Article

The almost forgotten, always misunderstood, all-consuming sin of gluttony

May 15, 2014

"I can’t stop eating. I haven’t been hungry in, like, 12 years,” jokes comedian Jim Gaffigan. “You ever see medication that says never eat on an empty stomach? Never a concern of mine.”

Listening to Gaffigan’s hilarious routines about our propensity to overeat is always funny. But what is sad is that it’s also the closest many of us Christians will ever come to hearing a sermon about gluttony.

While many churchgoers have heard their pastors warn against the dangers of indulging in sin we almost never hear about the sin of indulgence. This wasn’t always the case, for gluttony was once listed among the Seven Deadly Sins. The book of Proverbs even tells us to, “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony (23:2).” Yet how many Christians today would even consider gluttony to be a sin at all?

Part of the problem is that gluttony is frequently mistaken for obesity. Not all who are fat are gluttons, just as not all gluttons are fat. Gluttony—a term derived from the Latin word meaning to “gulp down”—is usually used in reference to over-consumption of food or drink. But from a Christian perspective, it applies more broadly. Thomas Aquinas said that, "Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire . . . leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists." And Chris Donato explains,

Two mistakes accompany most discussions on gluttony. The first is that it only pertains to those with a less than shapely waistline; the second is that it always involves food. In reality, it can apply to toys, television, entertainment, sex, or relationships. It is about an excess of anything.

The true danger of gluttony is not that it will lead to flabby waistlines but that it will lead to flabby souls. Too often we separate the physical from the spiritual, forgetting that the habits of our body can have profound effects on the sanctification of our spirit. “Physical appetites are an analogy of our ability to control ourselves,” says S. Michael Houdmann. “If we are unable to control our eating habits, we are probably also unable to control other habits, such as those of the mind (lust, covetousness, anger) and unable to keep our mouths from gossip or strife.”

In my own life I can see myriad ways in which gluttony has become an idol. I have an almost worshipful relationship with food. I eat when I’m in-between meals. I eat when I’m in my car. I eat when I’m bored. I eat when I’m restless, when I’m frustrated, when I’m watching TV, when I’m on the computer. I eat constantly for no other reason than that I can eat almost anytime I want —for any reason, or for no reason at all.

But I also starve my soul by other forms of overconsumption. I binge watch Downton Abbey (31 hours) and Battlestar Galactica (57 hours) even though I’ve already seen every episode. I stay up too late gorging on Facebook and Twitter. I play countless hours of video games, like Angry Birds or Civilization 5.

I turn to Netflix instead of turning to prayer. I pause to check Facebook instead of pausing to meditate on Scripture. I seek out a piece of fried bread instead of seeking the Bread of Life. I fill my life with comfort food and comfort games, with must-see TV and must-engage social media, in order to avoid filling my time and my life with God and his holy Word.

“Their end is destruction,” the Apostle Paul warned, for those for whom “their god is the belly.” We worship this false idol—the god of our belly—whenever we succumb to the sin of gluttony. We replace the focus on the Lord with a focus on our own indulgences. We make a god of our belly and allow our souls to turn softer than the creme filling in our Twinkies.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution: increasing our appetite for Jesus. To cure our gluttony we need to constantly ask God to, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (Ps. 90:14)” As John Piper frequently says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."

Since we can never get enough of God’s love, we can feast freely without fearing we will become overfull. If we are to be gluttons, let us gorge on the gospel and God’s glory. Let our desire be for God alone—for that alone is the only desire for which we can never overindulge.