Giving Thanks

We often do things just from force of habit, but this is a dangerous thing inasmuch as when we find that others do not have the same habit we may give it up because we cannot see a reason for what we have been doing. This could well apply to the habit of giving thanks for ones food. The object therefore of this article is to show the scriptural basis for the practice and ascertain the reason or reasons behind it.

Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 says: "rejoice always; pray unceasingly; in everything give thanks,". The statements are very embracing. However they cannot mean that we are to do nothing else but rejoice, pray and give thanks. We know that Christ for instance sometimes spent the night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12). However by day he was often in the temple teaching (Luke 21:37/38). What Paul is telling us is that we are not to give up rejoicing whatever our circumstances or to stop praying because, say, we do not appear to be receiving answers to our prayers. Further, everything can be given thanks for, even though the things may not be to our liking at the time (Hebrews 12:11). However, what is in mind to consider in this article is not thanksgiving in a general way but the specific act of giving thanks at mealtimes.

What we have to support us is the practice of Christ when here and the teaching of Paul in his epistles.

As to the first, we are told that Christ gave thanks before feeding the five thousand and also the four thousand (Matthew 14:19; 15:36). It may be noted that in the first instance the Greek word eulogeo (to speak well of ) is used, and in the second the Greek word eucharisteo (to thank, be thankful) is used. The first word is sometimes translated bless rather than give thanks. However the thought is similar as the note in the JND translation indicates - see Matthew 14:19. The word charis (grace, favour) is not used in connection with the giving of thanks for food though it is used in some other instances and translated "thanks" as in 1 Corinthians 15:57 "but thanks to God". This is mentioned because giving thanks for food is sometimes spoken of as "saying grace". The scriptural basis for such an expression is clearly very weak and does not in any case convey a clear thought.

It may be argued that the examples given do not give sufficient ground for giving thanks before every meal because miracles were being performed (the food was being multiplied) in the cases cited. However we know that Christ also gave thanks at the last supper where no miracle was being performed whatever the Roman Catholics may say (Matthew 26:26/27). It will be noted that both expressions (blessed and gave thanks) are also used here. However, again it may be argued that the occasion was special, that is, it was the inauguration of the Lord's supper (1 Corinthians 11:20 and 23-26). This was no doubt true but we know that Christ also gave thanks in resurrection at what was an ordinary meal (Luke 24:30). (Note that Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 says Christ "gave thanks" for the bread, whereas the Gospel writers say He "blessed" it, showing that the words are used interchangeably, though maybe indicating a different aspect of the same thing)

Some may feel that the above examples are not conclusive that thanks should be given before every meal. (Incidentally there is no evidence that thanks was ever given to God after a meal, instead of before, or in addition to the thanksgiving before the meal) It is true that Christ is not said to have given thanks at every meal he had part in. However, he was not the host in, for example, the Pharisee's house (Luke 7:36-50). The Pharisee was the host and he would have been the one to give thanks to God for the food from whom he received it. Christ and his disciples received their food mediately from the Pharisee and as guests should have thanked him. Whether the Pharisee in fact gave thanks to God for his food we are not told though I suspect that very likely he did not.

One would assume that it is not necessary that every snack should be specifically given thanks for as, for example, when Christ's disciples went through the cornfields plucking the ears of corn and eating nothing is said about a prayer being offered to God (Matthew 12:1).