“Topics You Always Wanted a Sermon On”

Proverbs 23:1-2; Colossians 3:5-12

We are starting a new sermon series today – it is our annual “Topics you always wanted a sermon on” series. The questions all come from someone here in the congregation. I asked people for suggestions at the beginning of Dec. By the deadline only a couple came in. But at the end of Jan, a flood came in so I can only touch on about ½ in our two months. 

The full Question: Could you do a sermon on gluttony – step on all of the chubby feet of us fat people.  (remember these are not from me J ). The guys at my table for the men’s breakfast yesterday learned of this after they had eaten and they said, “Oh thanks for telling us now.” Most of us had just gone up for seconds.

If you look on the front of your bulletin you’ll find a potential answer to this from the Book of Proverbs (23:2): “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.” That should get our attention. Serious actions are needed to combat this scourge. I couldn’t help but picture myself at a table full of all kinds of fattening food and this thought came to mind:“Which knife should I use?” – Proverbs said to put a knife to my throat if I am tempted with gluttony – which knife would work the best? – the butter knife, the regular knife, the steak knife, the cutting knife, the bread knife or the butcher knife? Well now that you know how weird my brain can be at times, let’s step back a moment and look at the question again. Why on earth would anyone in America want a sermon on gluttony?  

It could be the sheer pervasiveness of food in our lives today. I read (Christianity Today article 2000) that between the ages 20 and 50, the average person spends about 20,000 hours—over 800 days—eating. Our daily schedules are often planned around mealtimes. Business deals are cut among people who "do" lunch together. We have TV dinners, fast-food drive-up windows, and tailgate parties. We do a lot of eating so it would be good to know some important limits

A second reason could be the incredible health problems that are surfacing because of Americans being over-weight – and the obesity level in kids has skyrocketed. One article stated“Eating is … a problem in our culture. In one poll, 40 percent of the respondents said that "getting fat" was what they fear most in the world. (I really need to get them out into the world more). This may be one reason that each day approximately 65 million Americans are dieting, and the sales of diet books outrank all other books on the market except for the Bible.” 

A third reason might be that “Gluttony” is on an ancient list called “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Since Christians have been thinking about the misuse of food for at least 1400 years, it could be enlightening to hear what they have to say about this subject. Interestingly, the actual word “gluttony” is only found 1 time in the NIV and never in the King James Version.  

But there is a fourth reason. Some people want hope and encouragement that their on-going battle with the bulge can end in victory. The statistics are sure against it since only 6% of people who diet actually keep the weight off. Maybe there is something in the Bible that can move those statistics more in my favor. I don’t know, but suspect that is why the question’s author wanted his or her toes stepped on – so they could be victorious facing this temptation.

PROPOSITION: The gluttony that our culture struggles with is primarily based on unbridled fulfillment of our desires – God wants us to have victory and encourages us to regain self-control through His power unleashed in mortification, transformation and responsible participation. 

I. Historical overview
   Let’s start with a little historical overview, since I was really curious about that …

A. Seven Deadly Sins – excess in eating or drinking; greedy or excessive indulgence in food or drink (pride, envy, anger, sloth/laziness, avarice/greed, gluttony, lust)

As best as we can tell, the Seven Deadly Sins list started with the Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus around 400 AD. He actually had 8 sins. Then around 600 AD Gregory the Great changed the list a bit to have seven sins. This list would be “tweaked” in terms of the actual words until medieval times. What are the Seven Deadly Sins?Pride, envy, anger, sloth/laziness, avarice/greed, gluttony, lust.  (Instead of sloth/laziness it was “sadness” then – not that you are sad, but that you use it as an ongoing excuse for not doing anything. They knew a person couldn’t overcome strong bouts of depression by locking themselves in their room all the time.)

This wasn’t the only LIST produced back then. The Seven Contrary Virtues were written as opposites of those sins also around 400 AD: humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality, diligence. Later The Seven Heavenly Virtues were listed: faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, & prudence. In medieval times they came up The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give shelter to strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick, minister to prisoners, and bury the dead. But I am now way off topic.  

