This blog is the fifth in a series on Christian struggles.

I just ate a big piece of Christmas cake, in July, for my breakfast. Last night, I shared a large chocolate bar with less people than I’d care to admit. So I’ve just been a glutton, right? Not necessarily. But I often am, and if you’re honest, you are too. Is it that serious a sin? Yes:

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19, ESV)

…put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. (Proverbs 23:2)

It is no small thing to give in to gluttony. To borrow a phrase from Edward Welch (although he uses it in a different context), it is a banquet in the grave. So what should we know about it, and what should we do?

What Gluttony Is Not

We’re all too familiar with the playground accusation of ‘glutton’. Usually because Sally has lifted that extra piece of toast nobody wanted, or John has ordered two burgers in McDonald’s (as if one would be any healthier). We sometimes even use the word in a non-food context: ‘he’s a glutton for punishment!’

But whilst these interpretations are not necessarily wrong, they don’t hit the proverbial nail on the head. Biblically, gluttony is to do with food. It’s not wrong to use the word in other forms, but the Bible usually has other names for those sins. It’s also a spiritual ‘climate’ rather than ‘weather’. Enjoying your end-of-year-youth-dinner-all-you-can-eat-chinese-thing does not make you a glutton. Start hosting those sort of parties every night of the year and you’re definitely plotting the wrong course.

Finally—just because someone is overweight, or even because they have big appetite, that does not mean they’re a glutton. We sometimes joke that gluttony is a not-so-secret sin, but that is untrue. There are many reasons why someone is ‘big-boned’, as your granny would say—genetics, health issues, metabolism, puberty, to name a few.

What Gluttony Is

I can’t define it any better than Jonathon Bowers does:

Put concisely, gluttony is food worship. It directs the appetite toward improper ends, looking to our taste buds for the satisfaction that God offers us in his fellowship through Christ.1

So when do we tend to worship and find our joy in food? Think through these examples and bend them to suit your scenario. Your boyfriend just said goodbye for the last time, so you decide that two tubs of Ben and Jerry’s will do the trick. You’ve just caused mental and spiritual carnage by watching pornography late at night, so to ease the guilt you raid the fridge. And here’s one you maybe didn’t think of (courtesy of CS Lewis)—you’re dieting to slim up for the summer and someone offers you a big slice of Toblerone cheesecake, and you say no, and you feel great. Wait, how’s that gluttony? It’s gluttony because you’re finding your joy in having less food. You’ve become enslaved to what you don’t eat, rather than what you do.

That last example is probably the most helpful. Gluttony is an enslavement not to food, but to how we deal with and think about food. It is a disordered love for food. Food is great! Eating a big dinner? Love every bite and worship God that you are able to enjoy such wonders. But make sure it’s God you’re worshipping, not the food.

Help For You And Your Siblings

What can we do? All we ever can do—run to Christ. Whatever the sin—whether you’re eating one-too-many packets of crisps, getting too close to your girlfriend or finding that gossip is flowing all too naturally—it’s because your loves have changed order. When Jesus is in His proper place in your life, everything else will sit where it is meant to, and you’ll be able to worship properly.

If this isn’t a big deal to you, what about others? Remember, this is a genuine struggle for some people. It’s in the family of idolatry, and some idols are tall and heavy. If your friends share this struggle with you, think twice before you fill the car with bags of chocolate for your next road trip, or spend an hour talking about the best way to smother a layer cake with caramel.

This isn’t an easy battle—I know. But it is an important one. Our bodies and hearts are to be cared for, and gluttony is unkind to both. Let’s bring this often unspoken sin into the open and deal with it as family.

1. Bowers, Jonathon. Gluttony, In: Segal, Marshall (ed.), Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins. 2015. Desiring God: Minneapolis.