Father, we thank you for this day, and we thank you for Your Son. We thank you for this food, and we ask that you would bless this food to our bodies. In Jesus’ name, amen.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that prayer or a variation thereof at the beginning of meals. I’ve prayed that prayer myself many times, yet Alicia & I do not make it an issue to pray over meals nowadays. Lee Shelton asked the question whether or not Christians should pray before meals, and it got me thinking about why we don’t, whether we should, and so on.
Here is what I have come up with:
Giving of Thanks: Examples
- Jesus Christ in John 6:11 expressed thanks for food prior to divvying it up to serve. We are not told the details of what He said beyond a simple expression of gratitude. Did anyone else there do the same? I can’t say for sure.
- The Lord also expressed thanks during the Last Supper meal, for both the bread and the wine separately (Matthew 26:26, 27). Verse 26 says that Jesus “blessed” the bread, but 1 Corinthians 11:24 clarifies that the blessing was an act of thanksgiving rather than some form of consecration. Did anyone else there express the same thanksgiving? I can’t say for sure.
- The Apostle Paul in Acts 27:35 also found himself in a group situation on board a ship with 275 men who had not eaten in two weeks. He urged them to take some food, and then gave thanks to God in their presence, after which he would take some bread and begin to eat. Upon seeing all of this, the others were encouraged and they too took and eat. Did anyone else there express thanks? I can’t say for sure.
As a Christian, then I can think of no two more prominent examples than the Christ Himself and the man chosen to pen more books of the Bible than anyone else, a man God used to extend His Kingdom throughout various Gentile lands. And what do these two men have in common?
They expressed thanks for their food. That’s all the text says, so I’m not going to risk adding to it, but you’ll note that they didn’t make an issue to join hands, pray a prayer, and so on. Perhaps they simply said, “Thank you, Father, for this food.” “Thanks, God, for this meal.” “Lord, thank you for this blessing.” They expressed thanks, they apparently did so publicly, and they did so prior to partaking of the food.
Now, I could stop here, but I realize that many will not be satisfied with merely following “example,” and I can understand that. If there isn’t more than that, we run this risk of simply turning the practice into a faithless tradition.
Giving of Thanks: Reasoning
Our next step is the source of my “romans1423” handle which I use in many places online: Romans 14.
The chapter touches on a number of issues, but Paul takes the opportunity to deal with relations between “the weak person who eats only vegetables” ((The Scriptures declare the vegetarian & Vegan lifestyles to belong to those who are “weak in faith” (v. 1); that’s reason enough for me to continue eating meat, no matter what the propaganda may be telling me! I also cannot help but wonder why people would ever claim Jesus was a vegetarian or Vegan; how is it even possible to imagine that God Himself was “weak in faith”? Then I remember that people who make such claims to get attention from Christians most likely aren’t familiar with much Scripture at all, and I move on. Much like I should do here. Thanks for chasing this rabbit with me.)) and he who “believes he may eat anything” (v. 2).
What Paul concludes is that it is not for us to judge whether someone wants to eat meat or not, whether they want to esteem one day in particular or every day, and so on. These are issues of freedom — we don’t have to eat meat, for example — and in such circumstances, we need only to make sure that we are “fully convinced in [our] own mind[s]” (v. 5) and that we are to eat with faith, for “whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (v. 23). The rest of the chapter really ought to put to rest all sorts of issues within the church (including what Christians should wear in church or elsewhere, what styles of music they should listen to, and son on); Paul’s instruction concerning food is far reaching, and every Christian ought to be familiar with it.
Okay, so we can eat meat if we want to, so what? What does that have to do with the giving of thanks before meals? Glad you asked! Check out verse 6: “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Whether our meal contains meat or not, we honor God by thanking God.
I’m being very careful here to not turn this into a command to express thanks to God because the language of Scripture does not come across as commanding in these instances; however, it’d be very hard to overestimate the importance of honoring God and thanking Him whenever the opportunity arises. Keep in mind Romans 1:21, in which Paul links dishonoring God & ungratefulness with foolish reprobates! I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer not to be associated with that over something as simple as honoring God through thanksgiving.
Bless This Food
This is the tricky part. Do we need to ask the Lord to sanctify or to make holy our food prior to eating it? That we ought to be thankful (truly thankful, not providing mere lip service or ritualizing true thanksgiving) is very clear, I think, but what about this business of meal consecration?
- At the time of man’s creation, God consecrated fruits & vegetables to be useful as food (Genesis 1:29).
- After the Flood, God said “As I gave you the green plants, I give you everything”; just as He had consecrated the plants for use as food, He then consecrated “every moving thing that lives” as food (Genesis 9:3) provided they were not eaten with their blood (v. 4).
- Under the Mosaic Law, Israel was forbidden to eat a variety of animals as a way of separating them from the Gentile nations.
- Now in this Church Age, the Lord has once again consecrated all animals as food, “for everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4, and there’s that “thanksgiving” thing again!).
Not only does the current consecration of animals for food include all animals, but it also includes meat which has been sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:25). The reason Paul gives for this is because “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (v. 26).
Frankly, that’s awesome! I can eat beef, pork, chicken, and turkey without worry, knowing that they belong to the Lord and that He has declared that they may be eaten. If I really wanted to, I could partake of some oysters, calamari, or escargot; I could, but I doubt I’ll ever want to. It’s just nice knowing the options are there!
But take a look at 1 Timothy 5. We already referenced verse 4 which says that nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving, but then we come to verse 5 which gives us the reason: “for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
The first half of that — that the food is made holy by the word of God — makes sense enough: we’ve already seen that fruits, veggies, and meats have been declared “food” by God.
But what about that “prayer” thing? Bible commentator John Gill connects this prayer with the prayer the Israelites made after they ate & were made full in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:10). The Israelites were prompted by the meal to prayerful adoration to God for the “good land” they had received. If that is the case (and I don’t think it is), Christians should conclude every meal with prayerful adoration for the blessings (particularly the salvation in Christ) which they have received.
Instead, I think that the “prayer” Paul refers to is the simple expression of gratitude which should precede meals. After all, that fits the examples of Jesus & Paul. It also fits in that we have seen being thankful unquestionably linked with the partaking of food; if we are thankful to God for the meal, we honor Him and enjoy His consecration of the meal. If we are not thankful to God for the meal, then we are dishonoring God, and nothing good has ever come that.
Provided that you are truly thankful to God for your meal and that you express that to Him ((Whether that should be silent or out loud may simply be a matter of preference. I prefer silent.)) prior to eating, and provided that you are not eating with doubt about what you are eating ((If your attitude is akin to, “I shouldn’t be eating this,” then don’t eat it! You cannot mix both doubt and faith.)), then you are likely doing just fine insofar as your meals are concerned.
Oh, and I don’t want to get through an entire post about food without saying: “Gluttony: It does a body bad”
Thanks for reading!