Not by bread alone

It appears as though the primary case against Christians today is that we are Hypocritical, [1] meaning we speak the part of Christ’s teachings, but in reality we live like everyone else does.  And we know this is true – statistically there appears to be very little difference between the lives of people who claim to follow Christ and that of contemporary society. [2]

While meditating the following question came to me the other day:  If people were to judge my faith based on my actions – what would they say I believe?  Meaning: if someone had the opportunity to observe me 24-7, noting how I spend my time and money, my relationships, listening in on my conversations – what would they deduce are the core convictions that drive my decisions, and ultimately dictate the course of my life?  This question reminded me of what the apostle James wrote: “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).  So I asked myself: what do my actions reveal about my faith?  For instance, does my time in prayer show that I believe “the prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16b).  These questions are worth meditating on.

One core attitude that ought to set us apart as Christ-followers from the materialist contemporary culture is our relationship with money.  For instance, the world believes the more I own, the happier I’ll be – but Jesus taught “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) and that we should rather “store up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 19:21).  The world believes that increased wealth means a better life – but Jesus taught life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). But from all the teachings Jesus taught on money, the following one stood out in my head as I evaluated my own life.

Jesus, hungry from fasting for more than a month was tempted by Satan to prove His divine sonship by satisfying His hunger by making bread in the wilderness – as God His Father did some 1450 years before to feed his starving people. [3]  But Jesus answered “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  To understand the full impact of what He meant, the context of the passage He quoted from is really important: Moses is giving the Law of God again to the Hebrews people are about to enter the Promised Land, and states the motive for the 40 year wilderness wandering.

And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, 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.”   (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Moses gives two reasons for the wandering: firstly “to humble you” meaning to show your dependence on God.  Before you enter “a land flowing with milk and honey”, the fertile country where you will certainly prosper and increase, God taught this new nation that they are and always will be dependent on His grace, His “manna”.  Day after day for 40 years the Hebrews woke up every morning with no means of survival apart from what came from above, what came “from the mouth of God”.  They grew up in utter humility and dependence of God’s provision – and that was the first motive for their wilderness wandering.

Secondly, Moses stated that God raised the Hebrews in the wilderness to ‘test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not’.  We know that the intent and promise of the Law was a long and prosperous life.[4]  However, for the first 40 years of living under the Law there was no visible prosperity.  God’s test was clear: “Will you obey me even though you do not see the rewards?”  God was testing their motive for obedience.

And then we read the words Jesus quoted: man shall not live from bread alone (i.e. we do not live solely from the efforts of our own labors) but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (i.e. manna, or that undeserving, gracious providence from God our Father).  Do we believe this?  Most of us will say “Yes I do!”  But in which way is this visible in your life?  How do we “live this truth”?

I see five ways from this great 8th chapter of Deuteronomy, and verses 3 and 18 summarise these points well:

“man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” (v3)

“you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (v18)

  1. We respond by living thankful, humble The phrases “remember the Lord”, “do not forget the Lord” and “bless the Lord” are repeated throughout this chapter, and it seems to be at the heart of Moses’ address to the Hebrew people before they entered this prosperous, promised land.  If we truly believe that “man shall not live by bread alone” and “God… gives you power to obtain wealth” then we will naturally respond with thanks and with humble trust in Him, not boastful as someone who thinks his success is the work of his own hands (see v 17).

And our thankful hearts will result in mouths that shamelessly speak of God’s goodness to those around us.

  1. We respond by living confidently, not anxiously. If we truly believe that we do “not live by bread alone” and that God “gives [us] power to get wealth”, then the result will be to live confidently, assured that “[our] Heavenly Father knows what we have need of” (Matt 6:31-32).  We should therefore “be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6) but confidently bring needs in prayer to God.  Jesus rebuked the crowd around Him in the sermon on the mount by saying they should not pray anxiously “as the gentiles do”, but confidently ask, knowing they have a Father who knows them and takes care of them. Our welfare is not solely dependent on our efforts!  If this was in fact the case we would have reason to worry because we cannot control everything.  But our welfare is not only up to us – the Hebrew’s 40 years in the wilderness teaches us that God cares and God provides for us.  We have a Father who is in control of everything and knows our needs.  We can boldly ask for our daily bread, knowing that He wants to give.

However, this truth must not be confused with the notion that all will always go well with us.  It is important to note that when Jesus quoted that Scripture, he was very hungry and in the will of God. And God was apparently content that Jesus was hungry. Yet Jesus trusted his Father.  So serving and trusting God does not imply that it always goes well – which is why Paul wrote “I have learned the secret of being content – whether well-fed or hungry… I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)  Believing “man shall … live… by everything that proceeds from the mouth of God” means we trust that God knows what we are going through, and he that He is in control and knows what is best.

