“What our Lord did mean to rebuke was that excessive attention to labour for the body, while the soul is neglected, which prevails everywhere in the world (John 6:26). What He reproved was, the common habit of labouring only for the things of time, and letting alone the things of eternity—of minding only the life that now is, and disregarding the life to come. Against this habit He delivers a solemn warning.
Surely, we must all feel our Lord did not say the words before us without good cause. They are a startling caution which should ring in the ears of many in these latter days.
How many in every rank of life are doing the very thing against which Jesus warns us! They are labouring night and day for ‘the meat that perisheth,’ and doing nothing for their immortal souls.
Happy are those who learn betimes the respective value of soul and body, and give the first and best place in their thoughts to salvation. One thing is needful. He that seeks first the kingdom of God, will never fail to find ‘all other things added to him.’ (Matt. 6:33)
We should mark, thirdly, in this passage, what Christ advises. He tells us to ‘labour for the meat that endureth to everlasting life.’ (John 6:27) He would have us take pains to find food and satisfaction for our souls. That food is provided in rich abundance in Him. But he that would have it must diligently seek it.
How are we to labour? There is but one answer. We must labour in the use of all appointed means.
We must read our Bibles like men digging for hidden treasure.
We must wrestle earnestly in prayer like men contending with a deadly enemy for life.
We must take our whole heart to the house of God and worship and hear like those who listen to the reading of a will.
We must fight daily against sin, the world, and the devil, like those who fight for liberty, and must conquer, or be slaves.
These are the ways we must walk in if we would find Christ, and be found of Him. This is ‘labouring.’ This is the secret of getting on about our souls.
Labour like this no doubt is very uncommon. In carrying it on we shall have little encouragement from man, and shall often be told that we are “extreme,” and go too far.
Strange and absurd as it is, the natural man is always fancying that we may take too much thought about religion, and refusing to see that we are far more likely to take too much thought about the world.
But whatever man may say, the soul will never get spiritual food without labour. We must ‘strive,’ we must ‘run,’ we must ‘fight,’ we must throw our whole heart into our soul’s affairs. It is ‘the violent’ who take the kingdom. (Matt. 11:12)
We should mark, lastly, in this passage, what a promise Christ holds out. He tells us that He himself will give eternal food to all who seek it: ‘The Son of man shall give you the meat that endureth unto everlasting life.’
How gracious and encouraging these words are! Whatever we need for the relief of our hungering souls, Christ is ready and willing to bestow. Whatever mercy, grace, peace, strength we require, the Son of man will give freely, immediately, abundantly, and eternally.
He is ‘sealed,’ and appointed, and commissioned by God the Father for this very purpose. Like Joseph in the Egyptian famine, it is His office to be the Friend, and Almoner, and Reliever of a sinful world. He is far more willing to give than man is to receive. The more sinners apply to Him, the better He is pleased.
And now, as we leave this rich passage, let us ask ourselves, what use we make of it? For what are we labouring ourselves? What do we know of lasting food and satisfaction for our inward man?
Never let us rest till we have eaten of the meat which Christ alone can give. They that are content with any other spiritual food will sooner or later ‘lie down in sorrow.’ (Isa. 50:11)”
–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Volume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1869/2012), 1: 243-245. Ryle is commenting on John 6:22-27.