(A Study of Matthew 6:25-34)
This blog was started back in August 2009 when our Bible study group decided to post our studies on the book of Revelation, for the purpose of being able to reference them long-term and also to be a blessing to others. Since completing our study of Revelation, the blog has expanded somewhat, although we are no longer posting our weekly Bible studies online. We’ve gone on to study several New Testament epistles, and we are now in Matthew.
I’d like to make an exception by looking at a portion from Matthew 6 which we studied on Wednesday night (April 13th). This chapter is at the heart of Jesus’ most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount. In this portion, Jesus addresses the subject of anxiety. This text really spoke to my soul because for the last six months (exactly 6 months, actually) I’ve had far more reason to be anxious, worried, hurt, fearful, angry, etc. than I have at any other time in my life. Most who read this will have no idea what’s going on in my life, and that’s OK – although if this is enough information to compel you to pray I won’t turn you down. In any case, I believe we will see that as Jesus brings this subject to a conclusion, He not only urges us to prioritize His kingdom above all else, but He sets this forth as a perfect antidote to the anxiety which would like to take a prominent place in our lives. Let’s look at what He has to say, and feel free to share your own thoughts on how His words speak to you in the comment section below.
Verse 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?”
The word “therefore” refers back to the previous section on money, where Jesus gives this sober warning about attempting to maintain a divided loyalty: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” If the pursuit of wealth, and the laying up of perishable earthly treasures (verse 19), can lead to idolatry and distraction in our lives, so can worry and anxiety over the things we want and need in life.
What we eat, drink, and wear are some of the basics of life, but these decisions can cause anxiety if we let them. This cuts to the heart of where our trust lies. Can we trust God for basic provision? If not, what does this say about our capacity to trust Him when life’s circumstances become most unbearable? We can walk in our divinely-ordained callings in life all the more if we’re not weighed down by such concerns.
Verse 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?”
Jesus poses this as a question, but clearly we are meant to understand that we are of more value in His sight than the birds. If God faithfully takes care of and provides for them, how much more will He do so for His people? This is not, of course, an excuse to intentionally avoid work.
Verse 27: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Jesus speaks to the folly of being filled with worry, which likely springs from a lack of trust. Increased anxiety can actually shorten our lives, or at least lessen the quality of life. We also often worry about negative outcomes which don’t materialize. Such worry ends up being a complete waste of our energy, time, and focus. Any and all worry works to keep us from the more important things in life. Trusting in God rather than ourselves requires humility.
Verses 28-30: “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 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?”
These verses don’t appear to speak directly to the issue of vanity or showing off to others, but rather a person’s worry about being able to afford the basic clothes that they or their family members might need. Just as the birds don’t obtain their provision through their own striving, the flowers of the field don’t obtain their beauty through their own toil. God takes care of them, and they need God to take care of them. It would seem that the materially rich don’t need to worry about being able to afford clothing (or food/drinks/other basics), but they might miss out on the blessings of being in a position where one needs to depend on God in faith for regular provision.
Verses 31:32: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
When we fret, especially about basic needs, we begin to behave as if we don’t belong to God and as if we don’t need Him. Unbelievers lack a regard for God, and one of the ways this disregard is demonstrated is through trusting in themselves rather than in Him. As those who do know God, there is no reason why we should mirror those who don’t by the way that we carry on in our everyday lives. God’s people should be distinct from the ways of the world. At the same time, God acknowledges that we do need these basic things.
Verse 33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The key to avoiding anxiety is to prioritize the kingdom of God. It’s more about what we pursue (“the kingdom of God and His righteousness”) than what we avoid (anxiety over the basics of life). Being that this is true concerning anxiety over what is basic, it’s also true when it comes to heavier issues which may appear in our lives. Even the most devastating of circumstances can fade as concerns if we are in passionate pursuit of His kingdom. Losses that we may suffer during our short time on this earth need not strike us with such devastating force if we hold loosely to what is of this world, and we hold tightly to God’s kingdom, which cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:18-28, esp. vss. 27-28).
From verses 9-10 we see that God’s kingdom involves His honor and fame, His reign, and His will, along with a desire that these aspects of His kingdom become true where we live just as they are already true in heaven. We’re promised that the very things we’re urged not to fret over (provision of food, drinks, clothing, and the like) will come naturally to us when we prioritize God’s kingdom and His righteousness. At this point I’ll ask, but not answer, a somewhat difficult question: How do we reconcile this promise with the fact that there are faithful believers who pursue God’s kingdom and His righteousness, who also endure significant stretches of their lives lacking food and other basic comforts (perhaps or perhaps not as a result of persecution)?
Verse 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
What does it mean to say that “tomorrow will be anxious for itself”? As mentioned already, sometimes when we anticipate troubles, they don’t materialize. Even if that trouble does materialize, worrying about it in advance won’t be profitable. Each day God is more than able to provide the grace that we need for what we will face that day.
The book of Lamentations was written at an extremely low point in Israel’s history, during the aftermath of Babylon’s destructive invasion of Israel in 586 BC. In the midst of great tragedy, sorrow, and suffering, the author writes, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’” (Lam. 3:22-24).