Maslow and Jesus talk about Bread

Part 1 of the blog series “Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs – Re-Evaluated”.

Summary of Maslow (Physiological Needs):

We don’t really need Maslow to tell us that our most basic needs are the needs of the body. Food, water, sleep, etc. are essential for survival. Maslow quite rightly puts fulfillment of these needs as the most basic human motivator. Before all else, he says, we fulfill our most basic physiological needs.


All the needs on Maslow’s pyramid (physiological, safety, love, esteem, and fulfillment) are, I believe, legitimate, when placed in the proper context. This is perhaps the most obviously legitimate need. Hunger, and our desire to fulfill it, is God-given. He gave us bodies, put us in a garden, and gave us food to eat. Pictures of paradise, especially those in the Old Testament, are filled with images of food. The Promised Land was a land “flowing with milk and honey.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting a full belly…


… except when it isn’t. Consider the following examples.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and one of the reasons they did so was because it looked good.

Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. The writer of Hebrews didn’t think that was such a great idea (Hebrews 12:16).

The Wilderness generation grumbled against Moses and against God because they were afraid (irrationally) that God couldn’t feed them.

The crowds following Jesus failed to understand His real message, in part, because they were so hung up on looking for a meal (John 6:26).

In all these cases the problem was this: The people involved thought food was their most basic need.

Wait, you say, aren’t our physical needs our most basic needs? Won’t we die without food? Won’t we perish without water? Won’t we go mad without sleep? And yet, so it seems, we have a more basic need still.


Consider John 6.

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Consider John 4.

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Consider Matthew 4.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Consider Matthew 6.

25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus’ point is not to diminish the needs of the body. He takes them for granted, which makes his teaching all the more shocking. He’s saying that it is more important to fulfill our spiritual hunger with spiritual food than it is to fulfill our physical hunger with physical food. What happens to our spirit is more important than what happens to our body. It’s more important that we have the bread of life (Jesus) than it is to have bread. It is more important to have living water from Jesus than water from a well. It’s more important to seek the kingdom of God than to seek your next meal.

Jesus is not saying that food isn’t good. He’s talking about priorities. He’s talking about first-loves. He’s talking about our most fundamental values. And, he’s saying our priority is Him, even above our bellies.

He wants to bless us with all the things we need, but he wants us to seek Him first.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).

Back to Maslow. Right away, then, we see that while Maslow’s pyramid might describe how we are motivated, God has a plan for how we ought to be motivated. And, at the base [our] of the “pyramid of human needs” is this: Spiritual Needs.

[*] Special thanks to Ben Videtich who came to speak out our church and reminded me of John 6. I had been planning this post for some time but his message was especially timely. He even mentioned Maslow in the introduction.


2 thoughts on “Maslow and Jesus talk about Bread

  1. jesusandthebible

    When Mt. 6:32 speaks of people who “run after all these things,” it points beyond meeting basic needs of food, drink, and clothing to the “running” or working hard (unlike the birds or flowers) in order to have the best food, drink, and clothing (rich food, fine wine, and expensive clothing). Thus right before this section (Mt. 6:25-34), Jesus says to not lay up (expensive) treasures on earth (6:19), for “you cannot serve God and mammon” (6:24).

    1. stevenkopp Post author

      Hi, thanks for stopping by. I agree that the primary application here is to avoid running after expensive treasures but I think it runs deeper than that, too. It’s not just about a particular set of actions (living simply, living richly) but about where our heart is and, fundamentally, I do think Jesus is telling us that our more basic need, and therefore our most basic motivator, lies in Jesus himself, even beyond our bodily needs. I don’t think Jesus is condemning work here (whether we be birds or computer programmers) in order to get food – but it is a question of where we find our ultimate satisfaction.
      God bless,

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