Glutton, Glutton, Who Is A Glutton?
© 4.7.05 By D. Eric Williams
You don’t hear much about gluttony in the Church these days. It’s not because there aren’t any fat people in the Church. In fact, I think the reason you don’t hear much about it is because there are quite a few overweight persons in the pews – not to mention the chubby folks behind the pulpit. But, never fear, I’m here to set tubby saints at ease. How so? Well, I’m here to let you know that gluttony isn’t what you think it is. So, grab a bag of chips, a bowl of ice cream and plop yourself down in front of the computer – but don’t dig in until you’ve had a good dose of old fashioned revival preaching first.
The Hebrew word translated as glutton or gluttony in most Bibles doesn’t automatically have to do with over eating. The word zalal (or zullut), actually has to do with the manner in which one eats (or the attitude of the eater so to speak), not necessarily the amount. A gluttonous attitude is self centered, ignoring God’s role in providing food and thus squandering it.1 In other words the glutton eats not as one who is thankful for God’s bounty but as one who disregards the Giver and recklessly uses food to satisfy his own lust (the King James version translates zullut in Pv. 23:20 as riotous eaters of flesh). Typically this involves overeating, but it is important to understand that overeating is not an obligatory aspect of gluttony.
So, the glutton eats like an animal, ravenously, wastefully, without regard for the covenant blessings of God. The glutton is like the sexually immoral man in that he displays a wanton disregard for God’s proper use of the gift. Indeed, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes speaks of those who “feast in the morning” to satisfy their sensual lusts and contrasts them with “princes who feast at the proper time – for strength and not for drunkenness” (Ecc. 11:17). In a nut shell, the essence of gluttony is to use food for selfish ends (that’s why bulimia is actually a form of gluttony - biblically speaking - because the bulimic squanders food and uses it only for the sensual pleasure they derive from eating).
Now, this isn’t to say that we should not experience pleasure in eating. Quite the contrary. God designed food to provide pleasure along with the nourishment we need to sustain life.2 Nevertheless, as it is with sexual intimacy, eating must take place within the proper context.
To begin with, we must give thanks to God for the food He provides (Matt. 14:19, 15:36, Luke 22:17, 19, 1 Tim. 4:4-5). Moreover we are required to recognize that food – if used apart from God’s intended use – can be harmful. In other words, God intended food to be the normal means of providing nourishment and strength – a means to an end. He did not intend for food to be an end in itself.
At the same time, food is designed to be used in celebrating God’s goodness. The major celebrations of God’s people have always involved food and the reason for this is that food is a proper public display of God’s blessings (Deut. 16). Frankly there is nothing wrong with eating until you can hold no more at family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas. God commanded His people to “rejoice in (their) feasts” and that cannot be done when one is counting calories. Feasting is also analogous to the relationship we enjoy with God the Father through Jesus Christ (Matt: 22:1-14, Luke 14:16-24). When we feast with family and friends we should be cognizant of the symbolism: because of Jesus we are part of the family of God and have access to all of the covenant blessings (2 Cor. 1:20). We are given permission to feast at the communion table and rejoice in Christ's victory over death and the sure triumph of His kingdom. In Christ we realize the sumptuous bounty of the promise land. Thus our family feasts cannot be niggardly affairs. They must be times of rejoicing that remind us of God’s overwhelming blessings in Christ. Finally, we must frequently refer to these truths throughout our time of feasting and during the fellowship that precedes and follows the meal. Otherwise we risk falling into an attitude of gluttony.
Essentially the glutton refuses to consider that God actually has secured the blessings of the covenant for His people by means of the work of Christ. To the glutton, there is no connection between food and God, just as there is no connection between any area of life and God.
Frankly I don’t think that there are as many gluttons in the church as the bathroom scales might suggest. The swelling girth of the saints has more to do with self control than gluttony, I think. And I believe the two are separate issues. And, that is another topic for another day.