Man Does Not Live on Bread Alone

Four Ways to Feed Yourself with God’s Word

by Josh Parsons
| Time: 12 Minutes

The longest amount of time that a human being survived without food is 382 days. From June 1965 to July 1966, Angus Barbieri of the United Kingdom lived for just over a year consuming only tea, coffee, water, and vitamins.[1]

That’s a long time! But Angus is a bit of a special case since he had access to vitamins. On only water and sugar, most doctors agree that the human body can live without food for about 1-2 months before suffering serious physical consequences or shutting down altogether.[2]

God made us to eat. We need food. It’s the fuel that makes our bodies work and what’s required to keep us alive. Without a regular intake of it, we’ll grow lethargic and weak, shut down, and starve. But as vital as food is to us, it isn’t the only thing that you and I need.

In the book of Deuteronomy, God’s people are standing on the edge of the Promised Land, ready to enter in. But before they do, God instructs Moses to remind them of his Law. This is a new generation of Israelites (the generation after the one that died in the wilderness), so God wants to ensure that they remember all that he had done for them and how they could enjoy his blessings. 

In chapter 8, Moses reminds God’s people of a foundational principle. He says in verse 3, “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV). God is telling his people something about how they’re made and what they need.

“Man Does Not Live on Bread Alone”

God says that what they need is his Word. Bread will nourish their bodies, but there was more that needed nourishing than just their bodies. To live, God says, they would need every word that had come from his mouth. It was bread. It was food for their souls. It’s what was required to keep their spiritual life alive. Feeding on God’s Word, they would flourish; but forsaking it, they would slowly starve.

Later in the New Testament, Jesus quotes this exact verse in his famous showdown with the Devil in the desert. Having gone 40 days without food himself, Satan tempts Jesus to turn some stones into bread (Matthew 4:1-3). “But he answered,” Matthew 4:4 says, “‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’’” (ESV).

Repeating Deuteronomy 8, Jesus affirms that what you and I need is not only bread that will nourish our bodies but a Bible that will nourish our souls.

This is a very important truth to get lodged into your mind and heart: your spiritual life is dependent on your consumption of the Scriptures. A 19th century British preacher named Octavius Winslow once said, “Whatever you neglect, neglect not the Bible.”[3] That’s just another way of saying what Deuteronomy 8 says—what Jesus says—that “man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). 

Four Ways to Feed on God’s Word

Now there are all kinds of things that I want to say to you about why the Bible is like bread and how it will specifically nourish your soul. But I have limited time! So, what we’re going to do is grab hold of Deuteronomy 8 as if it really is true—that the regular intake of God’s Word is what will sustain your Christian life—and get practical about what we’re supposed to do with that truth.

What does feeding on God’s Word look like in real life? How should we go about it? Well, let me offer four ways to do it. Here are four ways to feed on God’s Word. 

1. Feed on God’s Word Frequently

One of the limitations of living as a human being isn’t just that my body needs food, it’s that my body needs food all the time. I can’t go very long without food. Like you, I typically eat three meals a day. I would crumble and cease to function if I tried to eat only three meals a month. I won’t survive by taking in food rarely and sporadically. In order to live, my body needs to be frequently fed.

Remember what we read earlier? “Man lives,” the Bible says, “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV, emphasis added). In other words, like my body, my soul needs to be regularly replenished. My Christian life can’t survive on three meals a month. In order to live, our souls need to be frequently fed with the Word of God.

The way to sustain your Christian life is to take in God’s Word every day. J.C. Ryle says, “Yesterday’s bread will not feed the laborer today, and today’s bread will not feed the laborer tomorrow.” That’s our charge: to regularly fill our minds and hearts with the truth of the Bible.

But Ryle adds a practical way to do this that is useful to consider. He says, “Gather your manna fresh every morning.”[4]

I find personally that the morning is the best time for me to fill up on the Scriptures. I have three young kids, so my alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m. Now, I usually don’t get out of bed until closer to 6 a.m., but I’ve found that taking 30-40 minutes to read my Bible first thing in the morning is what sets my mind and heart right for the day. 

Andrew Bonar, a 19th century Scottish pastor, felt the same way: he says, “By the grace of God and the strength of the Holy Spirit I desire to lay down the rule not to speak to man until I have spoken with God; not to do anything with my hand till I have been upon my knees; not to read letters or papers until I have read something of the Holy Scriptures.”[5] 

This was King David’s own habit. In Psalm 5 and verse 3, he says to God, “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice” (ESV, emphasis added). 

Now you may enjoy reading the Bible at a different time, but at whatever hour you feed on the Bible, form the habit. Don’t let the fear of legalism rob you of the great blessing of regularly communing with God through his Word. It matters little when you read the Bible; what matters is that you do it.

Feed on God’s Word daily and frequently. It’s what you need to live.

2. Feed on the Bible’s Variety

Second, make an effort to feed on the Bible’s variety.

Whenever I go to a restaurant, I’m the kind of person who usually gets the same thing every time. I know what I like, so I typically get what I like. But my wife, Sarah, is the opposite. She’s adventurous. She loves exploring the menu and trying something new.

