The Word: Love is a table manner

Published 5:10 pm Friday, February 23, 2024

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Eating is one of the most important and vulnerable things we do, and it always has been. Food is, of course, essential, and we must eat it regularly – usually several times a day. Since it is so regular and important, meals also have become important, and who we eat with matters.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising, then, to note that food is central to many religions, including Christianity. Jewish religious life included festivals at several points throughout the year, which included feasts with prescribed menus. In the Gospels, Jesus enjoys not just the festivals of his Jewish faith but also everyday meals with his friends and even banquets with his opponents. On the eve of his crucifixion, he shared a Passover meal with his disciples and told them to adopt the practice themselves to remember him and what he did. The disciples did just that; meals were a central feature of the Church from the start.

Such a core part of human life has the potential to create confusion or even complications, because people in different places and from different backgrounds eat different things and in different ways. What is enjoyable or satisfying for one person may be disgusting or dangerous for another, and that’s before you factor in what people from different backgrounds and cultures consider ‘acceptable’ or even ‘worthy’ food.

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This issue was important in the life of the early church, showing up in the book of Acts and in several of Paul’s letters. In some of those places, the fear is that differences about eating could break the fellowship of the church, while uncritically embracing the practices of the culture around the church at the table could lead to neglect of the vulnerable and humiliation of the poor. 

This is why, even though Paul understood and taught a certain freedom about food – that all food is a gift from God – Paul also taught his congregations to eat together in a loving way. In Romans 14, he tells those who feel free to eat anything not to look down on or cause problems of conscience for those who feel a restricted diet is more godly, while those who feel limited out of a sense of religious understanding should offer grace instead of judgment to those who felt free in Christ.

Of course, I have rarely known any food to be kept off the table at a church meal – but we can learn something from the path Paul preached at the table and beyond. Do we offer grace to one another, recognizing that God deals with us all where we are at? Do we seek to be at peace with one another even when we differ? Is love our guiding principle in all things and at all times?

When we are together – especially when we are breaking bread together – may we be filled with grace and love. Those are the table manners Jesus cares about most.

Rev. Dr. J. Adam Tyler is the Senior Pastor for Farmville Baptist Church and he can be reached by email at