But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4, q. Deut. 8:3)
What does it mean to be fed? In the past, I have heard people say that they switched churches or stopped going because they were “not being fed”—meaning that the teaching was dull or unedifying. But in time, I realized that this is not the purpose of a church except as it relates to new converts. Babies have to be fed, but adults gather food and feed themselves. Mature Christians go to church to worship and serve; if we go only for food, we are still babies. Many scriptures compare God’s words to food. Ezekiel, David, and John all witness to the nourishing sweetness of God’s voice. But feeding on the Word of God is more than reading the Bible.
Jesus’ rebuke to the devil was a quote from Deuteronomy, where God gives the reason that he kept Israel in the desert:
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna … that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3, ESV)
In quoting this, Jesus connects his desert experience with the desert experience of the nation of Israel. Jesus already knew what it took Israel forty years to learn: that true life was found in hearing and following God’s voice. “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.”
When Jesus was offered food in Samaria, he told his disciples he had a secret food: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34, ESV)
Jesus was not just nourished while doing God’s work; he said that doing God’s work was nourishment to him. What does that mean?
I believe this scripture and the others are pointing to this same truth: Doing God’s will from God’s word is the ultimate satisfaction. When we reach through his word to his heart, we are nourished spiritually.
When we feed on his word without doing his will, we get spiritual indigestion. George MacDonald constantly warned about the uselessness of knowing without obeying. If we read God’s Word and are never changed, we are looking in a mirror and then forgetting who we are.
Israel spent forty years learning obedience in the desert, circling and wandering. Jesus obeyed God, and astonished Jerusalem’s scholars when he was twelve. Disobedience makes us dull; obedience sharpens us and lets us know God better. Experience is not the best teacher—obedience is.
There is never a bad time to start obeying. The more we obey, the easier it becomes. Obedience becomes a lens through which we trust God more and more. The fruit of his word is sweet in our lives, and reassures us of the character of our Lord, which can only lead us into a better and sweeter obedience.
Father, thank you that I have a chance today to feed on and obey your Word. I pray that your words would be sweet to me, and that I would learn from obedience, and not from experience.