This is a discussion on thankfulness. It is something that I do not want any of us as Christians to be missing out on this kind of privilege and opportunity. Or missing out on this overall outlook mindset, this frame of mind. I’m going to be using the example of food and eating. And the reason for that is I think it’s a great place to start with the subject matter of being thankful and grateful, for the bible also uses the subject of food to teach us thankfulness.
I’d like for us to consider first, 1st Timothy Chapter 4. Beginning at the top of the chapter, Paul is talking to Timothy about a falling away in the church that was occurring at that time and would continue to occur in the next several years that Paul calls “the latter days”. That’s scripture terminology for the final years of the Jewish Commonwealth in the 1st century and the difficulties that Christians would be having with the Jewish people and with Christians who were Jews. So, in chapter four, verse one, he says
1 Timothy 4:1-5 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (2) through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, (3) who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (4) For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, (5) for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
We see the context is concerning a false doctrine that was trying to be pushed into the congregations there in those days. So, we understand the context is not about people refusing food due to allergies or health issues, or different things like that, but the refusal of food on a religious basis, religious beliefs which coming from the background of the Jews. We can go right to the law of Moses and see that they had a lot of trouble in their conscience from the law to certain foods, like pork for example. So refraining from certain foods, certain meats, was something that that they were raised up in, in that religion and Jewish culture. And coming to Christianity and God not forbidding any meats was going to be very difficult for them. And there’s going to be a lot of pressure and a lot of persecution from the Jewish side of things. These are some of the things we’ve been talking about in our study of Galatians on Wednesday nights, and that’s what we’re dealing with here in this text. So, this idea of commanding to abstain from foods is referring to the religious conscience of things, religious beliefs about needing to abstain from certain foods that God has allowed us and authorized us to partake of if we so desire. The idea of commanding one to abstain from certain foods to be right or acceptable in the eyes of God was a false doctrine. And that’s what Paul is dealing with in this text, where he said they’re going to be speaking lies in hypocrisy, they’re going to be deceiving individuals. That’s the context, but what does this mean for us? We’re not dealing with the exact same things that they were dealing with, but let’s look at some of the truths that Paul is teaching about food in this context and see how it applies to our everyday eating. In verse three, he says,
“who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
The first aspect of truth here that Paul is preaching in defense of the gospel, and in defense of the liberties in Christ Jesus is that food was created by God to be received with thanksgiving. This is a problem for us if we don’t receive food with thanksgiving. It is ingrained in the very purpose of the reception of food. It is ingrained in the very purpose of God creating food for us to sustain our bodies that it be received with thanksgiving. That is a really important point. So, we’re not dealing with a matter of tradition, as if “oh, it’s just tradition to say prayers before major meals”. But when food is about to enter our mouths, we must acknowledge as Christians that it was created by God for us to receive it with gratitude. It is received with thanksgiving.
Notice that he points out that thanksgiving is made “by those who believe and know the truth”. The rest of the world receives God’s Sun, receives God’s rain, receives God’s harvest, receives God’s food, and they receive it without thanksgiving. They receive it without gratefulness and without acknowledgment that this was God’s doing, that this is what God has given by his grace to mankind. But what Paul is pointing out here is that there is a difference between the life of a Christian and an unbeliever. We all agree that there are going to be differences between the life of a Christian and an unbeliever. When we consider the subject of eating, we must recognize that even when Christians eat, they eat differently from the unbelievers. Those who believe God and those who know the truth of God’s word will look at the food before them, look at the snack before them (as we all know that sometimes those snacks are just as important as a whole meal to us), and recognize that God has provided it, and we are most thankful to Him.
Paul goes further, and notice that he dives deeper into these truths in verse four when he says,
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving”
Again, he is defending the liberties of Christ when he says nothing is to be refused, i.e. religiously refused. We can have a clear conscience about what we eat. For the Jews in those days, becoming Christians, they could now eat pork; they could have a clear conscience in doing that. The second part of this verse teaches that nothing is to be refused, it is right in the eyes of God if it is received with thanksgiving; there’s a condition here in the text. We can accept these foods onto our plates and into our mouths to sustain our life and existence while we’re on this earth, but only on the condition that, as Christians, we receive it with thanksgiving. Christians shouldn’t eat otherwise unless we are grateful to God for the food. So, that’s another important point that he’s making, and the last important point that he makes is in verse 5:
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving”
How about that? The food is sanctified, he says, by the word of God and prayer. Sanctified by two things. We’ll talk about what sanctified means in just a second, but let’s look at these two things by which the food before us is sanctified. Number one, it is sanctified by the word of God. What does he mean by that? He means that in God’s word we can find the authority to partake of a variety of foods. We are at liberty to partake of these foods, we’re not under the law of Moses anymore, there’s no need to drawback. He’s talking in context about those falling away and drawing back into those ways of the law of Moses and starting to refuse and command others to refuse certain foods. This is false doctrine because the food has been sanctified by God’s word. With Adam and Eve and the first 1,500 years of the history of the world, it was only fruits and vegetables and grains that were sanctified by the word of God. After Noah, God allowed animals to be eaten, too. Then we have the law of Moses and the abstinence from certain meats. But we see under the New Testament that we do have liberty to partake of all various meats, but no blood, we see that in Acts 15. So, we know we have the authority, but notice that he says, the food is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. That’s kind of a head-scratcher, sanctified also by prayer. And you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have food being sanctified with just the word of God, saying, “oh, you know God’s word allows me to eat these things and I can just chow down because I have the liberty to do so”. But when we don’t have the prayer, is it sanctified? Paul said that the food is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. It reminds me of a matter essential to salvation in Mark 16:16,
“he who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
We really hammer that point down, don’t we? It’s important. When you have Jesus that one is saved if they believe and are baptized, then we must rightly confess that both are necessary. We know we can’t drop the one and keep the other. And neither can we do that with 1 Timothy 4:5, the sanctification of the food comes by both God’s authority and our prayer of thanks.
