This post comes from my friend Andrew Fountain, pastor of New Life Church Toronto:
Some of us were brought up in a legalistic environment where it was a fearful sin to eat food without first “saying grace”.✱ I remember hearing of one woman who wanted to know how much food she there needed to be for her to have to give thanks. She was told that no grace was required for a cookie, but a coffee and doughnut required it.
Those of us who have come to enjoy God’s grace and understand that we are no-longer living under an Old-Testament legal system sometimes react in the opposite direction. We are so afraid of a formal religion that giving thanks for food is reduced to a brief “thank you God”, if we do it at all.
When I recently studied “thankfulness” in the New Testament, I was shocked to see how many of the references were to giving thanks for food. If you leave out the general prayers of thanks, there are more specific prayers of thanks for food than all the others put together!
In some places thanks is mentioned even when is seems unnecessary to the storyline, e.g. John 6:23 “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”
Let’s look first at the times Jesus gave thanks. Two major events were the feeding of the five thousand and of the four thousand, In both cases there seems to be an emphasis on the thanks/blessing. Matthew and Mark recount the first event:
|Matt 14:19||Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.|
|Mark 6:41||He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.|
When John tells it, he interchanges “thanks” for “blessing”, and then repeats this fact later in v.23:
|John 6:11||Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.|
|John 6:23||Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.|
Matthew and Mark tell us of the feeding of the four thousand
|Matt 15:36||he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.|
|Mark 8:7||And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.|
In three of the Gospels we read how Jesus instituted “Breaking Bread”. (The New Testament rarely calls it communion or the Lord’s Supper.) Every time giving thanks/blessing the food is to the forefront:
|Matt 26:26 & 27|| Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,
|Mark 14:22 & 23|| And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.
|Luke 22:17 & 19|| And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
|1Cor 11:24||and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”|
And in fact, it was at the point that Jesus broke the bread and said the blessing that the two disciples recognized him:
|Luke 24:30||When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.|
The early church continued this practice. Sometimes we are embarrassed to give thanks in a public place such as a restaurant. Paul didn’t have a problem doing this in front of a group of pagan sailors and soldiers!
|Acts 27:35,37||And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat… (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons on the ship.)|
What is really interesting is that the freedom that the Christian has to eat all foods seems to be based on the fact that we are giving thanks:
|Rom 14:6||The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honour of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honour of the Lord and gives thanks to God.|
|1Cor 10:30 & 31|| If I partake [of meat] with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
|1Tim 4:3 & 4|| 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,
Far from being a legalistic ritual, in these verses “giving thanks” is the very basis for our New-Covenant freedom.
Why food? Of course God wants us to be thankful for everything, but there is something special about the way food is both enjoyable and necessary to sustain us, which makes it uniquely suitable as an opportunity for thankfulness. “Saying Grace” is not so much a ritual as a trigger for joyful and vocal thanksgiving.
So how did doing this study affect me? Following Jesus’ example in this way is much more important in my life and now I love to give thanks for my food!
✱ This was not my personal experience but I know many for whom it was.