Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 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. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:23-27)
In this series, we are exploring a few of the many instances in which Jesus said “no” in order to unpack what our Savior’s example means for us and our work.
In today’s passage, we find the crowd who had witnessed Jesus’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand, chasing him down the next day in search for more bread and fish. Before they can even utter their request, Jesus steps in and says “no,” refusing their request for more food. Jesus isn’t being lazy or maliciously withholding. He says “no” in order to offer the people something better. While the people came to ask Jesus for bread for the day, Jesus said “no” in order to offer the Bread “that endures to eternal life.”
There are two applications I see from Jesus’s gracious “no” in this passage. First, as so many of us have likely experienced, sometimes God says “no” to our own requests in order to sanctify us or prepare us for something better. We are all so fond of quoting Romans 8:28 which promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” but we forget that sometimes, what is best for us is for the Lord to say “no” to our prayers. Is there something you’re asking God to do that just isn’t happening? The Lord may be using that “no” to refine your character or draw you closer to him.
The second application I see in this passage is that Jesus’s example should inspire us to say “no” in order to offer something better to those we serve. My kids ask for donuts almost every day. I say “no” most days in order to offer them something better (a longer life without diabetes). This principle plays out in the workplace all the time. When your boss asks you to attend a meeting that you know will be a waste of your time, the most gracious thing for you to do might be respectfully saying “no” to the invitation so you can focus on excelling at the project the boss wants completed by the end of this week. Or, when a customer demands that you build a certain feature into your product which you know won’t solve their problem, it is actually kind of you to say “no,” bringing your knowledge and experience to bear to say “yes” to a more effective solution.
Just as in Jesus’s encounter above, sometimes a polite but firm “no” can be one of the kindest and most generous things we can do in order to serve others better.