Now, what does Paul mean by sanctification in this passage? Well, the word sanctified refers to render holy, it is making or counting something as separate and set apart. So, God’s word has sanctified, he has rendered the food set apart for our use by his authority. But just because God’s word has set the food apart does not mean that we have set the food apart. We have a duty and responsibility to set the food apart by prayer. It is in prayer that we have acknowledged our gratefulness, our gratitude, our thanks to God, knowing that it is from him and only from him that food is created. So, those who believe and practice the truth should not be forgetting to mentally set the food apart as a gift of God for which we are very thankful.
Let’s consider another text. Ecclesiastes Chapter 5 and verse 19.
“As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God.”
Think about that. God has given us abundance, He’s given us many blessings, yet notice that Ecclesiastes points out that He’s also given us the power to eat of it. Now he’s not talking specifically about food here, this is much bigger than food, but for our study, we are talking about the example of food. God has given us the power to eat of it, right? The power to use, the power to have. Therefore, we rejoice. God has given us the power to labor to be able to have these things; God has given us the power to both obtain and to use. Ecclesiastes says this is the gift of God. When someone gives you a gift that literally will sustain your life that day. It’s rude to not say thank you. When someone has given you the gift of food before you and they have given your body the power to use it, that is a gift that deserves thanksgiving. We can see all the more from the scriptures, why it is so important to give God thanks. Then, in Ecclesiastes chapter six, verses one and two, the writer says,
“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: (2) A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction.”
There is an evil that the writer has seen, and for Ecclesiastes, the use of the word evil is very unique to the book alone. You see in the context what he means by evil is, in a human concept, it’s a horrible shame. There is a horrible shame on this earth that is common among men. He says a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires, yet God does not give him the power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity. It is an evil affliction. So here we have the opposite of what he said at the end of chapter five. Of individuals who have been given riches and wealth so that they are more than able to buy the food to place on their tables, he says, but God doesn’t give them the power to eat of it. Someone else ends up taking it. Someone else eats. So, how important is this? We see the two aspects of our meals, of our snacks, and of our water. So, we must first recognize that God has created these things for us to receive, and second, we must recognize with gratitude that God has given us this day the power to eat of it.
Let’s go over to Romans chapter 14. Here is a difficult chapter that we’re kind of diving headfirst into, which could cause us some problems, but hopefully not. This is a chapter really stuck in the situation of the church in Rome who had both Gentile and Jews who were now Christians and the troubles that they had with each other. The Jews observed many days and feast days when under Moses’ law, but now, under Christ, they don’t have those things anymore. And that kind of hurts their conscience. This has been the way of God all their life and now that they are in Christ they have been made free from those observations of days. The same thing with the foods, now their conscience can be clear (easier said than done). So, Paul is not telling the brethren that they can just do whatever they want, like a lot of people think he is doing in chapter 14, but what he is actually doing is providing them with a temporary solution to a temporary problem. It’s going to take a while, but these Jews are going to come to learn the same things that were very easy for the Gentiles to learn. It’s easy for them to learn the way of Christ when it came to eating food, they were already eating all this stuff to begin with. The Jews were not. So they all come together for their potlucks and you have half the congregation chowing away at all kinds of things, while the Jews are off to the side with their plates of vegetables. And why is this? Again, it’s not a personal choice, but religion to them. It is what they felt was right before God, they struggled with these things with they became Christians. Paul was trying to keep the peace in Rome by telling them to bear with one another. Just bear with it. You know, don’t make problems out of this. Don’t allow people to lose their salvation, or to walk away from the church because you keep pressing this or that. This meat doesn’t really matter, so just bear with it for the time being, and everyone eventually will come to know and understand the truth more perfectly. That’s the main thrust of Romans 14. So, in verse six, he says,
“He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”
How do we eat to the Lord? According to Paul, we eat to the Lord by giving God thanks. The world eats the same foods we do, but they don’t eat to the Lord. What’s the difference? The difference is our acknowledgment and our gratitude. This is really the same point that he made in 1 Timothy 4:4-5. There he said that the food has been sanctified by the word of God and prayer; Here in Romans, by eating to the Lord, we have sanctified it by our prayer of thanks. Christians must always eat to the Lord, while the world eats to themselves. They thank themselves for that food on their plate. It’s not true, it’s the Lord’s doing.
Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians 10, verses 30-31, where he says,
“But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Here, Paul is addressing the talking that’s going on in the background against him and what he eats; they are gossiping and slandering. He says, why am I evil spoken of if, as a Jew, I sit down and have a pork chop? He says I’ve given thanks over this. Just as he told Timothy, the food’s been sanctified by Paul’s prayer of thanks. Then he says, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink (it doesn’t matter what you eat or drank), whatever we do as Christians, he says, do all to the glory of God. What does he mean by glory? To do everything with praise to God. Are we glorifying God when we partake of a meal, or when we have a snack? We do not glorify him when we haven’t set that food apart; it’s yet to be sanctified by prayer. That’s the practice of the world. Go to any restaurant and that’s what you’re going to see. But what did Paul tell Timothy, he said that those who believe and know the truth will first sanctify their food with prayer. These are the facts of the word of God. Thankfulness is not to be ignored by the Christian.
By Tanner Campbell