Transformed in My Plans

| Matthew 6:25-34

The Point:  God is able to provide all I need.

Do Not Be Anxious: Matthew 6:25-34.

[25]  "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26]  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27]  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28]  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29]  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30]  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31]  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32]  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33]  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [34]  "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  [ESV]

Not Worry, But Trust.  Jesus’ teaching in 6:25 begins with the word Therefore. That is, there is something in the previous passage that forbids worry. It emerges when we look closely at the context. Matthew 6:24 gave us a choice – You cannot serve God and money. Ordinarily a choice is not a reason. But if we follow Jesus’ logic in 6:19-24, we see that it is. In that passage, Jesus told us to weigh and choose between two alternatives, two gods. We can store up treasures on earth or in heaven. We must decide where to set our eyes and affections: on wealth or on God. So choose, Jesus says. Will you serve God or money? Weigh it carefully, and after you choose, persevere in it. Serve that God. Be devoted to Him and give no thought to the other. Since Jesus addressed His sermon primarily to believers [5:1-2], we know that His audience has already decided to serve God, not mammon. That is, Jesus’ disciples wanted to serve God and store up their treasures in heaven. But, like us, they needed to understand the implications of that commitment. Here, Jesus explains some of the consequences of our decision to follow God. He says that God cares physically for those who care for Him spiritually. If God is our Lord, we need not worry about our material needs. He frees us from the mental consequences of loyalty to mammon. That is, if we live for riches, we live for a weak god, who cannot protect what is most precious to us. Therefore, it is natural for those who serve mammon to worry about their wealth, whether it be much or little. Conversely, our love for God makes us secure and ends worry, in principle. Our passage presents a positive message through a prohibition. Negatively, Jesus forbids that we worry about food, drink, clothing, or any other material need. Positively, we must trust God. He knows our needs, He loves us and cares for us. Because He knows we are prone to worry, Jesus supplies us with logical arguments and lifelike illustrations to calm our hearts and teach us to trust Him. Jesus’ teaching has substantial repetition. But, as He repeats key ideas, He develops them further, so they strengthen the main point: we have good reasons to trust God and stop worrying. Jesus does this by issuing four commands, followed by six reasons. The First Command not to Worry. The first command not to worry is found in 6:25: Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. The word therefore tells us to connect this statement to Jesus’ previous teaching in 6:24. So, if we serve God rather than mammon, we also know Him as the Creator and Redeemer. He demands our service, but provides far more than He demands. His provision spells the end of worry. Earlier, Jesus invited His disciples to ask God to meet their needs, confident that He is fatherly and knows our needs even before we ask [6:6-9]. So we can stop worrying. Still we worry, and in predictable ways. We worry when things are out of our control. When we can do nothing else, we worry. We also worry when we love the wrong things. Jesus warns against seeking fulfillment or happiness in a sphere that cannot provide fulfillment, the sphere of transitory things. Since these things are subject to loss, they leave us vulnerable to loss. Our love for them is unavoidable tinged with fear. Socially, this sets one person against another, as we feel like rivals grasping for the same prizes. Personally, misguided loves wound us. We set out on a desperate, hopeless quest when we search for fulfillment where it cannot be found. Reason one for a worry-free life is: Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing [25]? Jesus quickly moves from His command to His reason. We should not worry about food and clothing, He says, because God cares for life itself, which encompasses food, clothing, and all the rest. If God cares for the greater thing, for life as a whole, then He certainly cares for the lesser things, the constituent parts of life that sustain us each day. To put it differently, if we worry about food, drink, and clothing, we have hardly gotten started. What about war, pestilence, collapsing buildings, wild animals, floods, pollution, meteors, and more? If we believe that God cares for the great thing, life itself, then we should trust Him to care for its parts. And when we are confident that God oversees our material needs, we are free to seek His kingdom. The second reason to stop worrying is the mirror image of the first: Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they [26]? Here Jesus moves from the lesser to the greater. Since God cares for a lesser thing – the birds of the air – He will certainly care for us, for we are greater – more valuable – than they are. The whole earth bears witness to God’s love, if we let faith guide our sight. Birds work hard at times, but they put forth no properly organized effort. They are not farmers. They neither sow nor harvest nor store food, yet they avoid starvation. Like birds, we enjoy God’s providence. Yet we are more valuable than birds. Confident of His providence, we should seek Him and His kingdom. The third reason is that worry accomplishes nothing: which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life [27]? The point is that worry cannot accomplish even a little thing, like adding an hour to our life span. Therefore, we should commit our energies to places where they can make a difference, by