As we address the subject of gluttony, we must begin with an important qualificataion. This short essay is not about that second helping of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. At the same time, the issues here remain important ones. Gluttony does not refer to a desire to eat and drink, but rather to an inordinate desire. And when we use words like inordinate, we have to remember to ask the fundamental question—by what standard? “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate . . . Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them” (1 Cor. 6:9-20).
What sort of company does gluttony keep? The sin condemned in Scripture as gluttony is identified by its companions. The word in the Old Testament is zalal, and refers to riotous eating. One instance of it is brought to our attention by exasperated parents. In the book of Deuteronomy, we see what happens when parents of a glutton bring him in. “And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard” (Dt. 21:20). As we see in the next verse, under certain circumstances this was a sin that warranted the death penalty—which means that this was not a case of having an extra candy bar. The end result of the sin is that the glutton will come to poverty. “Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way. Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags” (Prov. 23:19-21). This was the sin of the prodigal son (Luke 15:13). He ran off and wasted his father’s substance in riotous living. Notice the parallelism in this Proverbs passage that helps define the word contextually for us. “Winebibbers” is parallel to “drunkard” and “riotous eaters of flesh” parallels “glutton.” This is really shameful behavior: “Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father” (Prov. 28:7). It is bad enough even to be associated with people like this.
Having said all this, we need to look at what the Bible says about fatness and good cheer. The Bible uses the image of fat very differently than do we. In fact, in Scripture, leaving aside the fat of the sacrificial offerings, there are two basic connotations of fatness. One is that of insolence and rebellion (Ps. 17:10; 73:7; 119:70; Is. 6:10; Jer. 5:28; Job 15:27). And the other—somewhat surprising to natives of this fat-free culture of ours—is that of abundant blessing (Gen. 27:28; 45:18; 49:20; Num. 13:20; Dt. 31:20; 1 Chron. 4:40; Ps. 22:29; 36:8; 65:11; 92:12-14; Pr. 11:25; 13:4; 28:25; Is. 10:16; 25:6; 55:2; 58:11). One the one hand, their eyes are like grease; when we think of fat, we should think of Eglon and tyranny (Judg. 3:17). But on the other, there is wonderful blessing. When we think of fat, we should also think of God’s wonderful grace. “And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness” (Neh. 9:25; cf. 8:10; 9:35). Clearly our standard (if it is to be scriptural) cannot be the modern loathing of fat in every form. This is actually “gluttony” in reverse. The fat-phobia of our culture is not healthy. We have come to the point where we can pour a glass of milk and it looks like a glass of water that somebody cleaned a paint brush in. There is a spiritual danger here as well. A glutton is a belly-god. “For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly .. .” (Rom. 16:18; cf. Phil. 3:18-19). But this is not successfully checked by any kind of asceticism. These are the commandments and doctrines of men, but are of no value in restraining the flesh (Col. 2:23). Americans have a deep and idolatrous faith in salvation through food. Either that, or no food. But Jesus taught that foodstuffs cannot defile a man (Matt. 15:17).
This does not set aside the need for self-control. Godly self-discipline is a result of the Spirit’s work in our lives. And so we return to our text cited earlier. All things are lawful; this means we should look to the motive, not to the food (v. 12). Paul says that he will not be brought under the power of any. Second, don’t become too attached to the the stomach as we know it. God will destroy both the belly and food in their current form (v. 13). Enjoy your food in the light of eternity. This does not mean that we will spend eternity eating spiritual (and very thin) crackers, but it does mean something. Just remember that heaven is not a downgrade, and if the marriage supper of the Lamb does not involve stomachs and food (as we know them), it will be because what we have here does not qualify as real food. This earthly life is where we get the thin soup, not heaven.
With all this said, there is nothing wrong with taking into account certain practical considerations. If you want to lose weight for practical reasons—tying your own shoes, that sort thing—then it should be encouraged, and more power to you. But this is very difficult to do if your assumptions are all wrong, and if all your ideas of your ideal shape come from the liars who do the graphics for supermarket magazines. The sin of gluttony can therefore be two-fold. The first manifestation would be a lack of self-control with food—any kind of compulsive, driven behavior with food. The second would be a finicky compulsion about food, which would include insisting on having it all “just so.” The obsession need not involve great amounts. The solution to either problem is not a new resolve to set up a new menu for yourself. The solution is to learn how to sit down at Christ’s table. He has provided the fare, the bread and the wine. If we learn how to eat there, we will learn how to eat everywhere else.