One of the most disheartening things I see in the body of Christ is Christian men and women living well beneath their privileges as children of God. I’m not talking about material or financial privileges. I’m talking about the joy, freedom, and satisfaction that are ours in Jesus. So many Christians experience so very little of these blessings. They muddle through life fearful rather than faithful, filled with anxiety and uncertainty, consumed with worry and doubt. This is not God’s will for you! Instead of entering into the fullness of all that God is for you in Jesus, many are paralyzed with anxiety over questions like:
“What is God doing anyway, and what is my role in it? Do I even have a role to play?”
“Can God be trusted with my life?”
“What about my problems? If other people only knew what I have to face when I get up each day!”
If there is one positive thing in this it is that even the men and women who walked with Jesus asked the same questions. Jesus knew it, and that is why he said what he did in Mt. 6:25-34, perhaps the most famous passage in the Bible on the subject of worry, anxiety, and the importance of trusting God.
What our Lord has to say on this subject will be received differently, depending on the degree to which worry and anxiety are a problem in your life. Carson illustrates it this way:
“Picture three people. The first is a happy-go-lucky, cheerful, almost irresponsible person. He rarely gets anything done, and never gets anything done on time. He doesn’t worry about the next five minutes, let alone tomorrow. Responsibility he wears too lightly; life is a lark. If he is a Christian, it is very difficult to get him to work faithfully at any task. He probably won’t cause any tension by stooping to bitterness or vindictiveness: everyone knows him as a ‘nice guy.’ On the other hand, he remains insensitive to the needs and feelings of others, and is consistently carefree about the spiritual lostness of millions of men.
The second person is almost hyper-responsible. He takes every grief and burden seriously. If there is any trouble, he frets so much over it that he produces outsize ulcers. The state of the economy is a constant weight on his mind: not only does he worry about tomorrow, he wonders how he’ll make out when he retires in forty-two years. He may spread the objects of his worry around, so that every bit of bad news, or even a whiff of potentially bad news, prompts a new outbreak of anxiety; or he may focus his worry and inflated sense of responsibility on a few restricted areas, with the result that he utterly excludes other people and topics.
The third person is a balanced and sane young Christian, noteworthy for his integrity and disciplined hard work. Married with two children, he is supporting them faithfully while he tries to finish his doctorate. With about one year to go, he wakes one night to discover that his wife can’t speak and can’t move on her right side. A brain tumor is discovered; but major surgery proves useless. The doctor tells the young man that the recovery period will be lengthy, and will not return his wife to normal strength and mental clarity in any case. In fact, the prognosis is three years, during which time she will become more and more like a vegetable; and then she will die” (82-83).
Each of these three people reads Mt. 6:25-34 or listens to this message. How will each react? The first man will be delighted: “I always knew people were too uptight about life. Jesus confirms that I was right all along.” The second will feel rebuked. He knows the preacher/teacher is talking about him. He begins to worry about worry! The third bitterly sneers under his breath and says to himself, “The rest of you should watch your own wife die before you dare speak so confidently of trusting God!”
So, how will you hear and respond to the words of Jesus?
Before proceeding further, we need to note the context of this passage and the misconceptions surrounding it.
Observe that Jesus begins with the words, “for this reason” (v. 25a). For what reason? What is the link between vv. 25-34 and what has preceded? (1) It may be that vv. 19-24 address the danger of laying up treasure on earth, of hoarding wealth, while vv. 25-34 address not so much the pursuit of riches as one’s excessive worry about them. One may not be guilty of hoarding wealth but he may be guilty of worrying about it. (2) Others suggest that whereas vv. 19-24 address rich people with a warning not to lose sight of loyalty to Christ, vv. 25-34 address poor people who are anxious about where their next meal is coming from. (3) Finally, it may be that the connection is less subtle. The thought behind our Lord’s words may come from the person who says: “If I do choose to serve God rather than mammon, perhaps I will suffer incredible loss and be left destitute. Who’s going to take care of me?” Regardless of which view is correct,
“we are reminded [here] once more of the terrible subtlety of Satan and of sin. It does not matter very much to Satan what form sin takes as long as he succeeds in his ultimate objective. It is immaterial to him whether you are laying up treasures on earth or worrying about earthly things; all he is concerned about is that your mind should be on them and not on God. And he will assail and attack you from every direction. You may think you have won this great battle against Satan because you conquered him when he came in at the front door and talked to you about laying up treasures on earth. But before you are aware of it, you will find he has come in through the back door and is causing you to have anxious concern about these things. He is still making you look at them, and so is perfectly content” (Lloyd-Jones, 108).
