Gluttony and Romans 14

Burning Question:  Why is it that churches tend to overlook gluttony?  With the obesity epidemic going on in this country and the challenges that believers and nonbelievers face regarding this issue, should we (believers) address this issue during our fellowship times and the grand feasts that accompany them?

Sometimes finding balance can be a challenging thing.  The tension in dealing with the gluttony issue is that it involves the overuse of something (food) which is a daily necessity in our lives.  This sets it up as a challenging issue in a very unique way.  Overuse of cigarettes carries no challenge . . . cigarettes will kill you via lung cancer or any other variety of ways, so the amount of use is not up for debate.  Wisdom dictates that they be avoided.  Overuse of alcohol leads to drunkenness and a wide variety of dangers to the drinker and any who cross their path.  Alcohol is not a daily necessity and if it is, there are bigger issues to be addressed!  But the challenge with gluttony is that the one who struggles with it can never remove themselves from the temptation . . . a person has to eat to live.  Herein lies the tension.  So how does a church address the issue of gluttony and where is the balance between offering fulfillment to one’s need (food) even in the context of fellowship, yet not causing a person who struggles to be unduly tempted?

Romans 14:13-23 would seem to speak into the situation when it states that we are not to cause a brother (fellow believer) to stumble and be tempted for the sake of something we do not find offensive.  The context here is not specifically a reference to food in general but to food that had been offered to idols which, in a first century context, carried the notion that one was partaking in idol worship by eating the leftovers of what had been offered to the false gods.  There was a lot of baggage associated with eating this food.  Paul says that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating that food because false idols are not even gods at all.  However, if eating the food caused issues for a weaker believer, then just abstain out of love for the weaker brother in Christ.  Harming a man’s walk with God is not worth the 120 seconds of tasty goodness that would come from eating some leftover food from a pagan worship service!

For us today, this context is not so much the point.  I haven’t noticed any daily specials on leftover idol-meat in the butcher department at Publix.  So how do we balance showing love for one who may struggle with gluttony while providing a daily necessity (food) in a way that facilitates fellowship?  After all, there is something incredibly bonding about sharing a meal with others and you even see this in the New Testament (think Lord’s Supper here!)  Even more, at what point is the “struggler” responsible to manage their decisions and how far does a church go to be mindful of their need?  Does a church disallow women in attendance because of the presence of men who struggle with lust?  Does a church refrain from passing an offering plate because of the presence of redeemed thieves who once stole before they met Jesus?  You may think, “Ok Brooks, you’re getting sarcastic now!” but really, I am just painting a picture of the tension that surrounds this.

So what are some options?   Here are a few to consider . . . we can call it “food for thought” (pun intended):

1.  Consider the inclusion of certain healthy food choices for those who desire to fellowship around the table but want to be conscious of their food choices.  At FBCI, we often have fruit, yogurt, bottled water, and other options available during this time between our two morning worship services;

2.  Provide the fellowship in a setting where it is not mandatory that one attend.  At FBCI, this location is in our fellowship hall and falls between our two morning worship services.  It is in an “out-of-the-way” location and certainly does not require that one attend between the services;

3.  Be mindful that food is not a necessity for fellowship.  Regardless of popular belief, “food, fun, and fellowship” should not be the mission statement of the local church!  We can enjoy one another without food or drinks and should keep this in mind when planning events.

Gluttony is an often-overlooked challenge for some and our culture reflects that.  Perhaps we can keep in mind the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.  Even though we are each individuals, we are also all “one” in the body of Christ.  Sometimes loving our brother means we adjust some things for the sake of others, not just in the area of food but in other areas, as well.