The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
I have a friend who enjoys going to a buffet, but some people do not like to go there, saying that it is less of a restaurant and more of a feeding trough. Not only do they have many types of food there, there is a dessert area with ice cream and candy toppings- a glutton’s paradise. If you ever wanted to eat and eat with complete abandon, this is the place for you. Or for Joey Chestnut, this year’s Coney Island hot dog eating champion, who ate 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes. You could watch the entire championship on you-tube, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not a pretty sight! One thing you would notice is that the hot dog champion is not a big person.
Maybe that is our first lesson in this sermon on gluttony- you can be a glutton and not be obese. Life in Bible times contained many feasts. The Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of First Fruits, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and other feasts in between were celebrations of massive quantities of food and drink being consumed. In many of the parables, Jesus included feasts, mentioning royal banquets, weddings, and participating in so many parties that he was called a friend of gluttons by the Pharisees. But Jesus had a balance in life- he also knew how to fast. The Scripture today includes his response after having fasted when he was tempted to turn stones to bread. Jesus knew that we do not live by bread alone. Maybe this was one of the first lessons of the Bible, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, crossing the boundary that God had set for health. That forbidden fruit is symbolic for anything that pulls us away from God’s Word into the harm of excess, a place that is far past what God has provided.
So gluttony definitely goes beyond eating too much food, something Andy Rooney commented on 60 Minutes once when he stated that the two biggest categories of nonfiction best sellers were, “Number one, cookbooks. Number two: diet books.” Especially in overly image-conscious high school and college youth, we know that overly excessive dieting, or purging, are part of the terrible conditions of bulimia and anorexia. Once we become aware of what we are overly invested in, we realize that yes, our gluttony goes far beyond the table. The television’s power to draw us into a passive viewing mode can be so destructive to life. So can the excess of substance abuse; we are aware of the havoc alcohol and drugs can have on life. A newer obsession is becoming absorbed in the latest technology, the smart phone. An article in this year’s Business News Daily, “Smartphone Addiction is Real, and Rampant” states:
Has our attachment to our mobile devices gotten out of hand? Critics like Harvard Professor Leslie Perlow, author of Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), would say the answer is yes. After all, our phones are the first things many of us reach for when we wake up in the morning and frequently the last thing we check before going to sleep at night, a new study shows…Staying connected has become a national obsession, the study found. Nearly 60% of respondents said they don’t go an hour without checking their phones. The younger you are, the stronger that obsession is — 63% of women and 73% of men who make up the millennial generation (ages 18 to 34) said they couldn’t go an hour without checking their phones. And we’re reluctant to say good night to our devices. More than half (54%) of study respondents said they check their phones while lying in bed before they go to sleep, after they wake up and even in the middle of the night.
Our mobile attachment also causes us to transgress the rules of etiquette — and common sense — to stay connected, the study found. Nearly a third of respondents admitted they check their phones while sharing a meal with others and almost a quarter of respondents (24%) engage in risky behavior such as checking their phones while driving. Houses of worship don’t get a pass either; nearly 10% of respondents said they check their phones during religious services.
We may also be emotionally overinvested in our devices, the study suggests. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they felt “panicked” when they misplaced their phones. Another 14% said they felt “desperate” while 7% said they felt “sick.” Only 6% said they felt “relieved.”“Our phones are our lifeline, from sharing photos with social networks to shopping and managing bank accounts,” said Alicia diVittorio, mobile safety advocate at Lookout. “The findings establish that our attachment to smartphones is driving a new mobile mind set. Our behaviors, emotions and social interactions are impacted by smartphones to the extent that they now play an important role in our value systems.”
Beyond our smart phones, we might find ourselves over-indulging in something else, such as gambling, work, entertainment, or even a hobby. In all of these, whether it is food or something else that threatens to absorb our lives, self-control is the answer. The Bible talks a lot about self-control. When we look at the life of Jesus as a model, we see a life of feasting, but also of fasting. He was able to celebrate life in times that required celebration, but also to withhold in order to demonstrate that just because something taste good, feels good, or looks good, it should not become our master. Fasting and feasting addresses discipline in life, a rhythm, a cycle, a way to enjoy food without becoming a slave to it. In fasting, the spiritual part of life is heightened to counter the attention our culture places upon constant consumption.
We have some reminders of this kind of life already built in to our Christian calendar- Lent and Thanksgiving, are good examples. During Lent we try to abstain from something in order to break ourselves from its grip. During Thanksgiving we feast and are grateful for God’s blessings. Early Christians would devote one day each month to prayer and fasting. Sometimes I wonder if the church could be even more intentional about the rhythm of feasting and fasting that would encourage a new sense of self control in accountability.