There are also a number of misconceptions about this passage. (1) Jesus is not forbidding forethought or planning. What he condemns is “anxious and worrisome” forethought. See James 4:13-17. Prudent provision for the future is right. Wearing, corroding, self-tormenting anxiety is not. (2) Jesus is not forbidding justified concern for matters that are crucial. He is denouncing unjustified anxiety over matters that are better left in God’s hand. (3) Jesus is not forbidding work. See esp. 2 Thess. 3:10. We cannot use this text to justify sitting idly by and twiddling our thumbs. “God wants nothing to do with the lazy, gluttonous bellies who are neither concerned nor busy; they act as if they just had to sit and wait for him to drop a roasted goose into their mouth” (Martin Luther). According to v. 26, God provides for the birds of the air, not by dropping worms from the sky but by providing for them in nature what is necessary for them to feed themselves. The experience of Elijah in this regard is not normative! (4) Jesus is not forbidding us from taking care of other Christians. The fact that God providentially provides for the needs of his children does not free us from the responsibility of being the means whereby he does it.
I have identified 8 reasons Jesus gives for not worrying.
(1) Worry is unlawful (vv. 24-25a)
Worry is a violation of the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Note the connection between the command in v. 25 and what Jesus says about mammon and serving two masters in vv. 19-24. The point is this: worry is idolatrous. When you worry you become a slave to whatever it is about which you are concerned: your life is in bondage to the issue, your will is captivated by it, your mind is dominated by anxious thoughts about how all of it will turn out, etc. To the extent that you are the slave of another, you are not a slave to God. To worry is thus to serve and subject oneself to this world and its activities and problems rather than to God. It is extremely difficult to worry and worship at the same time!
(2) Worry is unreasonable (v. 25b)
The point here is that our “life” is more important than the food and drink that sustain it. Our “bodies” are more important than the clothing which covers them. What we wear and eat are of very small importance in comparison with what we are. If God takes care of the greater (our life and our body), can we not trust him to take care of the lesser (food and clothing)?
Worry is unreasonable for another reason (although not in the text, common sense teaches us this). Worry forces us to experience a problem twice: once, in our minds as we live fearfully in anticipation of the problem, and again when the difficulty actually occurs. Worry doubles our trouble! If our fear does not materialize, we have worried once for nothing. If it does materialize we have worried twice instead of once. On either alternative, worry is utterly unreasonable.
(3) Worry is unworthy (v. 26)
Worry is unworthy of those who are God’s children, created in his image. No animal was ever created in God’s image. No animal or plant was ever redeemed, adopted, justified, or made an heir of the kingdom of God. Yet God cares for them. For us to worry, therefore, is beneath our dignity as God’s image-bearers, his children.
We have no way of knowing for sure, but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps at precisely this moment in his sermon a flock of birds flew overhead, to which Jesus directs their attention to make his point.
Martin Luther comments:
“You see, he [God] is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men. . . . Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher. . . . It is as if he were saying, ‘I prefer to be in the Lord’s kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and he himself is the cook and the host.’ Every day he feeds and nourishes innumerable birds out of his hand.”
We marvel at the created order and how consistently God sustains and cares for it. We ought also to be rebuked by it. “Lovely lilies,” said Spurgeon, “how ye rebuke our foolish nervousness.”
(4) Worry is unproductive (v. 27)
Worry accomplishes nothing. Jesus mixes his metaphors. He takes a term of linear measure (cubit = 18 inches) and applies it to the duration of our earthly life. But no one believes that worrying will add 18 inches to your life! This is similar to our own expression, upon turning 40 or 50 or the like: “I’ve reached another milestone in life.” His point is this: worry only shortens and saddens your life. It produces nothing of real and lasting benefit.”
(5) Worry is unbelief (vv. 28-30)
Worry is an expression of a lack of faith in the character of God. When we worry we doubt his goodness; we don’t believe that he wants to help. When we worry we doubt his greatness; we don’t believe that he is able to help. Worry says: “God, either you are wicked or a wimp. I haven’t decided yet. In any case, you aren’t worthy of my trust.”
It would seem, then, that the root cause of all unjustified worry is a failure to trust all that God has promised to be for us in Jesus. That hurts! Most of us prefer to think of worry as little more than a minor struggle with the flesh. Jesus, however, suggests that it is symptomatic of disbelief in God!
