God’s creation is good. And since God’s creation is good, we are free to feast to God’s glory, right? Well, no, not exactly. There’s more to proper God-centered thanksgiving than acknowledging the goodness of creation. Tomorrow in the States, we celebrate Thanksgiving, which makes it a great time to revisit John Piper’s sermon on 1 Timothy 4:1–5, preached in 2013 at the DG National Conference on C.S. Lewis.
For this clip, we’re going to jump into the middle of his exposition of 1 Timothy 4:1–5, so let me read the text first. “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.” Here’s Pastor John:
It seems to me here that the plainest thing so far about Paul’s response is that you have three acts that relate to God in what to do with food, and none of them is an act of the stomach or the taste buds. They’re all acts of mind and heart: (1) thanking, (2) believing, (3) knowing.
So, the most obvious thing is to see that at least part of what makes eating worship is acts that are not eating, right? Thanking, believing, knowing are what make eating worship. Without thanking, believing, and knowing what you need to know in order to thank and believe, you’re not worshiping when you eat.
Eating Is About God
Eating food becomes worship by acts that terminate on God, not food — not merely on food. We’ll get back to that in a minute. We give thanks for food to God, right? To God. It’s not thanks if it’s just a vague sense of thankfulness with no object, because Paul is certainly not interested in that kind of thanksgiving. Everybody in America has Thanksgiving. They say some sort of thanks. They don’t know whom they’re saying it to. He’s not the least interested in that kind of thanksgiving. This is the living Creator God being addressed by our souls with joyful dependence: thank you, thank you, thank you.
“Food is set apart as an expression of God’s worth when we listen to what God says about food and believe him.”
Believing is believing in God, believing in his Son, believing in the cross, believing that you’re forgiven, and therefore, these blessings are not ripening you for hell, which Romans 2:4–5 says they do if you don’t believe.
Knowing terminates on the truth, and the ultimate truth is God. So the things that make food worship, what makes eating worship, are Godward things. Thanks is toward God. Believing is toward God. Knowing is toward God. This is about God. Food is about God. Satan knows that through and through.
What Really Makes Food Good
Here’s the next step in the argument: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). So, it’s good. That’s part of his argument: “Everything created by God is good.” The teaching of demons implies, “Not so sure. The physical sex stuff and just eating everything on the table there, that’s defective. That’s inferior. That’s not the best way to live.”
“It’s good, so eat it. Eating is good, because the creation is good.” That’s not the way Paul argued. That’s not the argument. He did not argue that creation is good, and therefore nothing is to be rejected. He did not argue that way. He did not argue by saying, “Creation is good, and therefore eating is good.” He didn’t argue by saying, “Food is from God and good and enjoyable, and therefore eating is good and enjoyable and honors God.” He didn’t argue that way.
Here’s the way he argued: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected . . .” If you try to make the argument with just the first two premises and leave out the third premise, you can’t get it. “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” The divine goodness of food doesn’t make eating food good. It may be prostitution; it may be fraudulent. What makes eating good, what makes food good, or at least one essential part of what makes it good — essential, not optional — is the thankfulness of our hearts. This is not just words. The devil can say thank you. But he can’t feel it. He cannot feel it. You can say thank you. “Thank you, Grandmama, for my black socks.” “Say thank you to your grandmama.” “Thank you, Grandmama, for my black socks.” That’s not gratitude.
“Thanking, believing, and knowing are what make eating worship.”
This is a sense of wonder that can’t believe the sunshine is out again for me. I can’t believe I get to live in Minneapolis most of my adult life and have fall. We could talk about spring another time, but fall, that’s off the charts in Minneapolis. And he does that for the wicked and for the good. Some are using it to store up wrath, and some are using it to overflow with thanksgiving. So, that’s what we’re supposed to do.
Set Apart for God
This was the most surprising thing for me in working through this text again: the good creation must be sanctified. Verse 5: Everything God made “is made holy [sanctified] by the word of God and prayer.” We can say everything because Paul said nothing is to be rejected. So the clearest thing that just leaps off the page to me is this: it’s good, and it must be sanctified, or you can’t worship with it. The good creation must be sanctified in order for God to be honored, loved, treasured.
What does it mean for food to be sanctified or made holy? I stood right here last year, and I asked the question, “What is sanctification? What is holy? What is God’s holiness? What’s my holiness? What’s the holiness of food?” I’m adding that because of this text: “Make holy, make the food holy. Sanctify the food, the sex.” So, what is God’s holiness? What is my holiness? And what is food’s holiness?
Here’s my summary: God’s holiness is his infinite worth, owing to his transcendent, self-existent uniqueness. It’s like there’s a diamond, and there’s only one of them, and therefore its worth is off the charts. My holiness is thinking and feeling and doing whatever accords with that worth. If I’m acting and I’m feeling and I’m saying things that make that worth look less valuable, I’m not holy.
A thing like food or gold becomes holy by being set apart for God as a means of expressing that infinite worth — the worth of God. I base that, for example, on the way Jesus talks about sanctifying things. Here’s what he said, for example, in Matthew 23:17: “Which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred” — or made it holy? You’ve got a temple, and you’ve got gold. Which is greater? He understands the temple is greater, and that’s how the gold gets sanctified.
“The good creation must be sanctified in order for God to be honored, loved, treasured.”
But the way it works is that gold is not changed by being built into the temple. It’s still gold, but it is given a God-exalting function in the temple by the way that it’s used in that holy, God-exalting place. So it’s set apart for God as a means of expressing his worth. That’s why gold is holy in the temple. The temple is all about the value of God in his presence with us. And when gold goes into the temple and it gets used there, it’s expressing the value of God, and therefore is holy.
The same is true with food and with sex. Sanctifying food, or making food holy, means setting it apart as a means of expressing the infinite worth of God. This is how eating becomes worship. This is how all things become pure to the pure. That’s another sermon over in Titus 1:15: “To the pure, all things are pure.” To the sanctified, they know how to sanctify everything.
Washed in Prayer
How, then, do the word of God and prayer make that happen? Because that’s what it says at the end of verse 5. They’re sanctified “by the word of God and prayer.” That’s how food gets holy and becomes worship when we eat it. How does that work? The most obvious thing to me is to notice that the word of God is God speaking to me, and prayer is my speaking to God. Food is made holy by God’s talking to me and my talking to him. In prayer, we talk to him. By his word, he talks to us.
So, my general answer is that food is set apart as an expression of God’s worth when we listen to what God has to say about food, and believe him. Believers do this: we believe him when he talks to us about food, and we speak back to him. We affirm, “Yes, that’s what food is. That’s who you are in relation to food, and I’m thankful. I’m telling you, God, I’m thankful.” I think this is what prayer is when you’re dealing with food. I’m affirming what God says about food and how good it is — how he gives it to me as a means of thanksgiving. I’m affirming that. I’m feeling gratitude rise up. I’m saying it. And I’m asking God, “I know my gratitude right now is inadequate, and I’m asking you, for Jesus’s sake, because he died for me and loved me, would you make me more thankful?”
All those pieces are in prayer, affirmation, confession of the truth of God that he’s revealed about creation and about himself. “I thank you. I thank you. And God, I know how many times I’ve eaten and not felt thankful, and I’m sorry. I ask, O God, that right now there would rise up within me an appropriate affection for the bounty of this room.” That’s what I think prayer does in sanctifying.