Drunkenness is a sin which we all recognise as such. The Scriptures speak plainly: ‘Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Unless the drunkard repents and is washed in the blood of Christ he will be banned from heaven. But what about the glutton?
There are more obese people in Britain today than there ever were. Every so often we hear health warnings about the dangers of overeating. People spend lots of money and hours in the gym trying to regain their shape after over-indulging. In most of the world the way to celebrate some special occasion is by sharing a sumptuous meal and generally over-eating. We enjoy eating though afterwards we may not feel so well. Half the world is starving and sadly a large proportion of the rest are over-eating. Great efforts are made by food-processing companies to entice people to eat more. That is the way they make their money. Sugar, fat, salt and flavourings are blended to entice. There are restaurant chains specializing in what is called ‘junk food’ and many people find such food irresistible. The reality is that some people are addicted to drink and others to food.
In Roman Catholic theology sins are divided into mortal and venial. A mortal sin is one which would prevent someone from entering heaven unless one confessed it before death. Venial sins are considered to be little ones, unintentional ones, for example, gossiping about someone. It is thought that these will not break one’s fellowship with God. But for the Bible-believing Christian every sin is mortal and deserves hell. There is no such thing as a little sin against an infinitely great God. It is interesting however that Roman Catholics do not place gluttony among these venial sins. They regard it as one of the seven deadly sins which are usually given as wrath, greed (for money), sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. Aquinas, the Medieval theologian, went so far as to prepare a list of five ways in which an individual can be guilty of committing gluttony. He uses Latin terms:
Praepropere – eating too soon
Laute – eating too expensively
Nimis – eating too much
Ardenter – eating too eagerly
Studiose – eating too daintily
What does the Scripture say?
The first sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden was eating more than they should. They ate the forbidden fruit. However this was not done out of gluttony, though the fruit looked good to eat, but rather was eaten out of a desire to be wise like God. Satan had deceived Eve. Once the forbidden fruit was eaten, however, gluttony and all other sins became natural and tempting.
The first clear case of gluttony in the Scriptures is in the life of that ‘profane’ person, ‘Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright’ (Heb. 12:16). He speaks in extreme language typical of the glutton: ‘And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: and Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?’ (Gen. 25:29-32). One day without food will kill no-one. He was motivated by profane lust. Food was more important to him than his soul and he despised the covenant blessing of his father.
Israel in the Wilderness
The Israelites were fed on the best possible food in the desert – manna. It was specially prepared by God for them and it contained all the nutrients required and in perfect blend. The Israelites eating it were kept in perfect health (Ps. 105:37) and Moses was as fit at one hundred and twenty as he was as a young man. How much would people today pay for manna if it was available in a health-food shop? But we are told that the ‘mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes’ (Numb. 11:4-6). They wanted meat and God provided them with quails. They gorged themselves, and so angered the Lord and brought a plague upon themselves: ‘And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted’ (vv 33-34). Gluttony was severely punished.
There is a fascinating case in the law of a rebellious son who was to be stoned for being a glutton: ‘If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; 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. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear’ (Deut. 21:18-21). What a warning against gluttony!
As we would expect, Solomon gives wise advice on this subject in his Proverbs: ‘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).
Interestingly our Lord Jesus was condemned for being a glutton: ‘The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners’ (Mt. 11:19). Why was this? The Pharisees did not like His religion because He did not observe their traditions and fasts. He was critical of their works salvation and showed up their hypocrisy. John the Baptist, in contrast, was very abstemious, yet they criticised him and said that he had a devil (Mt. 11:18). Of course Jesus never ate more than He needed. We have one account of Him fasting. He spent forty days in the wilderness fasting in preparation for His work and prior to His being tempted by the devil. There is another occasion when His disciples wanted Him to eat but, while ministering to the crowd of Samaritans, He would not. ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work’ (Jn. 4:34). He enjoyed food but He also spoke of occasions when it was right to fast: ‘But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days’ (Mk. 2:20).
Paul describes certain people ‘whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things’ (Phil. 3:19).These were professing Christians who, forgetting that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, gave themselves over to gluttony and immorality. They were worldly and carnal. They were enemies of the cross of Christ and their end was to be destroyed. Could that be you?
In writing to Titus he quotes poets who said: ‘The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies’, or as it is in modern translations ‘lazy gluttons’ (Tit. 1:12). Paul adds, ‘This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith’ (v. 13).
There can be no doubting that gluttony is a sin. It wastes money, it uses up valuable resources which should be given to the hungry, and it is a breach of the sixth commandment because it is detrimental to our health. Being seriously overweight is a bad witness because it shows a person to be carnal, undisciplined and a slave to lust. We are told, ‘Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand’ (Phil. 4:5). Life is short, the Lord is coming, your heaven is not here, exercise some self-denial for your own good and that of others, and prepare for eternity. It is right to enjoy food, and occasionally to have a special meal, a banquet, but there is something wrong if we fare ‘sumptuously every day’ (Lk. 16:19).
Remember Paul’s words to Timothy: ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain ... And having food and raiment let us be therewith content’. We are to trust ‘in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy’ (1 Tim. 6:6, 8, 17). Thank God for the good food He gives us abundantly, but remember we are to exercise moderation in all things.