May 2-3, 2009

The Big 7

Part 3: Gluttony



          Happy Bloomsday weekend!  How many of you are running tomorrow (ran this morning)?  How many of you did some carbo-loading to prepare for the race?  Today we’re talking about gluttony!  How perfect is that? 



       This is part three of “The Big 7”, a look at the Seven Deadly Sins, and the corresponding Seven Holy Virtues.  We’re using them as a lens to look at our own hearts, and to ask God to build virtue in us-simply put, to make us better people.  Today, we’re talking about the sin of gluttony and the corresponding virtue of restraint or self-control.

At the top of your outline, I wrote: Gluttony?  Come on…don’t we have more important sins to talk about? Why is gluttony a sin at all?  What’s wrong with a little overeating, like these three gluttons just did?  What’s the harm in enjoying good food and drink?  How did this sin ever make the list of Seven Deadly Sins?

It may surprise you to learn that when the list was first composed in the fourth century, gluttony was first on the list, and considered the worst sin.  How could that be?  Well, remember the first form of the list was put together by a desert monk, Evagrius Ponticus, to help his fellow monks get along.  The monks lived in hunger.  Evagrius wrote, “The thought of gluttony tempts the monk to give up his ascetic efforts in short order.  It brings to mind concern for his stomach.”  If you were a monk, living in the desert, surviving on bread, dried veggies and water, what would be the biggest temptation for you?  A Big Mac!  Food-the desire for a good meal!

ILL: When Jesus was in the desert fasting for 40 days, what was the first temptation that the devil trolled by Him?  “Turn these stones into bread.”  You’re hungry; prove that you are the Son of God by doing a miracle to satisfy your hunger.  He tempted Jesus with food.

I’m sure the devil trolled the same temptation by these desert monks four centuries later.  I’ll bet that nothing was more tempting than to gorge yourself on a great meal.

ILL: I confess: I still watch Survivor.  On a recent show, the survivors competed for a feast.  After weeks of surviving on some boiled rice, and whatever they can scrounge from the land, what do you think they did at the feast?  They ate like pigs!  Gluttons!  They gorged themselves, stuffed themselves-and then some of them threw it back up!

As my friend Janie Dawes once said, “Nothing tastes better when you’re hungry than something to eat!”  So this is how gluttony made the list.

          By the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great finalized the list, gluttony moved way down the list in importance, perhaps because Pope Gregory didn’t miss too many meals.  Still, there it is, on the list. 

          So what’s gluttony?


1. Gluttony: excess in eating or drinking.

          Gluttony is excess in eating or drinking.  It is eating and drinking too much, being obsessed with food.  Instead of eating to live, you live to eat.

          Just like we did with pride and greed, we have to ask ourselves if gluttony is really a sin.  Don’t you need food and drink to live?  Of course-so isn’t the desire for food and drink natural?  Yes.  Rather than being a sin, isn’t enjoying a good meal a good thing?

Ecclesiastes 2:24 A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God,

There’s nothing better than a good meal!  Can I get an amen?  In fact, the Bible clearly says that God created our material world, and He is the one who gives us food and drink to enjoy.

Psalm 104:14-15 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate-bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.

Psalm 104:27-28 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.

It is God who gives us food and drink to enjoy-He satisfies us with good things.

1 Timothy 4:3-4 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

God created food to be good and to be received with thanksgiving.  Because we believe that God created a good world to be enjoyed, Christians are not sour-faced ascetics; we love a good party!  It is no accident that Jesus chose bread and wine-a memorial meal-by which to be remembered.  Nor that He was falsely accused of being a glutton and drunkard.  He wasn’t of course, but his enemies could accuse Him of that because Jesus enjoyed a good party, and was often seen celebrating at dinner parties with sinners.

          The point is-and I think we all agree-there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal.  Eating and drinking are natural parts of life as God created it, and we are to receive our food from His hand with grateful hearts.

          The sin in gluttony is that little word “excess”-it’s when we over-indulge, when we eat and drink too much.

ILL: I love to eat.  Anyone else with me?  And there are certain things that I love to eat all I can.  Have you ever heard of Todai?  It’s an all-you-can-eat seafood and sushi buffet.  Two of my favorite things: seafood and sushi!  I can’t get enough!  When I go to Todai, I load my plate with 25 pieces of sushi, and when I’ve finished that, I go reload.  I’ll eat 40-50 pieces of sushi, not to mention other stuff. 

