John 6:27, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but of that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you; for Him hath God the Father sealed.” Ordinarily regarded as a declaration of the way in which salvation is to be obtained; earnest Faith being the condition on which it is bestowed. Hence, sinners are besought to make the required effort to possess themselves of the meat which endureth unto eternal life. Examine, however,
1. The context. Jesus on the previous day had miraculously fed five thousand persons in the wilderness. The impression made upon the people was profound. It was the popular expectation that the Messiah would repeat the miracles of Moses, who had given their fathers manna in the wilderness. A transient, impulsive conviction seized their minds that Jesus was none other than the prophet of whom Moses had spoken (Deut 18:15), and they would have taken Him by force and made Him a King (John 6:14, 15). To defeat their intention, He bade His apostles take ship, and cross over to Bethsaida, on the other side of the lake. Having dismissed the multitudes, He ascended a neighboring mountain. He there continued in prayer till near the fourth watch of the night, when He joined the apostles, quelled the storm that threatened their vessel, which He conveyed by an act of miraculous power to the other side of the lake. The fact of His presence on the western shore becoming known, many who had witnessed the marvelous multiplication of the loaves, took ship and followed Him to Capernaum. Their motive is stated. They sought Him not because they saw the miracles (John 6:26), not because they inferred who He was from His miracles—but because they had eaten of the food which He had furnished and been filled. A low desire to obtain satisfaction for their natural hunger brought them to Jesus. They wondered how He had crossed over—since He had not embarked with His disciples—and questioned Him on the subject. He did not satisfy their curiosity; but met their state of heart by the discourse, commencing with the verse under examination. It therefore was not addressed to men as men, or even to Jews as Jews. It applies only to these persons who had obtained a gratuitous meal on the previous night, and were now eagerly following Jesus with the hope that He would once more feed them.
2. The terms of the rebuke. Labour not. “Rather,” says Dean Alford, “’Busy not yourselves about’—‘Do not weary yourselves for.’” What the Lord censured, again says Dean Alford, “was not a ‘working for’ or a ‘bringing about of,’ but a following Christ in order to obtain food which perisheth.”
“But for the food which endureth, or remains, unto eternal life.” It has been surmised that the Lord “is here merely exhorting those whom He addressed, to endeavour to obtain correct views respecting Himself, His testimony and His claims as the promised Messiah, who was ‘given’ to them by being sent and sealed to minister and suffer amongst them.”—Gospel Herald, vol. 19. 187. This is, however, in our judgment, an unfair toning down of the verse. The words “eternal life,” necessitate our regarding the food as something relating to spiritual salvation; and it may be, as Dr. Gill informs us, either the soul-sustaining truths which Jesus taught, or Himself as the antitypical pascal Lamb. The verse thus means: “If you attach yourselves to Me at all, let it not be from motives so low as my ability to furnish you with perishable food; but because I can, as God’s sealed and sent servant, give food for the never-dying soul.”
If applied to men in the present day, the verse must be restricted to persons whose condition resembles that of those herein described—namely, that unhappy class of people who become religious from interested motives, to obtain money or position, under the idea that godliness is “a way of temporal gain.”* Such should be warned that it is a high misdemeanor in God’s sight, to make a religious profession from any lower motive than a felt need of Christ and a persuasion that He is our Saviour.
*—The above is the admitted force of 1 Tim. 6:5, “Supposing that godliness is a way of gain,” Rev. Translation. “Holding gain to be the end of piety.”—J.N. Darby. “Who suppose that godliness is gain.”—Dean Alford, who further explains that these persons imagined that “religion was to be used as a means of worldly bettering themselves.”