Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:3-5).
Many Americans will begin their Thanksgiving Day meal with giving God thanks. Some will even do it again at Christmas. For Christians, the giving of thanks to God is not something reserved for “special” occasions but is rather a matter of utmost importance at every meal, common or special. To lack this Christian attribute is to be as Ravi Zacharias described, “Thanksgiving Day has now been reduced to Turkey Day. That ironic caption may well be more descriptive than we ever intended.”1
Thanksgiving is a state of being for the Christian. He realizes that whatever has happened is under God’s sovereign care: In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thes. 5:18); He knows that other believers are God’s gift of encouragement to him: We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers (Phil. 1:2); He knows that his daily provisions are provided by the Creator: He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks (Rom. 14:6); He knows God opens doors of opportunity: Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ (Col. 4:3); and he knows that the greatest gift of all is given by the grace of God: Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift (2 Cor. 9:15).
The Christian state of mind is often illustrated by the true story of Matthew Henry, the well-known seventeenth century commentator, who related the story of being robbed and later wrote in his diary, “let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.”2
The Improper Use
Not all who claim to be guided by Christian principles are to be followed. Paul had to warn Timothy of those who forbid the eating of certain foods for religious reasons as seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry . . . . (1 Tim 4:1-3). Lenski calls this “vicious asceticism,” a kind of spiritual status achieved by strict renunciation of the flesh.3 William Barclay describes these in church history:
Irenaeus, writing toward the end of the second century, tells how certain followers of Saturninus ‘declare that marriage and generation are from Satan. Many likewise abstain from animal food, and draw away multitudes by a feigned temperance of this kind.’ (Against Heresies, 1, 24, 2). This kind of thing came to a head in the monks and hermits of the fourth century. They went away and lived in the Egyptian desert, entirely cut off from men. They spent their lives mortifying the flesh. One never ate cooked food and was famous for his ‘fleshlessness.’ Another stood all night by a jutting crag so that it was impossible for him to sleep. Another was famous because he allowed his body to become so dirty and neglected that vermin dropped from him as he walked. Another deliberately ate salt in midsummer and then abstained from drinking water.4
These days we may abstain from certain foods or eat voluntarily for various reasons. Doctors and dieticians may advise us to abstain or eat for health reasons; our conscience may cause us to fast for spiritual reasons; poverty may cause us to abstain because of economic reasons; vanity and pride may cause us to diet for selfish reasons; gluttony may cause us to indulge from lack of self-control; even testimony may cause us to abstain for the sake of another person, but in the end, food itself does not inject spirituality or sin into the body.
Our Food is Given by God
The giving of thanks for the food we eat is of special importance to the Christian because he knows it has come directly from God’s hand. Paul says of food, Which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth (1 Tim. 4:4). God gave Adam and Eve food in the garden (evidently not animal meat). To you it shall be for meat . . . . And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:29, 31). After the Noahic flood, God allowed the eating of animal meat, Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things (Gen. 9:3). God reminded the Israelites, When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee (Deut. 8:10).
The Apostle Paul, in illustrating God’s provision to the believer in grace giving, uses God’s creative design in food provision. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness (2 Cor. 9:10). The farmer can eat the grain and it will be gone, or he can put some of it back in the ground. Then he will get more food, more seed, more results because of the seed, and more thanksgiving to God by those who have planted and eaten. Man lives because living things die whether that is plant life or animal life. We don’t eat non-living things. Therefore we give thanks for what has been planted (i.e. died), sprouted (i.e. resurrected) and then had its life taken for our benefit. Then by transference we accept the dying and resurrection of our Savior for our eternal life. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:10).
In light of the modern discussion of Intelligent Design, we can also thank God when we eat our food because this potential for life within a single seed can only be explained by the presence of a Creator. William Dembski illustrated this difference between what man can design out of existing material, and what God alone can create:
Nature and design therefore represent two different ways of producing information. Nature produces information, as it were, internally. The acorn assumes the shape it does through powers internal to it–the acorn is a seed programmed to produce an oak tree. But a ship assumes the shape it does through powers external to it–a designing intelligence imposes a suitable structure on pieces of wood to form a ship.5
Because of this, the believer must thank the Creator for the food-producing cycle of the earth. In the final process, at the dinner table, he realizes that though he has worked in the garden or field, God is the One who has provided his food. “Summer and winter, and spring-time and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness, to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love!” Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17).