seeking first the kingdom of God. The fourth reason is that God cares for creation: Consider the lilies of the field [28-30]. Once again Jesus looks at the lower creation, offering two examples this time, from creatures less weighty than birds. Jesus puts the traditional images of flowers and grass to a new use here. In the Old Testament, flowers and grass illustrate the brevity and fragility of life. Isaiah says that God’s breath blows down plant life and human life alike. Only His word stands forever [Isa. 40:6-8]. There are two possible lessons that we can draw from creation. First, we can learn that life is feeble and fleeting, that we are defenseless. We are as short-lived as plants and as easily slain as animals [Ps. 103:15-16]. But, like Jesus, the psalmist directs us to the opposite lesson [103:13-17]. Contemplation of the lower creation could make us miserable. We have eternity in our hearts, but we know that our life is short and easily extinguished. But both David [in Psalm 103] and David’s Son [in Matthew 6] point us to the contrary lesson. If God lavishes such care on lilies, which bloom only for a few days, and on animals, which live a few years, then how much more will He care for us? Human beings live longer than most creatures. Still, we are as restricted by time as they are. But God’s love goes from everlasting to everlasting. He wins our love in return, and bids us seek His kingdom and His righteousness. The last phrase in Matthew 6:30 deserves our attention. If God bestows rich clothing on grass, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? The phrase you of little faith, which is just one word in Greek, is notable. Jesus’ audience, like most church audiences today, consisted primarily of disciples, with a few of the curious tossed in. His listeners had faith, or at least an interest in faith. But they were worrying, which signals a lack of faith and trust in God. They have a little faith. But they need strong faith. Strong faith does not come by introspection, by working up feelings of trust in God. Rather, Jesus says, stronger faith comes by contemplating God’s ways with His creation. Watch the birds. Observe or contemplate the lilies and the grass. The animals and plants point beyond themselves to God, their caretaker. Strong faith knows that He dresses the lower creation and will also dress us. Indeed, God dresses them better than we could ever dress ourselves. At the height of his wealth and self-indulgence, Solomon could not dress himself any better than a lily [Eccl. 2:1-11]. So why worry? This message is vital, yet open to abuse. Some might think that Jesus’ ban on worry requires believers to make no plans, to anticipate and prevent no troubles. But to plan, even to plan for potential trouble, is not necessarily to worry. We must pause, therefore, to consider how lack of worry and proper planning can coexist, in areas such as bodily care, financial planning, and life’s troubles. Jesus does not forbid us to worry about our bodies because they do not need care, but because He cares for them. Our bodies are good. God designed them for us. They are “us” in one sense, and they are our instruments in another. Either way, because they are essential, God provides the food and clothing that preserve them. So our bodies matter. Yet we should aspire to more than feeding, clothing, and comforting them. The Gentiles seek comfort and pleasure. We seek something more; we seek the kingdom. Just as care for the body is good, so planning is good. Proverbs 6 tells the sluggard to go learn from the ant, who stores up food for winter. Proverbs 31 blesses the woman who sees winter coming and prepares clothing for her family. Paul tells men and women that they need to provide for their families [1 Tim. 5:8]. He even tells parents that they should save up for their children [2 Cor. 12:14]. So planning is good. The problem, again, is the obsession that frets over every financial decision, that dies a little with every financial setback, that always finds something to worry about. When Jesus says that God feeds the birds, He is not encouraging sloth. Birds do work. They use their God-given wings and beaks and instincts. God feeds them by those means. Likewise, God grants us strength of body and mind, showers us with mental and physical gifts, and sends us parents and teachers to instruct us. God feeds us, but we are also responsible to work. It is right for us to plan to use our God-given abilities and training wisely. If we hone our talents and work willingly, we may expect to be free from privation. We may even enjoy abundance. But God does not promise believers that they will never go hungry. Jesus’ analogy promises God’s care, not a carefree life. After all, God clothes flowers and feeds birds, but flowers do fade and birds do fall to earth and die. Jesus does promise that God will guard us even in times of trouble, and is working all things for our good, so we need not worry. That promise can fortify Christians who have suffered for their faith in pagan empires, in Communist countries, and in Muslim lands over the centuries. That promise braces believers who are caught up in pestilence and war. We do suffer war, famine, and disease. But let us never blame them on God’s inadequate provision. He supplies sun, rain, and fertile soil. He created nourishing plants and domesticated animals. Wars create famine. Dictators and warlords use starvation as a weapon against their foes, even to suppress dissent among their own people. Starvation is rarely caused by lack of production. God gives enough for us to eat. Hunger is caused by sins of oppression, hatred, greed, and sometimes, laziness. The second command not to worry: Therefore do not be anxious [31]. Jesus repeats that we must not worry about food, drink, and clothing. This is a daunting command, since they are life’s essentials, not its luxuries. But notice that Jesus does not forbid that we care about the essentials. Indeed, He addresses our legitimate interest when He promises in verse 33 to supply them. He only forbids us to worry and chase after them. We must pursue our needs in ways that allow us to seek the kingdom first. So we must never meet our needs through jobs that require us to deceive customers, promote destructive products, or otherwise act immorally. Reason 5 is that your Father knows your needs. