked: “We ought to eat in order to live, not live in order to eat.” Let’s learn how.
Eating is not a sin
Here is the key text we’ll seek to learn and obey: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). How do we do this?
Let’s begin with this fact: eating is not sinful: “I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot” (Ecclesiastes 5:18);
“I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15). Paul wrote, “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).
Jesus often ate with his disciples. His Last Supper was taken with them. After his resurrection, he fixed breakfast for them to share (John 21:12-13). He could not have eaten and remained sinless, if eating was sinful.
The anorexic rejection of the pleasure of eating comes from the Greek rejection of the body. It is nowhere found in the holistic world view of Scripture.
And so the sin is not eating, it is eating to excess.
Why is excess eating a sin?
Scripture answers our question in six ways. First, it is presumptive: “‘Come,’ each one cries, ‘let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better” (Isaiah 56:12); “I’ll say to myself: ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry'” (Luke 12:19). When we presume on tomorrow and God, we sin against both.
Second, it is never enough: “All man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied” (Ecclesiastes 6:7). Third, it leads to poverty: “Drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (Proverbs 23:21); “He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich” (Proverbs 21:17).
Fourth, it leads to spiritual immaturity: “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature” (Luke 8:14).
Fifth, it harms our witness: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17); “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).
And sixth, it leads to destruction: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19); “They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you” (2 Peter 2:13); “You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves” (Amos 6:4). The 16th century proverb was right: “Gluttony kills more than the sword.”
What is the solution to the sin of gluttony?
First, pray before eating. Seek the help of God before the tempter attacks.
Second, be disciplined: “When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive” (Proverbs 23:1-3).
Third, consider the discipline of fasting. This is the practice of abstaining from the physical for the sake of the spiritual. Fast a meal a week, then a day. Turn your hunger into prayer and worship. Begin to declare your independence from physical appetites.
Last, get the help of others. If this is a persistent problem, ask people you trust to pray fro you. Seek professional help if necessary. Err on the side of seeking more help than you may need.
And know that your Father cares about every part of your life–body, soul, and spirit. He will help you win the victory through Jesus Christ your Lord.