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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sin of Gluttony

The media is bombarding us with the stunning revelation that Americans are too fat. Health and government experts cry foul as more Americans are found to be obese. We have television shows like Biggest Loser and Too Fat for 15, which purport to make heroes out of those who can lose the excess poundage.

But I wonder if we're focused on the right thing. I don't deny that too many people in this country are too fat. That's obvious. But we seem focused on the weight, as a measure of obesity. The higher the scale tips, the more concerned we become. Is that really the right measure? Isn't there a spiritual dimension to this? (Of course there is!)

The Bible has much to say about what people eat. Most of it is found in the Old Testament - which most people don't think we have to follow any more. But Jesus said that isn't so. He did not come to abolish the law --- but rather to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) What Jesus changed were the the requirements of the covenant ... because now we have a new covenant.

When it comes to eating, the new covenant still allows the Bible to provide us with a significant amount of context around what and how we should eat. Let's take a look at some of those Bible verses.

Exodus 16:18-27 tells the story of God providing daily manna for the Israelites. But He became angry with them when they took any more than they really need.

Leviticus 3:17 says that must "... never eat any fat or blood ..." Of course we know that we can now eat anything we want. On the other hand, if it wasn't good for the Israelites, you must ask yourself how good it could be for us now.

In Numbers 11:18-34, we see the story of the Israelites craving meat and wanting to eat to excess, despite the fact that God had given them sufficient manna. God was angry at their lust for meat. So He gave it to them and promised they would eat it to excess and gag and become sick of the very meat they had lusted after. Later, this actually happened - and God's anger "blazed against them."

Notice the key point in this story from Numbers. God was angry with the Israelites. And what had they done? Lusted after richer food than they were getting. They weren't grateful for what they had, and their desire for other food occupied an inappropriate role in their hearts. God cares very much about what we eat and what we desire to eat.

In Deuteronomy 12:20, it says we "may eat whatever the Lord gives us, except for the things He has expressly forbidden." So what has God forbidden us to eat in the new covenant? Anything to excess. We are not to eat anything to excess.

Proverbs 23:1-3 tells us, "If you are a big eater, put a knife to your throat - and don't desire all the delicacies - deception may be involved." Good grief! Did you catch that? Do you think God really expects us to put a knife to our own throats? No, He doesn't. But He is telling us to be vigilant about gluttony. He is telling us that food can deceive us and enslave us. And He wants us to take drastic measures to prevent that kind of enslavement. Deception may be involved. Think about what that means.

There are other Proverbs that warn us about eating excessively. Proverbs 23:20-21 says that drunks and gluttons "are on their way to poverty." Proverbs 25:16 says that eating too many sweets will make you sick. Proverbs 25:28 says that "a person without self-control is as defenseless as a city without broken down walls."

Most theologians will speak of Old Testament food restrictions as law that we don't have to follow any more. Quite frankly though, that attitude throws the proverbial baby out with the bath water. There is sage wisdom in the Old Testament food restrictions. Said differently, while they aren't laws that we have to follow, they nevertheless contain a great deal of wisdom about how people should eat.

Most of the animals, for example, that the Israelites were not allowed to eat, were scavenger animals. This means they feast on rotted food and garbage. Generally speaking, they're not likely to be good for you and they are much more likely to present you with the risk of disease or illness from eating them. Examples include snakes, rodents, pigs, shell fish, etc.

The admonition in Proverbs 25:6 warns us not to eat too much honey because it will make you sick. Most of us might consider that and think of a stomach ache from eating too many sweets in one day. But the broader truth is that too many sweets, especially when coupled with obesity, results in a life-threatening, incurable illness called diabetes. It's more than just getting a stomach ache.

The admonition in Leviticus 7:22 to never eat fat sounds like an old covenant food law. But even without the law, how good is it for humans to eat fat? We know today, for example, that fat clogs your arteries and increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and even death.

So here's the thing. God cares very much what we eat. God cares very much how we eat. We may think it doesn't matter, or even rationalize that we are only hurting ourselves. But that isn't the case. When we eat to excess or eat crap, God is grieved. Remember His anger blazing against the Israelites over their gluttony? How do you think He feels about our gluttony?

Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on things that "are excellent and worthy of praise." I've come to think of that as a good guideline for my eating habits. When I'm at a buffet, for example, I'll look across and think which things might be "excellent and worthy of praise" in God's eyes. I'll try to think about which things might invoke God's anger or grief.

And I'll consider the fact that even if I make good choices on that buffet, two or three platefuls of good choices can wreck it all. Things that start out as excellent and worthy of praise can lose that attribute when eaten to excess.

There are too many obese people out there today identifying themselves as born-again Christians, Christ-followers ... who are doing nothing about their obesity or the rampant sin in them that causes it. It's almost as if we've taken the sin of gluttony and set it off to the side as not really being a sin any more. Oh we know we're fat and we should do something about it, but the pie is so good. Do you think God really accepts lame excuses like that?

The Bible says that our sin grieves the Holy Spirit. I think God is quite grieved today over the condition of His holy people - those of us who are born-again Christ-followers - who continue to operate in unchecked gluttony. We aren't confessing it, we aren't repenting of it. And we're not being vigilant about rooting this destructive evil from our lives.

So as a church, what do you suppose God would have us do about the rampant sin of gluttony that even our own government now says threatens to destroy us?

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