In my morning reading of John 6, I’ve been paying close attention to the words Jesus uses to teach the crowd. Unlike us, Jesus didn’t just ramble on in order to pass the time. We have idle words. Words spoken without much thought, therefore, without much (if any) purpose.
We might call it chit chat, shooting the breeze, or killing time.
I approach the Bible with the belief that it is inspired by God, that the Holy Spirit guided the individual writers in conveying God’s message.
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) cover approximately three years of Jesus’ life. We know from the end of John’s Gospel that Jesus did many other things that John didn’t record, with John surmising that the “whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
So, what does get recorded is there on purpose — through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the words themselves matter. Which brings me to two particular words that Jesus emphasizes near the middle of the chapter.
Just to recap … the chapter begins with the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. The disciples then set off by boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, only to be joined by Jesus walking on the water. The next morning the crowd realizes Jesus is no longer on their side of the lake and they go searching for him.
We’ll pick up the story in John 6:25, when they find Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:25-29
Two important words: food and work.
Food. Although I’m two-thirds of the way through my first cup of coffee, I haven’t eaten yet and I’m aware of it. My stomach has growled a few times. In fact, I’ve already thought of what I’ll make for breakfast (pancakes!).
For most of us, we take food for granted. We have grocery stores, refrigerators, pantries, Tupperware, and restaurants. We have our choice of fast food, healthy food, or food with no soy, dairy, or gluten. It’s not unusual for two people to go out to eat and spend $25 or $50 or more on a singe meal.
Sadly, we also throw away tremendous amounts of food each year. Here in America, we throw away over $165 billion worth of food every year. For the average American family (4 people), we typically waste about 25% of the food we purchase.
While we have fancy restaurants and good BBQ places, food is basically a necessity of life, a commodity that keeps our bodies fueled and running.
The problem that Jesus has with food isn’t with food itself.
Jesus doesn’t tell the crowd they don’t need any food. Just the day before, he had ensured they had been able to eat by multiplying the loaves and fish.
His problem is that all they wanted was food. “You are looking for me because I fed you.”
Their motivation was wrong and Jesus knew it: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Later in this same story, Jesus will be more specific about the food that endures to eternal life.
If our only purpose in life is to wake up and go to work in order to purchase our three meals (and clothes and Netflix), then Jesus would tell us that our sights are set way too low.
That stuff eventually spoils. In their day, the food spoiled much quicker than it does today. But our food spoils eventually, if not literally then certainly when we reach a point in life where we grow disillusioned with the accumulation of things.
We need food for the stomach and food for the heart.
To life a godly, fulfilling life, we must derive our sustenance from more than what we eat at dinner.
But how? According to Jesus, it takes work.
Work. Jesus was a master at taking a word or concept and challenging the conventional meaning or idea behind it. Most of us would not put work and belief together in the same category.
Work is something we do that has a tangible expression and outcome. We work in the yard and can see the results of trimming the trees and mowing the grass. The artist works in her studio and the result is a beautiful painting.
Belief, on the other hand, is something that we think we only think about. We hold beliefs in our head like we hold ideas, facts, and trivia. For many people in our culture, believing seems impractical (“Why don’t you quit praying and go do something?”).
This is why we need to listen closely to Jesus: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
When a person believes, he is doing the work of God. It takes effort and expression to truly believe in Jesus. James the brother of Jesus will later write that if our belief doesn’t change our behavior, then we are no different from the demons:
“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” – James 2:18-19
The job description for a Christ-follower could be summed up in one phrase: Believe in Jesus.
This is why it’s possible to religious and moral and not be doing the work of God. If I trust my ritual and routines more than I trust in Jesus, then I may be hard at work but I’m not doing the work God assigned me.