Thursday, August 16, 2012

“It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

A good spiritual journey requires a self-assessment. Fortunately, I didn't have to look far in the Gospels to find inspiration for one.

After the baptism narrative of Chapter 3, Matthew tells the story of Jesus' 40-day ascetic retreat into the desert. At some point, Satan tempts him to break his fast with three offers. The first temptation is the subject of this post.

As the story goes, Satan tells Jesus that if he really is the Son of God, then he should prove it by turning stones into bread. The thought of eating bread after practically starving oneself is an attractive one, and he who was the Son of God could easily oblige. But Jesus did not oblige, responding:
“It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (NAB)
To apply this quote to my life, this took some digging. The first interpretation that came to mind was the one I learned growing up: Lenten sacrifice. Those who follow the denominations that observe Lent give up something for 40 days, fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on the other Fridays (which makes Lent somewhat easier for vegetarians).

This is an observance of how to "not live by bread alone," the notion that our lives come from more than just physical sustenance. But there is more to it than that, as I found.

Start with the first three words: "It is written." In what is a reminder that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, he indicated that he was quoting the Hebrew Scriptures, in this case Deuteronomy 8:3:
"He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD."
This was an instruction Moses gave to the Hebrews as they neared the end of their 40-year journey through the Sinai desert. He explains that the manna (the bread that God sent to the Israelites) was a symbolic way of showing that God would provide the basic necessities, but that the people need to seek the sustenance of faith.

Whether or not God actually does provide for the physical needs of the faithful is a question for another day. But in the context of Jesus' ordeal in the desert, the end of the quote is significant: "every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."

The bread being "offered" to Jesus is not manna from heaven. And it is not the Word of God that Jesus is hearing. It is a temptation. Jesus could easily have turned the rocks into bread - or made it so that he didn't need bread, for that matter - but that would have been a use of his power for his own benefit, and it would have made his subsequent ministry on earth a sham.

Mother Nadine expounds upon this at Holy Spirit Interactive. She points out that Jesus discerned Satan's true intent, which was not to help him but to cause him to defy his Father's wishes.

"Jesus saw that the word that was being spoken was not being spoken from the mouth of God. We need good discernment. We have to be very, very careful whenever we ourselves say, 'The Lord said.' We very rarely use that phrase. We have to be careful that we are not dogmatic in that area. We must always maintain an element of humility. It always has to be tested. The fruit of it will tell you if it is from the Lord."

We need to discern whether somebody's words are motivated by righteousness or righteous indignation. Many people use Bible quotes or themes, not as expressions of love, but as argument points, prideful displays of knowledge or justification for injustices. This, Mother Nadine points out, is a misuse of the Word of God. If somebody uses lines from the Bible to as an ego-booster or facilitate injustices, that person is using words from the Bible, but not the Word of God.

But this goes both ways. Are our own words expressions of love, which, by extension, are expressions of God's word? Or do we whip out a Bible to try to prove a point or justify our own preconceived notions?

I have been quite guilty of this, but from the opposing point of view. Instead of using Bible quotes to prove points, I have attacked the people who do so. During an internet argument about gay marriage, I wrote to my own cousin, a devout Christian and a teenager, that Bible quotes were a fallback option for "intellectual sheep."

It didn't occur to me at the time, but I was deceiving myself in believing that my words were defending what I believe to be a civil right. After self-reflection, it became plain to me that this had more to do with me wanting to be right. And it was a very hurtful thing to say.

Consider this a resolution from me. God gave me my intellect and my writing ability. I must remind myself to use those talents to promote positive change rather than air my grievances with the world.

Words of Wisdom

Pastor Randy Miller, Daybreak Fellowship, on being witnesses to the Light of God's Word: "We are called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges. ... We cannot bring the Light to a person's dark soul, but we can direct people to the Light and we can reflect the Light.
August 11 sermon

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