Philippians 3:17– 4:1
August 25, 2013 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Gluttony seems like
sort of a puny sin. You may wonder why it even made the list of the seven
deadlies. Arrogant pride that puts down other people, yes. Vicious anger which
destroys harmony in families and communities, yes. Unrestrained lust which
ruins marriages and pollutes your soul, yes. But eating too much? It just
doesn’t seem like that big a deal.
Willimon says, “curiously, of all the Seven only Gluttony is today more
condemned, feared, and shunned than any of the other sins, though not feared as
a sin.” He means that we are more judgmental than ever before regarding the
consequences of overeating, that is, overweight. Willimon says the “thing that
gets us about Gluttony is not the sin but the fat, that globulous bane of
middle-aged existence, that to which Americans are succumbing in alarming
There are plenty of
health professionals, diet book authors, and exercise gurus ready to tell you that
gluttony is wrong. It’s wrong because it’s bad for you, bad for your body. Yet
long before anyone knew much about clogged arteries or blood sugar levels the
Christian church decided to include gluttony on its list of the worst sins.
The Bible doesn’t say
all that much about gluttony. I had to search and think a bit before choosing
the passage I read as the sermon text. Proverbs 23:20 and 21 warn about hanging out with gluttons and drunkards, saying they will end up
poor, but that’s about it.
however, has a lot to say about gluttony. Maybe that’s because he was such a
large man. There’s a story that when he came to eat with the other brothers in
his monastery, they had to cut a semi-circle of the table for Thomas to be able
to sit on the bench and fit. And when he died at the early age of 49 in an
upstairs room, his body was almost too heavy for the brothers to carry
gluttony, that desire for too much food, is what led Adam and Eve to take the
forbidden fruit from Tree in the garden. He said that gluttony is eating food
in five excessive ways: “too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too
daintily.” In each case the operative word is that little “too,” which means
going overboard in some direction. He said gluttony is not just desire to eat,
it’s “inordinate desire,” wanting food with a desire that is out of order, out
We tend to think
gluttony is all about that category in the middle, eating too much, but Thomas
wants us to see other ways food can control our lives. When Paul warns in our
text in verse 19 about those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” he’s not
talking directly about those who eat too much. He’s talking about those who
were obsessed with eating a proper Jewish diet. We’ll get to obsession with
proper food in bit, but let’s look at Thomas’s five ways to make your belly
To eat “too soon” is
to be unable to wait for a meal or to break a fast earlier than you had
committed to. Some people have medical conditions or take medication that
requires them to eat at exact times, but others of us—and my wife can tell you
I’m one—just get impatient when supper isn’t ready on time. Or we rush to the
front of the potluck line. Or we keep little stashes of snacks so we can eat
whenever we want between meals.
“Too expensively” is
mostly self-explanatory. It’s a desire for the perfect food which spends inordinate
amounts of money. Whether it’s hundreds of dollars for a pound of Ethiopian
coffee beans or $70 for an ounce of Spanish saffron or $25 a pound for super
tender beef, you can pay way too much for food. And when you think about the
fact that what we paid to have some nice steaks or a fine bottle of wine might
have fed several children in India or Congo for several days, it becomes even
It’s not gluttony to
celebrate your anniversary at a nice restaurant or buy some fine ingredients
for a home-cooked meal. But it may be sinful to regularly and constantly spend
a huge portion of your income to have the best of everything. Paul warned the
Corinthians about wealthier members of their church sitting down to eat their
expensive food while poor members of the congregation went hungry. We can think
of ourselves in relation to the church around the world. Can we pay too much
for meat and vegetables and sweets at times like last year when refugee
children in South Sudan were eating tree bark to survive?
As for the middle
category, we all know it’s not good for us to eat to much, but we are still
obsessed. We don’t get the Food Channel at our house anymore, but everyone in
our family had favorite shows on that network. Beth and Joanna watched “Iron
Chef.” I liked seeing Guy Fieri cruise around to “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,”
digging into awesome barbecue, burgers and desserts, not to mention huge
pancakes or monster bows of chili.
