[Food & the Bible] When Eating is Sinful

Scripture references: Numbers 11, Psalm 78, John 6, 1 Corinthians 10:31

I can still feel the shame of being caught sneaking Oreos to my room as a kid. Though not the first time, it embarrassed me to know someone else had seen the grip food had on me. Over the years, I looked for ways to be alone in the kitchen to sneak more handfuls of goldfish or one more spoonful of Nutella. Gluttony became a familiar and unwelcome companion.

A fourth-grade weigh-in then introduced me to vanity. I was never the thinnest kid nor the cutest. Already having been teased for ears that stuck out and weird mom-chosen clothing, I was determined to fit in however possible to avoid future humiliation. Seeing I was the heaviest among my friends, I clung to vanity to keep my gluttony in check so my ability to blend in wasn’t compromised.

I served these two masters faithfully for many years, vacillating between them hour by hour. One moment something sweet was what I needed, the next I needed to fit into my clothes. I preferred foods that were low calorie so that I could continue my affair with gluttony without the consequences of added weight. I began working out more, not to be strong to serve others, but to pay off the debts I incurred while eating more than I should.

I assumed I just had bad habits that needed to be reformed, but God made it clear that I was an idolater who needed forgiveness, a slave to sin who needed a Liberator.

BREAKING THE CYCLE

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

It was a Gospel-centered Bible study on 1 Corinthians 10:31 that broke the cycle I had assumed was just a part of life. For the first time the self-centeredness of my eating came into view: I ate whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and I exercised self-control only to keep up the image I wanted. I was eating and drinking to the glory of myself. God desired my eating to be for His glory.

Slowly, the Word of God opened my eyes to the many ways I misused food to satisfy soul-longings. The scriptures talked about food as a shadow pointing to God, the One who fills the soul and whose words are sweeter than honey. It was clear that I didn’t need food at all; I needed Him. This exposed my real issue: I didn’t want God. I wanted slavery to old masters so my tongue could taste the fleeting pleasures of Cheetos and chocolate chip cookies.

GLUTTONY: A REJECTION OF GOD

My story is not uncommon. The post-slavery desert-dwelling Israelites also found they preferred slavery over God. Even though they experienced God’s nearness through bread rained down from heaven and crisp, sweet water from a rock, it was not enough. The people of Israel complained…

And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Num 11:4-6

The Israelites spoke of their past captivity with fondness and God’s present provision with disdain. Returning to those cruel, whip-wielding task masters didn’t seem too high of a cost to get some meat and onions. Trusting God was too hard. The taste of old food too good. How often do we do the same? Slavery to sin seems worth it if we can indulge in whatever we want.

You might be asking, what’s so wrong with gluttony? Is it really sinful to eat too much, to need a sweet fix, to feel out of control with food? The Israelites may have wondered the same thing. Yet their greedy longings invoked God’s wrath because it was a rejection of Him:

Say to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”

While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people with a very great plague. Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-Hattaavah (which means “the graves of greediness”), because there they buried the people who had the craving.” Numbers 11:18-20, 33-34

Maybe you’ve never thought of overeating as a sin before. Maybe it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But gluttony is the sister sin of drunkenness. Both are too much of a morally neutral thing. Drinking wine is not a sin, but too much wine leads to drunkenness, an overindulgence which persuades our loyalty away from Christ to alcohol. Likewise, too much food leads to gluttony, an overindulgence which persuades our loyalty from Christ to a good meal. Gluttony is just more socially acceptable than drunkenness. But when you lose the ability to say no, you can be assured that you are no longer walking in the Spirit who bears the fruit of self-control.

MORE THAN A MEAL PLAN

If overeating is not a sin, if it is just a “bad habit” to be reformed, then worldly answers like diets and meal plans are the answer. But if it is a sin, then it is to be grieved and repented of. Like any other sin it is a rejection of God and a preference for something in His place. Fighting the sin of gluttony with a diet is like trying to chop down a tree with a garden hose. The hose has a purpose and is good for some things, but definitely not felling a tree. For that you need an axe.

Likewise, to kill sin you need repentance, not meal plans. Repentance is fleeing sin and clinging to God, but it primarily it is the latter. Sin is not expelled until Christ is treasured. That’s why there is no better tool to defeat gluttony than a consistent and varied diet of the Word of God. As I see new and familiar facets of God’s unbelievable character, my soul is satisfied and food no longer beckons my worship.

In fact, it is in the worship of God that we can finally see food for it was meant to be: a shadow of Christ.

Jesus then said to them, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:31-35

Finding victory over food-worship (and vanity) begins with the honest admission that we’d rather indulge our senses than know God. We then need an understanding that we cannot defeat sin on our own, that we need a Savior to deliver us. The hunger and thirst driving our gluttony are only satiated in Jesus. Run to Him and believe Him. And when it seems impossible to believe, cry out in desperation, “Help my unbelief!”

