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Why do conservative Christians make such a fuss about homosexuality and give everyone a free pass—most notably themselves—when it comes to gluttony?

That’s a question you hear a lot of us these days and one you should expect to hear again and again, posed in a hundred different ways, in the years ahead.

Why are we asking about gays in heaven when we should be asking if there will be fat people in heaven? How can we say “their” sin of homosexuality is terrible while “our” sin of gluttony is no big deal? Everyone’s a biblical literalist until you bring up gluttony. Besides, the Bible contains three times as many exhortations against gluttony than against homosexuality.

How should Christians think about these claims? Well, the operative word in that question is “think.” We can’t settle for gotcha headlines and arguments that are more slogan than substance. We have to be open to reason, open our Bibles, and think this through.

1. Do we really want to suggest that one sin is no biggie because we’ve been pretty lax about a different sin? If it’s the case that Christians are wrongly intolerant of unrepentant gluttony–or any unrepentant sin–then shame us. Sins separate us from God. When we choose to embrace sins, celebrate sins, and not repentant of sins, we keep ourselves away from God and away from heaven.

2. Is it really wise to equate gluttony with being fat? People are overweight, underweight, or fit as a fiddle for all sorts of reasons. Can we be sure that those with a few pounds to shed are worse sinners than the fried-food loving bean pole blessed with an amazing metabolism? If we want to draw a ramrod straight line between gluttony and corpulence, Job has three “friends” we can hang out with.

3. It bears repeating, the reason Christians are talking about homosexuality is because everyone else is talking about homosexuality. Strange coincidence that evangelicals did not become “obsessed” with homosexuality until about 40-50 years ago when the culture became obsessed with sexual freedom. If the Supreme Court finds a constitutional right to jab people in the kidneys with poison-tipped spears, we’ll get worked about that too.

4. Gluttony is a favorite vice to throw into the rhetorical mix because it is one of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. As Will Willimon explains, the earliest formation of the list of seven comes from Evagrius of Pontus, a desert monk and follower of Origen (who was later condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in A.D. 553). It’s not surprising that an ascetic who lived in a commune separated from the world might consider the temptation for food one of his chief maladies. One can detect more than a little monkish asceticism and some Stoic disdain for the body in the Fathers’ abhorrence to gluttony.

Throughout church history, theologians have understood the sin of gluttony in different ways. For some, immoderate desire is the issue. For others, eating more than we need is the problem. According to Augustine, food was not the problem but how we sought it and for what reason.

The Catholic Catechism does not call them seven “deadly sins,” but “capital sins,” because they engender other sins and other vices (art. 1866).

C.S. Lewis, with typical insight, has the devil Screwtape note how persnickety old ladies–the kind who always turn aside whatever is offered and always insist on a tiny cup of tea–are just as guilty of gluttony because they put their wants first, no matter how troublesome they may be to others. Health conscious foodies beware: the problem of gluttony, according to Lewis, was not too much food, but too much attention to food. We might say, in the broadest ethical sense, gluttony is using food in a way that dulls us from the spiritual and distracts us from God. That’s certainly a danger for most of us, but it’s not the same as enjoying a meal, feeling stuffed, or being overweight.

5. And what does the Bible say? Some will be surprised to learn that “gluttony” appears in none of the New Testament vice lists. In fact, most of the Bible is overwhelmingly positive about food. There are Old Testament feasts and visions of heavenly feasts. Jesus finished his ministry with a meal and instituted a supper for his remembrance in the church. If the New Testament has an overriding concern with food, it is that God’s people not be overly concerned about it. Food does not commend us to God (1 Cor. 8:8), and the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink (Rom. 14:17). No honest reader of the New Testament can deny that Jesus and the apostles were much more concerned about what we do sexually with our bodies than with the food we eat (Mark 7:21-23; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-5).

In the English Standard Version, the word “glutton” appears four times and in every instance is paired with the word “drunkard” (Deut. 21:20; Prov. 23:21; and in a slander against Jesus Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). The word “gluttonous” shows up once, again alongside a reference to “drunkards” (Prov. 23:20). Two other times we have “gluttons,” once in a quotation from a poet speaking of lazy Cretans (Titus 1:12) and the other time in reference to the company a shameful son keeps (Proverbs 28:7).

