And when the tempter came to him, he said, if thou be the Son of God,
command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said,
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Do you know that feeling of intending to read a long way and then being struck by a single verse so that you stop and meditate on it a long time? I had always dwelt on the statement of the Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. But this time I was struck by the fact that bread alone is not enough, it must be accompanied by that Word, that is, by God Himself and His will.
The second and third temptations (I think Matthew’s is the actual order of the temptations) seem clearer in their presentation: you don’t tempt God by insisting He must do something you have decided He must (catch me as I jump); and you don’t give Satan what he asks for (your soul for the kingdoms of the world). But what’s wrong with bread when you’re hungry? Isn’t a hunger for food something God has created in us? Is it only because Satan has suggested it that it becomes wrong? Partly so.
We first have to see a bigger picture of what was going on that day in the wilderness. This was an ordained meeting of Jesus, the Son of God, with Satan. Verse one says He was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by him. Here Jesus was beginning His ministry by giving notice to His enemy that He will surely crush his head. He will not give an iota to Satan’s subtlety and thereby be disqualified as the Lamb of God that will take away the sins of the world.
We should also realize that Jesus was fasting forty days, meeting Satan face to face, succeeding in every way, so that we don’t have to. It was not just an example for us, it was the Second Adam doing what the first Adam failed to do, and what the rest of us have failed to do since. If this were merely an example so that we could do as Jesus did and thereby be accepted by God, we would all be doomed. In the first place, Jesus succeeded so that we don’t have to. He becomes our Lord, not by our striving to be accepted by Him but by His being our great Substitute. But in the second place, though we are accepted in the Beloved, we are also called to walk as He walked, and it is our stewardship to strive to do the same things however imperfectly. Practical Lordship comes on this side of the cross.
The bread of this world
To exist by bread alone is to exist without God. This is how the world exists. Some poor man may exist just to find his next meal, or a glutton may spend his day fulfilling every cry of his body for food. A rich and cultured man may sit every evening to the finest cuisine and eat the perfect amount of the best foods, yet Jesus said a man, any man, can’t live by bread alone.
We should always be cautious when bread is offered to us either from the world, the flesh, or the devil. There are always strings attached that make the eating of it unsavory. The world has many things it sees as necessary to the body and justifies the using of them by pointing out that God made us with these desires. It is this independent spirit that we are not to love (John 2:15) and about which the Lord here warns us. James also warned that we sin when we are drawn away of our own lusts and enticed (James 1:14). The animal world lives by such instincts. Whatever it wants it takes in any way necessary. The devil offered Eve what seemed necessary to her. Perhaps it is this tragedy that bread alone most pictures. The fact is that there are many things in this world like bread to which we must not give ourselves without God.
Food. Adam was told, even after he sinned, that he would eat bread by sweat and hard work (Gen. 3:19). The priests were to look at their bread (i.e. food) as “the bread of their God” (Lev. 21:6, 8, 17, 21-22). Jesus made bread for the 5000 and then the 4000 and made bread part of the very ordinance of the church. I am sitting here eating a snack and drinking a diet Coke as I write these lines. Is anything wrong with that? Well, Paul said that “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5). Paul also told the pagans in Lystra that God “did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). To eat without recognition of God as the Source of all food and sustenance is to eat bread alone and not by what proceeds out of the Source Who is God.
Sexual reality. Is there any doubt that this physical need of the body is the world’s number one sin against God and His Word? Though God made us with this capability, it can be the most powerful temptation against the will of God in this world. Just ask David, a man after God’s own heart, who sang the psalms of praise to God, when he allowed this urge to go unchecked by God’s will, and was overcome in a second and driven even further to the sin of murder. To live by this physical desire or need alone is not to live at all. Any poor harlot, thinking at first that this was just a neutral activity necessary in order to make ends meet, knows this is not living.
We all know that it is the “marriage bed” that is undefiled (Heb. 13:4) but sex out of marriage is always wrong, even the lustful thought of it is always wrong (Matt. 5:28). Polls tell us that as high as 50% of Christian teens engage in sexual activity out of marriage but I have to doubt that a believer can continue in such a sin without remorse and sorrowful repentance (see 2 Cor. 7:9-11). Even the unbeliever, by a God-made conscience, cannot live by this “bread” alone.
Sleep. Now, as the lady told the preacher, I’ve stopped preaching and started meddling! No, even a necessary and blessed thing such as sleep cannot be done “alone” or without being informed by God and His Word. The first sleep that a human being ever took was Adam’s while still in the garden (Gen. 2:21). And someone said that when he awoke he had bigger problems than before he went to sleep! But actually, of course, God-given sleep always brings blessing precisely because it is done according to every Word that proceeds from God’s mouth.
God warns us against the sluggard because such a one ought to be awake and doing something productive at that time rather than sleeping. The disciples could not watch with Jesus for one more hour in the garden when His very life was at stake. The cherubim that guard the throne of God rest not day and night (Rev. 4:8) but rather continue their “holy, holy, holy” without sleep or rest. How well we all know that the untimely urge to sleep in church is the enemy of worship. How we all know also that the urge to sleep is the enemy of our prayers and Bible reading and other service to God. The believer especially, with this bodily appetite, left “alone,” cannot live such a life.
