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So there are three imperatives we are considering as we look at the spiritual disciplines. They are breathe, eat, and work. We have already seen the need for the gift of breath, and we will now look at the charge to eat.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).
Summary of the Text
As we have considered, Adam was shaped from the dust of the ground. Eve was therefore a granddaughter of the soil, taken from the side of Adam, just as Adam had been taken from the side of the earth. After he had been shaped, God breathed into him the breath of life. Once he had become a living soul, it became apparent that this living soul would need ongoing sustenance. Here in our passage, the Lord God gave him all the food in the garden, with one exception. He was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but every other tree was free and available to him. This included, incidentally, the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). That tree was only shut off to him after the Fall, most probably as an act of mercy. But the simple need for food in an ongoing way is plainly a design feature, unrelated to sin.
God Gives the Increase
The gift of physical life is sustained by the gift of physical food. Man was created an eating creature. So in the same way, spiritual life is sustained by spiritual food. Life seeks out food, and life incorporates food. But how food is able to do what it does is a grand mystery. Although this passage is about a plant being nourished and growing as a result, the principle is the same for all living things. “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:7). You don’t eat a sandwich and then set aside the next half hour for issuing commands down to your digestive system to make sure everything goes where it needs to. That part of it is built in. You just put food in, and life does something with it. How? God gives the increase.
So just as a living body needs to import nutrition, so also does the soul. We have already considered the reality of it. But what are we supposed to eat to nourish our spiritual lives? In what ways are we instructed to feed?
Another way of asking this is to wonder what menu God has prepared for us. Here are some of the key items that feed us.
- The Word of God feeds us. Man does not live by bread alone (Matt.4:4), but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We are called to eat teaching, eat doctrine—and not sporadically either (Heb. 5:14; 1 Pet. 2:2).
- The sacraments feed us. They are explicitly described for us as spiritual food (1 Cor. 10:1-4; 16). We are instructed to take care that we eat in a particular way, but when we do, we are nourished by Christ Himself.
- Music feeds us. We are to teach and admonish one another by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). This is clearly a combination because the words are the Word of God also, but God wants us to feed on the Word while singing it.
- Prayer feeds us. We too often think of prayer as outlay instead of intake. But Jesus said that prayer understood properly strengthens rather than drains (Mark 9:29).
- Doing the will of God feeds us. The Lord told His disciples that He had nourishment that they didn’t know about (John 4:31-34). He told them this after He had ministered to the woman at the well.
- And fellowship feeds us. We see this as one of the things the new believers on Pentecost naturally sought out (Acts 2:42).
We have made the point that healthy life doesn’t need “hungry lessons.” At the same time, if you established all your physical eating habits as a small child, you might now be subsisting on a diet revolving around deep-fried Oreos. This is the way of the libertine. But there is also the legalist, the one who wants to be put right or kept right with God by means of some healthy sounding thing that you can sprinkle on your salad, like pine bark shavings.
Use the dining table to illustrate the point about your Bible reading, or any other form of spiritual grazing. Why do you eat? For most people, you should eat for two basic reasons—first, because you are hungry, and second, because its dinner time. Why do you need other reasons? And if other reasons are front and center, you are probably over-thinking it.
Christ in All of It
So we feed on the Word of God. Christ is the Word (John 1:1). We are nourished by the sacraments—but the Old Testament saints are said to have been nourished by Christ. They drank Christ; they ate Christ, the bread from Heaven (1 Cor. 10:1-4). We are baptized into the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3), and we are made partakers of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16). We sing Christ (Col. 3:16). Christ prays for us (Rom. 8:34), and whenever we pray, we are praying in Christ. Because we know it is true that of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, we offer our bodies a living sacrifice, which proves and establishes the will of God (Rom. 12:1-2). This nourishes us. The fellowship we enjoy with one another is fellowship that is grounded in walking in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7). In short, it is Jesus everywhere.