The other passages often associated with gluttony are much less than meets the eye. For example, the point of Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”) is about not being ensnared by the deceptive hospitality of rich hosts. And the saying in Philippians 3:19 (“their god is their belly”) is either a euphemism for sexual sin (see the next phrase, “they glory in their shame”) or a reference to the Judaizer’s legalistic demands regarding Mosaic dietary restrictions.

So what does the sin of gluttony look like? When we take time to open our Bibles and read the relevant passages, we find that gluttony is much more than eating a McRib sandwich, and that partaking in food is much less of a concern than partaking in sexual sin. The composite picture from these verses suggests that a glutton is a loafer, a partyer, and a profligate. He’s the prodigal son wasting his life on riotous living. She’s the girl on spring break who thinks the pinnacle of human existence is to eat, drink, and hook up. A waistral living for the weekend. A big city high flyer who cares for nothing except for indulging in high society. A ne’er do well who takes lifestyle cues from the Hangover franchise.

So, absolutely, the church should speak against the sin of gluttony. But once we understand what the sin entails, I’m guessing most people would say they have a good idea where the church already stands on these issues.

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72 thoughts on “But What About Gluttony!?!”

  1. Kullervo says:

    There’s not an aggressive social/cultural campaign arguing that gluttony is not a sin and attempting to marginalized those who say it is.

    That’s the answer to every attempted “well, why are you so concerned about homosexuality and not ___________?” gotcha.

    Are grace, repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ available to homosexuals? Of course; the same as every kind of sinner. But that’s not really the issue, is it? The issue is whether homosexuality is a sin in the first place, whether its something that needs repentance, grace and forgiveness or whether God affirms same-sex sexual relationships and calls them good.

    I don’t know that there’s another sin where that’s as much of a live issue right now.

  2. John Tant says:

    That is essentially the point I was making in my posting. The closest rival is abortion (also being portrayed as a civil right). The church is responding vehemently to that one as well.

    The “why are you so concerned about …” gotcha is simply a way to distract attention/scrutiny away from MY sin to somebody ELSE’s sin. At work we call that “workplace thermodynamics” … if the heat’s on somebody else, it’s not on me.

    All the more when the “stakes” are the souls of those created in G-d’s image.

  3. DL says:

    John and Kullervo, To be clear, I agree 100% that this type of questioning is merely a deflection, eg, “well, why are you so concerned about homosexuality and not ___________?” gotcha. And, yes, the reason why so much emphasis is placed on teaching the truth about the sin of homosexuality is because of the push to legitimize it.
    The reason I gave the pushback on Kevin’s article is simply because I disagree with deflecting the guilt of sin — a sin that God’s Word has way more to say about than Kevin is giving credit for. If our steadfast argument is that homosexuality is a sin, we totally lose our credibility on the theology of sin by hand waving past other sins that we don’t think are as important because of our current cultural climate.
    We lose our credibility when we are not willing to honestly examine sins like gluttony that might hit closer to home – as Jerry Bridges calls them – “Respectable Sins”. Let’s model the proper response to sin by confessing our sin and calling for repentance.

    Only then can we, in good faith, call people to “Taste and See That the Lord is Good”.
    Neither side wins by trying to brushing sin and idolatry under the carpet.

  4. John Tant says:

    First: Jerry Bridges’ book is excellent … as are the results every time that man puts pen (typewriter or computer) to paper.

    Second: While I appreciate the valid concern about “credibility”, we can’t let the chaff they send out deflect us from our mission of confronting their soul with the message of Christ. I’m quite frank about my sin. In fact, I’m not the one claiming not to be a sinner. (That’s the whole point of my “Paul’s list” discussion in my blog posting.) The homosexuality apologists are making precisely that claim and, before they can repent of a sin, their realizing that it IS a sin is job one.

  5. Tiribulus says:

    This has been one of the better comment discussions I’ve seen in a while. Just a little to add.

    While using gluttony as a favorite diversion from homosexuality, (divorce too) is certainly not a legitimate argument, think of what could be accomplished if we just took it away from them in two ways.

    Number one, we need to concede what actually IS true about their strategy. That is, the unbridled and uncontrolled eating of food IS sin and no, we really actually DON’T care much about it. They’re right about that. Pretending that they’re not unnecessarily loses us even more credibility and this time for good reason.

