I have been bothered by my weight most of my life. I was heavy as a child, a condition which my mother euphemistically described as “big boned.” I was so obsessed with the fear of being fat that even when I was thin, I did not think of myself as thin. I am no longer thin and it bothers me. I am not alone. According to some estimates, 45 million Americans go on a diet each year.
In our weight-obsessed culture, you would think that we might be highly sensitized to the sin the Bible calls gluttony. The truth is, most of us wouldn’t recognize a glutton if he swallowed us whole. We certainly wouldn’t be able to tell whether we are gluttons and the mirror will not help us. That’s because gluttony isn’t really about one’s weight at all.
Traditionally gluttony is linked with food and drink. The Bible associates gluttony with drunkenness (Deut. 21:20; Prov. 23:21). Gluttony is essentially a sin of inordinate appetite. But what is it that makes this hunger inordinate? Hunger is a part of our nature. If we don’t eat, we die. Jesus Himself came “eating and drinking” (Matt. 11:19). Food, drink, indeed, all our bodily appetites are part of God’s design. But what is that design?
We are tempted to think that their function is to point us in the direction of fulfillment and satisfaction. In truth, it is the other way around. Our appetites by their very nature can never be entirely satisfied. Functionally, appetite is a means to an end. When it becomes an end in itself, it turns into a kind of slavery (1 Cor. 6:12-13). Spiritually, our appetites are signposts which point to a hunger that cannot be filled by any human means. They are a sign of our emptiness and our need for God. When we rely on earthly means to slake that appetite, we become those whose “god is their stomach” (Phil. 3:19).
Although gluttony seems to us to be an outmoded relic of medieval culture, those who live in a consumer society are especially vulnerable to it. That is because consumerism plays upon our emptiness by promising to satisfy our appetite. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the culture of marketing. “The consumer culture encourages us not only to buy more but to seek our identity and fulfillment through what we buy, to express our individuality through our ‘choice’ of products” author and activist Jean Kilbourne observes. “Advertising corrupts relationships and then offers products, both as solace and as substitutes for the intimate human connection we all long for and need.” It isn’t the buying and selling that is the problem here so much as it is the false promise of satisfaction.
Consumerism has profoundly shaped the way the church functions today. Not only because we are competing with one another to attract more attendees but because consumerism plays upon our spiritual hunger, causing us to promise more than we can deliver and offering cheap substitutes for those things that the Bible calls “worship” and “fellowship.” Instead of providing a context for encountering the reality of God’s presence, the main is to create a worship “experience.” In the place of koinonia,” we offer atmosphere. In this model, God and the church’s members are pushed to the margins.
The Bible’s warnings about gluttony are not a form of Gnosticism or asceticism. Eating is associated with fellowship with God in both Testaments. This theme was reflected in the many meals that Jesus shared with His disciples and was ultimately captured in the Lord’s Supper. It will find its culmination at the end of the age in the marriage feast of the Lamb. Only then will we find what we hunger for most. It is only then that our true desire will be satisfied.