Exploring Hope: Why we pray before meals

Why do we pray before meals? Is it simply a valuable practice of mindfulness, as Emily Heil seems to indicate in a recent Washington Post article? Is it merely a quaint ritual or a man-made tradition? And most importantly, what does the Bible teach us?

First and foremost, we pray before meals because of the example of Jesus. In Matthew 14:19, Jesus “looked up to heaven and said a blessing” before feeding the 5000. And we see Jesus giving thanks before a meal in Matthew 26:26. But one of the most overlooked texts on this topic is 1 Timothy 4:1-5, which I want to explore with you today.

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, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

According to the apostle Paul, false teachers will arise who have seared consciences and operate under the influence of demonic power. They will lead people to “depart from the faith” through legalistic prohibitions. They will “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods.” In other words, these false teachers will be religious ascetics who peddle false doctrine dressed up in faux pietism, which includes legalistic dietary restrictions.

But in verses 4-5, Paul tells us why these legalistic dietary restrictions are unbiblical and fly in the face of God who created food “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

  • First, everything created by God is good (Genesis 1:31). Paul affirms the inherent goodness of the physical world because a good God created it. And if the physical world is good, then Christians shouldn’t reject anything “if it is received with thanksgiving.” Yes, God imposed certain dietary restrictions in the Old Testament. But through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have returned to the creational order that was reiterated in Genesis 9:3, where God told Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”
  • Second, our food is “made holy by the word of God and prayer.” That’s striking! Though we can affirm the goodness of all created things, Paul implies that apart from the word of God and prayer, food would still be unclean in some mysterious way. It would be “unsanctified.” Therefore, part of the reason we pray before meals is to give thanks for the inherent goodness of God’s created order. But we also give thanks in order to sanctify our food – to bless the food to our bodies and our bodies to God’s service, as the traditional prayer goes.

Therefore, I would encourage you to reflect on 1 Timothy 4:5 the next time you sit down for a meal. God has given you this food to be received with thanksgiving. It is good as part of God’s creation. But the food is only made holy through the word of God and prayer. So, let us hold fast to the word of God. Let us hold fast to prayer. Let us dedicate our food to the Lord and our bodies to his service. As Paul says elsewhere, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

About Will Stern

Originally from Colorado, Will Stern is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Garnet Valley. He majored in violin performance for his undergrad and taught violin for a number of years before being called into ministry. He studied theology at Duke University and Westminster Theological Seminary.

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