John chapter 6 is where we read of Jesus miraculously feeding five thousand men and walking on water. After those events, Jesus went to Capernaum. When the crowds Jesus had fed discovered he was gone, they followed him and, upon finding him, asked when he had arrived (John 6:22-25). Jesus knew that they wanted only another free meal, and so admonished them, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life…” (vs. 26-27).
Our Lord knows that we need to devote some attention to work for material necessities like food. After all, one of the punishments God gave to Adam for deciding to disobey him in the Garden of Eden was that “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). The apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). So when Jesus says, “Do not labor for the food that perishes,” he is not telling us that we shouldn’t work for physical food. Rather, he is telling us to not give our primary attention to the material things of this life. Our primary focus should be on obtaining that which will give us eternal life. As Paul said, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
This is what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither show nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the filed, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he no much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25-33). Note that last part. Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness…
It’s no secret that God tests our faith and loyalty to him. He did so with Abraham with a test which no parent I know, myself included, could easily pass (Genesis 22:1-12; Hebrews 11:17). He tests us also. It’s easy for us to sing the well-known hymn None of Self and All of Thee…but do our actions back up our words when tested by God? Say you have some free time, and it’s college football season (or your favorite sport’s season; fill in the blank). Is every moment of your free time spent watching football? Is every moment you can spare dedicated to watching your favorite political pundit talk about politics? As soon as your work and family responsibilities are taken care of and the kids are in bed, do you do nothing but watch your favorite TV show until you can’t keep your eyes open? How much time do you spend studying the Bible? Praying to God?
Is our focus primarily on what will help us obtain eternal life? Today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter, will we take a decent amount of time before or after work to study God’s Word and pray to him…or will recreational activities or more work be more important?
God tests our loyalty every day. Are we passing his tests? Are we truly laboring for the food that endures to eternal life?