Our family feasted yesterday for our Thanksgiving meal. My wife, Tonya, is an excellent cook and she prepared her annual buffet: turkey, mashed potatoes, cream corn, dressing, macaroni and cheese, slaw, crescent rolls, pumpkin pie, cheese cake, etc. She also worked in a new meatballs-white rice dish that was a nice change of pace. Not only did we feast for lunch yesterday, we also feasted on leftovers for supper last night and again for lunch today. Oh, and did I mention that we feasted Wednesday night at the home of Tonya’s mom, Jessie? There we had turkey, ham, and all other sorts of holiday fare. As you might imagine, I’ll probably be using a different hole on my belt this Sunday, and it won’t be a hole for a skinnier preacher.
But do I need to repent of the sin of gluttony? Absolutely not! You see, there is a big difference between enjoying a time of feasting and being a glutton. Consider these fifteen Biblical examples of appropriate feasting:
- Lot prepared a feast for the two angels who came to him in Sodom. (Genesis 19:1-3)
- Abraham and Sarah celebrated with a feast the day Isaac was weaned. (Genesis 21:8)
- Isaac and Abimelech feasted the day they entered into a covenant with each other. (Genesis 26:26-30)
- Laban held a feast the day Jacob was supposed to marry Rachel. (Genesis 29:20-22)
- Pharaoh held a feast in honor of his birthday. (Genesis 40:20)
- Samson held a seven-day feast to celebrate his engagement to a Philistine woman. (Judges 14:10)
- David held a feast for Abner and Abner’s men. (2 Samuel 3:20)
- Solomon held a feast for all his servants after he had a dream in which God appeared to him. (1 Kings 3:15)
- Solomon held a seven-day feast to celebrate the completion of the building of the temple. (2 Chronicles 7:1-10)
- Job’s ten children feasted. (Job 1:4-5)
- Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast a king held for his son. (Matthew 22:1-14)
- The father in the story of the prodigal son held a feast (“kill the fatted calf”) to celebrate the return of his wayward son. (Luke 15:11-32)
- Jesus performed His first miracle (the changing of the water into wine) at a weeklong wedding feast in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11)
- The fellowship meal the early Christians held each Sunday in conjunction with their observance of The Lord’s Supper was known as “the love feast.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Jude 1:12)
- The Marriage Supper of the Lamb that Christians will one day enjoy with Christ will be a time of feasting. (Revelation 19:9)
All this is to say nothing, of course, of the seven so-called “feasts” that were required by the Mosaic law. Those were: The Feast of Passover (Exodus 12:1-14), The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20), The Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14), The Feast of Pentecost (Harvest/Weeks) (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), The Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6), The Feast of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths/Ingathering) (Nehemiah 8:13-18). Since the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread was held right on the heels of the one-night Feast of Passover, those two Feasts became so intertwined as to be celebrated as one eight-day-long event in Israel. Over the course of those eight days the Passover lamb was killed and eaten and all leaven (yeast) was removed from every home in Israel.
While it’s true that not all of these seven annual Feasts involved an actual meal, some did and this evidences the fact that God understands times of celebration, joy, and (yes) EATING. Someone might say, “But that was just for the Old Testament era. We Christians today don’t live under that law.” No, we don’t, but that’s why I took the time to list those fifteen non-law examples, five of them from the New Testament, wherein feasting is not only allowed but even prescribed during appropriate times.
Okay, so what then do we do about the Bible’s condemnation of gluttony? Well, let’s talk about that. The word “glutton” is found only twice in the Old Testament, and in both instances the Hebrew word translated as “glutton” is zalal. That’s a word that literally means “to shake” as in to physically shake during an earthquake or the blowing of the wind. Figuratively speaking, zalal refers to being loose (shaky) morally.
One use of zalal comes in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, a passage that was a part of the Mosaic law. In that passage, the parents of a stubborn, rebellious son, who would not obey them even after they had chastened him, were commanded to forcefully bring the son to Israel’s elders, The parents were to say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard” (N.K.J.V.). Consequently, the son would be stoned to death by the men of the city.
Even a casual reading of the passage will show that the son’s sin wasn’t feasting. Instead, the sin involved stubbornness, rebelliousness, and disobedience. All of this describes nothing less than a fixed lifestyle of ungodliness. Any sinful overeating that might have been associated with that lifestyle was merely an outer symptom of a far more serious inner attitude. Clearly, the son’s problems involved his heart much more than his stomach, and the phrase “he is a glutton and a drunkard” serves as something of a general catch-all to describe an unholy, worthless person who has nothing for God and nothing for people.
The Old Testament’s second use of zalal is found in Proverbs 23:21, which says: “For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags” (N.K.J.V.). Here again we find that the person’s problem is much more than simply having two pieces of pie instead of one. This time drowsiness (and by implication laziness) is added to the depiction of the drunkard/glutton, and the overall worthlessness of the person ultimately brings him to poverty.
Turning to the New Testament, the Hebrew word for word “glutton” is phagos, which comes from phago, which means “to eat.” This word phagos is used in both Matthew 11:16-19 and Luke 7:31-35, two versions of the same story from Christ’s earthly life. In that story, Jesus says the Jewish religious leaders called him “a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (N.I.V.). You’ll note that it’s the same pattern from the Old Testament except this time the drunkard/glutton is also spoken of as enjoying the company of disreputable friends.
What I’m showing you in all of this is that the Bible’s use of the word “glutton” is always linked up with an assortment of other bad behavior. The person being an overeater — and surely Jesus wasn’t that any more than He was a drunkard — isn’t the issue. The issue is the person’s stubbornness, rebelliousness, disobedience, laziness, and penchant for the company of others like him. Therefore, according to the Bible’s definition of “glutton,” the submitted, committed, discerning Christian can’t be one. Oh, sure, the Christian might overeat on occasion, but times of feasting such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, weddings, church fellowship meals, etc. can’t even be counted among such times.
Of course, this doesn’t give the Christian a free pass to become a fatso. Remember, Christian, your body really is a temple because God the Holy Spirit dwells inside you. Also, even Paul admits that there is some profit in bodily exercise (1 Timothy 4:8) and warns against those “whose god is their belly” (Philippians 3:17-19). My point is simply that you shouldn’t allow anyone, including you, to create a false guilt in you anytime the Lord blesses you with the opportunity to do some God-approved feasting. Just ask Him to let you know whenever you are crossing the line into sin by eating too much, and then listen for His still, small voice as He does so.