Summary: Gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but we can broaden that concept to include overindulgence in general. And the need for self-discipline and healthy boundaries is as relevant an issue in our times as it has ever been.
A boy’s father bought a new lawn mower and told his son that he could keep half of the money if he sold their old one. So the boy posted an ad on the bulletin board at their local grocery store, and within a few days a prospective buyer came by to see it. ‘Does it run?” he asked. “Yes sir,” the boy answered, “it runs great once you get it started.” So the man tried, but even after several pulls, he couldn’t get it going. “It won’t start,” he said. “You gotta cuss it,” the boy told him. “Son,” the man answered, “I’m a minister and I haven’t cussed in thirty years.” The boy replied, “Keep pullin’. It’ll come back to you.”
We’ve been discussing the Seven Deadly Sins, and today we’ll be focusing on the sin of “gluttony.” Only we’ll broaden that concept to include overindulgence in general, because our problem might not be a matter of excessive eating, but a lack of discipline and clear boundaries in any number of other areas.
Our fallen human nature makes us vulnerable to all sorts of addictive and self-destructive behaviors, whether it’s substance abuse, compulsive gambling, the dangerous lure of pornography, or the obsessive use of technology, to name just a few. The tension between our desires and our need for self-discipline and healthy boundaries is as relevant an issue in our times as it has ever been.
A few years ago I realized that I had become addicted to checking news updates on my phone several times a day, which was affecting my attitude for the worse. So I decided for Lent that year to fast from that compulsive habit by limiting my headline updates to once a day, and it proved to be the best Lenten experience I’ve ever had. It helped me not only to detoxify from the pervasive negativity, but also to rein in an unhealthy addiction to my phone. I know I’m not alone, either. Excessive screen time in general is a serious problem today, and only growing worse.
You might remember the popular saying from the Sixties, “If it feels good, do it.” That philosophy hasn’t worn very well, needless to say. A fulfilling life requires a certain degree of discipline, like exercising, or putting money into savings, or eating a healthy diet. We need to find a creative balance in our lives between desire and discipline.
I heard a prominent pastor give an everyday illustration of what this looks like in his life. Rather than having a reserved parking space near his office, he parks his car about 100 yards away in the church parking lot and picks up trash as he walks in to work. He does this as a small discipline, a way of helping him to stay grounded. The day came, however, when he just didn’t feel like it, and he almost broke that habit. But he realized, “that’s how it starts.” Once we loosen our discipline it becomes easier the next time, and before long it’s lost altogether. “That’s how it starts,” by giving in to those occasional weak moments. And even small things can become chinks in our armor for Satan to attack.
My mother had a favorite saying that “too good is no good” when it comes to parenting. She meant that discipline and reasonable boundaries are healthier and more character-building than providing children with a life of indulgence. The steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie is a famous example of someone who saw that danger and chose to donate the vast bulk of his wealth to charitable causes rather than spoiling his heirs with huge inheritances. Too good is no good.
Discipline and healthy boundaries are also very important elements of living the Christian life. Listen to what the Apostle Peter says about this: (Read 1 Pe. 5:8-9).
That’s a strong warning for us to be self-disciplined and alert to Satan’s dangerous presence in the world, always looking for weakness and ready to attack, like a hungry lion. Lions prey on the most vulnerable animals in a herd, those who are weak or careless. They also like to attack from behind if they can, to seize the advantage of surprise. So we need to stay alert to the very real threat of spiritual attack, and to resist the devil by keeping up our guard.
We hear more these days about ransomware attacks, in which a malicious virus can enter a computer network through just one careless act of opening a suspicious email, which allows a criminal to enter the system’s software and seize control of all the data. These attacks have become a huge concern, causing massive disruptions and expense, just because of one person’s careless lapse in judgment. That’s all it takes.
The same thing can happen spiritually. How many men, for instance, have become ensnared by internet pornography because of yielding to temptation in a weak moment, probably late at night when they’re tired and let their guards down? Satan prowls the internet with purely malicious intent. Beware of those weak moments that can ruin your life and hurt those you love. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings'' (v. 9).