Every holiday season, without fail, the secular media bombards us with guilt inducing special reports gravely warning us to lay off the turkey, ham, and prime rib dinners, along with all that other awesome, high calorie foods that makes us happy, or we will die early, pathetic deaths.
Usually the reports are two minute “health” segments on channels like CNN narrated by a gorgeous reporterette who could easily have a second job as a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model. She cheerfully cites health stats on obesity narrated over video images of the torsos of large bottomed men and women walking down the street. If we don’t watch what we eat, and start eating healthy foods like Brussels sprouts, we risk eating ourselves into a heart-attack or death by diabetes. Even worse, we will be confined to living a shortened life of crippling scorn as an unpopular fat person who sweats a lot and has to wear ill-fitting clothes with elastic waste bands like they sell at Wal-Mart.
Christians Vs. Food
I expect our worldly society to obsess over our diets. Progressive ideology saturating our Western culture the last century or so has made health and fitness an idol we must obey in order to have a meaningful life.
It’s annoying enough having pallid, finger-wagging millennials hectoring us about food. Christians latching onto this health and fitness thinking and assigning it some weird, spiritual value is especially irritating. Generally, there are two groups.
First are the modern food pharisees. They insist that eating kosher food as outlined in the Bible is the true, spiritual Christianly thing to do. If we would only eat “God’s ordained food” and not those things “processed by man,” all the cancer in the world would dry up and we would live to like 270 or more. (Hamburger Helper, in case you were wondering, is food “processed by man”).
The second group equates the sin of gluttony with eating too much and being overweight. Thus, if you happen to enjoy eating the 2600 calorie “Fried Mega Onion Spectacular” appetizer from Claim Jumpers or wherever, you’re calling down the wrath of God upon your head.
I have encountered a number of articles over the years lecturing me about how the sin (SIN!) of gluttony is ignored from the pulpit by fat preachers. Two articles I often seen passed around on social media during the holidays come to mind.
First is an article by a Baptist missions director, It’s the Most Wonderful Sin of the Year. He comes close to likening overeating as an unforgivable sin. He also berates preachers for not preaching against overeating enough from the pulpit. Indeed.
Think about that article’s title a moment. “Sin” implies a violation of God’s law. Is the writer seriously telling me that if I have a hankering for a piece of pumpkin pie AND a piece of chocolate pie at the same time after my rich, starchy holiday meal, I am sinning against God? Really? That elders should initiate the steps of church discipline against a guy 50 pounds overweight?
The second article I read is entitled, Jesus Died for Your Food Coma. Here again, the author erroneously equates gluttony with overeating. In fact, a definition of gluttony is provided which is defined as “habitual greed or excess in eating.” To really nail it home, Jerry Bridges Respectable Sins is cited. Man. mentioning Jerry Bridges makes the glory bumps stand up on your arm, doesn’t it?
The problem with both those articles, and the waves of bloggers who errantly equate gluttony with overeating, is that the Bible never defines gluttony as overeating. Certainly not overeating as in eating heaps of Buca Di Beppo’s “Mama Mia’s Spaghetti and Meatball Family Dinner Platter.”
I left some comments at that second article challenging the definition of gluttony provided. One fellow responded by asking me “how then does the Bible define gluttony?”
Certainly, the concept of “gluttony” is not directly defined in Scripture. In fact, as the author of that first article notes, it is rarely mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, around six or so times to be exact. In order to get an understanding of gluttony, the surrounding context has to be considered where the word is found.
The first mention of gluttony is in Deuteronomy 21:20, And they shall say to the elders of his city,`This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.”
There are a few observations we can make from the text.
1). First, note the overall context is parents bringing a son to the city elders in order for them to pass judgment upon him. Their judgment against him could lead to his execution by stoning. EXECUTION PEOPLE!
2). Next, gluttony is tied to drunkedness. He not only is eating a lot, but drinking himself drunk.
3). Third, the parents’ testimony of the son is that he is “stubborn and rebellious,” meaning that he refuses to receive instruction. He is obstinate against both parental and civil authority. The text implies that he is living a life flaunting God’s law and not fearing the Lord at all. Eli’s two good-for-nothing sons, Hophni and Phinehas, fit that description (1 Sam. 2:12-17).
There are a couple of Proverbs mentioning gluttons. Proverbs 28:7 is the most relevant for our discussion and it reads, Whoever keeps the law is a discerning son, But a companion of gluttons shames his father. Notice that a discerning son is said to be one who “keeps the law.” Simply put, he loves and fears the Lord. However, the son who is “a companion of gluttons” is the son who shames his father. It’s implied he doesn’t keep the law, nor does he fear God. The verses following contrast a good son with the ones who extort from the poor, who despises God’s law, and intentionally leads righteous people astray.
The New Testament
In the NT, Jesus is called a “winebibber and a glutton” and accused of eating with sinners (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). Sinners in this case are defined as tax collectors (those who extort money), and other assorted malcontents. When Paul wrote Titus, he mentions how Cretans are “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Liars are in the same category as gluttons, who are described by the adjective, “lazy.” They are people who are morally unscrupulous and basically ungodly with their behavior and lifestyle.
Poor Eating Habits are NOT A SIN!
Now, when we pull together all the scant discussions of gluttony mentioned in the Bible, do we seriously think it is Bubba the deacon who is in mind? A guy who is an outstanding Christian who teaches Sunday school (and is a Calvinist!), but who happens to be 50 pounds overweight and enjoys eating a big breakfast at Bob Evans on Saturday mornings with his family?
Gluttony is certainly a sin, but eating too much on Thanksgiving is not gluttony. If it is, how exactly are pastors to confront this sin? What is the standard for overeating? Wouldn’t it be different from one person to the next? I had a friend in college who was in tremendous physical shape but ate like a horse. He had a high metabolism. He could easily consume 3 or 4 big macs and they wouldn’t do a thing to his health. The author of the second article above suggests that a person’s high metabolism is not an excuse for overeating. But why? That is entirely subjective. One person’s overeating may be normal eating for another person as long as there are no dire health consequences.
If overeating is gluttony, and pastors are exhorted to condemn the sin of overeating from the pulpit, are they prepared to exercise church discipline against obese people who eat too much? Seriously. If overeating is sin that means those people are violating God’s Word. They need to be called to repentance. If they don’t repent, then the elders move to the steps of Matthew 18. What elder board wants to bring church discipline against an overweight single mother working two jobs to support her kids?
Again, that means we need to have in place a standard of measurement for obesity and overeating. Yet the Bible is absolutely silent regarding such standards. Knowing that the standards put out by the government are for the most part absurd, how exactly can a pastor honestly condemn overeating from the pulpit?
Look. Is overeating and obesity a serious health problem in our day and age? Yes. But it isn’t the sin of gluttony. We may need to address overeating and obesity in the local church, but let’s be exegetically precise as to what it is we are addressing. The overeating those blog writers are concerned with falls into the category of personal discipline, like quitting smoking or exercising more. Those areas can be bad health habits, but they are not sinful.
I am reminded of Deuteronomy 14:26 which reads, And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. Ironically, that is the verse the typical skinny jeans New Calvinists these days use to justify their theological kegger parties. They are the ones frequently equating gluttony with overeating. Rather than condemning overeating, I see God telling me to rejoice in the good things He has provided and lots of it, like coconut fried shrimp from Outback Steakhouse.