Gluttony: The worship of food?

As a young pastor I first heard the joke as to why so many pastors are overweight. “It’s because we have outlawed everything else!” The meaning of this was clear. We were not supposed to drink, dance, smoke, play cards, etc, so food was the only place to “let things go,” so to speak. The fact is that very attitude reveals an idolatry we are loathe to admit: the worship of food revealed in the sin of gluttony.

Gluttony is not merely about the amount of food we eat; it is about our attitude toward food. Thin people who submit to the siren’s song at the buffet can be just as guilty of gluttony as a morbidly obese person who polishes off a half-gallon of Blue Bell after dinner every night. Genetic predisposition to thermonuclear caloric burn rates does not allow for wriggling off sin’s baited hook.

morbidly obese dog

This old pooch has seen too many “dinners on the grounds.”

When we eat for comfort, out of convenience, because of boredom or simply because it is morning, noon, or night, we have adopted an attitude that views food wrongly. Food is for life and for pleasure, and it is not wrong to eat food for enjoyment. Sometimes it is wrong not to eat for enjoyment since God has given us all things richly to enjoy. But it is wrong to eat more than an entire sub-Saharan people group just because we can afford to buy it. It is wrong to eat any amount placed in front of us simply because Olive Garden and Chili’s are competing for our business by giving each person enough for the entire dinner party.

Preferring feed-trough restaurants like Ryan’s and Golden Corral for the sole purpose of “getting more for my money” reveals an idolatrous heart. Unless we are in training for the Olympics, burning through 7,000 calories a day, multiple plates of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls and dessert at lunch are unnecessary for living and counterproductive to health. While we may, like a meth user on the pipe, enjoy a temporary high by overeating, we also experience the physical crash after stuffing our faces full and, eventually, the emotional crash of not being able to see if our shoes match because of a too big belly.

obese man belly

One New Testament word translated “gluttony” is also translated “pregnant” on eight other occasions. The metaphor seems clear enough.

I’ve heard many times in my life, “Oh, you’re so skinny you can eat anything you want and it won’t matter.” First, that grows less true the older you get. As metabolism slows, the same amount of intake ceases being worked off in the normal routine. Instead, those extra calories takes up residence on our hips, belly, rump, arms, chin, thighs, and around our internal organs. Second, being thin can require greater self-discipline not to overeat. Those who can eat anything at all and never gain weight (which I cannot) must be more diligent to judge his or her attitude toward food. Having only internal indicators can be a bigger test to obedience than an expanding gut, tightening jeans and groaning bathroom scales.

The Bible speaks of gluttony directly about six times, each with a negative connotation. Also interesting is four of the times when the word “glutton” is used it is paired with “drunkard” (Deuteronomy 21:20, Proverbs 23:21, Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). They are conjoined at the proverbial hip in this: drunkenness is the idolatry of alcohol, while gluttony is the idolatry of food. Both are examples of bodily abuse, of seeking in food and drink what only God can provide in grace.

The Bible speaks indirectly to gluttony each time it speaks of self-control (self-discipline). Self-control, where food is concerned, is exhibited by not gluttonizing our meals. The Bible, incidentally, teaches us that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is controlling our lives self-control is an evidence of it. On a practical level this reveals a dramatic number of times we seem to sit at the table, quench the Spirit, and immediately lose control of our appetite.

One Hebrew word translated gluttons in the Old Testament is zalal which means “a riotous eater,” but can also figuratively mean “to have loose morals.” Would it be too far a stretch to call gluttony “the pornification of food”?

Joey Chestnut Nathans hotdog Coney Island

Joey Chestnut is the reigning champion of The National Gluttony Festival, aka, Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest.

Forget for a moment the negative health results of gluttony, how gluttony keep us blinded to the vast needs of the more than 925 million undernourished people around the world, and how obesity among preachers is a problem, and just consider the damage done to our own witness. “Oh,” says the prospective convert, “this Jesus who can forgive, deliver, and redeem me cannot seem to satisfy your inmost cravings so you do that with crock pot stew and creme brûlée?”

Partly to blame is our buy-in that we need three meals a day and snacks in between. Perhaps this is an erroneous construct of our corporately driven culture. Most of us could survive until a ripe old age ingesting far fewer calories than we do. I spent 2 weeks in Kenya in 1995. In a conversation with a Maasi evangelist (beside whom I looked genuinely obese), he informed me that he ate one meal a day in the evening. In the morning he drank a glass of water. “If I have a long walk during the day,” he said, “I’ll drink a glass of goat milk.” A “long walk” for a Kenyan is something over 15 miles. He was already older than me and in good health.

If we are to be victorious over gluttony as followers of Christ we must stop making jokes about eating too much and treat gluttony with the same serious as any other sin. We need a biblical foundation for a proper understanding, and some tools to help on the practical level. Those will be the subject of my next post.

Fat pooch image credit
Obese man image credit
Joey Chestnut image credit

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • Devin Maddox

    I like what C.S. Lewis points out (in Mere Xianity or Screwtape) about food idolatry. He points out it can cut both ways, as an overeater and as a gourmet snob. It is not really as much about volume, calories, metabolism (though all, good evidence), but rather an idolatrous heart. Also, the idolatry is exposed in the temptation of Jesus to turn a stone into bread. You can hear Satan asking, “Did God REALLY say He will provide?”

    Great post.

    • Marty Duren

      Thx, Devin.

      You think gluttony is a questioning whether God will provide our next meal so we need to eat as much as we can at the present meal?

      • I think “getting our money’s worth” in this meal, fails to take into consideration subsequent meals. If we eat a satisfying portion (i.e. stop when we are full), or even eat a reasonable portion (i.e. stop when we should), we eat with confidence we do not starve. We have made a habit in America of eating every meal like it is our last, after all, tomorrow we may die! Thanks, Epicurus.

  • We are stuck in our sins.

    We don’t stop sinning (including gluttony) because we don’t really want to stop.

    Our wills are “bound to sin”.

    I guess we really do need a Savior.

  • Pingback: Gluttony: The worship of food? Part 2 | Kingdom In The Midst()

  • Traycee Lynn

    Good article…this year on thanksgiving I am realizing the gluttony and worship of food more than ever. It’s like the turkey is an idol for a day.