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all [32]. Pagans logically toil and chase after material things, since they have little else to do with their lives. But when we know the King as our Father, who knows our needs and works to meet them, we can lead an anxiety-free life. Trust in God casts out worry. One can always imagine the future and find a reason to fret. Or we can ponder God’s protection of His birds and flowers and find peace. The carefree believer is not reckless. But we are calm as we look at the near horizon, our daily food, and look ahead to the distant horizon, the eternal kingdom. The third command not to worry: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness [33]. Seek first the kingdom is the great ideal, the commission and charter for disciples. And Jesus backs it with a promise. Reason 6: We can afford to seek the kingdom first because God will give us all the things that the Gentiles chase. Lest this be reduced to a mere slogan, let us explore how Jesus would have us seek the kingdom, drawing on His own instruction. (1) To seek the kingdom is to seek the King, to love Him as Savior and Friend, to bow to Him as Lord, to trust the God who has chosen us, redeemed us, and taught us to trust Him. (2)  To seek the kingdom is to pray for it: Your kingdom come. We pray for kingdom causes, not just for local and personal concerns. (3)  To seek the kingdom is to evangelize, that is, to bring others into the kingdom, to introduce them to our King’s beneficent reign over all of life. To seek the kingdom is to desire that God be known and glorified as King throughout the earth. (4)  To seek the kingdom is to submit personally to God’s reign by obeying Him. We seek the kingdom when we obey God at some personal cost. A Christian retailer seeks the kingdom when he closes his stores on Sunday, even though it is a good day for retail sales, so that he can worship and rest, and model the same for his employees. (5)  To seek the kingdom at work means pursuing wages and profits in ways that please God, knowing that they may lead to less money, at least in the short run. (6) To seek the kingdom means to have an eye on social reform, so that society may at least approximate the justice that God desires. (7)  To seek the kingdom is to pursue righteousness in public places and distant lands, if we can. It also means restraining something as small and personal as our tongue – checking a sarcastic remark or refusing to repeat a morsel of gossip. The context suggests that seeking the kingdom especially means dethroning wealth and possessions as our first pursuits. We must not hoard treasures or live for pleasure, but put our treasures in heaven by giving to kingdom causes [Matt. 6:19-21]. We should watch the way we think about wealth. Wealth is a lesser good – a useful servant, but a miserable master. We should even watch the way we talk about wealth. When we make a decision, we should speak in terms of God’s way. We should not speak as if money makes our decisions, as if “We can afford it” or “We can’t afford it” is a sufficient guide to most purchases. Let God’s will be our guide, and let us speak that way. To seek first the kingdom does not mean Christians lack ambition; rather, it means we have different ambitions. Everyone needs a purpose, a direction, an ambition in life. But ambition has two sides. There is selfish ambition, the desire for success and control as an end in itself. Dictators embody ambition at its worst. For them, power is its own reward. Greedy businessmen can also acquire wealth far beyond all needs, simply to win the game of commerce. Such ambitions are evil. Selfish ambitions are vain, harmful to others, and disorderly. But there are other ambitions, including the aspiration to unfold what is strongest and best in oneself, to accomplish goals that may improve this world a little. The Bible commends such ambitions, including the ambition to preach Christ [Rom. 15:20], the ambition to lead a quiet, productive life [1 Thess. 4:11], and the ambition to please God [2 Cor. 5:9]. Ambition is good, if it seeks God’s kingdom and His righteousness. The fourth command not to worry: Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble [34]. Our final verse restates the main command, Do not be anxious, applying it to the immediate situation. We should not worry about tomorrow because we can stay busy enough attending to the tasks and troubles of today. When we live in “Tomorrowland,” we can fret over our woes or dream about our triumphs. Both can distract us from the goal of living for the kingdom in the present. The prospect of living for the King should be enough to keep our minds and hands well occupied.”  [Doriani, pp. 255-268]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Doriani lists four commands and six reasons not to worry in this passage. List the four commands [25,31,33,34] and the six reasons. What is Jesus teaching every believer concerning worry in these commands and reasons?

2.         Why do we worry about things that may or may not happen in the future? What does worry or anxiety say about our spiritual maturity? How will a growing knowledge of our Heavenly Father change little faith to great faith?

3.         Why does Jesus include a command to seek first His kingdom in a section where He is dealing with anxiety? How does seeking first God’s kingdom remove the temptation to worry about the future?

4.         It has been said many times that at the heart of all worry and anxiety is unbelief. Apply this statement to your own life when you are anxious. What are you not believing when you are anxious? How can you battle against this unbelief?

References:

The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1, James Boice, Baker.

Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter Varsity.