          I probably shouldn’t eat at buffets.  Any time I go to an “all-you-can-eat” place, I feel obligated to eat all I can.  I take seriously that verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul says “I buffet my body”, so when I visit a buffet, I do!  When I leave Todai, I always leave in pain!  Oh, but it’s worth it!

One time, years ago, when we had visited a buffet, Laina had to drive home-I couldn’t get in behind the wheel-I had to recline the passenger seat! 

That’s gluttony!  Excess!  Over-indulgence!  I get to Todai once or twice a year if I’m lucky.  An occasional bout of gluttony probably won’t ruin me; it’s when gluttony becomes a lifestyle. 

          Some of the early church fathers liked to point out that it was food that caused our first parents to sin.

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

The first act of disobedience involved food, and from that time to this, we’ve been susceptible to temptation through food.  There are several warnings in the Bible about gluttony; I’ve listed a few on your outline.  Here are just two:

Proverbs 23:20-21 Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, 21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

Avoid gluttony and drunkenness; they will make you poor. 

Romans 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

The “desires of the sinful nature” are “the lusts of the flesh”, that include, but are not limited to, our physical appetites.  We are repeatedly told to control our appetites.  Why?

          Gluttony is a sin because of what it does to you. 

First, it is a sin against your body.  Habitual gluttony results in obesity and poor health.  You are considered obese when body fat exceeds certain limits and has an adverse affect on your health, including reducing your life expectancy.

ILL: An international study on life expectancy done in 2004 revealed that life expectancy in America is improving; the average is now 77.9 years, an all-time high.  What is disturbing is that when compared to the life expectancy rates of other countries, America ranks 42nd. In a similar study done two decades ago, America ranked 11th.  “Something’s wrong when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, of the University of Washington.  One of the primary reasons for our poor showing: the skyrocketing obesity rates.  We are eating ourselves to death.

Obesity is caused by too much food, too little exercise, and is influenced by genetic predisposition.  Some of us gain weight more easily than others.

ILL: Anyone remember Thaddeus T. Thudpuckers?  They had a deal: if you could eat their 72 ounce country-fried steak with all the trimmings, they gave it to you free.  Lots of people tried and failed, including lots of big burly athletes.  Only one person succeeded: a petite little 110 pound woman!  And she did it with ease, and later polished off half a dozen Big Macs!  This woman had a genetic disorder-an accelerated metabolism.  She had to eat at least 10,000 calories a day to stay alive.  That’s 4-5 times more than an average person!  She could eat that much and never gain weight because she just burned it up as fast as she ate it. 

          How many of you would like to be afflicted with this?  She hated it; she had to spend most of her day eating to stay alive. 

Genetics are an important factor in body shape and weight gain, and you have no control over your genes; what you can control are what you eat and how you exercise. 

Obesity leads to heart disease, diabetes, breathing difficulties during sleep, certain types of cancer and arthritis.  Obesity is one of the biggest problems in the developed world.  30% of Americans are obese, and another 35% are overweight-that’s 2/3 of us! 

          As Christians, we believe our bodies were created by God, and are the temple of God. 

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Honor God with your body.  Gluttony dishonors God by abusing your body.

          Second, gluttony is a sin against your soul.  Gluttony, like greed, is disordered desire.  We want the right thing but in the wrong way.  We want to feel good, but we are looking for satisfaction and happiness in the wrong place.  When Jesus was tempted to satisfy his hunger illegitimately, He said:

Matthew 4:4 “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

We need food, but we need more than food.  We need God.  We need God’s word to feed our spirit.  Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Philippians 3:19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

“Their god is their stomach.”  I love to eat, but my stomach is a lousy god!  Living to eat is a lousy reason to live. 

Most people who overeat are trying to fill more than an empty stomach; they’re trying to fill an empty soul.  You’ve heard of comfort food?  It’s easy when we get depressed to medicate ourselves with food or drink.  But when we do, we’re trying to satisfy our need for God with a burger and fries, or a six-pack.  This is perhaps the most destructive aspect of gluttony: it is idolatry.  It is worshipping the wrong god.  It is an attempt to fill ourselves with the wrong things.  Food is good, but it will never satisfy you.  More alcohol won’t solve your problems; it will only make them worse, and you’ll end up addicted.

1 Corinthians 6:12-13 “Everything is permissible for me”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”-but I will not be mastered by anything.

“Everything is permissible for me,” was a saying the Corinthians used to justify their excesses in food and sex.  Paul agrees that we have freedom in Christ, but there are limits.  Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial, and I will not be mastered by anything.  You can eat and drink what you like, but is it beneficial?  And has it mastered you?  Are you addicted to food?  Addicted to alcohol? 

