Excess & Waste
As this article pertains to one of the seven deadly sins, I find it to be necessary to provide a brief statement on the seven deadly sins. The first and perhaps most important thing to be said is that the seven deadly sins are not in the Bible. That is not to say that envy, wrath or gluttony are not mentioned or talked about in the scriptures, but that there is no place in the scriptures where pride, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth are listed together as the worst sins. Rather, the earliest list of the seven we have comes from Evagrius of Pontus, a follower of Origen who was condemned in 553 AD as a heretic. What can become problematic, is ranking sins or believing that there are some which are worse or better than others. The seven deadly sins are sins to be sure. Gluttony, however, is one that we often think as lesser. Yet this too is a sin worth considering.
Gluttony appears in both the First Testament and the New Testament and is always described, either explicitly or implicitly, as a negative phenomenon. In Hebrew, the word translated as “glutton” in Proverbs 23:21, for instance, means to squander something or treat it as worthless. In the Greek there are two words which are translated as “glutton.” The first, which appears in the gospels as one of the insults hurled against Jesus, means a devourer or eater. The word which Paul uses as he repeats the insult against the Cretans means stomach or belly which can be used to communicate eating, consumption and appetite. Therefore, if we form a definition of gluttony utilizing the original languages of both Testaments, we can say gluttony is the attitude of treating something lightly (especially food) which results in an overconsumption of that thing to the point that it is mishandled and wasted.
If it was not clear from my definition, I believe gluttony goes beyond food. There are many different faces of gluttony, and I believe we all can be gluttons even if we eat like rabbits. However, because I believe gluttony to be one of those sins our culture and even the Church is ignoring, I will seek to outline and paint some faces of gluttony so that we might think more clearly and critically about how we live.
The first and most obvious face of gluttony is food and drink. People love to eat, snack, feast, and drink, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with any of these things. Like the rest of the “seven deadly sins,” it is the posture of the heart and the attitude of the mind that can transform something as wonderful as eating into a sin.
There are many people who mindlessly snack. Giving little thought to what we are doing, our hands go again and again into the bag of Doritos until all the chips are consumed. There are others who stress-eat; overwhelmed with anxiety over situations or circumstances, we consume food in the hopes of mending our hearts and minds. Most of us also overeat. Excitedly, we sit around the table on Thanksgiving Day and eat enough calories and servings for two people (conservatively). Those who mindlessly snack, those who overeat, and those who stress-eat are wasting and mishandling food. We are guilty of gluttony. Having thought lightly or wrongly about food and its true significance (because we have made it an abstraction), we mishandle and waste food in our consumption of it.
Food is a sacred sign that points to a greater reality and truth; food is not an end in and of itself, but instead points to and serves the end, or rather, the final purpose of all things: the Lord Jesus Christ. Food is a physical reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ is necessary for life, and we are invited to partake of Him - all of Him, and thereby receive life, sustenance, and nourishment from Him. Drink is no different; it too is a sign and reminder Jesus is the true drink—the ultimate Quencher of our thirst and the supreme Refresher of our soul. To flippantly eat and drink with no thought to the true purpose of food and drink is to commit gluttony.
As stated before, food and drink are not the only face of gluttony. Many of us also consume knowledge voraciously. We read books, articles, and blogs with excitement. We watch or listen to TedTalks, sermons, seminars and panels with delight. How much of what we learn do we put into practice in our lives? How much of the knowledge we consume is being wasted (or mishandled) as we continue to stuff ourselves? Like Paul’s “weak women,” we are always learning but doing ourselves no good (2 Tim. 3:7). I remember being a little obsessed with Francis Chan and I consumed many of his sermons. I downloaded more than 30 hours of sermons by Chan, Dr. Tony Evans, Voddie Baucham and David Platt. I loved listening, but I was not really applying everything they were teaching, I couldn’t! I also was not applying the lessons my pastor was preaching on Sundays. Convicted by this, I deleted all the sermons and put greater effort into note-taking on Sundays and praying through those notes during the week; I sought repentance from my gluttony of knowledge.
Learning is good and important, and knowledge is essential to learning and strengthening the mind. However, we should never find ourselves shoveling in knowledge and education to the point that we are not making use of it or wasting it. The point of acquiring knowledge is to use it and convert it into wisdom. If we are failing in this task, we are gluttons of knowledge and education.
If we are to recognize and fight against gluttony in our lives, we must first consider what we need. This certainly requires a cognitive recalibration for Americans, as we are trained and discipled by our culture to live in excess. As my pastor used to say, we get all we can, can all we get and then sit on the can. The discipline of simplicity will help us access what we need and then use it. We should eat when we are hungry and eat enough to energize our bodies for our work and tasks. We eat mindful of Christ’s place in our life as our true sustenance. When we take in information, we do so with the intention of putting it to good use, allowing our minds to “digest” it, then work it into our lifestyle and daily practices with a heart of wisdom. Our appetites, whether they be for food and drink or knowledge, are not our God. Therefore, merely wanting does not justify the pursuit—even if it is as good as food or learning. This is a hard teaching and I feel like I am attacking myself by writing it, but it seems to be the truth based on my simple understanding of the scriptures and their teachings surrounding this subject.
To be a glutton is to waste and misuse resources because one is not thinking rightly about them. Just as we all have a sinful nature, we all have gluttonous attitudes and appetites that we must put to death by the power of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Gluttony, I contend, does not only concern food; rather, we can be gluttons for anything. The most important thing for us to remember is that nothing in this world has a purpose outside of the glorification of God the Father in Jesus Christ. All things bend toward that purpose, and so we must engage with all things of this world with the glory of Jesus Christ foremost in our minds. We all fall short and sin in many ways, but thanks be to God that our Lord has paid the full price for our sins and has given us His Spirit that we might walk in freedom. Let us then walk in that freedom and victory over gluttony—let us gorge instead on the Lord Himself, tasting and seeing that He alone is good.