For most of us we eat a little more than we should, and then we have a second helping. We don’t want to offend the cooks we say to ourselves. We let out our belts a notch or two. And, for goodness sake, we won’t even try buttoning our coat. We are consumed by food, physical looks, and dieting—the deadly sin of gluttony.
Contrary to popular opinion gluttony is not about overeating on Thanksgiving. Gluttony is not about appearance; it is an attitude. It is not about being overweight; it is overindulgence. It is not about recreational eating; it is rampant excess. It is not about too many external effects; it is a lack of internal balance.
Gluttony is misdirected hunger. It is the mad pursuit of the bodily pleasures that never completely satisfy. We connect it with the craving for food and this has been its primary expression. But the person who drinks or smokes too much is as gluttonous as the person who overeats. Not to mention the person who watches television excessively or stays on the computer into the wee hours of the night.
What is so bad with a little gluttony, anyway? It’s not one of the bad sins, like adultery or stealing. All gluttony does is make you soft and huggable. It’s the cute sin. So, what is the problem? The problem with gluttony is that it seeks to feed the soul with the body’s food. It can cause a person to become so full in their stomach they lose their appetite for God. It can cause a person to become so enamored in their mind they lose their thoughts for God. The gluttonous not only have a misdirected hunger; they have misplaced God. They pay homage to their appetites; their conspicuous consumption is their extravagant act of praise. Charles Buck described them as “their kitchen is their shrine, the cook their priest, the table their altar, and their belly their God.” They no longer eat to live; they live to eat.
Mastering gluttony is a tricky task, because you can never tell when you have arrived. Most sins you know whether or not you have mastered. The thief knows if he did not steal. The dishonest knows if she did not lie. The adulterer knows if he did not have the affair. With some sins, there is not much gray area. With gluttony, it is almost all gray. You cannot simply swear off eating. You’ve got to eat, so what do you do?
The gluttonous needs to be fed, or more precisely, to be fed by God. From Genesis to Revelation God is pictured as a caring Father who feeds his people. God feeds us. Safe in his pasture, we will not become food. The one who bids us come to the banquet will not devour us, he promises to feed us. But there is more; he does not feed us with the good things he has made, he feeds us his very self. It is this other bread we must learn to eat, not “bread alone” but the Word of God himself. Our whole lives consist of learning what he meant when he said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32, NIV). Jesus bids us to his feast that binds hungry sinners together and links us to the One who alone can feed our souls.
Feasting isn’t gluttony. Gluttony is self-indulgent. Feasting is God-honoring. Gluttony has no perspective. Feasting keeps perspective. Gluttony is a solitary act that defeats community. Feasting is a social act that enhances community. Gluttony ignores God’s bounty. Feasting celebrates God’s blessings.
When the local church gathers for a banquet or a fellowship; it is not just a social event, it is a spiritual event. Feasting is a part of our Christian faith. The people of Israel were always feasting—celebrations of thanksgiving for what God had done. Jesus enjoyed feasting. Jesus was at home at feasts and banquets and parties. When believers come together they celebrate God’s goodness and mercy in their lives. During those times believers take their eyes off the appetites of the body and the desires of their lives to look at Christ and how they can serve him and his people.
Dieting is a modern phenomenon that the Bible says nothing about. In fact, dieting as it is known in western countries can merely be a substitute of one of the Seven Deadly Sins for another: forsaking gluttony, we fall into pride. Christians have, for a long time, wrestled with the temptation to misuse food, but the weapon they used wasn’t dieting. It was fasting.
Fasting is mentioned in scripture more times than even something as important as baptism. Notice Jesus’ words at the beginning of Mt. 6:16-17, “When you fast . . .” (Matt. 6:16 NIV). By giving us instructions on what to do and what not to do when we fast, Jesus assumes that believers will fast. The Bible defines fasting as a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting is Christian, for fasting by a nonChristian has no eternal value since the discipline’s motives and purposes are to be God-centered. Fasting is voluntary in the sense that it is not to be coerced. Fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting whets the appetite of the soul in hope of experiencing the grace and wonder of God.
If gluttony is misdirected hunger, then fasting is an expression of hungering and thirsting for spiritual food. Gluttony deadens spiritual hunger, numbs our appetite for soul food; fasting keeps us alive to what Jesus knew—“My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34 NIV).
A hunger and thirsting in our souls exists that food and drink can’t fill; and when we say “No!” to our appetites and “Yes!” to God we will discover a nourishment that strengthens and sustains our spirit.