For more posts in this series, click here.

19 Comments

  1. Kelly

    I don’t disagree with the comments on gluttony etc. I am a pharmacist and have studied and read a lot on auto immune diseases. Collectively, auto immune affects more than cancer. If the issue at hand is simply gluttony then no problem but in most cases the types of food one chooses to eat has a big factor. For example, my daughter at 16 was told she has an auto immune diseases and it was suggested to start chemo. Ughh, don’t think so. She went gluten free (probably 95%) and her chronic hives have been reduced by 75% and subsequently her migraines cut in half. I eat pretty healthy and yet my whole life my iron, vitamin D etc very low. After only 6 months, my vitamin D tripled. Sugar and carbs are poison to diabetics…..my point is I would like to see clarification of how the word diet intended…to loose weight or a lifestyle healthier choice for better health not slim thighs…I feel God has been bringing me towards this area of medicine…I truly believe Functional Medicine approach that is very much associated with what foods might not be best and that varies to individuals. As it says, everything is good but maybe not beneficial. Thank you for your thoughts. I am not sure where this path is leading me but I hope that I can help others and serve my Lord.

    1. w1tt

      I know you addressed Kelly, but I had a thought. Gluttony doesn’t address the type of food just the amount. The Greek word in the New Testament defined for gluttony is to make oneself all stomach. It isn’t addressing the types of food but how much people who are trying to fill it to bursting by excess. As far as the types of food: Everyone is different. Some people can eat things others can’t. I found in my case when I addressed the issue of gluttony then I eventually cleared a lot of things out of my life that allowed me to see what foods I actually should be eating because they made me feel better. Much like clearing out the clutter of a garage helps you see– oh wow there’s a hole in the wall that needs patching! Or repairing the leak in a boat before trying to bail out the water. if we first deal with the sin issue then we can see what can be made better. I’m glad your daughter found something that helped her feel better!

  2. […] mein Essen soll Gott ehren und meinem Körper gut […]

  3. Erin

    I’m as guilty of this problem as my daughter, but I know how I need to deal with it in my life.. confession, and prayer and treasuring Christ rightly. I’m not sure how to help my 13 yr old daughter to see it as a sin. Any ideas?

    1. w1tt

      Kelly’s article on this and the others in this series are great or helping both you and your daughter. Just treat this “sin” the way you would as any other. Encourage her to love Christ MORE. The problem with any sinis that we see it as more real than our home coming to us in heaven. That it promises more hope than the Father who loves us. It’s a gradual process to learn to have heavenly eyes. I know it is for me. The first thing is to teach your daughter that this kind of eating canned sinful and be repented of. But once you have done that, moving ahead with this as in any sin with a plan for repentance where intimacy with Christ is the firs priority. I know you didn’t ask my advice, but I thought I would respond since I have been there. I lost 130 pounds. And it was after I had a similar realization. My gluttony was what got me here, not any of the food I ate. I ended up writing a book about it. It’s on Amazon if you want to have more resources, it’s called The Food Ain’t the Problem. http://amzn.com/0692545840 It’s also about to be sold at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley Cal. I know you don’t know me. I am not a big bible teacher or have a teaching ministry. But God was so kind to show me how to change my life after He finally got through my thick head that my heart needed to change and not whether or not I was eating French fries. In due time I learned to eat more healthy, but the first thing I learned was that God loves me, is preparing a place for me, and turning over even my beloved pet sin wasn’t a chore, or a loss, but letting go of the lie. That daily obedience wasn’t a sacrifice, but simply practicing for home with Him. 🙂 there’s also a Facebook page for the book if you want to just check out a few videos for it. Again, even if you don’t get the book, the articles Kelly has written give clear direction. Pray. Open your daughters eyes to the truth. Come up with a plan to address the heart of sin. Then be patient for her change and pray some more 🙂

  4. lizzieswondrouswanderings

    Reblogged this on Lizzie… just as I am..

  5. […] 2. When Eating is Sinful  […]

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  7. […] [Food and the Bible] When Eating Is Sinful. […]

  8. elldee626

    Reading this as I sit here eating the Snickers minis that wouldn’t fit into the candy dish. The bag could have easily been put into the cupboard but no one’s home so no one will see me eating them. Gluttony is wanting (and taking) more than you need or should have, so it’s not just food. Compulsive hoarders could be said to be gluttons. All this being said to delay writing about me, the woman who didn’t realize until early adulthood that most people don’t drink Hershey’s syrup out of the bottle! The woman who hates potluck dinners because she’s afraid others will notice how many times she refills her plate, I have confessed many sins in my life but somehow have not seriously considered confessing gluttony. I have several health issues that affect my metabolism and blood sugar levels, so I tell myself that’s the problem. But I didn’t have these problems when I was 12 years old and couldn’t control my eating. Even though I didn’t have a weight problem until my 30s, I had an eating problem. I always wanted the biggest piece of anything. I could not understand people who could eat 3-4 M&Ms and stop–to me, a 1-lb. bag was a serving or two. Thank you so much for posting this convicting article. I am going to the Lord in prayer right now.