When I listed the Seven Deadly Sins - pride, envy, anger, sloth/laziness, avarice/greed, gluttony, lust – did something seem strange to you? The sins we consider deadly – murder, stealing, rape, idolatry, etc. are totally absent. That is because the original list was aimed at monks – Christians who were already living a highly dedicated Christian life and would have already rejected these outward action sins. These inner sins are deadly because people can think they are living a triumphant, victorious and God-pleasing life without noticing them or the negative effect they have in a “good” person’s life.

So what is Gluttony according to the Seven Deadly Sins? It is the greedy or excessive indulgence in food or drink – thoughtless excess one person called it. We often just think of the food part but drink was equally included. So binge drinking would have been considered gluttonous as well as drunkenness back then. The medieval pictures of purgatory (which we don’t believe in) showed gluttons forced to stand between two trees with fruit hanging down but that they could not reach.

B. Thomas Aquinas (eating too soon; eating too expensively; eating too much; eating too eagerly or eating too daintily)

Thomas Aquinas prepared a list of five ways to commit gluttony:

  • Praepropere – eating too soon (impatience your mom would slap your hand on)
  • Laute – eating too expensively (the caviar at every meal idea)
  • Nimis – eating too much (what we do at Thanksgiving, only you do it all the time)
  • Ardenter – eating too eagerly (snarfing everything down really quickly)
  • Studiose – eating too daintily (I took this as being too picky – but if you have any questions about what these mean – I have the Latin words on page 3 of my notes and you can check with Frank about their original meaning.)

C. Modern lists
In your outline I have two more modern lists of “The Seven Sins of …” – they look very different because they deal with the culture as a whole and not just the dedicated Christian.

  • Mahatma Ganhdi’s: Wealth without Work, Pleasure without Conscience, Science without Humanity, Knowledge without Character, Politics without Principle, Commerce without Morality, Worship without Sacrifice – excellent list
  • 1990 sermon series called “The Seven Sins of America”: A craving for more & more; A preoccupation with self; A bondage to numerous fears; A callous disregard for life; An entertainment addiction; An obsession with physical gratification and A create-your-own-god mentality – they are all still strong.

II. Biblical overview

Let’s head back to the Bible. Turn to Proverbs 23. While the exact word “gluttony” is only found in Proverbs 23 in the NIV, other forms of the word, like “glutton” or“gluttonous” are found 6 times. Interestingly two of them are charges by the religious leaders that Jesus Himself was a glutton. In addition, there are numerous other places where excess use of food or drink is mentioned.

A. Lack of self-control                                                              Prov 23:2 (23:20-21, 28:7)
Let’s re-read our beginning verse THIS TIME IN CONTEXT. Read in Prov 23:1-2. This isn’t a verse telling heavy eaters to constantly threaten themselves into right action, but is a call to exercise self-control in the presence of those you’d like to impress or before whom you don’t want to be embarrassed. One core problem behind gluttony is a lack of self control. READ v 20-21. Just wanting what looks good to eat or drink without any regard to the cost or how you must work for it first, leads to real problems. It is not unusual for a young married couple to ring up large credit card bills just from going out to eat or ordering up pizza a lot. There is no self-control, they just think they can have whatever they want when ever they want. That is gluttony, even though at any one meal you may not have stuffed yourself. That is why I like Thomas Aquinas’ definitions – his applications accurately focus in on this lack of self-control aspect for the normal Christian. 

If you hear people talk about gluttony today, they will probably either be focusing on the fact that people are getting fatter or they will be disgusted about the large variety & quantity of food at some event (and what is wasted). In regard to getting fatter, do you realize, in the KJV Prov 25:28 says “but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat.” You don’t see many refrigerator magnets do you? Nor do you hear about that aspect in our culture obsessed with beauty and fitness. The call for victory over gluttony is not primarily to have a better physique or less body fat – it is a call to purposely cooperate with God and grow in the self-control area of our desires. While modern versions use the word “prosper” instead of “made fat” in that Proverb, being made fatter is exactly what the original Hebrew means.

Over in India, a little bit of paunch around the stomach is a sign of riches, success and prosperity. It is considered a positive thing. Some extra weight is a moral neutral in the Bible. I don’t say this to excuse my paunch – I know I don’t always show self-control – Give me cashews, grapes, steak or Sweet Tarts & I can over-eat where my body isn’t happy. The reason I point this out is so that you do not perpetuate some false notion that all good Christians should meet the insurance companies BMI best rating. That’s not the question God wants us to ask. And I doubt Jesus is going to put any of us on a scale when we die to see how we did.    

