The Eight Patterns: Gluttony

... a desire without restraint.

A desire
without restraint

Gluttony has been typically restricted to food-related issues; however, the underlying principle is an attempt to inappropriately satisfy a natural and legitimate desire. For example, eating is necessary, yet overeating is rightly considered to be gluttonous. More specifically, the problem is not necessarily too much food, but too much time, effort and/or attention spent on food. Thus, a picky eater might also be a glutton, even if there is no overeating.This is perhaps the least subtle and most persistent of the patterns. As long as humans have legitimate needs, the temptation to overindulge will never be very far away.
with self-control
Commonly understood
as overeating
Not to confused
with enjoyment
Other forms:
drunkenness, perfectionism, fussiness, unruliness, profligacy

God destroyed the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their extreme wickedness. What did they do to warrant such destruction? One of the charges leveled against them was gluttony.

"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." – Ezekiel 16:49-50

To many modern people, gluttony appears to be a relatively insignificant issue, especially when compared to lust, greed, pride, etc. This has not always been in the case. In ancient times, gluttony was considered a serious offense.

Gluttony is natural to mankind. It is more than a pattern of impure thought; it is also a pattern of impure activity. This is not an exclusively mental process, but requires action.

The spirit of gluttony is always looking for opportunities to strike quickly and with little warning. It causes one to be easily startled, rigidly inflexible, and generally unprepared.

In the arena of spiritual combat, gluttony is a relatively lightweight opponent. While those who frequently struggle with it may be inclined to disagree, this is definitely the easiest pattern to identify. Because identification is always the first step towards victory, it is easier to engage this enemy. It is also fairly easy to gauge success when measurable goals can be clearly established.

If this really is a lightweight pattern, then it should be easier (but not necessarily easy) to defeat. Christians who consistently fail in this area are very unlikely to find significant success against the more powerful and more subtle "heavyweight" patterns.

The mind is a muscle and must be exercised. Gluttony is like a weight-training center. Any workout that strengthens the mind makes the entire person stronger. Every spiritual victory of any sort is a building block upon which additional victories are built. Defeating gluttony will make it easier to resist (apparently) unrelated temptations.

In addition to causing the obvious physical problems, gluttony impairs the mental faculties as well. Like the other appetite patterns (greed and lust), it tends to dull the mind and senses after being sated. This, in turn, causes one to be dangerously undisciplined, complacent and lax. On the other hand, depriving an appetite sharpens the mind and heightens awareness.

One of the most subtle dangers stemming from gluttony is the expansion factor. Whenever legitimate needs are indulged to excess, the threshold for future satisfaction is raised. More and more is required as desires intensify. Legitimate needs can only expand so far. Eventually, these legitimate desires branch out into illegitimate areas. In this way, gluttony opens the door to lust and greed. A little hunger can be an effective buffer against the unwelcome expansion of gluttony. It is better to partially starve an appetite than to completely sate it.

ASPIRE. Focus on abstinence. Gluttony requires action, and if the action does not place, then it is fairly certain that a victory has been won.

Recognize the need for victory. If you do not want to win, then you will not win.

Be righteously indignant. This is a spiritual battle, and Satan does not fight fair. When tempted, it is perfectly acceptable to be upset.

Avoid settings that facilitate indulgence. For example, someone struggling with alcoholism should never go into a bar. It is impossible to avoid battles with temptation, but you do not have to give it the home court advantage.

Set standards and goals. Try to focus on foods that are healthy, inexpensive and convenient. Eat what is needed instead of what is wanted. Strive to be content with less.

Find a positive role model. If appropriate, establish an accountability relationship, but do so with great care. A glutton asking another glutton for help is a clear case of the blind leading the blind. Gluttony has a tendency to fuel itself, and instead of helping each other, both gluttons are likely to become even more ensnared. Your role model must be free of gluttony.

Wait to eat. Just because you are hungry does not mean you have to eat immediately and/or until you are full. It is difficult to know the precise moment when you cross the boundary between "enough" and "too much," so give yourself a buffer, or a margin for error, by leaving a little edge on your appetite. Consider establishing an eating schedule and try not to eat between appointed times.

Do not eat alone. It is surprising how helpful a chaperone can be in dealing with gluttony! They are most effective when they know they are supposed to be watching you. If possible, ask your accountability partner to pull double duty as a chaperone.

