The DEEP

Labor For Food

which perishes.

John 6:22–29

On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone—however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks—when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?”

Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Jesus’s criticism of the crowds is valid—and important. Sure, people are hungry, but what’s going on here is light years more important than a meal. Jesus didn’t feed them so that they wouldn’t starve; He fed them so that they would realize who He is.

But all this is in a kind of time-release capsule. The crowds aren’t supposed to totally figure out who Jesus is just yet. He needs to make it to the cross first. After that, then the light bulbs can come on.

So, Jesus speaks in terms that often only become clear later. That’s what happens here when He says, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.”

They take both the words “labor” and “food” literally and that gets them way off track. So, they ask, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (Note, “labor” and “works” in this passage are the same word in the Greek— ergazomai.)

Jesus’s answer changes their question—“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

They ask how they can work the works of God, meaning the works God approves of. Instead, Jesus interprets “the works of God” literally, meaning God’s works.

Jesus just loves changing the subject.


Could there be any clearer statement of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone? Our faith is “His works.” When we believe in Him whom He sent, we are “working” the works of God.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. — Philippians 2:12


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.