Christianity C. S. Lewis talked about lust and the ugly practice of the
striptease show, an audience watching a girl undress. Then he wrote:
Now suppose you came 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 every one see, just before the lights go out, that it
contained a mutton chop or bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country
something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?
Lewis’s point was that
it was totally absurd to imagine our appetite for food being as messed up as
our appetite for sex. His image of a “food striptease” was supposed to be
ridiculous. He would be amazed to find that seventy years later our appetite
for food has become distorted in the same way as our appetite for sex has been.
As recently as 1992,
Peter Kreeft wrote, “We do not have stripteases with potato pornography.” But look at us now. A show on chocolate-making can have us oohing and ahing
like we were making love. Watching a Food Channel star slurp down king crab can
make me drool like any old lech at a nudie theatre. “Food porn” is a huge
industry. We are not getting pleasure out of eating food—that makes us feel too
guilty—we’re getting pleasure just looking at it. And that is still gluttony, a
disordered desire for food.
That “too much”
category includes alcohol. Drunkenness is gluttony. Excess in drinking is an
age-old sin still very much with us, ruining lives and homes daily. We could
probably add prescription drugs to this category as well.
It’s harder to pin
down exactly what’s wrong with eating “too eagerly.” I think of my friend’s
sixteen-year-old grandson who is a 6’ 5” football player visiting them. He
consumed everything in sight on the dinner table in a few minutes and went
looking for more. It’s probably just normal for a teenage boy, but for the rest
of us to always be eager and ready to eat is a problem.
The last form of gluttony,
eating “too daintily,” may be the way many of us as Americans fall into this
sin. It means being too selective, too picky, too choosy about one’s food.
Those people Paul was writing about here in Philippians 3 were causing divisions in the church by their insistence that only properly-prepared Jewish food was
acceptable. That was how they were making their belly into their god.
In The Screwtape
Letters C. S. Lewis pictures a woman who prided herself on eating very
moderately. The work her tempter had been doing on her put her in the
“All-I-want state of mind.” “All she wants is cup of tea properly made,
or an egg properly boiled or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never
finds any servants or friends who can do these things ‘properly.’” So she makes
life miserable for everyone around her, refusing to eat what she’s served,
demanding it be taken away and something smaller and “proper” brought to her.
The tempter says, “her belly now dominates her whole life.”
You and I can eat “too
daintily” by insisting that our food be organic or free-trade or free-range or
free of carbs or whatever the latest scheme is for a healthy or politically
correct diet. We can do it by refusing to eat what friends or family cook for
us and demanding whatever it is we think is better or healthier or more in
keeping with our political views. We can do it by spending hours making sure
food is prepared just exactly the right way, while we neglect relationships and
So gluttony is more
complex than it seems at first glance. It’s not just the overweight person with
the super-giant-humongous cheeseburger in one hand and a 64 ounce soda in the
other. Gluttony is all ways we focus on food to the point that it becomes
god-like for us. Instead of consuming it, food consumes us.
We should recognize
other eating problems as modern forms of gluttony. They are psychological
disorders which call for sympathy and good therapy, but anorexia and bulimia
can begin as a sinful focus on food, or maybe on one’s appearance. Which may be
another way our bellies become gods for us.
especially but not only women, become focused on food because they first become
focused on the shape of their own bodies. Whether it’s hour glass figures or
six-pack abs, we are bombarded with messages and images telling us to seek
ideal shapes for ourselves. It’s not just fashion or sports sending the
message, but medicine prescribes ideal weights and measurements. And at the
very center of that perfect body we’re supposed to have is a belly. And it’s
either too big or too flabby to meet the ideal, or possibly too thin. Nobody
has a perfect belly.
So food becomes our
enemy and our obsession as we try to appease and placate and shape our belly
god, because even as we try to quit eating so much or to eat the right thing,
food still dominates our minds and our hearts. We may be eating less, but we’re
spending more time thinking about food in order to do so.
