We have all heard the stats. One of America’s major health crises is obesity. Just as it is possible to be godly and rich, so it is possible to be godly and overweight. Not all of us are blessed with a high metabolism. However, it does us no good to excuse all obesity to metabolic rates. The fact of the matter is this, too many people worship food more than they worship Jesus. Too many people in our society love food, and the joy it brings, than they love Jesus and the joy he brings. So, where does that leave us? Let us first consider what the Bible says about the matter of gluttony.
Basic Exposition of Key Texts
Gluttony is not a popular subject in the Bible and in the NT it is always tied with the matter of heaving drinking (Matt 11:19, Luke 7:34). The Greek noun is semantically related to the verb “to eat.” Its link with drunkenness would suggest an out-of-control use of food. In both passages, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees (and the generation in general) for rejecting him calling him a drunkard and a glutton – which was untrue of course. The fact that gluttony and drunkenness would be linked so tightly is no surprise when you study the concept in the OT. The Hebrew term used for gluttony comes from the root meaning to be light, or worthless. According to the main Hebrew-English lexicon it only means “gluttony” in 4 passages (in fact, the KJV of Prov. 28:7 uses another meaning of the root to translate the term “riotous men”).
Three of the four verses (Prov 28:7 as the only exception — Deut 21:20, Prov. 23:20-21, Prov. 28:7) link the matter of drunkenness with gluttony. In sum, when I look at passages that use “glutton” language I reach the conclusion that it refers to the person with an out-of-control eating habit that sometimes, but not always, manifests itself with drunkenness.
This basic conclusion can also be substantiated by passages that express the idea of gluttony without using the words themselves. Of course, we do need to exercise some caution of not making the texts simply say whatever we want, but in my judgment Esau would appear as a classic example (see Heb 12:16-17 cf. Gen 25:30-34) although some also point to the wilderness experience as another instance of gluttony (Ps. 78:18 cf. Num 11:4) and still others highlight the sins of the sons of Eli in 2 Sam 2:12-17. We can also point to Phil 3:19 and Rom 13:13-14 in the NT epistles for the concept. In other words, looking at biblical examples and finding the concept of gluttony confirms our basic premise that gluttony is an out-of-control (or indulging) approach to food that makes what goes in the stomach to be of more value than God or his Word.
Identifying a glutton
This definition of gluttony is very, very important. It demonstrates that gluttony is a matter of the heart. Since gluttony and drunkenness are connected so closely I tend to think that gluttony is the “solid food” companion to a how a drunk treats alcohol. Whatever standards we would use to move a person from a social drinker to a drunk would seem a reasonable approach to do with the matter of gluttony. Questions like this seem to be important:
- When life is hard, where do you find your joy and satisfaction?
- When you are hurting, where do you seek comfort?
- When you think of a “relaxing moment,” what elements are included?
- Do you take a good thing (food) and make it a bad thing (by indulging)?
For the glutton, the answers to the first three questions eventually find their way back to food. Food becomes the place where the glutton receives joy, where the glutton receives satisfaction, and where the glutton receives strength for his day. The glutton also (q#4) indulges in his or her food rather than eats a reasonable portion.
It should be clear that this is a radical way of looking at gluttony. It implies the following:
- A skinny person could actually be a glutton because that is where he finds comfort, joy, and satisfaction even if his body is able to metabolize his intake efficiently.
- An overweight person might not be a glutton because that person is more inclined to gain weight even when eating reasonable portions.
- The scale, while being a possible indicator, does not tell the whole story because the scale cannot look at the heart.
As an aside I would use this same argument if I were discussing the relationship between riches and greed. Not all greedy persons are wealthy and not all wealthy persons are greedy.
We have defined gluttony, we have identified a glutton, now it is time to help.
Helping a Glutton
Here are three truths to help the gluttons in your life:
- Gluttons must realize that gluttony is a sin. It is an offense to God to find joy, satisfaction, and comfort in food rather than in the one who provided it.
- Gluttons must learn to worship the creator rather than the creation. Gluttons must learn to worship Jesus rather than worship the joys of food.
- Gluttons must see God as the one who rescues (see Psalm 40, especially vv. 1-4) then from their pain, struggles, and difficulties rather than believe that food will rescue them.
The cross of the Lord Jesus and his sustaining grace can deliver the glutton from his addiction to food. The Lord Jesus can provide the joy, comfort, and satisfaction that the glutton is looking for. The Lord Jesus is the one who must be worshipped. At the same time, the glutton can learn to enjoy all that God has made available without worshipping the creation.