Entertainment. God has given us many things to enjoy or to be entertained with in this world. Sadly, our generation usually thinks of cheap forms of enjoyment found only in the neon glitter of man-made kitsch. Entertainment can be only a narcotic to somehow make it through another day. No wonder some sink into the couch with a remote in one hand and a drink in the other, or lose themselves at the arcade, the mall, or the ball game. As with the other things we’ve mentioned, these are not wrong when used in the light of God and His Word, but when used “alone” they cause us to find our enjoyment and fulfillment of life in ourselves and a worldly culture which is selfishness and sin. This is why the believer is admonished, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:23).
Work. Man is made by God to work! Adam was commanded to keep the garden, which he did with joyful obedience to God. Even after he fell he was to work, though in the sweat of his face and among the thorns of the ground. Paul said that the believer is to “Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we have commanded you” (1 Thes. 4:11). The believer is to be “working with his own hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). As with many human activities, work is good and produces good fruit.
Yet this good thing can be used for selfish reasons and to fill our own barns without regard to our own souls (Luke 12:18). The workaholic does it for the love of money which is the root of all kinds of evil, “which, while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10). Life cannot be lived for work “alone” but must be done to glorify God Who made us to work.
Talk. God made us verbal creatures. In fact, God saw fit to walk and talk with Adam, evidently every evening in the “cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). In this way instruction was given and God’s will was made known to His creatures. When the disciples were perplexed about the death of Christ, Jesus walked and talked with two of them on the Emmaus road that Sunday afternoon. They said, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32). Paul talked to the church at Troas until midnight (Acts 20:7). There is no greater joy for the Christian than to talk of heavenly and Godly things. This is why we were given this great gift, even to the preaching or heralding of the gospel.
Yet, Paul had to warn Titus that on his island of Crete there were “many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers . . . Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Titus 1:10-11). It is appropriate that when Jesus told of a Pharisee who made an open show of his speaking ability said, “the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself” (Luke 18:11). Man cannot live by talk “alone” either. By our speech we can praise or blaspheme our Creator; we can tell the truth or we can lie; we can cry out, “God be merciful to me a sinner” or we can justify ourselves.
Life itself. Man cannot live by this earthly life alone. Even his own life, his very soul, must also be lived by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. The sinner is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and has no life without life from God with which He “quickens us” (Eph. 2:5). The natural life all people have is an earthly, soulish (psyche) life. The life God gives is a higher life (zoe). “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [Christ] was made a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). “Quickening spirit” literally means “a life-giving spirit,” a zoe giving spirit.
Man cannot live by “life” (psyche) alone either. He must be truly made alive by the life (zoe) that only comes by regeneration from the Spirit of God. He must be born again. As with all of these things we have mentioned, life on this earth is only temporary. One may live a temporary life by bread alone, or by earthly pleasures alone, though never knowing the fuller life God intended. But human beings are eternal creatures and must live beyond this world, in a heaven with God, or in a hell without God and without hope. You cannot live in heaven by the bread of this world, but only by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God your Creator.
And So . . .
When we know Christ as Savior, we truly do not eat our bread “alone.” We have learned in every thing to give thanks “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thes. 5:18). We even pray “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim. 2:3-4).
As believers we have learned to live within the boundaries that God has graciously made for us. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psa. 119:105). To live a temporary life by temporary bread alone is to miss the abundant life God has given to His children. The Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God is a precious Word that does not confine us, but opens to us a beautiful and fulfilling world both here and hereafter.
We have learned to eat our bread to the glory and praise of God. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). Even if we are ridiculed as being too “holy” or “religious,” Peter wrote, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you; on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Peter 5:14).
We have learned that eating our bread with God’s Word and in God’s will, brings the power of God to our lives for all that is asked of us. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). With Him, we can do all things through God Who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
And Also . . .
Where would we be if Jesus had made stones into bread that day? He was hungry, having fasted for so long, and after Satan left the angels came and ministered to Him anyway. Notwithstanding the impeccability of Jesus Christ, had Jesus sinned in simply making bread when He was hungry from the wrong motive and authority, we would not have a sinless Savior Who could die in our place, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). We would still be without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). No wonder Paul rejoiced when he wrote, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
My dear Redeemer and my Lord,
I read my duty in thy word;
But in thy life the law appears,
Drawn out in living characters.
Such was thy truth, and such thy zeal,
Such def’rence to thy Father’s will,
Such love, and meekness so divine,
I would transcribe and make them mine.
Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witness’d the fervor of thy prayer;
The desert thy temptations knew,
Thy conflict, and thy victory too.
Be thou my pattern; make me bear
More of thy gracious image here;
Then God the Judge shall own my name
Amongst the followers of the Lamb.
The Example of Christ, Hymn 139