How many times does the Bible treat the abundance of food as a sign of God’s blessings? It is all over. Full harvests and lavish banquets are said to be the result of God’s favor. Why would He do that if He never wanted us to eat rich food or never have a plentiful meal like Thanksgiving, Christmas or that Fourth of July BBQ spread? The biggest challenge for the monks was that they could live a respectable life on the outside, but not have God honoring motives inside – that is why gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But the most important thing about food and drink in the scriptures is the motive behind it, the place of God in it and the use of self-control for a greater long term good. 

 B. Luxury for self while others are without                                 Amos 6:4-7
Turn to Amos 6 (pg 910 in the chair Bible) – let’s see some of the other motives God focuses on in condemning gluttony for the believer. READ v 4-7. These people aren’t condemned for enjoying good things but enjoying them independent of God and at great cost to the poor & the people of God. That is the pattern of the glutton – oblivious to the role of God’s grace and uncaring about the needs of those around him or her. It’s all about them. Turn to Ezek 16

C. Total self-absorption                                                            Ezekiel 16:49
READ v 49. Notice the total self-absorption of these people. They are over-fed (that’s our gluttony) and unconcerned that of the needs of others. Not only is there no self-denial & little self-control but everything is about them – their needs, their wants, their desires, their situation. Total self-absorption. Now turn to Rom 13.

D. Gratifying sinful nature                                                          Romans 13:13-14
Most of the chubby feet in our congregation are not because of ignoring God, being totally self-absorbed, taking advantage of others or being uncaring to the needs of people around us – which is the motivation behind a majority of the references to the wrong use of food or drink. Like Romans 13:13 says, READ. “Drunkenness” is the wrong use of wine (the part of gluttony we forget) and one of the definitions of orgy is an “excessive indulgence in something esp. to satisfy an inordinate appetite or craving” – that is actually the same definition as gluttony. As Christians we don’t want to live that way. But we still struggle with needing more self-control – particularly in this crazy world where we keep buying effort saving devices when we already don’t get enough exercise in everyday life. So we read v 14. READ. What we really want is to cooperate more with God’s way of doing things and then experience more of His victory. These concepts are explained a bit more fully over in Col 3.

III. Practical helps (true also of other struggles with self-control) Colossians 3:5-12

So we can put our knifes away – this teaching on gluttony is not primarily there to scare us into a diet that actually works so we can look better next summer in a swim suit. This sermon is actually a wonderful evidence of the grace of God. Jesus wants us to experience a real victory over any selfishness, greed, excess and self-indulgence in our own lives. It starts with being genuinely converted by Jesus – where we repent of our sin, believe Jesus died on the cross for us and we must surrender to follow Jesus – if that was genuine, then God, out of His mercy & grace forgives us, saves us and converts us. He gives us the Holy Spirit in our lives, awakens our spirit, puts a new love for the Bible in our heart, gives us a new nature that wants to do right and sets us on a path that will make us more like Jesus. NOW we have to actually have been converted by God, not just say the words, if we are going to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ as Romans 13 says.

Let’s picture how this might look in getting our eating and exercise habits under control. Our culture’s approach is to make a resolution, get a membership at the Health Club and purchase the latest diet guide. Since this only works 6% of the time, that leaves a lot of people frustrated and susceptible to other weird &, in my mind, useless claims.

Like the newest self-help approach that is currently storming our country. In less than three months 1.5 million DVDs have been sold and 1.75 million copies of the book made, as of Friday. It’s been promoted twice on Oprah. It’s called “The Secret.” One of the things that author Rhonda Bryne says in her book is that you don’t need to get more exercise and eat more veggies to lose weight – you just need to stop looking at fat people and picture yourself in the perfect body. She goes on to say that it’s wrong to think eating food makes you fat. “Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight.” So she claims to be able to keep her ideal weight of 116 while eating anything she wants BECAUSE … she doesn’t think food makes you fat. Check our church website next week and I hope to have some additional thoughts and critique on her claims.