          By the way, this is why I don’t drink alcohol at all.  My father was an alcoholic; his father was an alcoholic.  I lived in the middle of the devastation caused by addiction.  My father was mastered by alcohol; I won’t be.  If you can drink in moderation and avoid drunkenness, there is no sin in that, any more than eating in moderation.  But if you can’t, if you find yourself getting drunk, or turning to alcohol for comfort, or unable to control your drinking, then get help now.  Please! 

          You’ll never find what you are looking for in a bottle or a burger.  You’ll only be satisfied by Jesus.

Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.


          Gluttony is a sin because of what it does to others. 

          First-world gluttony is scandalous in relation to third-world poverty and hunger.  We’re eating ourselves to death-even our pets are grossly overweight-while 3 billion people are living on less than a dollar a day.  1.7 million children will die this year from starvation or hunger-related diseases.  That’s one child-someone’s beloved son or daughter-every 20 seconds.  225 will die during this church service.  In 2006, for the first time ever, the number of overweight people in the world (1 billion) overtook the number of malnourished people (800 million).  

ILL: Someone traveled the world and took pictures of average families in different countries with the food they eat in a week.  We’re going to show you some of these pictures-just to give you an idea of the differences in diet, and the disparity in basic necessities. 

I didn’t show you these pictures to make you feel guilty-but I hope you feel compassion.  Don’t feel guilty…but care!  I don’t think we can continue to eat ourselves to death while so many of our neighbors starve.  We have to care and do something!  Jesus told a very disturbing story about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus.  It begins like this:

Luke 16:19-21 There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The rich man lived in luxury every day, while a beggar at his gate longed for the scraps from his table, but received nothing.  Every day, the rich man walked by Lazarus-and did nothing.  Every day, he stuffed himself while Lazarus went hungry-and did nothing.  And what happened?  The rich man died and went to hell, and Lazarus went to heaven.  God judged the rich man for his gluttonous selfishness. 

          The beggar may not be on your doorstep; he might be half a world away.  But you can’t ignore him.  You can’t pretend he’s not there while you stuff yourself. 

          This is why I believe every American ought to sponsor a child-or more than one if you can afford it.  (Put slide up here.)  For $30 a month–$1 a day-you can provide food, clothing, education, medical care, and spiritual training for a needy child…at your gate.  If you are not sponsoring a child, please jot down these websites.

Go to one and sponsor a child.  Laina and I have been sponsors for over 20 years; we currently sponsor four children, two of them in Kenya, where I’m going in two weeks. 

          That’s why gluttony is a sin; how do we overcome it? 


2. Restraint (self-control): to control one’s impulses and desires.

          We overcome gluttony by developing the virtue of restraint, also known as temperance or self-control.  Restraint is the ability to control one’s impulses and desires.  There are many verses about self-control; I’ve listed some of them on your outline.  We’re going to look at two:

Titus 2:12 It (the grace of God) teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

Self-control is the ability to say no: no to yourself, no to your appetites, no to sin.  No.  Let’s try saying that together: no.  See, it’s not so hard…until you really want to eat that second piece of pie.  No, no, no.  

ILL: My first district supervisor, Dr. Roy Hicks Sr. told me that he fasted sometimes just to say no to his flesh.  He wanted to tell his body and its appetites, “You’re not in charge, I am.”  So he’d fast just to practice saying “no”.  He said that the more he exercised his “no-muscle”, the stronger it got, so that by fasting, he gained strength to say “no” to stronger temptations than food. 

Self-control is the ability to say “no” to our appetites.  But it’s not as easy as it looks.  It is one thing to know what to do, and another to be able to do it.  We need help!

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, that is, it is a virtue that the Holy Spirit produces in us.  This is not to say that we have nothing to do with it-we cooperate by receiving the Spirit and practicing the spiritual disciplines that make room for Him to work in our lives.  It is one thing to know what to do, and another to be able to do it.  The Holy Spirit provides the power to change, to be self-controlled.

ILL: In the 1990s, a group of Washington children participated in an eight year anti-smoking-campaign program. (Here’s another form of gluttony-the craving for tobacco.)  The results were not impressive. Of the group that went through the program, 25.4 percent now smoke regularly. And of the control group-those who did not participate in the study-25.7 percent now smoke regularly. The education campaign hardly made any difference at all.

Our society believes education is the answer to our culture’s problems. And for some of them, it is. But for many, it is not. Often people need more than information; they need the power within to change.

