“For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5).
Much like the first-century congregation at Ephesus, modern-day Christians must also wrestle with the proper application of various Biblical teachings in everyday life. In the New Testament era, that struggle often took the form of foods that were appropriate to eat. A conscientious believer could turn to Jesus’ teaching from the Gospel of Mark to help make good decisions in that area…
“‘Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.’ After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)” (Mark 7:15-19 NIV).
If we were to paraphrase Jesus’ message from these verses, we might say that people are not defiled by the things they choose to eat. Yet, the Old Testament book of Leviticus also identified various foods that God pronounced as acceptable and unacceptable to eat. So how can we reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable teachings?
Well, we can first say that Jesus did not reject the Old Testament Law but rightly established that sin originates in the heart. For instance, a person who deliberately ate something unclean under the Old Testament Law was not defiled by the food itself. He or she was actually defiled by an insubordinate attitude (or “heart”) that led him or her to eat something that God prohibited.
Jesus thus tied the concept of defilement to the sinful thoughts and intents of our innermost being. Those internal thoughts and motivations are the real agents of defilement and they are what ultimately make us unfit for a relationship with God.
In making these statements, Jesus effectively ended all religiously-oriented dietary restrictions. While many cultures and individuals still observe these traditional restrictions, those constraints do not make us better or worse before God. As Paul the Apostle said to the Corinthian church, “…food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better” (1 Corinthians 8:8 ASV). Nevertheless, as one commentator sadly observes, “…in every generation men arose who tried to be stricter than God.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Enslavers Of Men And Insulters Of God (1 Timothy 4:1-5 continued)”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-4.html. 1956-1959.