Gluttony: Gospel Truth for Comfort Eaters

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Gluttony — who wants to talk about it? It’s not a “bad” sin, right? But what does a struggle with food reveal about your heart, the inner you? A thought-provoking and compassionate article by Brad Hambrick which appeared first here on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website. Used with permission.

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Are we really going to talk about gluttony at this time of the year? Do we have to? Yes, we need to talk about it, and if your instinct is to think this discussion can only be a “guilt trip,” then we need to talk about it all the more.

When we only talk about “bad sins,” meaning the kind that no one in our “in group” admits to committing, then we relegate the power of the gospel only to salvation and crises. Or, in other words, after we’ve “walked the aisle,” the gospel is just for others who “need Jesus” or whose lives are falling apart.

What Gluttony Reveals

Let’s stop and ask the question, “What might a struggle with gluttony reveal about us?” It could reveal any number of things.

  • An unhealthy, overscheduled lifestyle where we consider the care of our body, the temple of God (I Corinthians 6:19-20), an afterthought as we overeat (or eat poorly) in an effort to keep up with our out-of-whack priorities.
  • Sleep deprivation, based on an unhealthy, overscheduled life, as our body tries to supplement the energy from food – especially carbohydrates – to make up for the energy that is not being restored via sleep.
  • Comfort-seeking behavior, as we seek to take refuge in the distraction and satisfaction of eating instead of casting our concerns on the one who cares for us (I Peter 5:7).
  • Pleasure-based living, as our cognitive self-control muscles atrophy and we choose wisdom over indulgence at least three times a day with a few snacks thrown in for good measure.
  • Pride, because it is easy to mistake the large quantities of food we can provide for ourselves as an accomplishment denoting our self-sufficiency—even if we’re not trying to rank #1 in a competitive eating contest or win a “I conquered the mammoth burger t-shirt” at a local restaurant.

Do You Have a Good Relationship with Food?

Let’s ask the question another way, “Do you have a good relationship with food?” Allow this awkward excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity to help you grasp the implications for this question.

You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease – that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that is contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?” (p. 96)

When we stop to consider it, we can quickly see that in a culture simultaneously marked by obesity and obsessed with thinness, we have an unhealthy relationship with food. Whether we overindulge or punitively avoid, few of us simply enjoy food as God intended.

God’s Take on Food

Before we get to the gospel-corrective, let’s establish a few key points about food.

  1. God made food and wants us to enjoy it (Acts 10:9-16).
  2. Heaven will contain a bountiful feast, but no one will feel compelled to gluttony (Revelation 19:6-9).
  3. God takes no delight in you feeling bad about your struggle with food (John 10:10).
  4. God takes great joy in seeing his children grow into maturity in every area of their life (III John 4).
  5. An unhealthy relationship with food detracts from our enjoyment of life (I Corinthians 6:12-13).
  6. God is most glorified in your eating when you enjoy his gift of food as he intended (I Corinthians 10:31).

6 Truths About Overcoming Gluttony

In order to overcome gluttony you must be able to face the realities depicted in the first part of this post while maintaining the perspective represented by these six truths.

The “mechanics” of overcoming gluttony are relatively simple – eat only as much as is necessary to maintain a healthy body and fully enjoy every bite as a gift from God. But let’s go back to five motives in the bullet points above and see what it looks like to overcome gluttony through the gospel.

  • Busyness – Learn to be content as you steward the 168 hour week God provides. Rest in the knowledge that God’s will fits within God’s provision. Resist whatever drivers are compelling you to over-schedule. Invest in the parts of your life that really matter so you don’t feel like you’re always catching up and forcing to your eating habits to compensate.
  • Sleep DeprivationSleep is an act of faith. To spend 1/3 of your life in an unconscious state is an indication you trust God enough to go “off duty.” Wake up with a sense that the last 8 hours have honored God and allow that to shape your attitude towards the next 16 hours. Faith in God to sleep will impact honoring God as you eat.
  • Comfort Pray. Don’t just “bless your meals” as if God wanted to be acknowledged as Provider more than he wanted to be trusted as Father. Whatever concerns tempt you to eat for comfort, don’t cast them on a pint of ice cream, but on the One who promises to listen, to be present, and to walk with you (I Peter 5:7).
  • PleasureEnjoy food, but enjoy God more. If eating is one of your primary sensory pleasures, that’s great. God loves foodies! Allow your elevated pleasure in taste to become an avenue by which you begin to explore the joy available in God. This doesn’t mean trying to extend the Lord’s Supper from two courses to seven. But become mindful of what you enjoy about food (taste) and meals (e.g., social interaction) and see how those pleasures can be ways to delight in God or make God known more than mere ends in themselves.
  • Pride – Acknowledging the sin of gluttony is humbling, but it is only shameful if we still want to be arrogant or independent. Rightly understood, however, humility is a gift, not an insult. God’s main point in the gospel is to free us from dispositions like pride that would make his freedom seem like constricting. Accept the gift of God’s humble freedom as being better than food.

Final Encouragement

I hope you can better see how freedom from gluttony is not anorexia and is worth pursuing. I hope you can engage this struggle to enjoy God’s gift of food in a balanced way, like we must battle for a balanced enjoyment of all God’s blessings.

I hope you can appreciate how this is a fitting admonition to close this post, “Bon appetite to the glory and enjoyment of God!”

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