Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Gratitude and Gluttony

God gave us food for our good. He made it delightful and profitable, giving joy and strength (Ps. 104:14-15, Acts 14:17). God created food to be enjoyed (1 Tim. 6:17) and "to be received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim. 4:3). While in this life there are times to fast from all or some food (Ezra 8:21, Dan. 10:2-3, Matt. 5:16-18), there are also times to feast (Deut. 14:22-27, Luke 14:13, Matt. 9:14-15), and in general we are made to depend upon and enjoy God's provision of our daily bread (Matt. 6:11, 33). But as with all the gifts of God, man in his rebellion is able to use it in a sinful manner - to reject it, to idolize it, to abuse it.

A proper use of food is governed by gratitude, but when gratitude is gone, one sinful abuse of food is that of gluttony, i.e. eating too much or with immoderate desire. Gluttony is a sin described in the Bible. It is found among the rebellious wilderness generation in Numbers 11, which describes the episode of the people’s ingratitude, discontent, and craving for the food of Egypt. Gluttony is brought up in Ecclesiastes 10:16–17, which discourages untimely feasting, and encourages feasting for strength rather than for drunkenness. Ezekiel 16:49–50 lists “excess of food” as one of the sins of Sodom. Proverbs 23:20-21 warns against being with those who partake of too much wine or too much meat. Other verses like Deuteronomy 21:20, Proverbs 28:7, and Titus 1:12 also speak of gluttony.

The Puritan, Richard Baxter, gave quite a bit of thought to biblical ethics, and has a significant section on gluttony in his Christian Directory. An article which gives a good summery of this section can be found at this link. In short, Baxter's basic definition is that “Gluttony is a voluntary excess in eating, for the pleasing of appetite, or some other carnal end” (Christian Directory, p. 309). As he reviews what the Bible says on the matter, he notes that excess can refer to things such as excessive amount, excessive frequency, and excessive cost. He also notes that what counts as excess may look different for different people:
“it is not the same quantity which is an excess in one, which is in another. A laboring man may eat somewhat more than one that doth not labor; and a strong man and healthful body, more than the weak and sick. It must be an excess in quantity, as to that particular person at that time, which is, when to please his appetite he eateth more than is profitable to his health or duty” (p. 309). 
He also notes that what counts as excess depends also on the type of food:
“Nature will easier overcome twice the quantity of some light and passable nourishment, than half so much of gross and heavy meats. (Therefore those that prescribe just twelve ounces a day, without differencing meats that so much differ, do much mistake.)” (p. 316). 
The Bible does not describe in detail exactly how much food is too much, but it does give us these guidelines, encouraging self-control and requiring each of us to wisely and knowledgeably evaluate our own situations and the food before us, and to apply these principles accordingly. As we receive food in gratitude, as a gift of God, it turns us from being centered on our often self-destructive and misleading desires to being centered on the ends for which God created food, receiving it to our strength and joy, rather than to our hurt.

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