At the end of Matthew 6, Jesus presents a series of arguments to show His disciples that they should not worry or be anxious about the physical necessities of life.
The first key element to understanding this section of the SOTM is realizing that it starts with “Therefore,” which signifies that Jesus is drawing a conclusion based on what He has previously taught. Jesus has just made the following points in 6.19-24: (A) Material possessions—treasure on earth—do not last, while treasure in heaven has lasting value, and (B) We cannot serve God and wealth; we must choose who our master will be.
In this context, what Jesus says next makes sense. We should not worry about physical things like food and clothing, because we have chosen God as our Master rather than wealth. If God is our Master, then our concern should lie with following Him rather than accumulating wealth.
Jesus’ command to not worry about life is difficult no matter what your socioeconomic condition is. To His original audience, who would have been overwhelmingly poor, it is difficult not to worry about life when you barely have enough to live on. For those of us who are blessed with much more, it is easy to spend time worried about our possessions and even for our possessions to become our masters. In other words, what Jesus tells His disciples here is difficult, no matter how wealthy you are.
When Jesus tells His disciples not to be anxious, He is not saying that they should be irresponsible in life, shirking responsibility and not being good stewards of their possessions. As we discussed last time, Scripture commends those who use foresight to plan ahead, and expects those who are Christians to provide for their families. The word that Jesus uses here, merimnate (μεριμνατε), suggests being overly concerned about something (1). The same word is used in the story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha when Martha is so worried and frazzled getting the meal ready that she doesn’t take time to listen to Jesus (Luke 10.38-42), and it’s also used in the Parable of the Sower to describe the seed sown among the thorns which is choked out by the concerns of the world (Luke 8.14).
Jesus then uses two examples from nature to illustrate His point. First, birds do not plant seeds, nor do they harvest crops and store them in barns, and yet God takes care of them and provides them with food. This is not to imply that birds are lazy or that they do nothing: indeed, they spend a great deal of time and effort securing the food that they need, but it is safe to say that they do not worry as they do so. Jesus says that God values humans more than birds, so if they are taken care of, we shouldn’t worry that we will not be. And at the same time, what good does our worrying do? Jesus points out that worrying can’t add a single hour to our lives, and in fact, medical research has indicated that stress and worry is actually bad for us.
Next, Jesus goes on to address the issue of clothing, and talks about flowers in the field. These flowers don’t worry about how they will look or work so that they might be “dressed” better, and yet they are beautiful, more beautiful in fact, than even King Solomon was with all his wealth and riches. As beautiful as flowers can be, when they withered, they were cut along with the surrounding grass and used to heat ovens to bake bread. God values us more than flowers; we should count upon Him to provide us with the clothing we need.
The next argument that Jesus makes is that worrying about things like food, drink, and clothing is the sort of thing that Gentiles do. Keep in mind that Jesus’ audience at this point was entirely Jewish, and they would have considered Gentiles to be pagans who didn’t know God at all. It would make sense for people who do not know God to spend their time worrying about such things, but for those of us who know God as our Heavenly Father, we should realize that He knows what we need and trust that He will take care of us.
In a sense, you could say that when we worry about things in life, we are like practical atheists, in that we are living as if there is no Heavenly Father watching out for us. Jesus exemplified radical trust in His Father, and calls for His disciples to do the same.
Instead of worrying about food and possessions, we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. To put it simply, the entire SOTM has been about showing us what it looks like to live as citizens of God’s kingdom and to exhibit His righteousness in our lives. Another way of saying this is that living out the principles of the SOTM in our daily lives should be our top priority; if we will do that, we won’t need to worry about all of these other things.
Finally, Jesus concludes by saying that we should not worry about tomorrow, because today has its own issues to deal with. When you think about it, it is pretty foolish for us to spend our time worrying about the future, because we don’t know what the future holds, and many of the things that we spend time worrying about never actually happen! If each day has enough troubles of its own, why should we anticipate additional problems? This is a way for us to double the amount of trouble we have, as John R. W. Stott wisely says: “For if our fear does not materialize, we have worried once for nothing; if it does materialize, we have worried twice instead of once. In both cases it is foolish: worry doubles trouble (2).”
The reality is that life is plenty difficult if we spend our time facing the actual challenges we know about today; it can become impossible if we face the infinite possible challenges that might come about someday.
- Larry Chouinard, Matthew, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO, College Press, 1997), 134.
- John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, Ill., InterVarsity Press, 1978), 69.