How recently have we heard a sermon on the dangers of strong drink? How often do we study a Sunday school lesson on temperance? How many of us are even tempted to drink alcoholic beverages?
We can hardly imagine an era like the 1890’s when it was deemed necessary to include a temperance lesson in every Sunday school quarter. Since that time, several generations of American Mennonites have taught and practiced total abstinence. For most of us, that is all we know. We could say that our Mennonite churches have generally succeeded in winning the battle with drunkenness.
Now the question comes: are we just as successful in the fight against a related vice—the sin of overeating?
“Wait a minute, that’s different,” some may say. “Food is good. God gave it for our enjoyment. We have to eat to live.”
All this is true. We would not last long practicing total abstinence from food. and that makes excessive eating all the more difficult to conquer than excessive drinking.
There are a number of other differences between drunkenness and overeating. But as we study the Word, we notice many similarities.
Our King James Bible does not contain the word overeating. Instead, it uses terms like gluttony, surfeiting, and riotous eaters of flesh. It is easy to distance ourselves from these words, to think that our overeating is not that excessive. But if our eating is more than we could eat to the glory of God, if it is to gratify our fleshly lusts, if it is damaging our health, if it is untempered by Holy Spirit control, is it not a sin? Do not these Scriptures apply to overeating, though the term may sound nicer than gluttony?
In what ways are drunkenness and overeating alike?
Both defile God’s temple.
We rightly teach that a good reason to abstain from alcohol is that it harms the body, which is the temple of God (1co 6:9-20). This is just as good a reason to abstain from overeating, considering the abundant medical evidence on the many ways it damages our health.
This principle also addresses another eating problem—anorexia, starving the body because of a distorted self-image. This is the opposite side of the same coin; like overeating, it focuses on self rather than God, it is not His will for our bodies, and it harms His temple.
Defiling God’s temple goes beyond our physical bodies, for our spirits are also His. Drunkenness and overeating bring another god into His temple, which brings us to the next point.
Both enslave a person to fleshly appetites.
Proverbs 23:29-35 describes the misery of the drunkard who, despite suffering the painful results of a drinking binge, says, “I will seek it yet again.” He is a slave to his destructive desires.
Philippians 3:19 warns against those “whose God is their belly.” Such a person has allowed his appetite to become his master, instead of mastering his appetite. Rather than eating to live, he lives to eat. Eating has become his god, the thing he loves and serves. Yet at the same time it destroys him, as alcohol destroys the drunkard. This same verse says, “Whose end is destruction.”
While food may not be as physically addicting as strong drink, the sinful habit of overeating can be a heavy chain to break. It takes the same grace of God, operating in a penitent heart.
Both characterize the rebel.
“And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard” (Deu 21:20).
Was this son a glutton and a drunkard because he rebelled against his parents? Or did he rebel because he was a glutton and a drunkard? Either way, rebellion, gluttony, and drunkenness are all characteristics of one who will not be controlled. And again, the end of such is destruction.
Not all rebels are gluttons and drunkards. Many ungodly people have learned to control their appetites for various reasons. Their rebellion may show in other ways. But drunkenness and overeating do not express a life that is surrendered to divine control.
Both bring a person to poverty.
“Be not among wine bibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags” (Pro 23:20-21).
It is easy to see how a drunkard would come to poverty. First, he has to buy the drink. He may spend his last penny to feed his addiction in spite of desperate needs. Further, drinking hurts his job performance and may even cost him his job. And then the resulting damage to his health escalates his medical bills.
The cost of overeating may not be as obvious at first. In fact, this is part of the problem in America. rich food is cheap. Fats and sweets, formerly considered special treats (Neh 8:10; Pro 25:16), have become affordable everyday fare. Studies of cookbook recipes, grocery store products, and restaurant servings show that portion sizes have increased dramatically in recent decades. These larger portions are often marketed as a way to get more for our money. Just add a few cents to “super-size” it. Is this ensnaring us thrifty Mennonites?
Have we considered what it costs to keep buying larger clothes? How much does our excess eating add to our medical bills?
But the worst poverty is spiritual. Drunkenness and overeating both attempt to satisfy a spiritual craving that cannot be filled with drink or food. This vain pursuit leaves the spirit starving for what can only be satisfied by partaking of Jesus Christ.
Both bring woe to a person’s charges.
“Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!” (Ecc 10:16-17).
We can easily understand how people could suffer under drunken rulers. But why is eating brought in here? a couple of contrasts clarify the point. First, eating “in the morning” instead of “in due season” describes men seeking their own pleasure when they should be attending to kingdom work. This brings woe to the land. By contrast, eating “for strength, and not for drunkenness” means eating that enables one to serve the kingdom better, rather than eating that hinders effectiveness. This brings blessing to the land because such rulers are serving others, not themselves.
Do we eat for drunkenness or for strength? are we abusing God’s gifts for selfish pleasure, or are we using them for more effective service? We can bring either woe or blessing to the souls in our care, whether they are children in the home, students in the schoolroom, employees in the workplace, or members in the church.
Both can make a person unprepared for Christ’s return.
“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34; see also Luke 12:45-46).
Here Christ mentions three things that could overcharge our hearts and make us unprepared for His return. The first one is overeating. It is listed right next to drunkenness. With cares of this life, all three take our focus away from heaven and onto earth, away from our Lord and onto ourselves.
Jesus’ warning is “take heed to yourselves.” Can we honestly assess where our focus is, particularly in regard to eating? Would we be ready and unashamed to invite Jesus to join us at our table anytime? could we leave our table at any moment prepared to join Him at the great marriage supper of the Lamb?
Both can be overcome through Christ.
“It is high time to awake out of sleep…. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness…. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom 13:11-14).
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot” (1Pe 4:1-4).
The path to victory over drunkenness, overeating, and other sins of the flesh is the same. Wake up, throw off the night-clothes of darkness, and get dressed in the armor of light. Stop feeding the flesh, and put on Christ instead. arm ourselves with His mind, living for the will of God instead of the flesh. as the word walk indicates, this is not a just a one-time experience, but takes daily diligence.
When we have put on Christ and His mind, the hunger of the soul is satisfied. We can then enjoy His physical gifts, including food, with a thankful heart and to His glory.
We could look at more scriptures on drunkenness and overeating. But this sampling is enough to make it clear that our Lord puts them in the same category. Do we?