    Number two, What if we stopped being gluttons? What if we didn’t send obese jiggling double chinned fat people to tell them how they need to control their bodily urges? We can blah blah blah blah blah this to death. The overwhelmingly vast number of obese Americans do NOT have to be and they are because of surrender to their flesh, just like the homosexuals. I have considerable expertise in health and nutrition. Exceptions don’t make the rule. Most gluttons are fat and most fat people don’t have to be. They are because they indulge in flagrant carnality.

    If we don’t acknowledge this we are continuing to arm our own enemies.

  6. DL says:

    Completely agree with this: “Number one, we need to concede what actually IS true about their strategy. That is, the unbridled and uncontrolled eating of food IS sin and no, we really actually DON’T care much about it. They’re right about that. Pretending that they’re not unnecessarily loses us even more credibility and this time for good reason.”
    That’s exactly my point.
    If we deny the sinfulness of sin about anything that God detests because we think we’ve correctly discerned the other person’s motives, then we have completely lost credibility.
    If we brush one sin under the carpet, how can we be surprised when the next person does the same with the one they indulge?

    Numbers 11:31-34 should be enough to convict both sides of what God thinks about sin in general, while also dispelling the hand waving and passing over what we tend to consider a more minor sin.

    One other comment: I wonder whether both rampant homosexual practice and gluttony are mostly first world sins – sins that manifest prominently in only nations as prosperous as ours – nations like Sodom? (see Ezekiel 16:49-50)

  7. marie says:

    1 Cor 6:18 begs to differ. My comment it solely for Kevin. I know that many have different views.
    Sin is sin in God’s eyes, but there is something that goes to the very depth of one’s soul when it involves sexual immorality.
    The damage my husband’s infidelity (homosexual as well as affairs, etc) has done to my soul is not humanly comparable to his being obese. Sad day when we as God’s followers put the scared act of sexuality and His design for the family system on the same plane as ‘fat’. MS

  8. Tiribulus says:

    Marie exclaims: “Sad day when we as God’s followers put the scared act of sexuality and His design for the family system on the same plane as ‘fat’. MS”
    I hasten to clarify Madam that I at least intended no such thing. Please see HERE
    All sins are damnable and are in that sense equal, but not all are equally reprehensible in the eyes if the Lord.

  9. Sterling Hooker says:

    Many people have been tormented by fear in thinking that they have denied the Lord because of some type of sin in their life. However, God looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7) and, regardless of how offensive our actions or words might be, if there is still a place in our hearts where we honor Him, He will not deny us (2 Tim. 2:12-13).

  10. Thomas G Johnson says:

    A very good analysis of this gay red herring. The article seeks to define gluttony as more than simple over-eating, but many respondents still seem to be stuck on over-eating and obesity. The author says, “The composite picture from these verses suggests that a glutton is a loafer, a partyer, and a profligate. He’s the prodigal son wasting his life on riotous living.” The point seems to be gluttony is simply being consumed by living without any thought of God. In this present age where sin and physical corruption abound, obesity may possibly be symptomatic of hormonal and genetic abnormalities over which a person may have little control. We might expect that as the flow of history propels humanity further from the pristine qualities at the creation, physical deterioration manifests in a variety of ways. Perhaps we should season our responses to others with a little more salt and not rub so much in their wounds.

    A respondent touched on another point: “All sins are damnable and are in that sense equal, but not all are equally reprehensible in the eyes if the Lord.” This comports with The Larger Catechism: “Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.” I would say that those sins that distort and despise the knowledge of God constitutes the rule of heinousness. The Ten Commandments are, in a sense, a “hierarchy of heinousness”. The outright refusal to acknowledge God, despise His worship, and profane His Name top the list. The rejection of parental authority is foundational to sins that target others. Murder is a veiled assault against God since His image is pressed on each human being. Adultery assaults divine order and further assaults the image of God. Theft deprives others of external property that, as given by God, constitute extensions of and expressions of personal identity as created by God. False witness impugns the image-bearer of God. Covetousness misaligns and distorts our appropriate inward focus on the sacredness of another’s personal right to exist as a full being that God has made. Sin takes root in the inner person and can escalate to licentiousness and even murder. Homosexuality is an assault on divine order and the image of God as He has chosen to express Himself in this present age.

  11. Listening to Gaffigan s hilarious routines about our propensity to overeat is always funny. But what is sad is that it s also the closest many of us Christians will ever come to hearing a sermon about gluttony.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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