Gluttony seems to be one of the under-taught issues of our day. This is, likely, due to our being uncomfortable with the idea that we ourselves might be guilty of it. What is gluttony, though? We know it’s not good. One of the ways in which they tried to discredit Jesus was by calling him “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). What is so bad about gluttony? Why is it so strongly warned against?
While we think of gluttony as generally referring to overeating, it is tied to other problems like laziness (Titus 1:12) and drunkenness (Deut 21:20; Prov 23:21; Matt 11:19). Gluttony is connected to the idea of lust or excessively craving something to the point of acting foolishly and beastly (cf. Num 11:33-34). A glutton is undiscerning (Prov 28:7) and would lust after the delicacies of rulers (Prov 23:1-3). It is a form of greed and lust. It’s not just about eating one too many pieces of bacon at breakfast. It is tied to laziness, lack of discernment, and a total failure at any self-control. Covetousness, greed, and lust are the companions of gluttony. It is another version of the lust of the flesh and eyes (cf. 1 John 2:15-17).
Gluttony is not to be equated with just being overweight. While being a glutton can contribute to being overweight, it would not be correct or fair to think that all overweight problems are caused by gluttony. Judging an overweight person to be a glutton by mere looks is judging outwardly and unrighteously. Being overweight has many causes, and those who are overweight often struggle seriously with losing the weight (the struggle is real). It is hurtful and unkind to pigeonhole the overweight person as a glutton without discernment or knowledge of the particular situation. In fact, a person need not be overweight at all to be a glutton, a lazy sloth, or a drunkard. Yet these are different sides of the same coin. Like other sins, gluttony begins in the heart and is a manifestation of an inner man lacking any desire to deny self to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).
Speaking of the vice of gluttony, Basil (4th century) wrote, “This vice of gluttony delivered Adam up to death; by the pleasure of the appetite consummate evil was brought into the world. Through it Noah was mocked, Canaan was cursed, Esau was deprived of his birthright and married into a Canaanite family. Lot became his own son-in-law and father-in-law, by marrying his own daughter.” (Ancient Christian Commentary)
“By the pleasure of the appetite” captures the vice well and reminds us of the words of Paul when he wrote about certain enemies of the cross: “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:19, ESV). This is set over the Christian’s citizenship in heaven (v. 20) and speaks to the need to set our minds on things above (cf. Col 3:1-4). Gluttony is about earthly pleasures and is not compatible with the heavenly mindset.
What Can We Do?
How can we combat the temptation to become gluttonous?
1. We can check out attitudes about materialism. Where are our desires? Do we lust after and crave the delicacies of this life (whether in food or other areas)? Do our priorities show worldly desires or heavenly longing?
2. We can refocus our attention on Christ (Heb 12:1-3). “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3). Gluttony is a fixation on what we can see and touch. It is about our worldly and sensual desires. As such, it runs counter to setting our minds on things above.
3. We can stir one another up to love and good works (Heb 10:23-24). What does this have to do with gluttony? The glutton is more interested in appeasing his own appetite than in loving and helping others. By refocusing on love and good works, our attention will be drawn away from our own selfish desires, of which gluttony is a sure manifestation.
This has certainly not been exhaustive, but in the end, what John says applies as much to gluttony as to any other sin: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)