What Is Gluttony?
All sins are deadly: participating in the realm of death and leading to the place of death. What, then, is the healing medicine for gluttons by nature like you and me? It is not found in a new list of rules and restrictions, which “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Rather, it is to seek the fullness of life in the only place it resides: the fullness and super-abundance of Christ Jesus (Col. 2:9–10).
“Curiouser and curiouser” (from Alice in Wonderland) seems an apropos response to our culture’s relationship to food. At one polar end, there are eating competitions to assess who can down the most hot dogs or slices of pizza. At the other, there is a growing movement of the practice of intermittent and prolonged fasting, apart from the Christian practice of prayer and fasting.
In between overeating and not eating at all, there is evidence of moral weight assigned to dietary choices. Recipes are commended as “virtuous and simple,” and invitations are made to cook and consume foods in line with “nature’s self-organizing perfection.” Ethical vocabulary may be noticeably absent from other spheres, but not so in the context of our eateries. A pilgrim following in Apostolic footsteps may well conclude after watching all the cooking shows and reading the gastronomical magazines: “Modern Western denizens: I perceive you are very religious!”
Gluttony, biblically speaking, can be summed up as laboring “for the food that perishes” (John 6:27). It is not only found in over-consumption, but an idolatrous expectation that looks to eating and drinking to provide sating and fullness for the soul (the inner person). To be gluttonous, then, is to carry “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). After all, food as a created reality is a gift, but not to be regarded as having the character or potency of the Creator and Giver (cf. James 1:17).
To be sure, gluttony is to be distinguished from proper feasting. The calendar of the old covenant church was punctuated by days of worship and feasting: “Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows” (Nah. 1:15). The communion of saints following the day of Pentecost included “receiv[ing] their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). A Christian abiding in Christ, who has the Spirit-given fruit of self-control, thus should be able to enjoy daily bread and feast in the presence of God. But believers must also be on guard, lest anxiety over what to eat or laying hold of edible goods as holding supernatural power enter into the equation of their lives (see Luke 12:22; 1 Cor. 8:8).