Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Matthew 6:25–34

Matthew 6:25–34 (ESV): Do Not Be Anxious


One way to sum up the last few passages would be to say that Jesus has been talking about “true religion”—something that comes from the heart, and is not about outward appearances. In this passage, Jesus moves on to the topic of worry.

Jesus urges us not to be “anxious about life,” worrying about what we will eat or drink or what we will wear, and then asks a rhetorical question: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (verse 25 (ESV)). Jesus then gives some examples from nature: birds don’t cultivate crops for themselves, and yet God feeds them; wild lilies don’t make clothes for themselves, yet God clothes them—in fact, He clothes them even better than He clothed Solomon, the richest king Israel ever had. With both of these examples, Jesus reminds his listeners that we are more important to God than any birds or flowers, and if He takes care of them, He will take care of us, too.

Jesus also asks another rhetorical question, which puts worry in its perspective: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (verse 27 (ESV))

Jesus sums up with the following words:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

(verses 31–34 (ESV))

Actually, I like the NIV translation of that last verse even better:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (verse 34 (NIV))


The first thing to note about this passage is the very first word that Jesus uses, in verse 25: “Therefore:”
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…” (verse 25a (ESV, emphasis added))
That tells us that Jesus has not abruptly changed subject. This is a continuation of what Jesus has already been talking about, and what he is about to say is a direct result of what he has already said. And what has Jesus just said? Let’s look back at the passages we’ve looked at, in Chapter 6:
  • Do good deeds to please your Father, not just to be seen by others (verses 1–4)
  • Pray from the heart, to your Father, not just to be seen by others (verses 5–15)
  • Fast because you want to worship God, and be closer to Him, not so that others will see you and think that you’re holy (verses 16–18)
  • Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, not here on earth (verses 19–24)
I’m not sure if this “therefore” refers to verses 16–18 or if it refers to all of Chapter 6—or all of Jesus’ sermon up to this point, for that matter—but the point is clear: What Jesus has already been talking about should result in a Christian who does not worry. (Or, as it is phrased in the ESV, is not anxious.)

The other thing to note about this passage is that God is not ignorant of our needs. This is not theoretical Christianity, where Jesus is pretending that we don’t have physical needs. God knows that we really do need to eat, and drink, and be clothed. He knows it. And He is able to supply our needs—which brings us to a couple more instances of the word “therefore:”
But if God so clothes the grass of the field … will he not much more clothe you …? Therefore do not be anxious … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow… (portions of verses 30–34 (ESV))
Jesus isn’t pretending that these needs don’t exist; he’s pointing us to the God who loves us, and is able to provide for us, and telling us that we “therefore” do not need to worry. What we should be concerned with is seeking the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and letting Him worry about our needs.

But it’s not just that we don’t need to worry; that’s only part of the picture. Knowing what we know about God—who He is, and what He is capable of—what does it say about us when we worry? Let’s look again at verse 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? (verse 30 (ESV))
Ouch! “O you of little faith”—that’s Jesus’ summary of us, when we worry. We don’t have enough faith in the God who has promised to supply our needs. If God is going to supply our needs, then we don’t need to worry—unless we think that He is not capable of it. Or unless we think that He was lying, when He said that he’d supply our needs. But if God is all powerful, and if God never lies (Titus 1:1–4 (ESV)), then there is nothing to worry about; nothing to be anxious about. We have to have faith in Him.

I think this is—at least in part—what Jesus means by his rhetorical question in verse 25: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” If your whole life is work, then where is the time for worship?

A final thought that occurs to me:. Does this passage mean that a Christian will never die of starvation, or of exposure (from lack of clothing)? I don’t think so. And I say that because I’m sure there are Christians around the world who are dying of starvation right now. Interestingly, as I went back and re-read this passage, Jesus never specifically says that the Father will feed us—just that we shouldn’t worry about being fed. He does say that the Father will clothe us, in verse 30 (ESV), but he doesn’t specifically say that God will feed us. (He does say in verse 33 (ESV) that “all these things will be added to you,” but he doesn’t specifically say, “God will feed you.”) I may very well be splitting hairs, but if so, then what are we to believe about Christians who do die of hunger? Are we to assume that it’s because they haven’t properly lived out what Jesus said in verses 1–24 of Matthew 6? Personally, I can’t go there. I think the message in Luke 13:1–5 (ESV) applies equally well to Christians as it does to non-Christians; if someone suffers, we can’t assume that it’s because they are being punished, for displeasing God.

But I can say this: A Christian doesn’t need to worry even if that person is in danger of dying of starvation. It may be that God will feed that person, even if it doesn’t seem possible—because nothing is impossible for God—and even if He doesn’t, that person can have the same attitude as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3:8–30 (NIV), especially verses 16–18 (NIV) (which I’m linking to the NIV version again, because I like that version better for this particular passage).

Of course, all this is very easy for me to say, living in North America, having a good job, and currently being in very little danger of starvation. But it’s where the passage takes us.

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