Do you have any friends that are just freeloaders? These people look to their friends for unused tickets to sporting games, tag along for events, lurk around potlucks, and somehow always seem to forget their wallet. Their favorite phrase is, “Are you going to eat that?” (although we should be kind to teenagers in their growth spurts, who say the same thing, but only because they haven’t eaten in, like, an hour!)
If so, you’re in good company. Even Jesus encountered some people like this. A crowd had followed Him not necessarily because they sought to hasten the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven (at least, not as Jesus had in mind), but because He provided food for them.
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”
John 6:26-27 NASB
Sure, it’s OK to enjoy a meal provided by the local church, and let’s face it: food brings people together, and there are lots of chances to learn while eating with others. (See the article, The Snack Ministry, for more ideas on that.) However, when that is the only reason we spend time with believers, we’re probably missing the greater purpose of fellowship.
The same could be said of going to a church service for a pep talk and a good feeling – one that lasts until the person at the drive-through on the way home hands us a burger with the pickles that we specifically asked to be left off. Again, there’s nothing wrong with feeling great when we are celebrating God with others, but if our only reason to engage in worship is how we feel (or maybe to attract attention to ourselves), we are probably worshiping the wrong person. (And, let’s be honest, unless you’re violently allergic to vinegar or cucumbers or something, getting rid of extra pickles is pretty easy.)
We can even enjoy the general blessings that God provides to mankind: A sun that provide heat, light, and energy to give us all we need. A world full of people to meet and learn from. The ability to order pizza without having to leave the house. Just as before, these are things that we should not only enjoy, but also give thanks to God for. However, if we stop there, freeloading off of God’s gifts to us, but never actually acknowledging Him or getting to know Him as the source of these gifts, we’re acting like a “third wheel”.
However, for those who want to not just be freeloaders – those who want to do more than just “get stuff” – Jesus provides a simple answer (which is no less compelling for its succinctness).
Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so 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 has sent.”
John 6:28-29 NASB
Note that the answer to not stopping at full tummies is not going out and doing “great things” (whatever that is). It’s not about becoming a hermit and praying 23 hours a day. It’s not even going out and giving a lot of money, clothes, or food to the poor.
Instead, in this verse, Jesus identifies the work of God as believing in Him (Jesus), who God sent. That doesn’t seem too difficult. If we believe Jesus’ statements about who He was, we have completed our complementary part of His mission. And, if we believe to the point where we are compelled to do something about our belief (like believing that the room you’re in is on fire, and getting up off the couch so that you can drag your loved ones outside), selfless actions spring up automatically as we aspire to be like the example that Jesus offered us. Once we realize (i.e., believe) that He is the bread of life (see verse 35), the logical outcome is to accept Him as the path to life, and follow His teachings to glorify the God with whom He reconciles us . (For those that don’t believe Him, none of the resulting steps even make sense. After all, if someone chooses to not believe Jesus about the character of God the Father, why pursue trying to find peace with our sovereign Creator in the first place?)
Don’t just stop at being “fed” by the blessings of God. Pursue the good that comes from believing in Jesus personally and living that out. And, while you’re at it, try to be nice about the unwelcome condiments, too.