As the body of Christ, the church must strive toward living as Jesus lived, a life of moderate appetite, a life of temperance, a life centered upon God. The Apostle Paul was plagued by a life of violence and hatred, and after Christ redeemed him from that, he found balance in other parts of his life as well: “
“…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4: 11b-13)
Paul recognized that within him was the image of Christ – that helped him gain discipline in his life. He made a choice to put his life of violence and hatred aside and to dedicate himself to Christ. Paul found that the power of Christ helped him do that, and then he dedicated himself to the task for which he was made- to spread the good news of the Gospel across the Mediterranean and beyond, powered by Christ. I believe that each of us can experience that same power in our lives. Making that kind of choice is a first step. We need to identify the habit that has enslaved us and then take steps to break out of its grip.
To clarify, gluttony is not just something that we do over and over again that seems to have mastered us. What if we have dedicated ourselves to something noble, or something good? A member told me that his wife accused him of being a glutton for golf. His answer to her is that he was subscribing to Malcolm Gladwell’s observation in his book, Outliers, which states that someone has achieved mastery over something else when they have invested 10,000 hours into it. We would all agree that Jesus invested over 10,000 hours to helping others, practicing forgiveness, and being close to God. That is the key- discerning what is destructive and what is constructive. Many times we cannot differentiate, and that is when the power of Christ must help us, because finding temperance and living a moderate life is something that we cannot do on our own.
Again, Christ modeled the moderate and temperate life. Christ lived a disciplined life, and a disciplined life does not mean a life that is not fulfilling and fun, although sometimes being Christian has that incorrect association. Bruce Van Blair writes in his book, A Year to Remember: “Temperance has often been told and interpreted in Christendom as a joyless abstinence. It often has been that at the hands of those who have grown desperate to avoid some temptation that has beaten them again and again – until they dare not compromise with it any longer. But classical Greek thought wanted to be temperate because it led to a better life. And classical Christendom wanted to be temperate because it left room for Christ (God) to be the reason and focus for living.”
Eric Elnes discusses this balance that temperance brings in his book Igniting Worship: “Temperance… Is the habit of letting go of our compulsion to overindulge by developing a greater appreciation for, or mindfulness of, what is before us. Contrary to popular opinion, therefore, temperance may have nothing to do with ‘going without.’ In fact, it may lead to our developing greater joy over what we have. A connoisseur of fine foods (an Epicurean) actually may be engaged in the spiritual practice of temperance, not gluttony. A connoisseur’s goal is appreciation, not merely consumption. To the Epicurean, consumption is nothing more than a means to an end. In fact, the Greek philosopher from whom Epicureanism derives its name, Epicurus, is responsible for the phrase, ‘everything in moderation.’ He realized pleasure is found through greater awareness, not necessarily greater consumption….
Christian tradition has understood temperance to be the principal antidote for gluttony. Many of us associate temperance with a movement to prohibit the consumption of alcohol. Or, we think of a dour, humorless person who has spent a lifetime avoiding anything that might bring joy or happiness. Abstinence and repression however, are hardly what Christians have associated with temperance over the ages. While temperance can involve a degree of restriction, ancient Christians were far more likely to associate temperance with heightening freedom and joy rather than taking it away. How could they not? Was it not Jesus who turned water into fine wine at a wedding feast (John 2)? Was it not Jesus who was accused by the Pharisees of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11/Luke 7)? Jesus not only partook of good food and fine wine, but also seems to have enjoyed it. What Jesus, his disciples, and ancient Christians knew that we have largely forgotten is that there are ways of eating and drinking (in fact, ways of consuming anything in life) that actually counteract gluttony rather than promote it.”
The Christian view, according to the Bible, is that the grace of God appearing in the form of Jesus Christ teaches us to say no to ungodliness, as Titus 2:12 states. God’s grace makes it possible for us to control our desires and our passions. It is the power of God’s Holy Spirit, not our own power that rises up within us to do what is right and to resist what is wrong. In each of our lives we risk unhealthy appetites and succumbing to the sin of gluttony. May our first step be identifying what is leading us down the wrong destructive path, and following the constructive path of feasting and fasting, of temperate living as Christ lived. I would like to conclude with Mabray of spiritual transformation rescuing us from gluttony, a prayer each of us should pray:
Almighty and eternal God, your goodness is seen throughout the works of creation, and you richly provide me with everything to enjoy. With faithfulness and power, you bring forth food from the earth, wine to gladden the heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the heart. But I have abused your good gifts with my greed and gluttony, grasping more for myself, craving food that perishes rather than feasting on the food which endures to eternal life. Look upon me with mercy, and forgive my sins of gluttony: gluttony- which fills my stomach, while my heart is empty of gratitude; which comforts my body physically but numbs my soul spiritually; which craves for more and more things that satisfy less and less; which obsesses on personal pleasure and luxury; which rationalizes self-indulgence and ignores the needs of others; which wastes money on unnecessary stuff; which abuses my body which you have made for your glory; which expresses my greed and leads to sloth; which is my appetite for this world, when I should hunger for you.”