Do physical labor. Honest hunger is more effectively sated than idle hunger.

Stay alert. Do not declare victory too soon. If the battle seemed short and/or victory came easily, then the battle is not really over. Many people win the initial conflict, only to fall in the next one. Satan is aware of this, and likely "throws" round one to gain an advantage in later rounds.

Sidebar: Fasting
Fasting is a voluntary form of abstinence. It is an exercise in self-control that supplements the spiritual disciplines, thus it is merely a means to an end. Never fast for the sake of fasting. It should accompany something else, such as grieving, confessing sin, seeking guidance, etc. The amount of time saved through fasting should be invested in one of the other spiritual disciplines, such as additional prayer, meditation, Scripture study, and/or acts of charity.

The most common form of fasting is to completely forsake food for a specific period of time; however, it can also be done in relation to specific foods or specific times of day. For example, those who observe Lent abstain from meat on Fridays and are permitted a small amount of food on Good Friday, a day of fasting. The principles of fasting can also be applied to non-food areas by giving up a certain activity, such as watching television, golfing, etc. Creativity makes fasting accessible to a wider audience.

Temporarily and voluntarily retreat from things that overwhelm your senses. When your senses are repeatedly assaulted, you become desensitized. For example, television can supply a steady barrage of morally questionable images which gradually erode our standards. Freely go without it for a preset amount of time, and you will surprised at how well your senses respond.

There is an old expression: "the enemy you know is preferable to the enemy you don't." Whether or not you are tempted is beyond your control (you will be tempted), but you can occasionally choose what type of temptation you will face. For the most part, you can choose when to enter and exit conflicts with hunger through fasting. By volunteering to wrestle with hunger, you make yourself much less vulnerable to all other forms of temptation. It is just plain difficult to do some things on an empty stomach, and this includes many sinful activities. Under these circumstances, hunger can be an effective weapon against temptation.

Satan is aware of his limitations in gluttony-oriented temptations. He has no desire to lose spiritual conflicts, and even less desire to strengthen you in the process. He does not want to be your sparring partner -- he wants to destroy you. If you are routinely winning battles in this arena, then he will adjust his tactics accordingly.

It may be easier to completely abstain from food for a short while than to try to "cut back."

A schedule can also be very helpful when fasting. Determine when to start, and set a goal of when to stop.

Proper fasting is a free-will offering. Like all offerings, it should be cheerfully given.

Fasting does produce a degree of physical weakness. This is okay because weakness is something God can genuinely use (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Do not become obsessed with fasting. It should be a momentary exception to a regular, steady diet. Placing too much effort and attention on fasting is simply inverted gluttony, and leads to similar spiritual problems.

Be discreet. If you find yourself in an awkward situation where you must either break your fast or draw attention to yourself, then break your fast. Fasting is an optional, voluntary sacrifice that enhances another spiritual act, but bragging and causing offense are always sinful. It is better to lose the potential benefit of fasting than to fall victim to vanity or to cause someone else to be offended.

The Bible contains many examples of circumstances that warranted fasting. A partial list includes a national disaster (the death of King Saul), personal turmoil (Hannah's barrenness), bereavement (the death of a child), extreme anxiety (Darius over the fate of Daniel), imminent danger (Esther in response to Haman's plot against the Jews), special tasks (the commissioning of Saul and Barnabas), repentance (the city of Nineveh), sadness (Nehemiah in response to the condition of Jerusalem), and more.

Gluttony leads to shame, embarrassment, and a host of other problems. Gluttons are not respected or admired by others.

"Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags." – Proverbs 23:20-21

"He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father." – Proverbs 28:7

"Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time -- for strength and not for drunkenness." – Ecclesiastes 10:16-17

"For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things." – Philippians 3:18-19

"These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm -- shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted-twice dead." – Jude 12

Moses warns that gluttony can cause one to be forgetful and unthankful.

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you -- a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant -- then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." – Deuteronomy 6:10-12

Drunkenness, a form of gluttony, is also a form of foolishness.

"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine." – Proverbs 23:29-30

"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise." – Proverbs 20:1

"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." – Ephesians 5:18

Fasting is not intended for everyday practice, but God does encourage it. He has even been known to require it. If God thinks it is a good idea, then it is also possible to do.

