For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)
A World of Gluttony
I really love food. Anyone who knows me well at all knows I like everything about it. I love to buy it; I love to cook it; I love to eat it. I believe God blessed us greatly with taste buds and by the fact that not everything tastes like raw okra. Scripture is replete with imagery of God’s blessing and salvation pictured as a feast or a banquet. “Taste and see that the LORD is good,” king David declares (Psalm 34:8). One of the great blessings and means of grace is the Communion table. Jesus chose to give us a physical reminder of His death in the form of a meal.
Yet, there is a problem with food – and that problem is us. Now, I could get into the very large and often poorly framed conversation about healthy eating choices and sound, well-balanced nutrition. There is a place for that, but it is not in this post. Today, the focus is on the issue of overconsumption. In the first post of this series, I noted that the great problem for the fool is his rejection of God ordained boundaries (see that blog here). There is perhaps no greater opportunity for a public display of a disregard for boundaries than with food and drink. When speaking of gluttony, I am including both the overconsumption of food (gluttony proper) and the overconsumption of alcohol (more often referred to as drunkenness – but it is a form of gluttony nonetheless).
Is Gluttony Really So Bad?
The desire to have more than we should has been the challenge to humanity since the beginning. It is not by accident that Genesis tells that the initial temptation to rebellion and ruin was through the use of food. Yet, many in the Christian world don’t think that gluttony is a real issue. A sort of “new Gnosticism” has set in. Since this world and these bodies are passing away, why be concerned with how we care for them? Only the spiritual, not the physical, is important – right? The Scripture teaches us otherwise. There are at least four reasons that show us to be fools when we are gluttonous.
First, when we over consume food or drink, we display a complete disregard for God’s control over our lives. When we habitually ignore God’s dominion over our physical well-being, we show ourselves to be idolaters. We end up worshipping ourselves. As Paul told the Philippian church, one sign of “an enemy of Christ” is that his “god is their belly” (Philippians 3:18-19). Gluttony, by definition, contains the attitude of “I will do what I want, when I want, as much as I want.” That is certainly not the way of submission to Jesus.
Second, the overconsumption of food and drink often leads to a public demonstration of the absence of the fruit of the Spirit. One of the key points in Galatians 5 is self-control. It is set over against drunkenness in the previous verses. Overeating usually leads to obesity; overdrinking usually leads to drunkenness or alcoholism. Neither of these are very easy to hide from public view. While (sadly) many sins are easy to conceal, these usually are not. Christians are called to be people of discipline. Self-control, particularly as it relates to our reflection of Jesus to the unbelieving world, is crucial to a solid platform for the gospel. It is a sad commentary that many who would decry public drunkenness have little to say about public gluttony, given that the two are often intimately linked together in Scripture (Proverbs 23:20-21 being an example).
Third, and this is related to the second, both kinds of gluttony can lead to a dulling of the senses, which only promotes the potential for a lack of self-control. This idea is fairly self-evident with the overconsumption of alcohol. But what about the overconsumption of food? John Cassian (c. 360-435) wrote, “The belly when filled with all kinds of food gives birth to seeds of wantonness, nor can the mind, when choked with the weight of food, keep the guidance and government of the thoughts. For not only is drunkenness with wine wont to intoxicate the mind, but excess of all kinds of food makes it weak and uncertain, and robs it of all its power of pure and clear contemplation.” How many of us know this to be true firsthand? How many of us have eaten so much food that we become groggy and overly tired? I know I have. Food effects the body in profound ways – and not all of them are always good. When a person eats far too much food or drinks far too much alcohol, they begin to give over their own control to the object they have consumed. According to Scripture, this is the action of a fool (Ephesians 5:18). Ezekiel declares that a great part of Sodom’s sin was that it had “too much bread”, with the assumption being that they ate it without concern for others. This mindset then led to other kinds of sinning (Ezekiel 16:49).
Fourth, gluttony shows a lack of gratitude. Christians often forget what food and drink are really about. (This is not about to become a debate on food as fuel versus fellowship). Food, when stripped down to its essence, is a reminder that God is worthy of worship. Genesis declares that God planted the first garden and it was “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:8-9). When we eat, we are eating the work of God. Yes, we might plant the seeds, we might cultivate the soil, we might work towards irrigation, but all of these things find their source in God. Who provides the seeds, the ground, the rain and natural springs? When we eat animals, who causes their young to be born healthy and to grow? When the plants do spring up, who causes the harvest of fruit to come and not be ruined by some form of disaster? Every time a plant grows and produces edible fruit, it is a gracious blessing from a benevolent God. When we eat and drink with no regard for self, neighbor, or God ordained moderation, we show ourselves ungrateful, and therefore foolish.
Moderation Is The Key
Food and drink are both listed as blessings from the Lord. Yet, the overindulgence of these blessings is tantamount to idolatry throughout Scripture. Novatian (c. 200-258) stated, “Although in the Gospel the use of meats is universally given to us, yet it is understood to be given to us only within the law of frugality and self-control.” So what pursuit should the believer have in seeking to be wise, rather than foolish, regarding food and drink? The key to it all is moderation. Moderation is found when a person is content. Consider this prayer from Agur, son of Jakeh from Proverbs 30:7-9:
Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ?Who is the Lord?? or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
When we are willing to acknowledge God’s control over our lives, when we are concerned with self-control, and when we are of grateful hearts for God’s provision, then we too can pray this prayer and live in wisdom concerning food and drink.