FACT CHECK: When Jesus said that we cannot live by bread alone, he meant that we should put some butter and jam on it or maybe make a sandwich.
He actually meant that we should feed on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus lived solely on “God food” for 40 days and nights in the wilderness before starting his ministry work, so he certainly practiced what he preached. To illustrate his point about the importance of thinking beyond earthly food, Jesus called himself the bread of life that needs to be eaten. He lost quite a few followers when he said that, as they didn’t understand what he meant.
Well, what did he mean? That we should cannibalize him?
Clearly not. The bread (that is, the life-giving sustenance) of his body was his Spirit, which in his case was God’s Holy Spirit. He was telling us that we need to feed on his spiritual substance, which is every bit as real as his physical substance. In fact, the spiritual substance is even more real, because it’s eternal. It lasts forever.
“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you are spirit and are life.”
We feed in order to live. We can go without food for weeks, but past a certain point of food deprivation, our body will die. It needs to be fed. God made us like that. In just the same way, God made us so that our soul needs to be fed, and in fact we do feed it every day by what we choose to listen to and read and watch, which then becomes part of us.
Feeding on every word that comes from the mouth of God is obviously preferable to feeding on what the world spews at us. When we feed on Jesus spiritually – that is, when we chew on his teachings (or better yet swallow them whole) – we absorb his wisdom and advice, which then become part of us. In so doing, we live and grow spiritually in the way that God means for us to live and grow – his Way.
“It is the spirit that quickeneth…” – to quicken means to bring to life or make alive. We know that before we were reborn, we had the spirit of death in us. God exorcised that spirit at our rebirth and put his Spirit in us. That is the very definition of rebirth: replacing the spirit of the world with the Spirit of God. We are then spiritually alive for the first time in our earthly lives and we can hear the Word of God. When I say we can “hear” it, I mean it finally makes sense to us.
Jesus also likened his spiritual feeding to eating meat (that is, eating food in general, not just bread). In one passage, he tells his disciples “I have meat to eat that ye know not of”. Of course, they immediately assume he means he’s eaten a meal somewhere else without them. He corrects their assumption by clarifying: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Here, we see Jesus being fed not by feeding on God’s Word, but by doing God’s will. This concept – that you can feed not by consuming but by expending – is as revolutionary as “love your enemies”. Feeding usually involves bringing in substances to the body, whether physical or spiritual, but Jesus instead claims that doing precisely what God directs him to do is a form of food in itself – that by expending physical energy to do God’s will, he gains from it spiritually.
If Jesus can be fed by doing God’s explicit will for him, we can also be fed that way. Our meat can also be to do God’s explicit will for us. Isaiah 55 talks about bread that is so rich it makes your soul fat; this spiritually rich bread is free to all:
“Hearken diligently unto me and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”
This is what Jesus did – he first hearkened diligently unto God by welcoming God’s Word into his soul, and then he fed on it by doing it. Hearing God’s Word is only part of the equation; the balance is to do what God directs you to do. When you not only welcome God’s will but do it, the heavenly bread of God’s Spirit melds with your soul through the alignment of Gods’ will with yours. The greater the melding (that is, the more aligned your will is with God’s), the greater the measure of God’s Spirit you’ll receive. This spiritual “fattening” of your soul leads to the further building of your faith, which is your own personal reserve of spiritual energy.
We should aim to be as spiritually fat as we can be. Jesus had by far the fattest soul of anyone either before or since him. Our souls may never be as fat as Jesus’ soul was during his time on Earth – scripture says he had the full measure of God’s Spirit at that time – but we can certainly do everything within our reach to fatten them up. We start by welcoming and absorbing God’s Word, and we continue by doing God’s will to the end.