Better Than Sliced Bread
But Jesus replied, “It is written and forever remains written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.’”
Jesus compared our need for physical nourishment with our need for spiritual nourishment. Both, He said are essential for a healthy life. If we think about this parallel, the implications are quite sobering. Nightly news programs show the devastation caused by famine in remote corners of the world. Months or years of crop failures lead to forced migration and starvation. Images of gaunt figures shock us. In the spiritual world, we see starvation all around us, but we seldom identify the symptoms as a famine of God’s Word. Broken families, depression, addiction, violence, crime, gang, bitterness, racism, and a host of other problems are actually evidences of spiritual starvation.
On a physical level, few of us miss meals. We eat when we’re hungry but we also eat to prevent feelings of hunger. In our wealthy culture, eating is taken for granted, but many of us- even many of us who attend church every Sunday- are starving spiritually because we don’t devour and digest God’s Word. It’s readily available. Most homes have copies of the Bible lying around, but we need to pick one up, chew on its truth, swallow its principles, and let its strength invigorate us to do what God wants us to do.
When I discipline myself to eat properly, live morally, exercise regularly, grow mentally and spiritually, and not to put drugs or alcohol in my body, I have given myself freedom to be at my best, preform at my best, and reap all the rewards that go along with it.
We are a composite of body, soul, and spirit and all three require care and nourishment. Malnutrition of the physical body is obvious. The rib cage showing, the desiccated muscles with the bone structure barely covered are obvious signs of malnourishment. We know the remedy for malnutrition is a diet of healthy, consistent meals. Unchecked, malnutrition leads to death and no rational person who has the opportunity to feed their bodies would hesitate to do so. Malnutrition of the soul is a little more subtle. Sometimes we work hard to push back the tide of uncontrolled emotional stress. We put on our public face and pretend that all is well while on the inside our souls are in great distress. Some cope with numbing mechanisms such as careers, possessions, power, prestige or the darker side of substance abuse or other forms of numbing agents. Some years ago I had the privilege to work with a Vietnam veteran. When I first met him, the obvious problem he had was alcoholism. I really thought the goal was to help him become sober so his marriage could be restored. As we spent time together and I listened, I realized that intoxication was a numbing device to help him cope with flashbacks of horrible experiences he had while in Vietnam. It became obvious that even if we could deal with the alcoholism that wasn’t the real issue. Over time working in conjunction with the VA and their team, this man became healed. Through Christ who healed his spirit, and with a counselor who helped him talk through his trauma and through a church family that loved him, he was restored. With almost a miracle, his marriage was restored and he got a new lease on life. It was the combination of his body, soul, and spirit being nourished with wholesome substance. Although the malnourishment of the soul is more difficult to detect than that of the body, it shows itself and when it does it sometimes does so through the body. The survival mechanism moves the body to do things to give relief to the soul. Our bodies are programmed to respond to the distresses of our souls. Healthy souls-read that mental and emotional health- also assist our body’s health. We are connected triune beings and each part interacts and affects the other parts. In the Gospels, we often read that Jesus made someone whole- body, soul, spirit.
But the saddest and most difficult thing to detect is malnourishment of the spirit. Someone coined a phrase some years ago that said: Those who are without Christ are walking dead men. It’s a sad thing when someone’s body dies. It’s even sadder when someone dies emotionally or mentally while their bodies continues to live. But worse that the death of our bodies and souls is the death of our spirits. Only through Christ can our souls live again and continue to live. Jesus proclaimed that He was the “Bread sent down from heaven” and that’s what feeds our spirits. That’s why it’s imperative that any religious exercise or experience we engage in has to go beyond the surface. It has to pierce the darkness around us so that our spirits can be nourished by the Holy Spirit. We have to work to make sure that the work of the church goes beyond physical and emotional nourishment. We have to make sure that our spirits are fed daily just as we feed our bodies. Taking care that our spirits are served wholesome nourishing meals is critical. We want to be whole with every part of our being well-fed and strong. I want to give us a phrase that I freely confess is out of context but I think the principle applies. John’s Gospel says the following:
“And the Word (Christ) became flesh, and lived among us; and we [actually] saw His glory, glory as belongs to the [One and] only begotten Son of the Father, [the Son who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, who is] full of grace and truth (absolutely free of deception).”
The phrase “and the Word became flesh” says to me that it’s important for us to not just read the Bible- hold it in our hands and smell the aroma- but to “eat” the Word- to take it to in and meditate on it until it becomes part of us in the same way that our bodies take in natural food and it becomes part of us intertwined in our blood and cells. In the same manner we need the Word of God to be consumed by our spirits and become inseparably intertwined with them so that our spirits become healthy and strong to run the race before us.
Someone said that what we feed grows and what we starve dies. Let us feed our spirits on the Living Word so that we might have life and life more abundantly.
Dr. John Thompson