Amazingly, we tend to use anything that doesn’t go our way as an argument against God’s existence, or at least as an argument against his goodness. I’m reminded of the book, “If God Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open?” Whereas it might be something more serious than a stuck locker, we are prone to doubt God’s character when things begin to fall apart. Bottom line: worry is the fruit of a lack of faith in the sovereignty of God: “God, I really don’t believe you are competent or compassionate enough to take care of my life and the things that are important to me. Therefore, you are not worthy of my trust and my worry is justified.”
Note v. 30 and its two arguments. First, if God provides for the grass which is but temporary, will he not surely provide for his children who are destined for eternal glory? Second, if God decks the flowers with such glorious garments, he will surely clothe his children with the necessities of life.
(6) Worry is unchristian (vv. 31-32)
“Gentiles” in v. 32 is a reference to unbelievers. The spirit of worry represents an attitude of mind alien to the kingdom of God. It lowers the believer to the standards and motivation of the world. It is in essence saying, “I received Christ and am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but it really doesn’t make any difference in my life!” It is saying that the non-Christian is no worse off than the Christian; that there is no advantage to being a believer in the first place. Says Carson,
“Our worries must not sound like the worries of the world. When the Christian faces the pressure of examinations, does he sound like the pagan in the next room? When he is short of money, even for the essentials, does he complain with the same tone, the same words, the same attitude, as those around him? Away with secular thinking. The follower of Jesus will be concerned to have a distinctive lifestyle, one that is characterized by values and perspectives so un-pagan that his life and conduct are, as it were, stamped all over with the words, ‘Made in the kingdom of God.’”
We must never forget that Jesus refers to God as “your heavenly Father” in vv. 26 and 32. To worry is to behave as if we were spiritual orphans.
“Said the robin to the sparrow:
‘I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.’
Said the sparrow to the robin:
‘Friend, I think that it must be,
That they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”
7. Worry is unnecessary (v. 32)
God knows! Worry is a tacit denial of the omniscience of God. We think that by worrying we will bring to God’s attention something of which he is unaware. We think that if we worry and complain loudly and long enough we will raise the roof of heaven and awaken God from his slumber and inform him of our needs. Do you imagine God responding in this way: “Oh, child, I’m so sorry. I had no idea you had these problems and so many needs. No wonder you’re eaten up with anxiety! I’m so glad you worried about them and caught my attention. It never would have dawned on me that you were in such a mess. Thanks!” I beg your pardon!
8. Worry is unrighteous (v. 33)
The alternative to worry is seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. You can’t do both. Jesus portrays these two options as mutually exclusive. Either you worry and slight his righteousness or you pursue his righteousness and give no room to worry. Think of the time, energy, money, etc., that you spend when you worry, all of which could have been devoted to the kingdom of God. Remember also that worry often leads to other sins: anxiety over money can lead to greed, covetousness, stealing; anxiety over relationships can lead to self-defensiveness, withdrawal, hard-heartedness; anxiety over what people think of you can lead to lies, hypocrisy, etc.
Two additional observations on v. 33. First, Jesus promises to provide our necessities, not our luxuries. What is for many a necessity is for others a luxury. Second, are there any exceptions to the promise of v. 33? In other words, is it an iron-clad and unconditional promise? What about those who suffer martyrdom and are called upon to suffer in unusual ways for the sake of the kingdom?
What does the Bible recommend in the place of worry?
· Know well the previous eight points!
· Become occupied with kingdom-seeking (v. 33). See esp. Mt. 25:14-30 (esp. v. 26 – “you wicked, lazy slave;” in other words, worry paralyzes).
· Redirect the focus of your life and concerns from tomorrow to today (v. 34). You can handle today’s problems because they are already here.
· Fight anxiety with the promises of God. Fight anxiety with a massive assault of biblical truth.
When you worry about what people might do to you, recall Rom. 8:31 (“If God be for us, who can be against us?”).
When you worry about being too weak, recall 2 Cor. 12:9 (“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”).
When you worry about future decisions, recall Ps. 32:8 (“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you”).
When you worry about whether God will fulfill his promises to you, recall Heb. 6:18 (where it says that “it is impossible for God to lie”).
When you worry about your loved ones, recall Mt. 7:11 (“how much more will the Father give what is good to those who ask”).
When you worry about physical sickness, recall Ps. 103:3 (“He heals all your diseases”).
When you worry about getting old, recall Isa. 46:4 (“Even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you”).
When you worry about failing and falling, recall Phil. 1:6 (“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”).
· Pray! See Phil. 4:4-7. This is not a promise that problems will go away. It is, rather, a promise that God’s peace is greater than your anxiety! He doesn’t promise peace instead of problems, but peace in spite of problems.
· Cast yourself on the faithfulness of God as explained in Lam. 3:21-24.
· Relinquish! Trust! “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7).