My favorite sin: Gluttony

Diamond Jim Brady, a character in American life a few generations ago, was said to have loved food so much, his stomach was six times the size of a normal belly.

Now, that, is a glutton!

How ironic that the season during which we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus provides us the perfect excuse to over-indulge.

Like the megalopolis that now stretches from Washington to Boston or from Dallas to Fort Worth, this eating holiday dominates our calendar from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Walk through any modern large-box store, and study the edibles they’re offering during this season. It’s not just turkey and dressing and yams and egg nog any longer. It’s chocolates like you would not believe, in every kind of assortment and combination. It’s cookies and cakes and pies coming out your ears. Books pour off the shelves telling homemakers of new recipes for the latest taste sensations for these holidays. Restaurants offer special smorgasbords for the holidays with prices approaching $100 per person.

The wonder is that Americans are not all 400 pounds.

What’s that? We are? Well, far too many of us are overweight.

What position should the disciple of the Lord Jesus take regarding this little crime-against-one’s-body we call gluttony?

I once wrote an article on gluttony for a Christian magazine. Here’s how that came about.

I was out of state doing two Christmas banquets for pastors and wives. The morning after the first one, I got up early and drove downtown in search of a cafe where the locals would be gathering. Seeing a dozen cars parked on one side street, I circled the block twice before finding the restaurant.

Inside, the main dining room was empty, but a dozen or more people were gathered in a side room. The waitress called, “Sit anywhere you want, honey.” The others were a “coffee club,” locals who met there every morning. My kind of place.

After meeting all the people and sketching half of them, I ate a breakfast to be remembered: 3 eggs, bacon and sausage links, grits, and toast.

Back in my hotel room, I took a call from the host for the banquets. “A pastor and I will meet you for lunch at Gaston’s Grill at 11:30.” Fine. I’ll be there.

It was a buffet-type restaurant. Not wanting to be unsociable–smiley-face goes here–I dined sumptuously, I think the expression goes. When my host pointed out Mr. Gaston, the owner, who was celebrating a birthday, and suggested I sketch him, I did just that. The old gentleman sliced me off a generous helping of his birthday cake. Just what I needed.

That night, the banquet caterer served each of us a large helping of chicken and cornbread dressing, as good as any I’ve ever put in my mouth. Vegetables and desserts abounded.

Back in the room, late that night, I turned on the computer, checked my email, and saw where the editor was inviting me to write an article on gluttony.

Yep, I thought. I’m your man. One thing I know about, it’s gluttony.

We’re told that priests of the Middle Ages identified seven deadly sins–there is no listing of such in Scripture–posing the greatest threat to the monastic way of life. Pride, lust, avarice (greed), anger, envy, and sloth (laziness) were joined with gluttony. The big seven!

For reasons I’m not quite sure about, gluttony is in a class by itself. Is it because we enjoy it more than the others? Is it because it’s so hard to nail down as to what it is and what to do about it?

Here are 10 thoughts on this subject that most people in our pews have never heard a sermon about.

1.Jesus was called a glutton. (Luke 7:33-35) So, maybe we overeaters have good company.

However, the charge was as bogus as most of the attacks on the character and ministry of our Lord.

2. Most of us think of gluttony the way we do of cancer: It’s someone else’s problem, not mine.

That was exactly my reaction in November of 2004 when the lab reports confirmed that I had cancer. “No. Other people do, but not me.” Bad wrong.

We tend to think of a glutton as a 400-pounder, not someone just slightly overweight like myself. And since I weigh a lot less than that, I’m okay.

3. Our gluttony is seasonal and sporadic.

We go for days eating well and right, then splurge at various times. Surely that doesn’t qualify as historic, classic gluttony, the kind that produces gout and early death. Does it?

Surely a genuine glutton is a hog at the trough, a slob, a devourer of every morsel within reach. So, not me.

People who overindulge with liquor sometimes say, “I can’t be an alcoholic. I only drink on weekends.” Doesn’t matter, we’re told. You still qualify. Does it work that way with gluttony too?

