The Expository Files

Not By Bread Alone

Matthew 4:3,4

In the well known narrative of Jesus' temptation, the Scripture says, "Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.' But He answered and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God"'" (Mt. 4:3,4).

When Jesus was challenged to prove Himself by transforming stones into something to satisfy His hunger, He replied by quoting the Old Testament text where God had taught that there were more important things for a person to think about than where his next meal might come from. In its original context, Moses was exhorting Israel to remain faithful to God after they entered Canaan, the promised land. He said they ought to remember their wilderness wandering, a time when they would have starved to death if God had not provided the miraculous "manna" for them.

Moses said God had allowed them to suffer these hardships and had provided for them in this way "that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut. 8:1-3). By putting them for forty years in a position of utter physical dependence upon Him, God was teaching Israel that they were dependent upon Him spiritually. By recognizing the origin of the bread they needed to live temporally, Israel was to have learned that we need the "bread" of God's truth even more than we need food for the body.

In the account of Jesus' temptation, what would have been wrong if the Lord had turned stones into bread for Himself? He had been fasting for nearly six weeks, and the text plainly says "He was hungry" (Mt. 4:2)? For one thing, it would have been a concession to pride for Jesus to take up the devil's dare to "prove" that he was the Son of God. Beyond that, however, to use His miraculous powers merely to satisfy His own physical desires would have been to prostitute those powers. It would have been to use for a relatively trivial purpose an ability that was intended for much higher ends. Today, we need the warning of Paul to the Corinthians, "You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:20). The words of the familiar song Live for Jesus say it well: "Live for Jesus, O my brother, His disciple ever be; render not to any other, what alone the Lord's should be."

The principle upon which Jesus refused this temptation is one we desperately need to grasp. God has made us in His image, endowing us with a spiritual nature that is higher and nobler than the physical nature we share with the animal kingdom. Any time we subordinate spiritual concerns to fleshly wants (or even needs), we do what Satan was tempting the Lord to do. It is just as wrong for us as it would have been for Jesus to indulge the "lust of the flesh" (1 Jn. 2:16) at the expense of spiritual priorities. It is simply wrong to prostitute what God has given us.

But here is another important truth that Jesus' temptation illustrates: the thing that we need and want more than anything physical is fellowship with God, and this fellowship is only possible on the basis of "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." The pity is that we so seldom recognize that need for what it is, and we rush about pursuing this or that "fulfillment" without pausing to identify what it is we are really needing. The bread that sustains bodily life is one thing, but the Bread of Life is something we need at a much deeper level. Jesus Himself said in His discourse on that subject, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you" (Jn. 6:27). Elsewhere He put it in the form of a question: "Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" (Mt. 6:25). It is true that man lives by bread, but not by bread alone. Whether our bellies are full or empty matters very little next to the need that is in our hearts. And what our hearts need is to be full of God's word

By Gary Henry
From Expository Files 6.10; October 1999