It is Sanctified by the Word of God and Prayer
“Sanctified” should not be taken to mean that there is some sacramental power in the Bible or prayer to make food healthy to us or to keep bad food from hurting us. “Sanctified” is the word for “holy” in the present indicative passive, meaning “being set apart” or “rendered a sacred thing.” Our recognition that everything that sustains us comes from God is in itself a sanctifying process to our souls. But this recognition is displayed in an important way: the word of God and prayer.
These two things are not to be separated into two legalistic steps (“put your hand on a Bible and pray”), but are a single recognition of God’s provision as well as permission to eat. A.T. Robertson says “it is almost a hendiadys [translated] ‘by the use of Scripture in prayer.’”6 “Hendiadys” means “one through two” (hen + dia + dyoin) and Walter Kaiser, Jr. explains that a hendiadys is “the use of two words when only one thing is meant (‘It rained fire and brimstone’ = burning brimstone).”7 In applying this principle, Henry Alford wrote:
It would generally be the case, that any form of Christian thanksgiving before meat would contain words of Scripture, or at all events thoughts in exact accordance with them; and such utterance of God’s revealed will, bringing as it would the assembled family and their meal into harmony with Him, might well be said agiazein the brwmata [“bless the food”] on the table for their use.8
If we do think of these two elements separately, we simply mean that 1) God’s Word has declared that various kinds of food are permissible. In the post-deluvian world that would mean the permission to eat animal meat, and in the post-Mosaic age that would mean the permission to eat what was pronounced unclean under the law. God showed Peter that he should not call any man common or unclean (Acts 10:28) by permitting him to eat all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air (vs 12). Paul wrote to the Romans that I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself” (Rom. 14:14), and in our text Paul has said, For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused (vs 4).
In addition, 2) Prayer of thanksgiving acknowledges the truth of God’s Word as it is about to be applied in the meal. John Gill wrote, “For it is not by bread or meat only, but through the word of God commanding a blessing on what is eaten, that man lives.”9 Calvin goes further and holds that through prayer we acknowledge a restored cultural mandate through Christ to eat of the fruit of the ground that was lost in Adam’s disobedience.10 Regardless of the technical understanding of the person praying, God accepts our words as they acknowledge His Word.
And So . . . .
Acts 27 & 28 record the journey of the Apostle Paul from Caesarea to Rome on board ship. He was a prisoner among unbelieving sailors and soldiers. Off the coast of Crete the ship encountered the Euroclydon wind that blew the ship off course and endangered the life of everyone on board. The pagan crew responded by fasting for over two weeks (vs. 33) so they could please the gods and elements of the storm.
The Apostle responded differently. God had already appeared to him (vss. 23-24) and assured him that no one would be lost but that the ship and crew would be marooned upon an island (vs. 26). Therefore Paul stood up in the midst of the storm and declared, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat; for this is for your health: for there shall not a hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it, he began to eat. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat” (vss. 33-36).
That was truly a meal “sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.” Trusting in what God had said, and testifying to all present of his own faith in God’s promises, Paul gave a simple but enduring example of meal-time prayers.
Notes: 1. Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas: Word Publications, 1994) 86. 2. Given by Paul Lee Tan, ed. Encyclopedia of Illustrations (Rockville, MD: Assurance Pub. 1984) 1456. 3. R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of Timothy (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961) 625. 4. William Barclay, The Letters To Timothy (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975) 94. 5. William Dembski, “An Information-Theoretic Design Argument,” To Everyone An Answer, J.P Moreland and others, eds. (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2004) 83. 6. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures, vol. IV. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931) 579. 7. Walter Kaiser, Jr. Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983) 124. 8. Henry Alford, Alford’s Greek Testament, vol III (Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1976) 338. 9. John Gill, Dr. Gill’s Commentary, vol. 6 (London: William Hill Collingridge, 1853) 606. 10. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol XXI (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981) 105.