  1. We respond by living generous Moving beyond application that benefits us alone, we recognize that if “we live not by bread alone but everything that comes from the mouth of God” then we can live and give generously, since He has dealt generously with us.[5]  We don’t have to hoard everything in fear of not having enough tomorrow as the world does. Rather, we graciously share what we have, remembering that sufficient manna fell daily from the sky during the 40 years of the Hebrew’s wilderness wandering.  God is faithful – as the sun rises tomorrow his provision comes.  Jesus told us to pray “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9) and the Father gives sufficiently for every day, so we can share of our fullness.
  2. We respond by living in the fear of God. In the light of God’s provision and providential blessing, this chapter stands historically as a lesson for us in the fear of God.  The concept is foreign to us as contemporary believers, but in essence, to live in the fear of God is to live with the knowledge of God’s greatness and to live in expectation of His righteous judgment – here on earth and in the age to come.[6]   As mentioned above, this refrain of this chapter rings chapter “remember…” and “do not forget…” the faithful provision of God during your wilderness wandering, and that He brought you in to possess this rich land, that He gives the increase and that He is the one who gives power to obtain wealth. Then warnings such us these were issued in this chapter by Moses before they entered the land:

“Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today… then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’… Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish.”  (Deuteronomy 8:11, 17, 19)

And what happened 700 years after they entered the Promised Land?  After the kingdom was established and secured by David, there was great prosperity during the reign of his son Solomon the nation started worshipping other gods and forgot their God.  After much pleading and warning, the Northern tribes (Samaria) were destroyed completely, and shortly after that the Southern tribes (Judea) were exiled from their land and again became slaves (as promised in Deut 8 and 28-32). The Jews repented, returned to the Lord, and was reinstated in their homeland.

Our lesson in the fear of God regarding His provision is this: when the Lord blesses us, do not forget Him, and do not become conceited in forgetting that “He gives us the power to obtain wealth.”  Deuteronomy 8:5-6 “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you… walk in His ways and fear Him.”

  1. We respond by living in covenant with God. The beautiful verse 18 states our final point – the reason for the prosperity: that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” What is covenant?  In essence covenant is a partnership, a binding of one to another, sharing all they possess, for a specific purpose – thus a covenant with God is extremely beneficial for Israel (and us!), and  very generous from God who gains nothing but gives all.

Which covenant to their forefathers holds the promise of prosperity?  It started at God’s covenantal promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:2), and confirmed later to his son Isaac (Genesis 17:21) and grandson Jacob (Genesis 28:13-16).  The promise entails land, prosperity, a nation and purpose (to bless all the nations of the earth).  God wished to bless Abraham and His descendants, to be a blessing to all and so He partnered with Abraham with the purpose of blessing him, and blessing all through him.   And since through Christ Jesus I am an heir to the promise God made to Abraham (Galatians 3:14) I understand that my prosperity is because of my covenant with God, and therefore my prosperity has the same purpose: that through me “all the families of the earth may be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

So how do we respond to this in a practical way?  Firstly I personally respond to God’s covenantal blessing by monthly giving a portion of my income to Him (to my local church).  For the past 25 years I have done so, and have grown to the understanding that I don’t do it primarily for my blessing (although God promises so) or for the upkeep of the church (although it is a practical necessity), but I give 10% of my income to God to remind myself and declare to Him that I don’t live from “bread alone” (i.e. my own strength and efforts), but I live from “the mouth of God” (i.e. what God graciously gives).   And in giving my tithe I make that declaration monthly on a practical way.  At times in my life that declaration was not mere words!  Many times by giving God that portion of my income I made myself dependent on God’s provision, since my living expenses exceeded 90% of my income.  And God has been faithful every time, so that I know from experience I do not live from my own strength alone, but from what God freely gives.  So tithing is a sign of my covenantal dependence on Him and gratitude for His gracious care of myself and my household.  It is not law – it is relationship.

Secondly, my covenantal relationship with God is seen through my regular financial and ministry partnership in missional trips, that “all the families of the earth may be blessed.”  As God’s covenantal partnership is seen through His loving involvement in my life and provision, my covenantal partnership with God is made real through my actual participation in His mission on earth: the salvation of the world.

In summary, how would believing “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God” differentiate us from the world around us? Or put in another be visible in our everyday lives?  Firstly, when we live in thankful and humble dependence of God’s provision and help, as opposed to the arrogant assumption we merely earn what we have by our own efforts.  Secondly, when we live confident of God’s gracious provision and not in anxiety for tomorrow.  Thirdly, when we generously share our daily provision in faith that God will graciously give again tomorrow.  Fourthly, when the fear of God draws us to love and treasure Him more than the good He gives to us, since all good things comes from Him.  And lastly, when we live in the covenantal reality of our partnership with God through practical declarations such as tithing and participation in missions, declaring that “I do not live by my own strength, but by what God graciously gives to me” so that “all the families of the earth will be blessed”!

[1] D. Kinnaman, G. Lyons, unChristian (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2007), p. 21-23.

[2] Ibid, p. 46-47

[3] See Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 for the accounts of Jesus’ wilderness temptations.

[4] See Deuteronomy 6:2-3; 28:1-14.

[5]  See Matthew 10:8.

[6] Key texts in understanding the fear of God include Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Psalm 34:11-14, Proverbs 8:13 and Hebrews 12:28-29.  The psalms contain great promises of blessings for those who fear God, including Fulfilled desires (145:19), instruction by God (25:12-14), prosperity (25:12; 112:3; 128:2), descendants will be great (25:13; 112:2; 128:6), intimacy with God (25:14), divine protection (31:19-20) and unmerited favour (103:17-18).