    1. Thank you for your honest response and for going to God in prayer! I relate to you. I’ve eaten more candy in one sitting than I’d care to admit, have regularly eaten Hershey’s syrup from a cup with a spoon. I relate to the struggle with food since childhood. Yes gluttony is sin and we ought to call it sin. But Jesus is an able savior even from such a stronghold as this. He bore our shame and offers us fresh robes of righteousness! Praying you feel the joy and freedom of His gift of righteousness as you seek Him in confession and repentance.

  9. Speechless! All I can say is powerful stuff and my stomach…no my spirit is full and fat off this juicy word! Licking my fingers and all!

  10. Amber

    Thank you w1tt for bringing up how fat shaming fits into the discussion of gluttony. I would add that, while we want to make it simple and essentialize people’s problems, ie “She is a glutton” and “He is a drunkard” we need to remember that we *all* have *exactly the same* propensity toward every sin, and it is only by God’s Will apparent in the circumstances of our lives that the particular sins we struggle with throughout our lives are revealed. How easy it is for us to tell ourselves “I’m not a jealous person” or “I’m not an angry person” when the absence of those sins is not to our personal credit any more than our good works are. Yes, gluttony is a sin. Anything that displaces God from His correct place as highest in your affections is an idol. And— here’s where our beliefs are different from those of the world— they are still sin even if it does not appear that there are visible consequences for the sin behavior. What’s difficult in the discussion of gluttony is that it is so easy to make it an opportunity to shame the people who visibly display the consequences of that sin, and presume that everyone who does not display visible consequences does not grapple with– or give in to– that sin. I would argue that, since everyone must eat in order for their physical body to survive, *everyone* struggles with gluttony. The other part of the discussion that must be addressed is the stewarding of resources. God gives us resources so that we will steward them in a way that honors and brings glory to Him. One amazing resource He has given us is our bodies– which directly glorify Him when we steward them well because they are made in His image. I have understood for a long time that my struggle with overindulging in food, and ignoring a health concern that makes weight-gain easy, was rooted in sin. I have only recently understood that my imperfect body is a reflection of a perfect God– yes, even as it is now– and stewarding it better should reflect a heart of thankfulness for how its present beauty is a shadow of the glory of God instead of mournfulness over a necessity for changing its imperfections.

  11. w1tt

    Years ago I was in a bible study the teacher said “that people need to call sin, sin. It’s not ‘she has a drinking problem or he has a sexual addiction’ No, She’s a drunkard and he’s a fornicator.'” When I realized that, I wasn’t just an over eater but a greedy and covetous glutton then it was a light bulb moment for me. But what really changed my perspective was when I told someone that and they said “Well thats true. And there are thin glutton’s too.” Thank you so much for writing about gluttony. It’s a challenging subject because people gotta eat. People also think that if one talks about gluttony then they are just fat shaming people. But that’s not true. Sin is sin. whether it can be seen or not. Its not fat shaming, its sin exposing. For me it wasn’t an overnight change. So while I realized overeating was gluttony and that big and little could do it, it wasn’t for another twenty years that God actually gave me direction on how to repent. It’s so much of what you said. God is the master, not food. God is beautiful, wonderful amazing and to be adored. The more that one does that, the less the food has a hold on me. Its a battle, I confess. but I am so thankful for God’s grace when I get off track. A friend sent me a link to your blog because I wrote and illustrated a book on this very subject called “the Food Ain’t the problem” (There’s a facebook page for it if you’re interested) Anyway. I wanted to say I hear you and I appreciate your message. Carole H

  12. Miha

    This was such a great and useful article! Loved your honesty.

  13. DD

    I really value that you said gluttony is the sister of drunkenness. While it hasn’t been a real problem for me, I am very vigilant about not being taken over to drunkenness, but am gluttonous with food almost daily without a second thought. How this has called me to repent and cling to Him. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  14. “Sin is not expelled until Christ is treasured.” Excellent. Thank you. I needed that reminder.

  15. Patricia Household

    Thank you for telling it like it is. “Eating and drinking to the glory of myself” is tough to hear, but God has been bringing me to this conclusion. His call to me is to pursue Him, and as I learn to do that, I have seen my diet change for the better. However, as you have pointed out, I still need to call it sin when I put my comfort first, or find my comfort in food, rather than God. I thank God that true repentance brings freedom from idolatry and bondage, and that He continues to show me what I need to deal with.

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