Thanksgiving is just two days away and, perhaps unlike any other holiday in the United States, food is directly and obviously the center of the day. So, it seems appropriate to ask: How will you eat? I’m not asking what you will eat, but how. Will you feast to the glory of God, or will the shame of over-indulgence pile up like so many helpings of mashed potatoes? We all know that overeating is a celebrated part of the Thanksgiving holiday—but should this be so among Christians?
The fundamental issue here is what the Bible calls gluttony. That may sound like an old-fashioned word, but we can all agree that this problem is all too contemporary. We need to learn about gluttony from the Bible:
19 Hear, my son, and be wise,
and direct your heart in the way.
20 Be not among drunkards
or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
and slumber will clothe them with rags. (Proverbs 23:19–21, ESV)
Notice here that the glutton and the drunkard are parallel—what drink is for the drunkard, food is for the glutton. And what exactly is that? The issue is not really food or drink, but idolatry. The issue is our hearts. The issue is what we consult when we are looking for peace, satisfaction, or comfort.
Matt Wallace says it better than I can:
For the glutton, food is more pleasing, more alluring, more enthralling, more satisfying, and more beautiful than God. The glutton has covenanted with overeating to be their comfort, security, approval. In doing so, the glutton has become his own savior, eating his means of grace as a sacrifice on the altar of pleasure. If this is true, then we need to assess overeating with new eyes. We must say plainly, “I treasure food more than I treasure God.” Gluttony exposes how we really feel about God.
It is easy to think that the problem with the glutton is that he loves food too much. But this actually misplaces the error. Rachel Stone writes:
What if our sin is not that we have loved the material things of this world too much? What if our sin is that we have loved them too little and in the wrong ways? […] Perhaps it is as the priest and amateur chef Robert Farrar Capon has argued: We often love the things of this world as idols—for what they might mean to us, instead of what they are in themselves. All this is to say, we have not really loved them at all.
So what do we make of this? What hope is there for gluttons? The same hope as there is for all sinners! Jesus died for gluttons and drunkards and the sexually immoral and the lazy and every other sinner you can think of. Whatever your darkest and deepest secretive sin—Christ died for this. For those that repent and believe, there is real, full, true forgiveness. Really!
Now, as forgiven sinners, how does that play itself out practically, as we fight the temptation to gluttony? Since self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23), as we walk with God more and more, his Spirit gives us more ability to fight against the fleshly desires that rear their ugly heads. How can we walk by the Spirit in this issue?
Listen again to Matt Wallace:
How do we change? Thankfully God has revealed gluttony’s fatal weakness: gluttony is fool’s gold. The truth is that gluttony owes its leverage over our affections to the degree that we believe its lie and have nothing bigger to chase it out of our hearts. In other words, to change we need to have a disaffection for gluttony and a new affection for God.
This also from Alice Su:
In this sin battle, as in so many others, the Christian God wins by outweighing and out-loving His competitors. He operates by passion rather than restraint. His message is not one of dieting and holding back. It’s one of finding a love that makes you so full you could not possibly lust after another bite.
The key to fighting against gluttony is meditating on God’s love for us in the gospel. We need to draw nourishment from the truth of God’s love for us in Christ. We need to replace the over-love of food with the treasure of life with God. We need to fight against small, sinful desires with massive, properly-placed affection.
How does this help us with the turkiest of all holidays? What should you do when that second helping of pecan pie is drawing you in with its tractor beam?
In turning away from gluttony, we are not turning away from the physical world. We are NOT ascetics. This is a mistake that was being made in the first century, and Paul addressed it in his first letter to Timothy (emphasis in what follows is mine).
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)
We need to remember that God created the food we enjoy, and we need to be thankful for it. And further, this feast points to the marriage supper of the Lamb in the new heavens and the new earth. (Revelation 19:9) Let the abundance of the table point you to this majestic, more glorious feast, and be grateful for the food in front of you.
Rachel Stone one more time:
To rightly understand the gift of food is to refuse to eat it mindlessly—to love it well, attentively, gratefully—is almost inevitably to give thanks to the One who gives it to us. To enjoy His gifts is to enjoy the Giver Himself, who is in the beauty of the world, not apart from it. This is what sustains us and readies us for the Supper of the Lamb, where He who was called “drunkard” and “glutton” will be our eternal host.
The following articles were helpful in preparing this post.
- Conquering Gluttony, John Piper
- How the Gospel Overcomes Gluttony, Matt Wallace
- The Real Problem with Gluttony, Rachel Stone
- The Christian Glutton, Alice Su
This post is a lightly edited version of an article I originally wrote and posted here on November 27, 2013.