Originally Published on www.thegospelcoalition.org
There’s a tiny Italian bar and restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, called Valentino’s. Their generation-spanning secret spaghetti sauce recipe is comparable to Feast-of-the-Lamb fare (I exaggerate only slightly). This plate of wonders is complemented by a basket full of fresh, soft-yet-perfectly-crusted, secret-sauce-absorbing bread. Oh, how I love bread!
Bread was a staple in Bible times and is used metaphorically throughout Scripture. In Judges 7:13, God uses barley bread to picture Gideon and his 300 men destroying the camp of Midian. Jesus uses the imagery of leavened bread to typify the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:6). He also likens bread to the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 6:32) and refers to himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35). And of course, bread symbolizes Christ’s broken body in communion (1 Cor. 11:24).
In Matthew 7:9, Jesus encourages his followers to pray by posing a question: “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” When I think of this verse, I picture God lovingly handing me a warm, squishy loaf of Valentino’s white Italian bread. And sometimes, that is just what he does.
But what if God chooses to give me whole-wheat bread? Or worse, gluten-free? God talks about another kind of bread in his Word: the bread of adversity. I know everything God gives me is good, but the bread of adversity doesn’t always taste good. It’s not like the white bread of temporal comfort, which appeals to me while I’m eating it. No, it’s like whole-wheat bread that doesn’t appeal to my taste buds—but over time I reap the benefits of more energy and a slimmer waistline. So it is with God’s provision of adversity. It’s hard going down, but for the Christian, it strengthens our faith and our character.
"And though the LORD give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes will see your Teacher." (Isa. 30:20-22)
This image is the hope amid our affliction: our eyes will see our Teacher. When Isaiah was given these words, Israel was, once again, in full rebellion, relying on Egypt for safety (Isa. 30:2). God appointed “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” to draw them back to himself, their rightful King. And God gives us this bread to draw us to himself, too, using it to conform us to his image. Here are three ways he gives us the bread of adversity.
1. TO SANCTIFY US
Hebrews 12:7–11 reminds us that adversity, in the form of the Father’s loving discipline, will “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” We’re refined in adversity, and made more like Christ. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.” But often, due to our soul’s grave condition, becoming like the Bread of Life can only be achieved through consuming the bread of adversity.
2. TO COMBAT PRIDE
Proverbs 18:12 states, “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” Humility brings pleasure to God. The Son humbled himself “even unto death,” and we should follow his example (Phil. 2:3–11). Pride keeps us from God; but when we’re counted as his children, he will give us whatever we need to kill the pride that crouches in our hearts.
3. TO EQUIP US TO HELP OTHERS
The most meaningful ministry comes from those who have lived what they’re preaching. When I share my experiences, I am able to edify and encourage others. I have seen God most clearly in the lowest points of my life, after all, and I take joy in helping others see Christ’s sufficiency in the throes of their adversity.
In fact, Jesus was given the bread of adversity precisely so we could relate to him:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
This is good news for us all: the Bread of Life ate the bread of adversity so that we could break bread with him in eternity.
GOD GIVES US WHAT WE NEED
John Piper takes this bread metaphor a little further. In his poem “The Stone and the Snake,” Piper contends that if we ask for bread, but our need is for a stone or a snake, God will provide for the need, not the request:
If you should need an anchor for your boat,
But, lured by hunger, ask for bread,
I’ll mark your need, and lest you seaward float,
Give you a heavy stone instead.
Or if you need to drain a viper’s fang,
A healing antidote to make,
But ask for useless fish to ease the pang,
I will discern, and give the snake.
God is faithful to give us what we need, whether it’s white Italian bread, whole-wheat bread, a stone, or even a snake. Though we might not like the latter gifts, we know that the Giver is good, and that each gift will ultimately benefit us if it comes from his kind hand.