The Work of God

 John 6:24-35

     What is the work of God? There’s a formula for calculating the amount of work a machine or a person can do. Work is the transferring of energy from one object to another that is measured by multiplying [the amount of effort exerted] times [the distance an object is moved].

If I move an object across the floor, I multiply the distance I move it (let’s say 10 feet) times the amount of force I have to exert (let’s say the object weighs 40 pounds). The amount of work I have done (or the amount of energy that is transferred) is equal to 10 feet times 40 pounds = 400 foot-pounds worth of work. I have taken 400 foot-pounds worth of energy that I generated within me and transferred it to move the object. So this is a human concept of work — and it is so human because our physical senses are able to confirm what happened.

     The next question is: where do I get the energy inside me so that I can use it to move objects? I got my energy from the cheeseburger and onion rings I ate last night. Food gives me energy that can then be transferred to make things move or happen outside of me.

     Jesus told the people they should not work for food that perishes but for food that endures to eternal life. Most of us would look at this teaching of Jesus and say, “What do you mean, Jesus?  If I don’t put my energies into a job that pays me money, how can I keep this physical body alive?

     As usual, Jesus’ teaching goes deeper than the surface meaning. He wants us to move beyond the physical or what is obvious to our senses. He wants us to open the eyes of our hearts to become aware of our spiritual needs, to the needs of our souls.

Eternal life

     If we are to interpret this food on a spiritual level, what is the food that perishes and what is the food that endures to eternal life?

     Let’s not go any further until we clarify “eternal life.” In biblical days, this term referred to the quality of life God desired for you to have today. Jesus was not talking about working for the good life when you’re six feet underground. The theology of working toward a good life called “heaven after you die” is the theology of dead people. Eternal life is about today. A blessed life today.

Food is a Metaphor

     Some have said that “food” is a metaphor for teaching. What is taught fills the emptiness of the mind and heart. Perishable food (or perishable teaching) is the kind of teaching that makes us feel good for the moment – but it doesn’t last long.

     An example would be: “God wants you to be successful. God wants you to be rich. All you have to do is to obey what God wants you to do, to follow the rules of the Bible, and then abundance is yours for the asking.”

     Someone who translates the Bible as saying this is looking for a sugar high – “Oh boy! God wants me to be rich.” But then, it doesn’t happen. The money doesn’t come rolling in just because they try to be obedient. Then the spirit inside crashes. “God let me down.” This kind of teaching does not build a strong spirit or strong character. It’s still focused on the physical wants of the flesh.

     Before anyone goes into the television preacher bashing mode, not every “abundance-oriented” TV preacher is suggesting that abundance means wealth. Abundance is the quality of life God desires for us. It may or may not mean that our physical needs are met. Godly abundance is that your spiritual needs, the needs of your inner being, are met. This may include things like the peace the passes all understanding, joy in the moment, a purpose in life. These are the things of heavenly abundance.

     What’s the food that endures to eternal life? It’s the kind of teaching that fills our minds and our hearts with the good news – the knowledge of the goodness of God. It’s the kind of teaching that gives us the energy and desire to help our neighbor instead of being so focused on trying to fill our spiritual emptiness with material things.

     Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” I am the food that gives life to your spirits. Consume what I say and do. I can satisfy your spirit and give you a fullness of life that your physical senses cannot understand on their own power.

What work do we do? 

     Once we discover this food/teaching that endures to eternal life…… then what “work” do we do?

     This is the question the people in John 6 were asking Jesus – “What must we do to work the works of God?” They were still on the physical level. They wanted to know what rules and actions they had to perform in order to think God would approve of them.

     Jesus’ reply is surprising: “The work of God is this: that you believe in the one he has sent.”

     Our work is to believe in Jesus??? How is ‘believing’ work? Is energy transferred to other objects to move them? If the work I am supposed to do is the work of believing, then what happens to the poor and needy in the world?

What does it mean to “believe?”

     There have been many written about what it means to believe. I’ll give you the one-minute version of the 600+ page book I read by Wilfred Cantwell Smith called Faith and Belief. According to research into the meaning of words as they existed in the time that the Bible was written, “to believe” meant more than just knowing the historical facts that a man by the name of Jesus existed and did some spectacular things.

     When the gospels were written, “to believe” meant both “to trust” and even further, to trust enough “to give your heart to” the object of your trust. Some have said, believing in this manner is really love, and if we love God, we become motivated to love those people that God loves – our neighbor, the poor, the needy, the diseased, the imprisoned, and yes, even our enemies.

     When you and I love God with all our hearts, the poor and needy will be well cared for. We won’t stop helping the needy. Jesus tells us the work of God is believing. Giving your heart to God today will bring you eternal life today. Peace. Purpose. Meaning. Spiritual abundance.

     To trust in God takes work….it takes the hard work of turning your heart away from meeting your own desires so you can love God with all your heart – that’s work. And remember, work takes energy.

Bread of Life

     Just like God did not desert the children of Israel in the wilderness and gave them bread from heaven to sustain their lives: God gives us the bread from heaven – God gives us the Word made flesh, the Christ, who is revealed to us in the Scriptures. And this Bread of life gives us the energy we need to work on believing in the goodness of God.

     If you desire to do the work of God, you will put your energies into believing, into trusting, into giving your heart to God. Put some energy into studying the Word-made-flesh. Study the actions and the teachings of Jesus. He is the bread from heaven. He is the manna for your soul that gives you the energy to begin trusting and loving God.

The work of God is this:  To believe in the One he has sent.

The work of God is this:  To trust in the One he has sent.

The work of God is this:  To give your heart to the One he has sent.

Go to work. –  Give your heart to God. Your spirit will never be hungry again.

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