Biblical Reflection on Need and Needs
any thing without which a person cannot live or function to his
maximal ability in the tasks to which God has called him or her.
Any person's greatest need is
regeneration and obedience to the Word of God.
While in this physical life, such things as air, water, food,
and shelter are necessary to sustain physical life.
Spiritual needs include Bible study, worship, an active church
life, personal ministry, etc. Christians must take great
caution that needs are not confused with desires, nor that true
needs become lust (inordinate desires). For example, Bible
study is a great need in every Christian's life, but when it
begins to prevent obligations to one's family, job, or other
daily responsibilities, then it has become a lust.
Perhaps, Abraham Maslow
first and most completely focused on “needs” (1943). He
developed a hierarchy which had this progression: (1) basic
physical needs, such as air, food, water, clothing, and shelter;
(2) safety needs, such as, personal security from crime, in
health and well-being, and against accidents/illness; (3) social
needs, such as, friendship, intimacy, and a supportive and
communicative family; (4) esteem needs, such as, self-esteem,
self-respect, and respect of others, and (5) growth needs, such
as, cognitive and aesthetic pursuits. All of these when met lead
to “self-actualization in such areas of morality, creativity,
spontaneity, and problem-solving. (I am aware that this review
is rough and incomplete. It only serves as a starting point for
Of course, Maslow was
neither a Christian nor a Bible-student. Long ago, however,
Augustine recognizes man’s most basic need: "Thou hast made us
for Thyself, and our heart is restless till it rest in Thee."
More definitively, what man needs most is
regeneration and obedience to God’s Word. Thus,
man’s most basic need is spiritual, not physical.
At this point, one
might argue “Without Maslow’s physical needs, a person would die
and could not obey.” I would respond, “Your argument is blind to
the reality of the spiritual realm that the Bible teaches.”
After regeneration, when a person dies, he goes to Heaven where
he is obedient to God and joyful in his spirit forever. So, I
would argue that man’s most basic need for life, both on earth
and forever, is regeneration.
Because of Maslow and
others (psychologists, social workers, pastors, etc.), as well
as our materialistic society, “needs” have greatly multiplied.
“Wants” and “desires” have become “needs.” Virtually, every
commercial on television, advertisement in the mail, and a new
possession by our neighbor brings us another “need.” Spouses
divorce each other because the other “has not met my needs.”
People join churches “to meet their needs.”
Worse, we begin to
worship these needs. Cars and houses far exceed their
“necessary” functions to become objects of the admiration of
others and major drains of time, money, and attention. Instead
of food sustaining our lives, we “crave” breads, desserts,
wines, and other additions to the extent that most Americans are
“need” to give serious attention to Paul’s and Timothy’s
admonitions for “temperance” and “self-control” in all things.
( Corinthians 9:26, Philippians 4:5, I Timothy 2:9) Even so,
there are some particulars of “need” that should be addressed.
(1) Physical needs: Man
is both body and soul.
While man’s basic need might be spiritual, he also must live his
time on this earth. In order to be able fully to obey God, he
must be strengthened in his physical body with sufficient food,
shelter, and clothing.
But, what about Matthew
6:33, “See you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things (food, drink, and clothing) will be added
unto you?” In the context of verses 25-34, the focus is on
“worrying” (that is, giving attention to) the problems of
today, not tomorrow. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the
day is its own trouble” (verse 34).
The passage, then, is
giving priority to the things of the Kingdom. And, certainly in
modern America, as a “consumer society,” that focus is needed.
Surely, Americans, even Christians, often justify long hours
with both parents employed, to have bigger houses, better cars,
and more things.
But, equally, the
passage is directing members of the Kingdom to address the
immediate problems at hand. We are not to worry about the
future which is in God’s hands. We are to deal with the
problems of today by addressing them in terms of God’s
righteousness (right and wrong). As we are prone to worry far
into the future, we are also prone to carry the baggage of past
sins with us. Jesus is addressing us to live in the moment, now.
How many of us apply the directive, “Do not let the sun go down
on your anger?” (Ephesians 4:26)? Many, if not most, of our
problems exist because we carry them over from the past or
imagine them in the future. Christ calls us to manage them in
There has to be concern
for adequate food, shelter, and clothing, but only in a supply
sufficient to enable one to pursue “his righteousness” fully and
completely. For one not to supply for his family makes him
“worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8). And, the focus is on
provision for today, primarily. While there should be some
attention to planning for the future (Proverbs 6:6-8), neither
should there be excessive concern there either (Matthew 6:19).