"'Even now,' declares the LORD, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.'" – Joel 2:12

"This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome." – 1 John 5:3

Two important weapons to use in the battle against gluttony include self-discipline and contentment.

"Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." – 1 Corinthians 9:26-27

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" – Matthew 6:25-26

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." – Philippians 4:12-13

Defeating gluttony does not require starvation. It is not about self-inflicted torture. Abundant food is often mentioned in Scripture as a good thing or a reward. Believers are commanded to share their food with the needy. If hunger was a good thing, then it would be wrong to share food.

"The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry; but he thwarts the craving of the wicked." – Proverbs 10:3

"He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment." – Proverbs 12:11

"A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor." – Proverbs 22:9

"Extravagance in foods pleases the throat, but it nourishes the unsleeping worm of licentiousness." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts I.11.

"Fog conceals the sun's rays; and heavy consumption of food darkens the mind." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts I.16.

"If you give yourself over to the desire for food, nothing will suffice to fulfill your pleasure, for the desire for food is a fire that ever takes in and is ever in flames." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts I.27.

"Fasting is then rendered acceptable to God when it is made perfect by the fruits of charity." – John Cassian, Institute V.35.

"When combating gluttony, fight as if you would live for one hundred years [i.e., take care of your body]. When fighting the other temptations, act as if you were going to die tomorrow [i.e., be generous, forgiving, etc.]." – Adapted from Macarius the Great as quoted by John Cassian, Institute V.41.

"To fast is to enjoy simple foods in small amounts and to shun other people's esteem." – Thalassios the Lybian, Centuries IV.31.

"The passion of gluttony destroys all virtue's offspring." – Maximos the Confessor, Centuries on Various Texts V.57.

"Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach; for when it is glutted, it complains of scarcity; and when it is loaded and bursting, it cries out that it is hungry." – John Climacus,Ladder of Divine Assent 14.

"Spacious and broad is the way of the belly that leads to the perdition of fornication, and many there are who go in by it; because narrow is the gate and strait is the way of fasting that leads to the life of purity, and few there be that find it." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 14.

Is it possible to be a glutton in a non-food related area? Evagrius, Cassian, and almost every other early writer on the patterns would likely have said "no" because they limited the scope of gluttony to food. I have employed a wider definition of gluttony ("attempting to satisfy a legitimate need in an illegitimate manner") which can include non-food issues. An example might be found with the need to bathe, which can be met in a manner consistent with the spirit of gluttony.

I realize this is a significant departure from ancient authorities, and I do not use this expanded definition lightly. I also realize there are several things which might initially fit my definition, but actually belong to another pattern. For instance, a desire for sexual intimacy can be legitimate, yet inappropriate sexual activity more correctly belongs to lust. Perhaps every non-food issue does indeed belong to the other patterns.

I am cautiously inclined towards using an expanded definition for the purposes of the PITscan with the understanding that dietary concerns form the largest component of this pattern.

Ancient theologians were much more sensitive to gluttony than we are today. They wrote more extensively about it than any other pattern. This is particularly true of Evagrius and Cassian, who devoted about 15% more space to it than they did to the next most discussed pattern (pride) and roughly 70% more space than the least discussed pattern (vainglory).

Paul often uses food as an example in his discussions of Christian liberty versus license. The standard for determining gluttony varies with each person. What may be gluttony for one is not necessarily gluttony for another. Take care not to be an unfair judge or a stumbling block.

Evagrius was one of many writers to identify three patterns as the first wave of attack in spiritual warfare. The "Big Three" (gluttony, greed, and vainglory) paved the way for the remaining patterns to gain access to the heart. Of these three, gluttony is the "Big One" because the resulting lack of discipline invites an incredible variety of further temptations.

There is a peculiar link between gluttony and lust. Both Evagrius and Cassian confidently declared that it was impossible to fall to lust without first falling to gluttony.

"He then will never be able to check the motions of a burning lust who cannot restrain the desires of the appetite." – John Cassian, Institutes V.11.

"For it is impossible to fall into the spirit of adultery, unless one has succumbed to gluttony." – Evagrius Ponticus, Discrimination 1.

Evagrius goes even further by claiming that gluttony is the mother of fornication, a terror over one's moral purpose, and a pollution of the intellect (Vices and Virtues 1). While I am not quite prepared to agree with such absolute assertions, they do merit further study.

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