(A Lection Reflection on I Corinthians 6:12)
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a sermon, or a sermon series, on The Seven Deadly Sins. Perhaps the list and the concept are seen by some as “too Catholic.” Perhaps it seems too basic. Perhaps it is too old-fashioned.
But I suspect the real reason is if you preach on any of these, you’ve “done left preaching and gone to meddling.” And one of the prime examples of all-out meddling is preaching on Gluttony. Why? Because we know the truth — we don’t want to talk about it, because we know we are guilty.
I think, though, that there’s more here than we think. More that we need to talk about.
First of all, gluttony is about more than food. As the Wikipedia article notes, it is the “over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste.” Gluttony includes BOTH the “over-“ part and the “waste” part. In fact, the article goes on to say “In Christianity, it is considered a sin if the excessive desire for food causes it to be withheld from the needy.”
There is no doubt that we can be gluttons about many things: food, entertainment, sports, art, sex, books, clothes. Anything we consume for pleasure can be over-consumed. Some of us who are physically in great shape, who watch our calories and never over-eat, are nevertheless gluttons in other areas of our lives. We need to name it, we need to talk about it, we need to make it part of our growth discussions as Christians.
But there’s another part to this, and that’s the “waste” part. Being gluttonous in some part of our lives means that we have less to share with others. Basically, gluttony is a form of selfishness, of self-centeredness. It affects us, no doubt, but it also affects those around us.
And this is where our lectionary verse comes in. Paul writes:
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
That word “expedient” has an interesting background. The Greek is συμφέρω, which is a combination of “bearing” or “carrying” with “alongside.” It can be translated as “profitable,” but it can also mean “to bear together” or “to contribute in order to help (others).”
In other words — all things are lawful to me by myself, but not all things are helpful to others as we work together to bear each other along in this life. My actions may be okay for me, but in the context of the fellowship, they may not be good for others.
If I see others showing self-restraint, it encourages self-restraint in me. If I see others paying attention to their spending, in order to be able to help others more, it encourages me to do the same. It is the opposite of the self-centeredness of gluttony.
Gluttony allows external things to have power over me. By resisting gluttony, not only do I maintain my focus on what God wants, I also free up resources and prevent waste, AND I encourage my fellow travelers along the way.
To wrap up — Gluttony is more than just over-eating. It is a multi-faceted problem with multiple expressions and multiple results. We need to talk about it, we need to name it, and we need to keep today’s verse in front of us as we work on it.