(2) The need of family:
touch, security, companionship.
“And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should
be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” Genesis
2:18). God designed man to need a companion in marriage and
someone to make him complete (the meaning of “helper” or “help
meet”— KJV). The only exception is those to whom the gift of
singleness and celibacy are given ( Corinthians 7:7)— more on
So, marriage is a
God-given need. Both the man and the woman need each other to be
more than they can be as single persons. Example of
complementarity include a husband as bread winner and the wife
as homemaker (not absolute, but standard); the man as spiritual
leader and the wife as his closest advisor and confident; and
the man as a “handy-man” and the wife as the beautifier of the
home (usual, not absolute).
Through sex in
marriage, children come. Children must have their physical needs
(above) provided which they are unable to provide for themselves
and proper education (“nurture and admonition of the Lord”).
Also, they need to be
touched. An experiment was done in the 1940s in which an attempt
was made to raise monkeys without the physical presence of their
mothers. They were provided manikins where they could suckle
milk and otherwise had a secure environment. They all died. Now,
there may not be a direct correlation from monkeys to humans,
but it would be difficult to deny the need for touch and
companionship— the physical presence of living beings.
(3) Is sexual intimacy
a need? Yes
and no. Yes, unless gifted for singleness, “it is better to
marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7:9). “Seeking first the
Kingdom of God and His righteousness” would include God’s
provision of marriage, including sexual intimacy. Again, man is
both body and soul.
however, is not absolute. God’s primary provision of marriage
was that “man should not be alone” and that he should be made
more than he could be otherwise by a wife. If an injury or
illness prevents sexual intimacy in marriage, these two purposes
continue. If sexual intimacy were an absolute need, then a
spouse could divorce the other, if it were not possible.
Scripture does not allow divorce except for sexual infidelity or
desertion of an unbeliever. (See #7 of
Further, there are times that spiritual concerns take priority
over sexual intimacy, if both agree (I Corinthians 7:5).
So, we can conclude
that sexual intimacy is a God-designed need, but subject to
(4) Enhancement needs.
There are needs
to enhance the various tasks to which God calls us. Perhaps,
examples will best illustrate this concept. All my children are
grown and have their own homes. Yet, we have a home in which we
have essentially two rooms for each of us. My wife has a sewing
room where she sews for family and others. We have a
playroom/bedroom where our grandchildren may stay/play. I have
two rooms that are a combination office and study. Now. we could
live in a smaller house, but it would be difficult, if not
impossible to be involved in our various ministries without the
additional space. One could say that I do not “need” all the
books that I have, but it enhances what I believe is my calling.
We do not “need” a large room, but it enhances our large family
to get together and to have meetings, Bible studies, etc.
I have a friend who
gives great advice on how to shop and save money at flea
markets, etc. But, that would require a great deal of my time. I
often spent more than I “need” to, to save time. I use that time
to write, study, counsel, etc. Again, needs are somewhat
And, I am sure that
readers could add their own enhancement “needs.” Again, however,
we have to evaluate carefully whether we are self-justifying and
whether we are worshipping “things,” as Mammon or the love of
(5) Periodic and
Some mundane actions become needs on a periodic basis. To
enhance the longevity of my car, as good stewardship, I must
have the oil changed and other maintenance done. I may have to
skip my “quiet time” that AM; I may have to skip time with my
wife; I may have to not study or write for that period of time;
etc. I know of a prominent theologian who gave up his university
position and scholarship activities to minister to his wife who
had a severe illness for several years.
Jay Adams has a wheel
on page 410 of The Christian Counselor’s Manual where he
lists a large number of life activities: family, children,
discipline, church, Bible study, prayer, witness, exercise,
diet, sleep, marriage, sex, meetings, etc. Some of these
activities are periodic, while others are random. We usually
speak of these as priorities, but they are essentially needs.
And, within these come the unexpected which may be trivial (a
child’s skinned knee) or life-disrupting (the major illness of a
And, these shift as
well from individual to individual and family to family. All the
needs of our extended family shifted when one grandchild was
born with a severe disability. We still attempt to meet all the
needs of each other and ourselves, but Christopher has shifted
all our needs, especially those of his nuclear family.
(6) Spiritual needs.
