Originally written in January, 2012, these are my thoughts answering skinny, Christian sophisticates who falsely equate eating a lot during the holidays and being overweight with the biblical sin of gluttony.
Since when has my diet and weight been a matter of sin and judgment?
Or, Can I enjoy watching Man Vs. Food without feeling shame?
Every Christmas 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 food that makes us happy, or we will die early, pathetic deaths.
Usually the reports are 2 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 earnestly cites health stats on obesity accompanied by 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; or worse, living a shortened life of crippling scorn and ridicule 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.
I guess I expect our worldly society to obsess over our diets. Progressive ideology has permeated our Western culture the last century or so, and has made health and fitness an idol that must be obeyed in order to have a meaningful life.
It’s annoying, however, to see Christians latch onto this health and fitness thinking and assign it some weird, spiritual value. Generally, there are two groups. First are the modern food pharisees, who 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.
The second group equate the sin of gluttony with eating too much and being overweight. Thus, if you happen to enjoy eating the 2600 calorie “Mega Onion” appetizer from Claim Jumpers or where ever, you’re calling down the wrath of God upon your head.
Two articles I encountered take that second approach regarding the Christian and his food. First is an article by a Baptist missions director, It’s the Most Wonderful Sin of the Year, in which he comes close to likening overeating (a picture of a fat guy scarfing down a bowl of potato chips illustrates the article) to being an unforgivable sin. He also berates preachers for not preaching against overeating enough from the pulpit.
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 to have 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?
The second article I read is entitled, Jesus Died for Your Food Coma, and that author, like the author of the first article, 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 bumps stand up on your arm, doesn’t it?
The problem with both those articles, and the recent wave of bloggers who errantly equate gluttony with overeating, is that the Bible doesn’t define 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 6 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 to be made from that 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.
2). Next, gluttony is tied to being a drunkard. 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, is obstinate against both parental and civil authority, and it is implied 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.
In the NT, Jesus is accused of being a “winebibber and a glutton” and eating with sinners (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). Sinners in this case being defined as tax collectors (those who extort money), and other assorted sinners. 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 described as people who are morally unscrupulous and basically ungodly with their behavior and lifestyle.
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 every Saturday morning with his family?
Gluttony is certainly a sin, but overeating 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? 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 should take up the call 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 and if they don’t repent, then the elders move to the steps of Matthew 18.
Again, this means we need to have in place a standard of measurement for obesity and overeating. The Bible is absolutely silent regarding such standards, and 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 confront overeating and obesity in the local church, but let’s be exegetically precise as to what we are confronting. The overeating those writers are concerned with falls more in the category of personal discipline, like quitting smoking, or exercising more, or being a workaholic. Those areas can be bad 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 Christian these days use to justify their theological kegger parties and they are typically the ones equating gluttony with overeating. Rather than condemning “overeating” per se, 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.