Friday, April 5, 2013

Proverbs 23: Godliness and Gluttony

Prov 23:1-3 When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive.
Prov 23:6-8 Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man
who is always thinking about the cost. "Eat and drink," he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments.
Prov 23:19-21 Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. 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.
Prov 23:29-35 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. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. "They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?"

For most Singaporeans, eating is a hobby. It's our favourite conversational topic. But unfortunately, some have taken eating as a recreation too far--while food and drink are blessings of God, over-indulgence has created gluttons and drunkards in our society. Obesity and colon cancer, a consequence of poor eating habits, are on the rise in Singapore. There is a fine line between enough and too much. For Singaporeans, it's often a case of eating too much--especially at buffet. I must confess this is one sin I'm fighting against everyday. My wife is my guardian angel to ensure that I don't over-indulge especially at buffet!

Proverbs 23 has many proverbs addressing this twin issue of gluttony and drunkenness. The following are some guidelines on wise table manners:
  • Discipline (Prov 23:1-3 When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive):
    In the presence of someone of authority, exercise self-control in our eating. A friend of mine has said that how we eat can reveal our character -- our strengths and weaknesses. You may be evaluated on what and how you eat at the table. Furthermore, if we have eaten too much, we may say things that are inappropriate and become a loose cannon. So, when eating in a dinner hosted by a person of authority, don't crave after his delicacies--you may reveal too much about your personal vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies . So, be self-controlled in what and how you eat so as not to give away too much about yourself.
  • Discretion (Prov 23:6-8 Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. "Eat and drink," he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments):
    Even if our host insists that we eat more, we should exercise discretion and a certain degree of deference, and not take their exhortation at face value. If we take the host's hospitality for granted, we may be accused by the host of being a greedy guest--after we have left the house!
  • Diligence (Prov 23:19-21 Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. 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):
    Many of us think of godliness only in the spiritual plane--but godliness has as much to do with our body as much as our souls. God does not just save "souls"; He saves persons with bodies and souls. So if we want to be godly, we must be diligent in becoming wise by not joining "those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat". We are to keep distinct by the way we eat and drink. Paul says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God" (1 Cor 10:31-32). Preachers who use this verse (v.31) to suggest that we can eat and drink as we please, as long as it is for "the glory of God" miss the point. Paul is not encouraging gluttony but self-control in eating and drinking so as not to stumble others.
  • Decorum (Prov 23:29-35 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. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. "They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?"):
    Here the proverb addresses specifically drunkenness. When we are drunk, we start to talk foolishly and act foolishly too. The inappropriate behavior of one former President of Singapore after he over-indulged in alcohol to the point of inebriation, causing him to lose his job, is a strong reminder of what drunkenness can do to us. When we are drunk, we lose a sense of decorum and may say or do something that offend the host or other guests.
True godliness is not just a matter of the spirit and soul but also the body. Most Christians would resist any contamination of their minds and spirits in their pursuit of godliness. Yet, strangely, when it comes to their bodies, they allow the devil to have a free-firing zone. God saves persons, not just souls and all persons that I know of who are still alive come with physical bodies. So Paul's exhortation makes sense: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:23).

Father, help us keep our spirit, soul and body blameless until Your coming. Amen.

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