Eating with the Saints

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What would we do without food? Well, not much, and not for long. It doesn’t take much thinking to realize that food is an essential of life. Eating is a basic human activity, terribly ordinary and utterly necessary. But food and eating are more than basic requirements for survival. Food, and how it is consumed, is invested with great significance both by human society and by God.

Fom the beginning, the first three chapters of Genesis emphasize food and eating over all other human activities. One of God’s primary blessings to mankind was the gift of good food (Gen. 1:29). The emphasis on its goodness, the pleasure God designed into the consumption of food, is clear in Genesis 2:9 where we’re told that in preparing the garden for Adam God caused trees to grow that were “pleasing to the eye and good for food.” Later, when Eve chose to disobey God and eat the fruit of the one tree God had said not to eat, we’re told that she saw it too was “good for food and pleasing to the eye,” (Genesis 3:6). The proscribed tree in the middle of the garden had characteristics that looked much like those of the trees God had provided for food, except that God had clearly labeled it poison, deadly to consume. Altogether, in the first three chapters of Genesis, food and eating come up more than twenty times in the accounts of creation, blessing, instruction, sin, and curse. In the curse that followed eating the forbidden fruit, eating was mentioned in both the curse on the serpent (you shall eat dust, Gen. 3:14) and the curse on mankind (repeatedly in Gen. 3:17-19). In the curse that followed sin, eating is directly connected to dust not only for the serpent, but also for the man (dust you are, and to dust you will return, Gen. 3:19). For fallen man, eating is a direct connection to and reminder of mortality. The opportunity for physical man to eat and live forever (Gen. 3:22) is not a part of the heritage of sinning humans.

The emphasis on eating in the first three chapters of Genesis (which could be studied and discussed far more than the space of this article will allow) sets the stage for things to come in the scriptures. God has an attitude about eating. Remember, he designed it, and he designed it to be enjoyable and beneficial. The same emphasis is still found at the end of the Bible. In Revelation God’s blessing for redeemed mankind is presented as an invitation to a special supper (Revelation 19:9). The right to drink the water of life and eat from the tree of life is awarded to those who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 22:1-2, 14, 17).

Not only do the scriptures present to us the idea that God designed eating (and drinking) to be a blessing, both beneficial and enjoyable, the scriptures also tell us that God designed eating with a communal potential. In eating, people can be in fellowship with other people, and with God. This was true in the sacrifices offered in ancient times, which were in most cases eaten by the worshiper, his family, and the priests (cf Hebrews 13:9-10, 1 Corinthians 9:13, 10:18). This is especially true also in the special symbolic meal Jesus prescribed for his church (as in 1 Corinthians 11:17-32, Acts 20:7). The communion bread and fruit of the vine consumed by the church are a fellowship activity in which believers participate with one another and with the Lord who is in their presence. Eating as an expression of worship and fellowship has always been a part of God’s dealing with mankind, and people dealing with one another (Exodus 24:1-2, 9-11, for example).

God wants us to recognize that eating together has value and significance for his people. Not only the eating of the ritual meal, the Lord’s supper, but also eating together ordinary food in harmony (for a negative example, see 1 Corinthians 5:11). The Christians of ancient times ate together frequently (Acts 2:46, Acts 20:11, Galatians 2:11-14, for example). Not everyone who ate at the common meals participated in the genuine love of the brethren (Jude 12) and some developed traditions of eating in front of their brothers instead of sharing with them (1 Corinthians 11:21), while others developed cliques within the group (Galatians 2:11-14) perverting the Lord’s Supper and corrupting the fellowship of the saints in the process. Such abuses and those who committed them were condemned, but the habit of sharing food with brethren, of having common meals, was not. The disciples did not lose sight of the value of eating together. The apostles had learned by many experiences with Jesus, breaking bread together, as well as sharing the customs of the Jewish faith, how valuable time spent together at the dinner table could be, what beneficial sharing could take place there, what insights could be gained, what fellowship enjoyed. Numerous examples in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation, tell us that God had some special things in mind when he designed us to eat and drink. Not only the fueling of our bodies, but also the refreshing of our spirits in fellowship with him and with one another.

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