©Douglas Beyer 2000



Gluttony is the world's most unpopular sin — not that people don't commit it; they just don't want to hear about it. In the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary which contains 42,176 sermons there is not a single sermon on the sin of gluttony. When was the last time you heard one — not from your wife or husband — but from an ordained preacher?

Why are preachers silent on this sin? Is it because it isn't really a sin? Is it because it insults too many close friends? Is it because preachers feel guilty about their own gluttonous appetites?

Sermons on gluttony are far more desperately needed today than in the days of the prophets and apostles. They preached against gluttony; we practice it. Ever since Adam and Eve fell for the first food commercial we have been in deep trouble. The wise Solomon said, "Put a knife to your throat if you are man of great appetite" (Proverbs 23:2). Paul denounces those "whose god is their belly" (Phil. 3:19 KJV). Their kitchen is their shrine, the cook their priest, the table their altar, and their belly their god.


Gluttony is not only sinful; it is expensive. It costs us our health. Food addiction shortens more lives than drug addiction. I'm not talking about other people's eating habits; I'm talking about my own. I have a weakness for licorice, sweet rolls, soda pop, chocolates and pop corn. Although I am not overweight (yet), I have a great fear that unless I watch my attitude, God may afflict me with the problem I see in others. I freely confess that gluttony is my problem too.

Gluttony, like lust and anger, is an attitude problem. We can't distinguish the sinners from the saints simply by measuring their waist line. Some thin people are gluttons blessed with a metabolism that allows them to sin and not show it. Some fat people are Spartans cursed with a metabolism that allows them to gain weight on celery. We must not judge them.

Their problem is described in Romans 7:15-18. Read it substituting the word "eat" for "do." "For that which I am (eating), I do not understand; for I am not (eating) what I would like to (eat), but I am eating the very thing I hate. But if I (eat) the thing I do not wish to (eat), I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the (eating) of the good is not."

Why do I continue to eat after I am comfortably full? Why do I eat snacks when I'm not really hungry? It must be that I am trying to feed a hunger that isn't physical. It doesn't work. It is bad for both the body and the spirit.

A few years ago the news media poked fun at Oral Roberts University when a fat student charged the school with discrimination against obesity. ORU took seriously their aim at improving the whole person: the body, mind, spirit. Overweight students faced suspension unless they adhered to a prescribed diet. Students had to shape up or ship out.

Compared to the giant-sized sins of adultery, stealing and murder, gluttony is a midget. Why does God care about it? What difference does it make to him how much we eat? God created and cares for the whole person — not just our soul, but our body too. It is, in fact, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). It is where he lives. He wants us to keep it clean and in good repair. The Bible says, "Listen, my son, be wise and give serious thought to the way you live. Don't associate with people who drink too much wine or stuff themselves with food. Drunkards and gluttons will be reduced to poverty" (Proverbs 23:19-21 TEV).

We preachers have been quite selective in our biblical ethics. We have many sermons against drinking too much, and no sermons against eating too much. But gluttony and drunkenness come under the same condemnation.

Gluttony refers to more than just food. A gluttonous appetite for food destroys our physical health, but a gluttonous appetite for things destroys our economic and spiritual health.

Gluttony costs our happiness. How ironic! Happiness is the very thing the god of gluttony promises to give us. There are few pleasures more wholesome and innocent than moderate eating of good food. But overeating does not increase pleasure. It decreases it. The cure-all for every human ill is consume. Are you depressed? Go shopping. Buy a pill, or a boat, or a car, or a house. Buy something and you will be happy.

Mankind is the only animal whose desires increase the more they are fed. Your family dog wants no more than his ancestor wanted which curled beside the caveman's fire. Dogs and cats are content with what dogs and cats had a thousand years ago, but not us. People are different. Give them an inch and they want a foot. Give them a foot and they want a yard. Give them yard and they want a swimming pool in it.

Human gluttony is like a mosquito bite: the more we scratch it, the more it itches. Over-consumption creates new appetites and new miseries. 

We are looking for happiness in all the wrong places. The centers of our most gluttonous pursuits are also the centers of human failure. Nevada's suicide rate is double that of the national average. That high rate is not found among Nevada's sheep herders, but among its glittering palaces of pleasure.

Psychologist Eric Fromm said, "The world has become one great maternal breast, and man has become the eternal suckling, forever expectant, forever disappointed." We have turned our goods into gods. And they have become demons that haunt us. The abundant life can not be found in an abundance of material goods (Luke 12:15). Gluttony is an expensive sin.


Here's a puzzle for you. Since the affluent life has failed so miserably to satisfy the human spirit, why aren't we eager to adopt a more simple life? Why do we need sermons on the dangers of gluttony? Why don't we know when enough is enough? Why haven't we paid more attention to what the Bible says about the dangers of acquiring wealth?

The answer is that our desires are influenced more by culture than by Christ. The propaganda of affluence is so pervasive that our minds are bewitched into thinking that the simple biblical alternative is absurd — or at least, irrelevant. As professed followers of One who was poor, not by necessity but by choice, who spent his life among the underprivileged and who frequently warned of the dangers of wealth, we draw little comfort from him in the check-out line with our market basket full of over-priced junk food (Philippians 2:3-8; Matthew. 6:24; 19:24).

Hassled by a defective dishwasher, we forget what Jesus said about laying up treasures where rust corrupts and circuits break down (Matthew 6:19). Alarmed by next week's mortgage payment and utility bills on our air-conditioned homes, we seek divine assistance from One who had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).

The forbidden tree in Eden meant that there was a limit to what Adam and Eve could consume (Gen. 2:17). And there still is. Manna was provided for Israel in the wilderness on a daily basis. Hoarding was forbidden (Exodus 16:19). They had no divine right to a "doggie bag" of God's manna. Nor do we! Bigger barns in Jesus' parable did not finally profit the rich farmer (Luke 12:13-21).

If we are to adopt a more biblical life-style, we are going to have to simplify. To simplify life does not mean we forsake our lamps, but we focus on the stars. When an American tourist visited the renowned Polish Rabbi, Hafetz Chaim, he was surprised to find him in a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench. "Where's your furniture?" he asked.
"Where's yours?" the rabbi answered.
"Mine? I'm only a visitor here. I am just passing through."
"So am I," said the rabbi.

Novelist Ernest Hemingway said, "The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without."

Tasteful food eaten in moderation provides some of life’s most delightful pleasures, but eaten to excess, it dilutes those pleasures and adds miseries of its own. What is true of food is also true of drink and all consumable goods. Our gluttonous appetites will never be sated by consuming more and more. We can be satisfied only by Jesus Christ who is the true bread and water of life. He said, "He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

I offer you something better than any diet plan you have ever tried. I offer you the One for whom your soul hungers. Nothing you can consume will ever substitute for Him. "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good." (Isaiah 55:2). Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Mat. 4:4).

Unlike negative diets, the scriptures focus not on what you have to give up, but what you have to take in. Take in the true Bread of life which will displace the gluttonous gunk that has cost you your health and happiness.

   "Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah,
    Pilgrim through this barren land;
    I am weak, but thou are mighty;
    Hold me with your powerful hand.
    Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more!"
                                             (William Williams)


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