Despite my tendencies, her courage has rubbed off on me a little bit. I’m still a creature of habit, but I’ll sometimes mimic her and try something I’ve never tried before. And you know what? Whenever I do, I almost always love what I get. When I explore the menu and try something new, my tastes are broadened, my palate is expanded, and my hunger is satisfied.

Look one more time with me at Deuteronomy 8:4. The Bible says very specifically that “man lives by [look at this!] every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (ESV, emphasis added). In other words, we’re not meant to eat from just a portion of the Bible’s menu.

Oh yes, feed much on the fascinating stories of Genesis, the range of emotions in the Psalms, the glory of Christ in John, and the soaring theology of Romans. But broaden your taste! Expand your palate. You’re meant to live on every word that comes from God’s mouth. There’s encouragement for your Christian life and nourishment for your soul even in often neglected and easily overlooked parts of the Bible, like the censuses of Numbers, the judgments of Ezekiel, the little book of Jude, and the wild symbolism of Revelation, to name a few! 

Doctrine and history, poetry and prophecy, and letters and accounts, “all Scripture,” Paul writes in 2 Timothy, “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). 

Nothing in the Bible is useless. Everything is profitable. It’s all there to make you complete and equip you for every good Christian work. So be adventurous and for the good of your soul, feast on the Bible’s wide variety. 

3. Feed on the Bible to Savor It

In the beginning of Psalm 1, the Bible paints a picture of what the blessed life looks like. In verse 2, the Psalmist writes that those who are blessed are those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2 ESV). I wonder if you caught the two very important words in that verse. What are we supposed to do with the Bible? 

Meditate on it, Psalm 1 says, and delight in it. In other words, reading the Bible is not meant to be something we simply check off a list each day. In our feeding on God’s Word, we’re not after simply piling on calories; we’re after savoring sweetness! Meditating and delighting.

The Bible is meant to be enjoyed, studied, treasured, and absorbed. It’s not meant simply to be read but relished. And how can we do that? Here are three things that I do. 

Have a Bible Reading Plan 

First, in order to savor the Scriptures, it’s helpful to have a Bible reading plan. There’s nothing that will frustrate your own consumption of the Bible more than an aimless reading of it.

So instead, set out to spend a week in your favorite chapter, or a month in a whole book, or try to run right through from Genesis to Revelation over the course of a year. Whatever you decide, having some kind of plan will give you a road to follow and momentum to build on.

It will help you savor the Scriptures. 

Take Notes

Second, write things down. I keep a journal next to me in the morning when reading my Bible. Why? Because as I read, I’m going to have questions and insights and applications. And I’ve found that writing those things out helps me chew on whatever I’m reading.

It forces me to ingest, and to digest what I’ve read in a way that roots the Bible in my heart and keeps God’s Word percolating in my mind.

Pray the Scriptures

Have a plan, write things down, and finally, in order to savor the Scriptures—to meditate on it and grow to delight in it—pray the truth. In other words, use what you’ve read as fuel for your prayers.

For example, say I read Psalm 1 tomorrow morning. How could I use it in prayer? Well, I could first pray for my church, that the members would come to worship on Sunday hungry to hear from God’s Word. But then I could pray for my children, that they’d be shaped by the Bible as they grow and learn how to live. Then I could pray for myself, asking that God would help me to be the kind of husband and father and pastor that is able to nourish others with the Scriptures because I’m meditating on it and delighting in it myself. That’s simply me using the sticks of Psalm 1 as kindling for my prayers.

What we’re after as Christians is not simply reading the Bible but feeding on the Bible—meditating on it and delighting in it, not just putting it in our mouths, but savoring its taste.

4. Feed on God’s Word in Faith

One of the great truths about the Bible is that as it gets in you, it’ll go to work on you. Take Hebrews 4. The writer says there that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV, emphasis added). 

Or how about Isaiah 55. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that god out from my mouth; it shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-12 ESV). 

The truth of the Bible doesn’t lie dormant inside a Christian. Like food taken into the stomach, it is used and applied by the Holy Spirit where you need it most.

In a world of quick fixes and immediate results, we have little patience for slow change and deliberate progress. But that’s why we feed on the Bible in faithbelieving that God will fulfill his promises to work in our lives through it. Even if we can’t immediately discern how it’s helping us, even if we’re unable to quantify the effect it’s having on us, it is working in us.

“The Bible is doing you good,” J.C. Ryle says, “though you may not be able to trace it out day by day.”[6] So friends, come each day to God’s Word hungry and come each day to God’s Word in faith. Believe that he will use it to do you good. That as you take it in, it’ll go to work on you.

As you feed on “every word” of God frequently, meditating and delighting in it, and believing that God is at work through it, you will find that your soul is nourished. May you live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God!

. . .


[1] Found at here.

[2] “Who, What, Why: How long can someone survive without food?” Found at here.

[3] Octavius Winslow, The Precious Things of God, 282.

[4] J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion, 123.

[5] Andrew Bonar, Diary and Letters, 140.

[6] J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion, 127.

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