The Bible reminds us: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2; ESV) And elsewhere, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4; ESV).
It is entirely appropriate for the followers of Christ to be thankful, for we are the most blessed of all men. (cf. Ephesians 1:3) And as we are thankful, it is necessary that we understand to whom we are thankful. One must feel some amount of pity for those individuals who recognize the blessings they have in life but who, through lack of faith and understanding have no one to thank but themselves, or else a general feeling of gratitude directed at an uncaring universe. But the child of God understands and knows that it is God to whom all thanks is truly due, for he understands the truth that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17a; ESV).
The Bible teaches that there is a sanctification that occurs through the act of giving thanks to God. This doctrine has made it into our lexicon, though we frequently don’t pause to consider the actual meaning of what we are saying when we talk about “blessing our food,” prior to a meal. For many, there is some sort of assumption that the act of praying over food makes it safer to eat, but the blessing conveyed is of an entirely different sort.
The Bible itself uses the act of praying a prayer of thanksgiving and bestowing a blessing as synonymous. The most obvious example of this is the work of Jesus in instituting the Lord’s Supper prior to His death. In Matthew and Mark, we read, “Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples” (cf. Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22); but in Luke, we read, “when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19). The act of giving thanks and the act of blessing the bread were one and the same. The blessing occurred through the thanksgiving.
Likewise, in writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul instructed: “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” (1 Timothy 4:4-5; ESV). God sanctifies the food through His word by authorizing us to eat it, as Paul does here. We sanctify and bless the food by praying prayers of thanksgiving for the same.
So what exactly is the blessing conveyed, and what does it mean for the food to have been so blessed? Considering that countless atheists safely eat without ever sanctifying their food with thanksgiving, we might consider that we are not necessarily changing the composition of the food, nor its actual, immediate use when we pray.
The Greek word translated blessing (eg. Matthew 26:26) is one that many of us actually use in English, though in a different setting. It is the word, “eulogeo” (ie. “eulogize”). It means to speak well of a thing, and thus through that proper, thankful spoken word, to convey a benefit. One might say that the Bible is teaching us that our attitude towards what we have makes all the difference in how it benefits us.
Paul speaks to Timothy about making the food holy. A holy thing is a thing that has been set aside for a sacred use. When we are thankful to God for a meal, we are reminding ourselves who has given us that gift of food, and ideally, in so doing, we are also reminding ourselves that not only is thanks due, but also obedience and service. The food the Lord’s servants enjoy becomes a tool in their service to God, enabling them to continue to do the work God has for them. Thus, the fleshly food becomes a spiritual tool: it is made holy.
Now, we have been speaking of food, but one can see the application to all that God has blessed us with. It is to be received with thanksgiving. That thanksgiving is to be expressed to God in prayer. The gift becomes sanctified and blessed through that prayer, and the conscientious and grateful servant uses that gift to the glory of God. This service in turn produces more thanksgiving in others, which leads to them turning to God and the cycle renews. This is essentially the pattern laid out in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. There Paul talks about the material blessings of the Corinthian church and how their proper attitude towards those blessings, and their subsequent use of those blessings in service to God, and His people, would result in others glorifying God. Fittingly, Paul’s concluding though regarding the process was, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15; ESV)
The church of Christ, thankful for all God has blessed us with, invites you to share in those blessings. All are invited to study God’s word with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.