We are back to “seek you first the Kingdom of God … and all
these things will be added unto you.” There are definitive
spiritual needs. A Christian cannot grow spiritually, as he
ought apart from a church body (Ephesians 4:1-14). Vice-versa,
the church needs everyone for the body to be fully enhanced (I
Corinthians 12:14-26). A Christian must study the Bible (Matthew
4:4). Etc. The reader can develop a complete list of spiritual
needs on his own using Scripture.
(7) Is there a
conflict between spiritual and physical needs? First, I
would have to say that “seek you first the Kingdom of God…”
includes physical needs. One could say that until a person is
saved (regenerated), that that should take priority over any
other need. “Don’t eat, don’t sleep, and don’t even breathe
until you are saved!” But, salvation usually takes place over a
period of time, so even that most basic need requires that some
other needs be met in the process.
Again, man is both
body and soul. Each dimension has its specific needs. Our
focus should be whether any needs have become excessive, beyond
moderation. Have they become inordinate desires? Have they
become objects that we worship? Do we give a great deal of time
to them that interferes with other needs? For example, many
pastors minister to their flock to the detriment of the needs of
their own family. Are you impatient with family members or
friends because their presence or concerns interfere with YOUR
Ron Sider wrote a book,
published in 1978, entitled Rich Christians in an Age of
Hunger. He had many things wrong. It is the “love of money”
that is the “root of all evil,” not money itself. But, in rich
America, it is always good to evaluate how our time and money
are spent. That is, how do we meet our needs, both physical
and spiritual? What has become Mammon in our own life?
Christians are fond of
saying that Christ should be our all in all, meaning that we
don’t really need anything else. But, “being our all in all”
includes the spouses that he gives to us, the jobs and
vocations by which we pay for “needs,” the children that we
nourish, etc. All those are part of “Christ.” As Protestants, we
don’t agree with the monastic lifestyle, but sometimes we at
least imply it with our pious, ‘Christ is all that we need.”
It seems that the
“Kingdom of God and His righteousness” is continually a
tug-of-war (perhaps more literal than might appear at first
glance) between “righteousness” and sinful desire.
Yet, every Christian has “righteous” physical and spiritual
needs. Neglect or undue attention to any one causes harm to
ourselves and others. But, neither let us deny that physical
needs are as legitimate as spiritual needs. We are unitary
Special situation: The
calling of the missionary.
If I recall correctly, ninety percent of the first missionaries
to Africa died within the first year of their arrival during the
19th century. Even today, being a missionary to
Africa and other third world countries is not without
significant perils to oneself and his family. So, the question
is, “Is it permissible to deny basic physical needs to present
the gospel to those who have not heard?” I give a qualified,
Man’s greatest need is
regeneration (stated above). “How then shall they call on Him in
whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him
of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a
preacher?” (Romans 10:14) Certainly, making an opportunity for
regeneration takes priority over one’s own physical needs and
those of his family. However, that priority does not mean that a
missionary can be reckless. Within the bounds of his missionary
effort, he must provide for the basic physical and spiritual
needs of his family. This requirement may mean that he gets to
the mission field a few months or even a few years later, but he
must attempt to balance his calling as a missionary with his
calling as a husband and father to provide for all the needs of
Relationship of rights
Rights are granted by a higher authority. Needs are
met by a person himself or by one person for another. The right
to life, liberty, and property (“happiness” was a substitute for
the traditional “property“) provide opportunity to meet needs.
Rights must be implemented as responsibilities to provide needs.
Neither God nor the State has the obligation to meet needs where
responsibilities are neglected. “If a man will not work, neither
shall he eat.”
Medical care as a need.
care for injury and illness is a legitimate need. A diabetic
needs insulin, a cripple needs a wheelchair and crutches and
other special equipment. However, the modern attempt to provide
everything that modern medicine is able to perform is not a
need. This issue is complicated, but suffice it here that more
than 90 percent of what modern medicine does is not effective,
even harmful, and therefore not necessary. For more on this
subject, search “efficacy” on this site for those articles on
medicine that are relevant.
A progression from need
to desire to worship.
Then, there is the
progression from need to desire to worship. Many people have
started running because they needed exercise. Then, they started
running more and participating in road races. Then, they started
spending several hours a day exercising, running, and even
competing in iron man (running, swimming, and biking). Many
women have started dieting to lose weight (which they need to
do), but then being thing becomes an obsessive desire, even to
the point of anorexia and bulimia that is more destructive than
the extra weight itself, both physically and spiritually. In
both instances, what started as need became a strong desire and
then a lust (a worship of something other than God).