Physical needs and wants
I am currently teaching 6th – 8th grades, and an early lesson in the 6th grade curriculum dealt with Science and Technology. The definition used of these terms was:
Science = study of our natural world; deals with “what is” or “what was”
Technology = study of our human made world; deals with “what can be” or “The process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants”
This brought up the subject of needs and wants, where
Needs = basic necessities for human survival: the four basic needs: food, water, clothing and shelter
Wants = the extras outside the basic human needs
Examples of each:
Need water Want soda
Need food Want junk food
Need clothing Want designer jeans
Need shelter Want a mansion
In general, all are familiar with these concepts and accept them, but one 6th grade girl said she had another need — the mall. She argued that, in going to the mall: she could get a drink at a water fountain, buy food at the food court; buy clothes at any number of clothing stores, and it’s a mall so there is a roof over your head for shelter. I did not agree with her (mall = wants for sure) but liked her style/thought process. But this class got me thinking about our needs and wants on a spiritual level, for there are definite similarities.
If we turn to Scripture, I think we will find that we also have spiritual needs that include food, water, clothing and shelter. Let us start with a psalm of David
“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you — you are my God” (Psa 86:1-2 ESV1).
This tells us two important things that are consistent throughout Scripture:
All humans are needy; i.e., they have things they need to stay alive
These needs can be provided by God
John in his gospel (chapter 6) gives the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. A large crowd had followed Jesus to hear him preach and to be healed of infirmities. They were hungry and there was no food available. Jesus fed them with five loaves of bread and two fishes, ending up with more left overs than they had started with — another obvious miracle or sign for the people to see. The very next day after Jesus had passed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (walking on water during the night), where another crowd gathered
“When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you’ ” (John 6:25-27).
Jesus was really telling them that the only reason they were following him around was because they wanted him to give them food to eat, but that they really needed the spiritual food that he had come to offer. Jesus explained this quite clearly in the ensuing conversation
“So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’ ” (John 6:30-35).
There is a direct Old Testament connection to these same thoughts
“And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them’ ” (Ezek 3:1-4).
This is really a parable acted out by Ezekiel: he eats the scroll that has the Word of God written on it and takes God’s message to Israel, who had lost their focus on God’s covenant with them and so had been carried away into captivity in Babylon. This is the same reason that Jesus has come, and the same message. So clearly our need of food on a spiritual level comes from Jesus who, in his own words, is “The bread of life”, who brought the Word of God to a dying world.
John 4 gives the account of the woman of Samaria at the well: Jesus was traveling through Samaria and this time it was he who was tired and thirsty. He asked the Samaritan woman to draw him water from the well to drink and we are all familiar with the conversation that followed.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water’ ” (John 4:13-15).
In this instance, Jesus wanted a drink of water because he was thirsty and he had human needs and wants just like we all do, but he also was using this situation to teach the woman that she needed a different kind of water, spiritual water that he had come to offer. Now to an Old Testament connection to the same thoughts
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth’ ” (Isa 12:3-5).
Isaiah is warning Israel about looming disaster from the armies of Assyria but at the same time is looking forward to a day of salvation under the righteous reign of the true Branch.
The whole concept of spiritual water is summed up nicely by Peter:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1Pet 3:18-22).
Put this together with Peter’s words in his 2nd letter:
“the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2Pet 3:5-6).
In essence, Peter tells us that the world was formed out of water, symbolic of the Word of God, and later was destroyed by flood waters. There was one exception (Noah and his family) who came safely through this water which symbolized baptism. So clearly our need of water on a spiritual level comes from hearing the Word of God, believing it and being baptized.
The first clothing in Scripture is found in Genesis with Adam and Eve: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen 3:7).
After they broke God’s law, they panicked and wanted to hide. They needed something to cover themselves and chose fig leaves as their clothing: but we all know the story. They were confronted by God and punished for their wrong doing:
“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21).
Their clothing became a symbolic need to cover their sins and required that an animal must die to provide their clothing, but there is better clothing to come as foretold by Isaiah when he writes of the year of the Lord:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isa 61: 10).
These are similar thoughts as those found in the Revelation:
“And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ ” (Rev 7:14).
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (Rev 22:14).
Putting these verses together tells us the whole story of clothing in Scripture: the first clothing was needed to cover sin, and to make it required the sacrifice (blood) of an animal. This clothing and sacrifice was replaced by garments of salvation made white by the sacrifice (blood) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So clearly our need of clothing on a spiritual level comes from the sacrifice of Christ who gave his life to reconcile us to God, and provide forgiveness, or a covering, for our sins.
When we think of shelter, we think of the physical need for a home, somewhere to live. This is the idea from Genesis as well: “And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents” (Gen 13:5).
Another clear example of physical shelter occurs during the time of the plague of hail in Egypt: “Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them” (Exod 9:19).
Shelter from the hail was definitely a need at that time; without it human and animal would die, but again there is a spiritual shelter that we are told of:
“Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psa 61:4-5).
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psa 91:1-2).
And the most famous Psalm of all:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psa 23:6).
Clearly this shelter or dwelling is figurative, but at the same time it is similar to that of Israel in Egypt at the time of the plagues. Without this shelter from God, our lives are at risk. So important is this idea of God providing us with a shelter, that it occurs at the very end of Scripture:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3).
So clearly our need of shelter on a spiritual level comes from believing God’s ways, and putting our trust in him to provide our final dwelling place
So in summary, we as humans have for basic physical necessities or needs for survival (food, water, clothing and shelter), but as followers of Christ we also have four basic spiritual necessities or needs for survival:
We need spiritual food — the Word of God which makes us wise unto salvation
We need spiritual water — hearing the Word of God, believing it and being baptized
We need spiritual clothing — the sacrifice of Christ to cover our sins
We need spiritual shelter — putting our trust in God to provide a place in his kingdom
So I wondered if, like my student who thought the mall provided for all her needs, was there any place in Scripture that brought all our spiritual needs together in one place.
And there is:
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’ ” (Rev 7:13-17).
And finally in Jesus’ own words
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:31-33).
Duncan Sabean (Meriden, CT)
1. All references are from the ESV.