Did I mention that I have a problem finishing stuff I start? Even something as short-lived as a few blog posts about a topic near and dear to all our hearts. A recent gentle reminder from a friend has motivated me put the blog-apron back on and get to serving up the main course.
If you survey some of the biggest points of contention and controversy in the New Testament, what do you think you’ll find? Heaven and Hell? Sorry Bell, Piper, Taylor and all the rest. Not by a long shot. Sexual immorality? Sure, it’s in there. But that doesn’t seem to be the issue that gets people killed.
Still wondering? Probably not, but if you guessed with whom we get our grub on, then we are a little closer to the mark.
…the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2
I don’t want to go into all that’s there, but let’s make sure we’re clear about what was said. Or what wasn’t said…
This man welcomes sinners. Full stop? No, he goes on to say more.
This man welcomes sinners and hangs out with them. Maybe true, but not what it said.
Not, this man welcomes sinners and really, really likes them. Ditto above.
Not even, this man welcomes sinners and will include the likes of these among God’s new covenant community. Without a doubt, that’s where this train is going, but those weren’t the exact words.
No, the issue is that he eats with them.
Pause there a moment.
Fast forward to the somewhat famous controversy between Paul and Peter. I’m going to paraphrase what you can find for yourself in Galatians 2… Peter was living in Antioch, and enjoying the fruits of an ethnically/racially diverse church. It didn’t matter whether a person was Jew or Gentile, Peter would presumably spend time with them in common fellowship and worship… and most definitely, he ate with Gentiles. Then some people showed up who didn’t think it was ok to eat with Gentiles, and Peter buckled under the pressure and quit breaking bread with them. This sends Paul into fits, and apparently, he let’s Peter have it. Why?
Because who we eat with is a gospel issue. Set aside all the racial diversity – insider/outsider – issues for a moment. There is something about the very act of eating that is spiritual. And it is spiritual because eating presupposes fellowship, intimacy, community. And who is a part of the Renewed Community is a spiritual issue.
It was true for Jesus. It was true for Peter and Paul. Eating was a spiritual issue.
Unconvinced? How about one of the grand-daddy verses of all time for understanding the marching orders for the church. Acts 2:42-47…
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I hope you didn’t miss it. “Eating” is sandwiched in between a series of decidedly spiritual endeavors. Studying the Apostolic word. Prayer. Signs and wonders. Worship. Fellowship. Evangelism. It doesn’t mention eating once, but twice. Just in case we missed it the first time. I think it is safe to say that the early church thought that eating together was as spiritual an activity as sharing their faith with outsiders. One might even say, eating together was one of the means by which they shared their faith with an on-looking world.
Only as Westerners who drive a sharp wedge between matter and spirit would we miss this. Eating isn’t for sustaining the body only. Eating is meant to both be a reflection of community and a way to build community. And building community is a matter of the Spirit.