Fulness of Bread
Of all the sins of Sodom listed in Ezekiel 16:49-50, “fulness of bread” seems the most benign. What’s wrong with a good meal leading to that inevitable statement, “I can’t eat another bite,” usually followed by a few more bites!?
The Hebrew word siba translates as “fulness,” which means being satisfied or eating one’s fill. The related word soba has a similar meaning and is used in both negative (Exod 16:3–the children of Israel eating their fill in Egypt) and positive ways (Prov 13:25 “The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul.”) The implication is clearly negative here in Ezekiel 16 and likely refers to habitual over-indulgence enabled by an extravagant lifestyle. The ESV sums things up well by translating the phrase “excess of food.”
Gluttony is frequently associated with other sins. In Deut 21:18-21, the stubborn and rebellious son is called a glutton and a drunkard, clearly a total package of forsaking God’s commandments and giving oneself over to an uncontrolled lifestyle of over-indulgence we see so prevalent today.
In 1 Cor 10:7, idolatry, eating, drinking, and revelry are all packaged together when the Corinthians are reminded of Israel’s failings in the wilderness. The apostle Paul says “the enemies of the cross of Christ” in Philippians 3:17-19, the Judaistic elite who had not forsaken this status for Christ, were those who had their “god is their belly” and who did “mind earthly things.” And lastly and most humorously, the poor Cretans were described in Titus 1:12 as “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
Today, we see the world given over to excesses of all kinds
Of course, one key element of leading an indulgent and over-satiated lifestyle is the ability to afford it. This was clearly the case with the Sodomites as they also enjoyed “abundance of idleness.” While sadly, many in the world today still struggle with sufficient food supply, many others are living in materially blessed situations where the constant pursuit of self-satisfaction is an option.
Today, we see the world given over to excesses of all kinds, including over-eating, over-drinking, and a life of jumping from one episode of excess to the next. Those who have had the opportunity to live in a third-world country and then return to their more prosperous homeland are almost uniformly struck by the level of materialism and pursuit of wealth and the pleasures it supposedly brings, even if they hadn’t noticed it as much before.
This brings us to our central question for this article, “How should we deal with our material blessings, especially in the ecclesial context?” How can we avoid Sodom’s mistakes in leveraging their prosperity to cater to themselves?
1 Timothy is a great place to find guidance and direction for ecclesial life issues. It could be described as a “Guide for Ecclesial Life” and contains a mountain of information on how ecclesias should be organized and, most importantly, function. It is addressed to Paul’s faithful helper, Timothy, who had been left at Ephesus to shepherd that ecclesia (1 Tim 1:3). It contains an ecclesial “mission statement” in 1:15-16. It covers the imperative of ecclesial preaching in 2:1-7.
The epistle focuses on the importance of healthy teaching from God’s word (4:13-16), avoiding unhealthy teaching that results in arguments and strife (6:2-5). Pastoral care should be a huge focus of any ecclesial family, ensuring that those with spiritual or physical struggles are attended to in love (5:10; 6:18). The ecclesial organization is addressed, including qualifications for the leaders (bishops) and workers (deacons) in 3:1-13. Not surprisingly, in such complete coverage of ecclesial issues, the topic of riches and how to use them is addressed.
In 1 Timothy 6, we see the Apostle start to address the issue of money in the ecclesia by stating, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (v. 6). This statement is targeted at the Judaizers who were, the main source of discord and ecclesial trouble in this epistle. They are first mentioned in chapter 1:4-7, where they are cited for “vain jangling” (empty or meaningless talking). While they desired “to be teachers of the law,” they were just prattling on about “fables” and “endless genealogies” which added no value to the ecclesial scene. Worse than that, their teachings, not surprisingly, resulted in arguments and strife (1 Tim 4:7; 6:4-5, 20).
If that wasn’t bad enough, they were also looking to make some money with their dysfunctional teachings, “supposing that gain is godliness.” (6:5). Titus’s sister epistle makes this behavior clearer in 1:11, “teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” This disturbing trend of those seeking to enrich themselves from ecclesia work prompted the apostle to address the issue of money in general.
The apostle starts with a play on the word “gain” by stating that our true gain is “godliness with contentment.” Godliness will lead to “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matt 6:20). Now that reserve of a godly life being built up in heaven is the “bank account” that matters! Hand-in-hand with godliness is contentment, the ability to be satisfied with whatever material state God has placed us in, something the Apostle had to learn himself (Phil 4:11).
The Apostle builds on this point in 1 Timothy 6:7 by stating the seemingly obvious, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” For those of us that have had the somber experience of being close to a loved one or relative in their last days before they fell asleep, this lesson is especially brought home. All the stocks, bonds, and cash are as worthless to that person as the paper they are written on. The only thing that matters at that point are the treasures laid up in heaven. In verse 8, the point is reinforced, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” God has promised to take care of our daily needs if we seek His kingdom first (Matt 6:33). The question now becomes, what if we have been blessed with more than we need for daily survival?
Careful reading is essential for verse 9. It doesn’t say the “rich fall into a temptation and a snare” but “they that will be rich.” We know many of God’s faithful servants were blessed with riches, including Abraham, Job, and Lydia, to name a few. This list goes on. The issue is not wealth in and of itself, but that riches can easily become an all-consuming focus if we are not careful. The ESV translates this phrase as “those that desire to be rich.”