4. We think of gluttony not as a spiritual issue, not as a sin against the Lord, but more as something not real smart, maybe unwise, a momentary indulgence which we will compensate for tomorrow.

And, if sin is defined only as the transgression of the law, and since there is no specific law in either Testament proscribing over-eating, then perhaps it isn’t.

However, it bears all the marks of a sin.

5. Consider the effects of overeating on our inner selves (as opposed to the effects simply on our poor bodies which struggle trying to figure out where to store all we have deposited within it!).

–When we overeat, we get lethargic. That’s one reason fasting is a spiritual discipline usually associated with prayer. When we overeat, we have no energy for anything.

–Overeating acts as a sedative. Nap time.

–Overeating encourages the sedentary life. Since you have over-indulged and feel lethargic, you skip the jog or walk you had intended for that evening. The couch looks inviting, and you check to see what’s on television tonight.

–Overeating discourages spirituality. For all the above reasons, it does.

–Overeating seems to create additional hunger for more food within us. Perhaps it’s simply that we are fatter than previously and a larger machine requires extra fuel.

6. The health factor is a bigtime issue.

Clogged arteries, heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, strokes, and a thousand other conditions stem from (or are related to) obesity.

Hospitals are adding wings to deal with health issues related to obesity.

I read somewhere that “for every 10% increase over normal weight, we have a 20% jump in the risk of heart disease.”

Airplanes and theaters have enlarged their seats because patrons and passengers are larger than previously.

A few years ago, I attended a screening of the 1942 classic “Casablanca” in the old Saenger Theater in downtown New Orleans. Few things in that theater had changed over the years. I was surprised to notice how narrow the seats were and how tightly packed they were to each other. We have definitely grown as a populace.

7. And the social aspect is a real phenomenon.

I know people who cannot take a plane because the seats are too small. They drive everywhere.

We’re told that clothing manufacturers have pulled a subtle little switch as a result of the enlarging of America: The sizes represented by S, M, L, and XL are bigger than a generation ago. You weren’t supposed to notice. And most of us didn’t.

Churches which replaced pews with opera seats (individual seating) are sometimes finding that many of the worshipers do not fit.

When I asked a friend why a relative whom I always adored never shows up at our gatherings, she reluctantly confided, “She’s put on a lot of weight and doesn’t want anyone to see how big she’s gotten.”

8. It’s easy to get legalistic on this subject.

Those early church fathers not only identified gluttony as a deadly sin, but went on to spell out precisely what constituted gluttony. It included the following….

–Eating before the time of meals to satisfy the palate

–Seeking delicacies to gratify “the vile sense of taste”

–Seeking sauces and seasonings to make food more enjoyable

–Too much intake.

–Eating too eagerly.

With definitions like that, few of us, if any, would escape a full conviction.

9. The word “gluttony” is derived from the Latin “gluttire” meaning “to gulp down,” “to swallow.”

But as with so many other words in our tongue, the derivation tells little of its actual meaning. The usage of the word is consistent in making it mean over-indulging, a voraciousness in appetite.

And, we need to add, the word can apply to things other than food. “He’s a glutton for punishment,” we say. The one over-imbibing in alcohol or any other substance is being gluttonous.

10. What to do about our gluttonous ways? Here are some thoughts on the subject.

–Advance planning can head off much of it. If we have fruits in our house, I’m less likely to get into the ice cream.

–Praying about it in advance will work wonders. Actually, just thinking about it in advance will help. Praying will strengthen the resolve.

–Make self-control with food one aspect of a balanced and healthy life. Exercise, work, play, worship, sufficient sleep, and proper eating are all important areas of a good life.

Well, I was going to write more on the subject, but it’s lunch time.

One thought on “My favorite sin: Gluttony

  1. Less than 10% of obese people are able to lose weigh and keep the pounds off long term. Bariatric surgery for obesity has better long term success and it’s not just the restrictive food portions that cause the weight loss. Somehow the surgery changes the hormone levels and people just desire less food. I love your blog.

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