“Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” John 6:26-27
This is a sad exposure of the true reason why many followed our Lord. It was not now even a desire to see miracles performed, as it had been the day before. These, after a time when the novelty was past, would cease to astonish and attract. It was a lower and more carnal motive still: it was the mere wish to be fed again with loaves and fishes. They wanted to get something more out of our Lord. They had been fed once, and they would like to be fed again. The poor, low, and carnal motives which induce men to make some religious profession are painfully exhibited here. Our Lord’s perfect knowledge of the secret springs of men’s actions is striking. We cannot deceive Christ even if we deceive man; our true characters will be exposed in the day of judgment if not found out before we die. Whatever we are in religion, let us be honest and true.
“Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.” This verse is peculiarly full of instructive lessons. (1) There is something forbidden. We are not to labor exclusively or excessively for the satisfaction of bodily needs–for that food which perishes in the using and does us only a little temporary good. (2) There is something commanded. We ought to work hard and strive for that spiritual food which supplies the needs of our souls, and when once obtained, is an everlasting possession. (3) There is something promised. The Son of Man is ready to give that spiritual food (which endures forever) to everyone who desires to have it. (4) There is something declared. Jesus Christ has been designated and appointed by God the Father for this very purpose, to be the dispenser of this spiritual food to all who desire it.
The entire verse is a strong proof that however carnal and wicked men may be, we should never hesitate to offer them freely and fully the salvation of the Gospel. Bad as the motives of these Jews were, we see our Lord, in the same breath, first exposing their sin and then showing them their remedy.
When our Lord said, “Do not labour for the food which perishes,” we must not for a moment suppose that He meant to encourage idleness and the neglect of all lawful means in order to get our living. This kind of expression–when two things are put in comparison–is not uncommon in the Bible. The simple meaning here is that we ought to take far more pains about meeting the needs of our souls than our bodies. When our Lord says to labour for the food which endures, he teaches very plainly that it is the duty of everyone to use every means, and to endeavour in every way to promote the welfare of his soul. We are especially to labour in the use of prayer, in reading the Bible, and in attendance at the preaching of God’s Word.
When our Lord says that the Son of man shall give you the food that endures to everlasting life, he appears to make one of the widest and most general offers to unconverted sinners that we have in the Bible. The men to whom he was speaking were, beyond question, carnal-minded and unconverted. Yet even to them Jesus says, “which the Son of Man will give you.” It seems an unmistakable statement of Christ’s willingness and readiness to give pardon and grace to any sinner. It warrants us in proclaiming Christ’s readiness to save anyone, and in offering salvation to anyone if he will only repent and believe the Gospel. – J.C. Ryle Expository Thoughts on the Gospels