As Christians, though,
we believe food is good, just like we said about sex. It’s part of God’s
creation. It should be obvious, but it can be easy to forget. With all the
constantly changing warnings about what you should and should not eat, we joke
saying, “If it tastes good, it’s bad for you.” But that’s not a Christian
thought, not a biblical thought.
Just like He made us
male and female, God made us to eat and to enjoy eating. He filled the world
with all sorts of delicious and beautiful foods to eat, from blueberries to
bagels, from mushrooms to maple syrup, from wine to watermelon. He could have
made us to eat our food like a cow eats grass or a car uses gasoline, pure fuel
without any taste or real pleasure in it. But instead God made us to enjoy this
part of His creation, to have food as a reason to give Him thanks and praise
for His creative genius.
There is food at the
center of our faith. Jesus took two delicious, wonderful, ancient human food
creations, bread and wine, and made them the vehicle and emblem of His grace to
us, the salvation which comes to us through His broken body and His shed blood.
He wanted us to eat and drink as a way to know and love Him.
Yet all that true and
proper joy in food as the gift of God goes away when we make it an aim and goal
in and of itself. When we eat solely and totally focused on our own pleasure in
eating, then we edge toward gluttony. When we worry and fret over what we eat
completely focused on what it will do to our health or figure, that’s also
Like some of the other
sins, gluttony leads us to destruction by setting up an idol. With some sins,
that idol is external, money or what other people have, but with gluttony we
make part of our own self into our god. If your god is your stomach, then you
yourself are god. That was the problem with Lewis’s woman who wanted nothing
more than a bit of crisp toast. She was totally focused on herself, to the pain
and misery of everyone else.
What do we do about
the sin of gluttony? The answer begins with what Paul tells us here in our
text. At the end of verse 19 we read about those Jewish foodies that “their
minds are set on earthly things.” And then verse 20 goes on, “But our
citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.” Neither a delicious meal nor a perfectly configured
body is the aim and purpose of our lives. We were made for something far greater,
far better. We’re meant to live not in the hope of good food or good health,
but in the hope of being with and being like Jesus Christ.
That’s the promise and
hope which stands against all our gluttony. Paul expands it in verse 21, “He
will transform our humble bodies by the power that also enables him to make all
things subject to himself.” We live in these humble bodies. St. Francis would
call his body “Brother Ass,” not to be crude, but to express the feeling that
the body is like a dear and loved domestic animal. It needs both kindness and
discipline. It can be troublesome at times, but the body is our constant
God made our bodies,
made our bellies, not to rule us, but to join with our soul in giving Him
praise and honor. Our bodies are not bad. We’re not hoping to get rid of them
some day and run through heaven as wild, naked souls. We are looking for these
bodies which get tired and which hurt and which constantly tempt us, whether
it’s with sex or food, to be transformed, to be like our Lord’s own
resurrection body. Christ is coming from heaven to raise our bodies from the
dead and make them like the body of His own glory.
At the beginning of
the text, Paul asked his readers to imitate him and the other apostles. In
relation to gluttony Paul gives us the way to imitate him a little further on
in Philippians. In chapter 4 verses 11 and 12, he says, “I have learned to be
content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what
it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of
being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”
What was that secret?
It’s in the next verse, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
The answer to a false god is the true God. The answer to gluttony and to any
sin is to be content and strong in Jesus Christ. Don’t try to give up food just
to be healthy or skinny. A strong body isn’t bad, but we’re all going to get
sick and flabby in the end. Whether you one full of food or one that’s flat and
buff, our hope is not a perfect belly. It’s a perfect Savior who invites us to
praise Him with our whole beings, including these humble bodies.
So Paul tells us at the
end of our text, the beginning of chapter 4, “Therefore my brothers and sister,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way,
my beloved.” Stand firm in the Lord. Your stomach may be firm or not, but your
hope and future are firm in Christ. May that hope feed your soul. Amen.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj