Insatiable Appetites Lead to Death
These men are heading for utter destruction—their god is
their own appetite; their pride is in what they should be ashamed of;
“Which came first, lust or gluttony?” That question comes to mind when reading the view of others on this subject. Some describe gluttony as the mother of lust while others describe lust as the forerunner of gluttony. Does it really matter? Perhaps. An understanding of the origin of sin helps us know more about the nature of sin and how to combat it. On the other hand, when the sinner blames the cause and asserts that it is beyond his control to do differently, then the origin of the sin matters not from a helpful perspective but from a purely religious, philosophical discussion of the responsibility for overcoming sin. To overcome sin, one must accept personal responsibility for the choices made.
The root cause of sin does seem to matter. If one can eradicate the cause, then perhaps one can eradicate the sin. If one is convinced the cause is beyond control, then one might say, “Is it really a sin if I cannot control myself?”
The Israelites asked the same question of God when they prayed, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people” (Isaiah 64:8,9). In essence, they blamed God for making them as they were. How could they behave any other way? This then leads to a larger discussion of sin and responsibility relevant to the topic of gluttony or any other sin.
What is the nature of gluttony? Why should it be included on the list of the deadly sins?
Gluttony is primarily associated with overeating, but it can manifest itself in other ways. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Gluttony is sheer defiance of reasonable and balanced behavior.” The use of the word “glutton” in such phrases as “a glutton for punishment” reveals that people often overindulge themselves in ways that are not healthy spiritually, physically, and/or emotionally. “Too much,” identified by symptoms of “too soon,” “too eagerly,” “too delicately,” “too greedily,” “too ___ (fill in the blank),” describes a glutton’s insatiable appetite for the object or objects of his desire. While the consummation of desire need not be gluttonous, the resultant sin of unrestrained desire will probably nourish the lust for more, more, and more. This obsessive compulsive behavior will result in spiritual death, physical death, or both.
The apostle James describes this destructive behavior within the context of temptation: “No, a man’s temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires, which greatly attract him. It is his own desire which conceives and gives birth to sin. And sin when fully grown produces death” (James 1:14,15, Phillips).
The crux of the apostle’s argument identifies a man’s freedom to choose his behavior as more important than his environment. It is not the temptation that causes us to sin, but our desire seizes upon the opportunity afforded by temptation and we sin. If we keep on sinning, we will die. If we control the desire and remain obedient to the law of God, we will live. Paul told us this when he wrote, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8, NIV).
A person “controlled” by an insatiable desire cannot be controlled by the law of the spirit. The desire of the flesh wars against the spirit of holiness. Because the desire controls the person, it chokes off the spirit of God, the spirit of holiness, and the spiritual mind will die. Jesus taught this lesson in the parable of the sower: “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
In his book The Seven Deadly Sins Solomon Schimmel writes: “We must become aware of our gluttony in order to learn to overcome it. Patients of mine who have a problem with excessive eating are usually surprised, and often shocked, when they calculate the time they invest each week in food-related activities. It has ranged from 40 to 85 percent of their waking hours.”
Awareness of a problem and knowledge of what is right is only a beginning. One of the interesting characteristics of a controlling desire such as gluttony is that people may understand that yielding to the desire is harmful but they lack the self-control to resist.
When Jesus said “he that heareth the word” in Matthew 13:22, he meant more than merely “hearing” the gospel message and the invitation of God to dedicate one’s life to doing the will of God. Jesus was speaking of an understanding of the word of God that compels a person to consecrate his life to God. At the same time fleshly desires cut off spiritual growth by “choking” the influence of God’s word in one’s life. The glutton knows it is spiritually, emotionally, and physically unhealthy to overeat or overindulge in any passion, but he refuses to control himself. The fruit of the spirit that overcomes gluttony is temperance (self-control) of which the apostle Paul says, “against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:23).
Studies of the bio-chemical aspects of obesity as well as the psychological pathology suggest that overeating is not the same as the sin of gluttony. Modern man asserts that overeating is more the result of environmental and physiological factors than a lack of self-control or inordinate desire. Few indeed would say overeating is a “deadly sin” in the spiritual sense of deadly, but most all agree that it is a problem that will lead to poor health and a variety of deadly diseases as a side effect of obesity. These diseases include high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
In many ways, overeating is a cultural phenomenon and is nowhere more manifest than in America. Americans obsess about food and the food industry literally feeds that obsession. The media bombards us with enticements to eat too much or too fancifully, while inundating us with advertisements for the latest diet fads. Modern supermarkets provide an abundance of food unlike any time in the history of the world. Magazines, newspapers, and television programming that airs twenty-four hours a day not only encourage us to visit the supermarket but show us the best ways to prepare food and present it elegantly.
At any given time, 35 to 40 percent of American women and 20 to 24 percent of American men are dieting, and the amount they spend annually reflects the intensity and the cost of their efforts (quoted figures range from $33 to $55 billion). According to the National Institutes of Health the total direct and indirect cost of overweight and obesity in the U.S. is $117 billion. This figure exceeds the entire federal education, training, employment, and social services budgets which as of February 2005 came to $92.5 billion.1
Francine Prose, in her book Gluttony, claims a study of Optifast dieters put the cost per pound lost at $180.
The problem becomes worse each year due to the high percentage of obese children continuing their struggle with weight into adulthood. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, “Results from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 16 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are overweight. This represents a 45 percent increase from the overweight estimates of 11 percent obtained from NHANES III (1988-94).”
Francine Prose concludes: “It seems clear that of all the seven deadly sins, gluttony—with the exception, one assumes of greed—has become the most closely associated with large quantities of money, the most lucrative, the most profitable, the easiest to market.”
Not all overeaters are gluttonous and not all obese people become obese because of the sin of gluttony. Indeed, not all gluttons are obese. If we expand the definition to include excessive, repeated overindulgence in behavior that harms our physical, emotional and/or spiritual health, then all individuals may be guilty of this sin at one time or another in their lives. This describes virtually any addictive behavior.
The words of the apostle Paul apply to addictions of all sorts: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. … Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:12,13,16). When we allow ourselves to be enslaved by any person or behavior, we sin, and we inhibit and ultimately eliminate our service to God and righteousness.
The Scriptures identified gluttony as a sin long before Pope Gregory included it on his list of The Seven Deadly Sins or the National Institutes of Health identified obesity as a national problem. In Deuteronomy 21:18-20 the law of God gave this instruction to the Israelites: “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.” In these verses gluttony is associated with stubbornness, rebellion, and drunkenness. The word glutton is translated from a Hebrew word that means, “to squander; hence one who is prodigal, who wastes his means by indulgence.”
King Solomon had several observations about gluttony: “For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags” (Proverbs 23:21). “Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous [gluttonous] men shameth his father” (Proverbs 28:7). He alludes to the consequences of gluttony when he advises, “When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat” (Proverbs 23:1-3). Consuming too much food dulls the senses and makes us susceptible to poor decisions or even possibly indebted to our host. Solomon’s life testifies to the fact that an awareness and understanding of a problem doesn’t automatically solve the problem. His acquisition of wives and concubines could certainly be described as “gluttonous” in the sense of excessive and “beyond reasonable and balanced behavior,” and it contributed to his downfall.
The apostle Paul counseled against excessive behavior that could be described as gluttonous without actually using the word. In his letters he counsels against fornication, covetousness, idolatry, riotous living, drunkenness, and extortion (1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:10; Galatians 5:21). He exhorts us to not keep company with those who do these things: “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).
How can we overcome enslavement to gluttony or any other sin that enslaves us? Awareness and confession of the sin is a first step. Knowledge of the virtues needed to live righteously is a second step. Solomon Schimmel says as much from a secular perspective when he writes, “We need moral guidelines for the consumption of food and strategies for implementing them if we are to assert control over this important area of our lives. Otherwise we succumb to our hedonistic impulses and to their manipulation by those interested only in marketing their wares but not in our physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare.”
Certainly for the child of God, the Scriptures provide our moral guidelines. Admonitions to emulate the apostle Paul and “keep our bodies under,” to be “temperate in all things,” abound in the Scriptures. But what are the “strategies” that successfully enable us to do these things?
First and foremost the child of God must “die to sin.” Paul writes, “He that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). Paul’s words speak to the need to consecrate ourselves unto death. We vow to die to the “old nature” and “walk in newness of life.” Such a vow is a one-time act that declares, “not my will, but thine be done.” Dying is daily struggle. We crucify the “old nature” daily by not yielding to its impulses and enslaving temptations. The strategies we use include praying to God the first thing in the morning, throughout the day, the last thing before we fall asleep, and in the middle of the night if we awake. They include reading the word of God, studying the word of God, and discussing the word of God with others. We must fellowship with our brethren, encourage them, and lean on them for help. All of these strategies help us “sow to the spirit” instead of “sowing to the flesh.”
Finally, to the extent that our environment and physical make-up influence our behavior, once we sow to the spirit, we should apply the wisdom of man to controlling these influences and keeping our bodies as pure as possible. Nothing can possibly succeed more than the Scriptural admonitions for “self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25, ASV), “patient continuance in well doing” (Romans 2:7), and “godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6). Yet in the end, all efforts to heed these admonitions will fail if we do not “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Let the love of God and our love for God govern every aspect of our lives.
1.National Institutes of Health web site http://win.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/index.htm#econ and Congressional Budget Office web site http://www.cbo.gov/showdoc.cfm?index=6075&sequence=11