Have you noticed that there are some sins we do not like to talk about? Gluttony, I think, is one of those less than popular subjects. When is the last time you heard a good sermon on the sin of gluttony? Or can you remember the last time you read a good book on the sin of gluttony? Even so, a recent inquirer dared to submit a question to the OPC website about it. The writer asked:
How do you handle the sin of gluttony in your church?
My first question was why the Q. and A. administrator handed this question off to me. And then almost immediately I began thinking about my own aptness to overindulge in food, or drink, or fishing, or reading Facebook, or ... So maybe I could write from experience.
My second question was who is apt to read this Web Log entry?? But fools rush in where angels fear to tread. So at the risk of further promoting my own unpopularity, here goes:
Gluttony, like all other sins, can be defined in terms of the Ten Commandments. The OPC is committed to the teaching of Scripture on the matter, and we receive and adopt the Westminster Standards (The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) as a reliable summation of what we believe the Scriptures teach.
As you can see in what follows, the exposition in the Westminster Larger Catechism that would describe ‘gluttony’ is found under the sixth commandment (Questions 134-136, cf. http://opc.org/lc.html). I have highlighted the relevant phrases of what is required and what is forbidden that would pertain to gluttony.
Q. 134. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.
Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent. [Note: the older meaning of ‘physic’ is medicine.]
Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
In addition, gluttony can be understood as a kind of idolatry, which is the sin of serving and living for created things rather than for the Creator.
Thus, we would definitely view gluttony as a sin--a sin against oneself, a sin that can and often does affect one’s neighbor, and a sin against God. As such, we view it as one of those sins for which Christ died and from which those in Christ have been set free from the bondage thereof. It is a sin and behavior that belongs to the old nature. As those redeemed in Christ, made alive in Him, raised to newness of life with Him, and adopted into the family of God as members of Christ and citizens of a heavenly kingdom, gluttony is to be repented of and put away, and the new life in Christ is to be put on. The power to do is in the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We receive the help of the Spirit through the means of grace--the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. We also receive help through the counsel and encouragement of fellow believers, particularly of those who are over us in the Lord, our ministers and ruling elders.
Oftentimes gluttony and obesity are compounded by slothfulness, by inactivity, or by natural weaknesses of the flesh that could include physical or mental illnesses or disorders. Such situations call for wisdom and patience, and the remedy may well include exercise, good work habits, medical help, and counsel in addition to biblical instruction and growth in grace in repentance and faith. At the same time, it is certainly conceivable that unrepentant gluttony could be the ground of church discipline. I can think of cases, for example, where drunkenness (a kind of gluttony) has been the chargeable offense.
As you can see, we view gluttony as not unlike other sins that have been summarily paid for in Christ and are overcome in the victory of Christ. As with other particular sins, even habitual sins, what we cannot do to change ourselves, God can do; with Him all things are possible.
Again, allow me to express my gratitude for the opportunity to attempt an answer to your question. I hope it is helpful, and I would welcome any follow-up questions you may have. You could email me directly if you would like, and certainly feel free to write to the OPC website.
Blessings to you in our Savior.
In His Service,
R. Daniel Knox, Pastor
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church