Instead of following our culture or believing the latest trend or thinking we can do it ourselves, why not try cooperating with what God is currently trying to do in your life.   

A. Eliminate what encourages old nature                                    Col 3:5, 9
It starts with mortification – a fancy word for putting off some old habits. READ v 5. What do we mean by this? READ v 9. So there are some current actions we are doing, which we willingly stop for a higher purpose. We want to eliminate anything that encourages our old nature.

How does that work with something like food and fat? After conversion, we start by getting in-line with God. We must see seeing the things that are wrong in God’s sight. It’s probably not your pounds. Let’s say it is just laziness and lack of self-control. Those are plenty big enough. Most of us are unwilling to ruthlessly see them as wrong as God sees them. We have so therapeuticized everything, that even if we think they are wrong to God, we don’t think they are wrong but give an excuse instead. That’s tragic because we never get aligned with God and we are in two minds about the problem – one half seeing a problem and the other half ignoring or justifying it. That  automatically feeds the old nature and encourages temptation to come in.

It is equally important to see what is sinful with our diet or health goal. That sounds like blasphemy to some. If it is to look hot or so you are more popular or it proves your beliefs or anyone of a number of other self-centered reasons – I doubt the power of God is going to help very much.

Finally we must eliminate the temptations we allow to stay in our lives. I’m always shocked with the number of people who claim they are going to cut back on calories and then leave chocolate hidden in a drawer or have ready cash on them when the snack cart comes around. The more you align yourselves with God’s goals and actively eliminate anything that encourages the sin, the more you will see the power of God unleashed. (Notice this is not just applicable to the use of food or drink!)   

B. Renew your mind with new thinking based on God                Col 3:10b
That “putting off” is not going to be successful unless you have genuinely surrendered all to God and are now actively cooperating with God as He seeks to transform your thinking patterns. READ v 10. As Romans 12:2 puts it “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”This transformation takes a lifetime – but it’s positive effects start right away. The Holy Spirit wants to transform your thinking right now though this teaching from the Bible. Jesus wants to transform your thinking as He calls us to surrender to His Lordship in every area your life – then we think les about ourselves & our desires and more about God & His desires. When we wake up each morning – recommitting ourselves to follow Jesus that day; repent of any known sin, ask the Holy Spirit to fill us by faith; thank God for His blessings and seek to be His witness – as we simply do that for a couple moments each day, we put ourselves in the position for God to further transform our thinking and give us greater power to resist wrong and do good.  

C. Add new replacement activities which encourage new nature  Col 3:9a-12f
Which is our third and final point. READ v 9a. This is illustrated in v 12. READ. Our part is to do actions which God is pleased with. If we are going to see victory, we need replacement activities for the ones we stopped doing. We need replacement focus for the focus we are leaving behind. You don’t stop thinking about how good a second piece of chocolate cake would be by telling yourself not to think about it. You must go do something different that takes your mind off the cake. Instituting some replacement activities that please God and help move towards our goal is incredibly powerful in seeing God’s power unleashed for victory.

You may say, “But the temptation to be lazy and eat too much will just come back. I’ve tried it so many times before.” What’s wrong with the temptation coming back? Isn’t that what satan did to Jesus. It’s through overcoming temptation that we grow the most and God is in the business of transforming our inner self into the image of Jesus. No Super Bowl champion ever played just one game and then was declared the winner. The battle came back every week – they had to prepare for victory everyday. But it was worth it because they kept the goal ahead of them. What is your real goal when we talk about gluttony? To do whatever you want? To ignore the subject completely? You’ll lose long term with those goals. Is your goal to look better than others, feel good about yourself and have others complement you? Those goals won’t overcome either. Or would you be willing to make your goals – God’s goals. It really isn’t about food at all – but about God being part of everything in our lives, us wanting to become more like Jesus in our character and learning self-control in the practical areas of life so we’ll be more effective as His servants. Make these your goals and chances are pretty good they will unleash God’s grace, power and victory in a larger measure than you’ve experienced before. But then again, we may not notice because we are no longer focused just on ourselves or on our weight – we’re just excited to join God in His work here on planet Earth! To God be the glory. AMEN!