Not only can this path be tempting for many, but it can also become a snare, or a trap, as the NIV translates. It can be a temptation to head down this path of subjugating all else to the pursuit of riches, sacrificing family and ecclesia, which eventually bring tragic consequences.
While lusting after the “fulness of bread” and other indulgences enjoyed by those of Sodom can sound attractive, such a short-term view is foolish and hurtful, as the Apostle points out. Interestingly the word “drown” is used to describe the effect of such foolish priorities. This is indeed the Greek word for “going under water.” It is used only at other times when the disciples’ boats began to sink after the great draught of fishes in Luke 5:7. The idea is not a financial reversal but that pursuing riches as a way of contentment is a trap, as Paul earlier states.
Experts tell us that the material possessions and experiences they provide quickly lose their luster and leave human nature lusting for more (Eccl 5:10; 6:7). Those who head down this path of pursuit of riches find that there is always someone richer and ironically live in a state of envy (Jas 4:5). We can see how right Paul describes such a misguided approach as a trap, a downward spiral, a gradual going under water.
The true sources of lasting joy are friendships, supportive communities, and serving others
Careful reading is also required in verse 10. The verse doesn’t say “money is the root of all evil” but “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Once again, if God blesses us with wealth, the key is not to fall in love with it but use it in the right way, as we will see in coming verses. Such covetousness causes us to “err from the faith,” which has the idea of straying away from the faith. The greatest tragedy is that such a life of self-indulgence ironically leaves one in a state described at the end of verse 10, being “pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” How could a life of pursuit of riches and self-focus lead to such a state, you might ask? The experts once again point out that the true sources of lasting joy are friendships, supportive communities, and serving others.
None of these are the focus of those that pursue riches at all costs, leaving them, in many cases, the most miserable. Hopefully, we see why the sin of “fulness of bread” is so serious. It leads us down a path of spiritual demise, misery in this life and neglecting our responsibilities towards our ecclesia.
However, Paul covers later in 1 Timothy 6 the right way to use the material blessings. As this topic is getting so much “press” in this short epistle, it clearly is an issue that can negatively affect ecclesias if we are not mindful of Paul’s inspired advice. Ephesus was a prosperous commercial hub in the Roman Empire, and as such many believers were well off. Some owned slaves, as we see in 1 Tim. 6:2. The key issue for these rich believers is to be not “high-minded” or proud and to not “trust” in riches, which Paul reminds them are “uncertain” in v. 17. The key is where to place our trust.
When we see tumultuous world events that could be the harbinger of Christ’s return, are we more concerned about their negative impact on our stock portfolio or just excited that Christ could be right around the corner? Trust in God is Paul’s charge, not in wealth! Neither has God called us to a life of self-depravation, as He gives “us richly all things to enjoy.” With the right attitude, God has given us things like food, planned time away from our labors, and the beauty of His Creation as just some of the things we should enjoy (Acts 14:15-17).
In verse 18, Paul gets to the right way of using riches. Indeed, wealth is a gift if used wisely, and many generous brethren and sisters over the years have made great positive impacts on the Truth, enabling things such as the purchase or building of new ecclesial halls, donating towards mission work or to the needs of our growing community of brethren and sisters in less affluent countries.
Note the focus is on the wealthy doing good and being rich in good works. While they certainly should be active in the work of the ecclesia and not above volunteering for various working roles, the rest of the verse clearly indicates that part of their activity in the Truth means “getting the check book out” and helping with the regular and special expenses of ecclesial life according to their blessings.
The KJV finishes this verse “ready to distribute, willing to communicate,” Other versions make the meaning clearer, “to be generous and ready to share.” (ESV). Ecclesial families benefit when we see those materially blessed using those gifts to be hospitable, generously to ecclesial projects and needs in their local ecclesia and elsewhere. Many of us will know of such cases, although the generosity is quite anonymous in other cases. In any case, we are thankful they have decided to use their gift of wealth to enhance the fellowship and growth of the spiritual family both near and far.
Paul completes this section with a fun use of terms associated with riches. In verse 19, “laying in store” has the idea of “treasure away” or “laying up abundance for future use.” As we already mentioned, this is the treasure laid up in heaven for those who follow Christ (Matt 6:20). What a beautiful completion of this section that right use of riches in this life builds up the eternal riches, life in the Kingdom forever. The phrase “a good foundation” can also refer to a foundational bank account, one that is insured from losses, as Bro. Nicholls suggests in his book Letters to Timothy and Titus. Once again, our thoughts are drawn to the spiritual riches we hope to inherit in the kingdom age.
In conclusion, we see that “fulness of bread” is indeed a serious sin of Sodom, for it implies a life dedicated to the pursuit of riches and self-satisfaction. The Apostle Paul shows us the right way to view riches in our life. While never becoming an all-encompassing pursuit, if we are blessed with them, we have an opportunity to be generous. We do great good in the ecclesia, laying a treasure for ourselves “where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matt 6:20).
(Ann Arbor Ecclesia, MI)