Possibly the most frequently overlooked sins in the church are the sins of indulgence, lack of self control and discipline in the area of eating. While the church is quick to condemn other sins that result from a lack of self control and personal discipline, overeating is like the proverbial elephant in the living room that everyone sees but no one talks about. Part of the reason is that eating, in and of itself, is not a sin. In fact it is a blessing from God.
Other sins of the flesh such as adultery, fornication, pornography, and drug abuse are clearly wrong. Yet all of them are perversions of things acceptable. Sex was created by God to be enjoyed in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. Yet, when sex is taken outside of the biblical context and purpose that God created it to be enjoyed in, then it becomes a sin. Medications are wonderful gifts of God used to help cure various diseases and relieve suffering. Nevertheless, when drugs are taken in excess, without prescriptions, or for the purpose of merely indulging the flesh, then taking drugs becomes a sin.
These are all manifestations of what we might call “sins of the flesh” because they give us pleasure. Eating is one of the things God has created for us to both need and enjoy. By His grace, He has created foods like the colors of the rainbow with an infinite number of tastes. The problem is when a person allows his lust for food to cause him to violate the Word of God, master him, or harm him, then eating becomes a sin.
Bulimia, the sin of binging and then vomiting what was eaten, is a good example. The person with bulimia lusts after the pleasure of eating and so they binge on food, but they also fear being overweight or having others discover they are out of control in their eating, so they cause themselves to vomit up their food in an attempt to hide their slavery to it. But they never succeed in hiding their problem from God. Overeating is another example. Overeating is when we allow food to master us. We fail to use self control and discipline and let our desire to have pleasure from eating rule our life. The consequences of this are usually visible for all to see.
The church is often reluctant to deal with sins related to eating for some of the following reasons:
- Fear of not knowing how to tell if someone’s eating is sinful indulgence.
- Fear of adding extra-biblical regulations to the Word of God like “godly weight,” “godly diet,” or “godly amounts of food to eat.”
- Fear of offending the many indulgent and/or obese people in the church.
- Fear of being accused of legalism.
- Fear of confronting someone about sinful eating habits.
- Fear of wrongly judging someone based on the fact that they are overweight.
- Fear of addressing a sin that may condemn the leadership of the church.
- Fear of being unable to tell if someone has repented of their sinful eating habits.
- Fear of going against our culture which promotes indulgence in almost every area. Many diets even promote indulgence of certain foods saying you can “eat as much as you want” of certain food items.
- Fear of creating a Christian eating Gestapo that goes around second guessing others spirituality based on their eating habits or body weight.
Fears like these have kept most churches from addressing sins related to food, eating, and indulgence. Nevertheless, because the Bible addresses eating, indulgence, self control, self discipline, gluttony, and other related sins, we need to be able to address this topic without fearing men. If we don’t address these issues we will be guilty of showing partiality by condemning some fleshly indulgences and ignoring others. It is for these reasons that in the next several Calvary Reviews we are going to examine what the Bible says about indulgence, lack of self control, an undisciplined life and how these sins relate to eating.
Problem of Obesity in America
First, let’s start on an extra-biblical note. Obesity is one of the fastest growing health risks in America. It is one of the major causes of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleeping disorders, breathing problems, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, and fatty liver disease. A small investigative effort will quickly reveal that obesity contributes to highest health risks in America.
Realizing this, doctors have tried to find a standard by which they can measure obesity. There are many body types but the most widely accepted method is to compare lean body mass to body fat which gives what is called a body mass index (BMI). If the body mass index is 25 or more, a person is considered overweight. Presently, 61 percent of adults and 13 percent of children are seriously overweight.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the problem of obesity is costing Americans $33 billion dollars a year in efforts to lose weight.
The greatest health concern for Americans today is cancer. The three personal life style choices which contribute to contracting cancer are 1) Physical inactivity, 2) Diet choices, and 3) Obesity. Of course inactivity and diet are related to obesity. According to a CBS news report, “Obesity is fast becoming one of the world’s leading reasons why people die… a new enemy is emerging in the 21st century; our appetite. Around the globe, about 1.7 billion people should lose weight, according to the International Obesity Task Force. Of those who are overweight, about 312 million are obese, at least 30 pounds over their top recommended weight.” According to a CNN report obesity is the second leading killer of Americans.
Even from a worldly perspective, lack of self control and discipline in the area of eating leads to obesity and obesity is a significant health risk. While the Bible tells us “bodily exercise profits little” (I Tim. 4:8), it does profit some. While we are not to obsess on trying to keep our bodies in perfect condition knowing they are destined for decay (II Cor. 4:16), we are also told to avoid those things that will harm our bodies (I Cor. 3:17). Of course many things harm our bodies to one degree or another, but for our discussion we will focus our attention on sins related to eating.
The Reason We Need to Address Sins Related to Eating
Let’s say a man came into my office because his wife discovered that he was struggling with and indulging in the sin of pornography. Pornography being one of the “sins of the flesh.” Now, if I was out of control in my eating and was visually fifty pounds overweight, could I counsel that man to stop indulging in pornography without being a hypocrite? If I was not using self control and discipline in my eating, how could I tell someone else to use self control and discipline in what they look at? The man would have every right to ask me, “Why are you showing partiality? Why are you trying to take the spec out of my eye while you have a log in your own?” Being out of control and mastered by anything other than the Lord is wrong, regardless of what it is.
Dr. Robert Smith, a Christian doctor and biblical counselor, speaking of how our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit which we are responsible to care for said, “In 1 Corinthians 3:17 believers are commanded not to defile their bodies, which are the temples of the Holy Spirit. This admonition would include the injunction to take proper care of the body. Taking proper care of our bodies includes getting sufficient sleep, exercising daily, and disciplining ourselves to maintain a balanced weight.”
After addressing the issues of sleep and exercise Dr. Smith goes on to address weight and says, “Maintaining a balanced weight level is also an important health factor. For many counselors who have desk jobs that do not require much physical exercise, this requires extra measures of self-discipline and determination, not only in choosing a balanced low-fat diet but in burning excess calories through exercise. Keeping our weight under control is a necessity, for how can a counselor insist that a counselee be disciplined in various areas of his or her life when the counselor is not disciplined in the very basic areas of diet and weight control? (John MacArthur, Wayne Mack, Introduction to Biblical Counseling, p. 152)
One of the major motivations for addressing sins related to eating is that we can’t ignore sins in our life while trying to help someone else with the sins in their life. The log in our own eye disqualifies us to take the speck out of our brother’s (Mt. 7:1-5).
Jerry Bridges in his classic work The Pursuit of Holiness, quotes I Cor. 9:27 and then comments, “but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” He then says, “True holiness includes control over our physical bodies and appetites. If we are to pursue holiness we must recognize that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are to glorify God with them. Twentieth century Christians, especially those in the Western world, have generally been found wanting in the area of holiness of body. Gluttony and laziness, for example, were regarded by earlier Christians as sin. Today we may look on these as weaknesses of the will but certainly not sin. We even joke about our overeating and other indulgences instead of crying out to God in confession and repentance.” (Bridges, The Pursuit of God, pg. 110).
“Okay! Enough!” you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I am convicted. So what can I do about my lack of self control in my eating?” Well, I would love to tell you but we have run out of space. For the next Calvary Review we will look at what the Bible says about eating in general and indulgence in particular. Then after surveying what the Scriptures say, we will try to offer some practical help for those who struggle in this area. Until then, think, pray, and consider everything you eat first before putting it into your mouth.