In Luke 10, we read about a time when Jesus sent his disciples on a short-term mission trip. The instructions he provides in verses 2-12 (the pre-trip orientation, if you will) are vague and slightly confusing. I imagine type-A mission team members would not be satisfied with a pre-trip orientation that consisted of: “If a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” Nevertheless, one guideline Jesus lays out for his sent-ones is simple: “When you enter any town, and they welcome you, eat the things set before you.” (v.8)
God’s people on mission eat what’s put before them.
The idea is further explained in 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul gives believers the go-ahead to eat whatever unbelieving hosts may serve them “without raising questions for the sake of conscience” (v. 27) “for the glory of God.” (v. 31) . It turns out that our willingness eat what’s put before us in order to “please everyone in everything,” (v.33) is directly related to people hearing the gospel!
The missionary skill here—eating what’s set before you— has to do with our posture before those to whom we’ve been sent. Because we represent the Sender, and our job is to make sure His message gets through to people, we’re supposed to be good guests.
Believe it or not, eating what’s set before you can be quite difficult for Christians today. Coming from environments where food is plentiful and options are many, we’ve all become quite picky in our eating habits. We tend to focus on taste, texture, and nutritional value of what we eat. But what if we made sure to consider mealtime an event? An opportunity to spend higher-quality time with others? When you eat with someone, you engage with them in a personal, vulnerable sort of way. Food reflects personal culture–our family, our story. When someone serves you a meal they made, they’re inviting you into that story.
As someone who has had the opportunity to eat bugs, dog, offal, and possibly, things I thought were something else entirely, I know what it’s like to want to just say no. But I’ve seen first-hand the difference it can make for a personal relationship when we just eat what we’re served. And, though I’m not proud of it, I have put up my share of barriers between me and my hosts by turning up my nose at the food they’ve set before me.
5 Steps to get you ready to eat what’s put before you:
Prayerfully decide to put your personal preferences aside for the sake of the gospel. This commitment will make all the difference when whatever is on your plate is staring back at you.
Practice eating outside your comfort zone. You may be a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy, but the majority of the world eats, well, other things. Fortunately, we live in a society where we have access to all kinds of food from all around the world. Expanding your culinary horizons will at least help you get used to eating foods you’re not, well, used to.
Be respectful! Remember that in the world, food is precious. Too many people on the earth do not have enough food to eat, and cannot afford to be picky. If you keep this in mind, you probably won’t be tempted to waste, turn up your nose, or make fun of people who eat this strange food.
Don’t ask what’s in it. Sometimes, it’s not the food that our taste buds reject, it’s the association our minds make with the ingredients. Sometimes, it’s better not to know that this chewy stuff is intestines or that the slimy stuff is maggot cheese or whatever.
Smell affects taste. Some fearless food tasters find that holding their breath while eating can help make a strong-smelling food go down a bit easier. Another trick is to associate this new food with something more familiar (“Tastes like chicken!”).
Ask about the story. How is this food prepared? What does the host like best about it? When is it typically eaten? Asking questions can help provide insights that open up opportunities for good conversation.
It’s no wonder God’s people are encouraged to eat whatever food is served to them: being a good guest can establish the kind of social posture that can provide opportunities to share the gospel, build relationships, and make disciples.