Praying Before Meals
By bro Alvin Lin
One of the habits that we would like every member at Eastside church of Christ to adopt in this new year is to read the Bible daily. As such, when we planned the Bible reading for the year, the leaders of the congregation discussed the challenges that Christians face in reading the Bible and proposed some changes to the reading plan that would hopefully make Bible reading more palatable and accessible to brethren. This got me thinking about why Christians can pray before every meal, but yet reading the Bible daily seems so arduous. I think the main reason is because of the time and commitment involved. You see, praying before meals takes seconds, praying when we wake up and before we go to bed takes minutes, but serious Bible study takes hours. And so, in encouraging members to cultivate a life of godly devotion, it needs to first begin with baby steps such as praying before meals. After all, our Lord Jesus stated the principle that “he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Luk 16:10). If you do not currently have the habit of praying before meals, it is my hope that this article will help you realize the importance and give you the impetus to start doing so.
How should we receive the food? The apostle Paul tells us that “meats” (from the Greek word brōma which Thayer defines as “that which is eaten, food”), encompassing both plants and animals, are created by God and are to be received with thanksgiving and understanding of the truth (1Ti 4:3). The Bible states that “every good gift and every perfect gift” comes from God (Jas 1:17), whose creation is “very good” (Gen 1:31), and that which He has given us to satisfy our hunger is “good for food” (Gen 3:6). Therefore, we ought to “give thanks” to God “in everything” (1Th 5:18), including for the food. Furthermore, God wants us to “believe and know the truth” (1Ti 4:3), and act upon the truth that is revealed in His Word (Joh 17:17). The understanding of the truth frees us from the ideas and traditions of men (Joh 8:32), such as abstaining from certain kinds of food (1Ti 4:3) and the washing of hands before eating to avoid spiritual defilement (Mar 7:2-5). On the other hand, the lack of knowledge of the truth gives rise to a weak conscience that is easily defiled (1Co 8:7) and makes us susceptible to sin when we act against our consciences (Rom 14:23).
What are Christians allowed to eat? The apostle Paul tells us that every “creature” (from the Greek word ktisma which Thayer defines as “created thing”), that is the food created by God, is good and nothing is to be rejected once we give thanks for it (1Ti 4:4). In the creation account, we read of how God gave plants to humans for food (Gen 1:29-30). Subsequently, we are told that after the destruction of the whole world by a global flood (except for Noah and his family), God gave animals to humans for food too (Gen 9:3). Although God made a distinction between clean and unclean animals in the Mosaical Law (Lev 11), the prohibition of unclean animals as the food was lifted in the Christian dispensation (Act 10:9-16). Today, we have been given the liberty to eat all kinds of animals (Rom 14:14), save the consumption of blood, which was forbidden under the Patriarchal dispensation (Gen 9:4), the Mosaical dispensation (Lev 17:14), as well as the Christian dispensation (Act 15:29). As an aside, even though food offered to idols was mentioned as one of the things to abstain from in the earlier verse, subsequent revelation by the apostle Paul clarifies that the instruction was given as a matter of conscience (1Co 8:4-13). Another instruction to keep “from things strangled” is related to the avoidance of blood, because of the blood that remains in the animal carcass. A further point to note is that just as forbidding others to take certain kinds of food based on Scripture is wrong, forcing others to take certain kinds of food as a matter of doctrine is just as wrong (Rom 14:2-6).
Why do we need to pray before meals? The apostle Paul tells us that the food is “sanctified” (from the Greek word hagiazō which Thayer defines as “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God”), or as the English Standard Version translates “made holy”, by the Word of God and prayer (1Ti 4:5). The Word of God tells us that food comes as a blessing from God, while prayer acknowledges the fact and conveys our gratitude for the blessing. Just as the unbelieving husband is made holy by the believing wife and vice versa (1Co 7:14), the food we partake is made holy when we give thanks to God for it, so that none can refer to the food as unclean (Act 10:15).
While Judaizers teach that certain foods are unclean, Gnostics teach asceticism to deny the body of all fleshly pleasures, and certain religions teach vegetarianism as a way of life, the inspired Scriptures reveal to us the contrary. God has given to us all kinds of plants and animals that are good for food, and even though we may have our preferences, we are not to impose them on others as a matter of doctrine. Rather, we are to receive the food with thanksgiving to God, knowing that it has been sanctified by Him. Jesus makes it clear that man is not defiled by food, but by impure thoughts, words, and actions (Mar 7:18-23). Let us, therefore, cultivate the habit of praying before meals (if we are not already doing so) and enjoy the food set before us, and not be deceived by false teachers who want to “spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal 2:4).