The Holy Spirit provides that power.  So what are some of the classic spiritual disciplines that open us to the Holy Spirit and could help us build self-control, restraint, temperance?  What do you think might be the first spiritual discipline to overcome gluttony and build restraint?


          Fasting.  Fasting is going without food or drink for a period of time.  It could be for a meal, for a day, or for many days.  Some fasts were absolute: no food or water.  Others were no food, but you drank water.  Others were partial fasts, abstaining from most food and drink.  All through the Bible, people fasted.  I’ve listed some references there on your outline. 

  • All the Jews fasted every year on the Day of Atonement; in fact, it was often called The Fast.
  • By Jesus’ time, many devout Jews fasted two days a week, on Wednesday and Friday, from sunup to sundown.
  • Jesus fasted. He began his ministry with a 40 day fast in the desert.
  • Jesus expected us to fast. In Matthew 6, he said, “When you fast,” not “if” and said that it ought to be done in secret, for God. In Matthew 9, he said that the time would come when his followers would fast.
  • And they did: the disciples fasted. In the book of Acts, they fasted and prayed when making important decisions.

Fasting is a way to seek God.  In the Bible, fasting was most often associated with prayer and repentance.  When you fast, you use the extra time that you would have been at meals to pray and seek God.  Fasting was also done as a way to humble yourself before God and express your sorrow and repentance, and seek God’s mercy.  Either way, the point of a fast is not to lose weight, but to seek God.  By removing the most basic essentials-food and drink-you declare your utter dependence upon God. 

Isaiah 58 is a classic chapter on fasting.  The Israelites were fasting, but missing the point.  They were not eating, but not really seeking God, and not sharing what they had with the poor.

Isaiah 58:6-9 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

True fasting not only abstains from food, but seeks to share it with those who have none.  In the early church, if a brother or sister in the church had nothing to eat, others would fast to be able to share their own meager rations with them.  That’s fasting at its best.

ILL: My son, Michael, just completed a project at Whitworth.  They wanted to help build a school in Ethiopia, and to raise money, they invited students to fast for three days.  Michael’s sister, Amy, who is our graphics artist here at Life Center, helped him by designing a poster and tshirt.  (Slide here)  Over 340 students agreed to fast.  The food service at Whitworth provided rice and beans and water for these students, and in return gave the money that they would have spent on food to the project.  The fast raised over $5000. 

That’s fasting at its best.  When someone tells me that they can’t afford to sponsor a child, I ask them if they’ve ever fasted.  Fasting will give you a small idea of what it feels like to be poor and have nothing to eat.  And it will give you an opportunity to “share your bread with the hungry.”  If you fasted one day a week, the money you save would easily sponsor a child…or more.  And you’d be healthier.


          Community.  The best way to overcome gluttony of any kind is in a group.  One thing we have learned about overcoming addictions is that very few people can do it alone.  We need each other.  This is part of the genius of twelve-step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous).  You start by admitting that you need help, you can’t do it alone, and you’re going to depend on God, and on your fellow addicts.  If you are addicted to food, or alcohol, or tobacco, or any other substance, get into a group and get some help. 

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

We have several recovery groups here at Life Center.

  • ARMS: Abuse Recovery for Women, meets at an undisclosed time for protection purposes. Contact the church office.
  • Steps to Life: Christ – centered 12 step program for people who struggle with addictive, compulsive, or co-dependant behavior. Meets Thursdays at 7pm at the church in the Parents Room.
  • Men’s Celebrate Recovery Life Group: Mondays at 6:30 at the church
  • Women’s Celebrate Recovery life group: Tuesdays at 6:30 at the church
  • Final Freedom Life Group: Men’s sexual purity. Mondays at 7pm at the church
  • Lifeline: for women whose husbands struggle with sexual purity. Tuesdays at 7pm at the church

If you need help, get in a group.


          Exercise.  I know that most people don’t consider physical exercise to be a spiritual discipline.  However, I do. 

1 Timothy 4:7-8 Train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Physical training is of some value.  Actually quite a bit of value.  When your body is healthy, you feel better physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  It’s all connected!  Sometimes when I’m down, the best medicine is a run, or a trip to the gym.  Sometimes it’s better than prayer, because I may sit there praying and just fume.  Exercise releases endorphins that elevate your mood, and frankly, can make you feel closer to God! Did you know that exercise is also a great form of appetite control?  Immediately after a good workout, I’m usually not real hungry; it takes awhile.  Having trouble resisting that doughnut?  Go for a walk. 

Here are three practices that will build self-control in your life: fasting, community, and exercise.