In a fallen world, any number of things can go horribly wrong. Drunk drivers come out of nowhere, mow down a newly married couple, and walk away without a scratch. Cancer exists. Greedy executives embezzle money and plummet whole companies (and workers) into ruin. Terrorists slaughter innocent people. An entire back market exists on the internet for every kind of ghastly and unspeakable sexual proclivity. People are murdered by cold-hearted thugs who “just wanted to see what it feels like.” And lesser matters—broken-down cars, student loan debt, marital squabbles, monthly bills—weigh on millions of people, causing sleepless nights and snippy conversations.
All of these situations and untold thousands (millions?) more are a direct result of living in a cursed environment, and all of them are causes for a universal besetting sin: Worry. Worry is a weighing down with concern or anxiety to the point of distraction. And because it is distracting, it siphons focus and energy from the good work we would do for our risen Lord (cf. Acts 20:19a; 1 Cor. 15:58; Tit. 3:14). Our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who came into the world to redeem sinful men and inaugurate His eschatological rule over a fallen world and take back what is rightfully His as both God and divinely-promised human king, gave the Sermon on the Mount to outline the character and ways of His present and future kingdom. Because worry is the antithesis to the faith He demands of His people, and the faith through which He works and extends His program in the world, it is not surprising He spends much time in the Sermon taking from us every possible avenue we have to engage in worry. In Matthew 6:24-34, Jesus gives five reasons believers can and must be free from worry.
A. We are not to worry because of our Master (v. 25)
Jesus’ words in the immediately preceding verse are interesting. He condemns the incessant seeking after money as a form of satisfaction and security by saying we cannot serve (lit. “slave for”) two masters. (Note also the conjunction “for this reason,” in verse 25, which ties what He says in the following verses to the argument in verse 24.) This is apropos as a hinge between the two pericopes. Just as we cannot look to both Christ and finances as our security, we cannot slave for Christ and be in bondage to worry. We must make a choice. Christ’s claims on us are absolute, and the trope of Christians as slaves of Christ runs throughout the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 25:21; Rom. 1:1, 6:16-23, 12:11b; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1:1; Rev. 1:1, 22:3, 6). Worry is a demonic and fleshly threat against the exercised lordship of Christ in the life of the believer. If we are to fight it, we have to see it for what it is.
“Life” is literally “soul,” and carries the idea of both the entire human person in all realms of life (emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.), as well as all the phases and experiences of life. It is life in its fullest extent, in terms of breadth and detail, not quality (i.e., do not confuse “life” here with the OT idea of “shalom”). This is an absolute statement, then, on the part of our Lord: Do not worry about any part of life, ever, in any way. He removes all the ability we have to worry. Finances? No. Marital issues? No? Getting into the college we want? No? Whether others like us? No. None of it is allowed. He then zeroes in on two specifics, which are in some ways the most basic ones—food and clothing. If we aren’t to worry about any part of life, then we can’t worry about the individual parts. And if we can’t worry about the most basic of those individual parts, have we an excuse for worry about the most specific, unique, and complex?
Jesus has come to take over. He leaves no area where we must not acknowledge Him as living, sovereign, and personal Lord.
B. We are not to worry because of our Heavenly Father (vv. 26-27)
After emphasizing His lordship over us (which both implies His perfect provision of all His slaves need and His right to be Lord over us in all things, instead of worry), Jesus relates to us from the perspective of God as our Father. This doubly underscores God’s provision—He provides for us as His slaves, who need things to do His will, and He provides for us as His children, whom He loves and cherishes. The idea in these verses is simple: The birds do not toil and spend hours of time and energy trying to get food, and God feeds them. We are worth more than birds—for we are created as God’s image, and we are also God’s regenerate, redeemed children—so how can our loving Father, who loves the little birds He created enough to feed them daily, not feed us?
The theology here is sweet, and shows Jesus’ belief in the meticulous sovereignty of God. For He does not say we should stand on our porches with our mouths open, heads pointed toward heaven, waiting for God to drop bacon and eggs into them every morning. Jesus exalts the sovereignty and Father-heart of God, but also implicitly underscores that this God uses means to accomplish His will. Jesus would not advocate passivity in pursuit of God’s provision, but amazingly insists that you can be a worker together with Him in meeting your needs. Yet, Jesus insists that the honor and glory for the provision—even something as mundane and simple as working a job to get money to buy food—goes not to us, but the Lord, who gives us the opportunity to use the means and who makes them successful.
C. We are not to worry because of our God (vv. 28-30)
Jesus attacks worry here from the standpoint of God as Creator and omnipotent Lord. God provides for the lilies of the field, who neither toil nor spin yet are clothed in glory that the richest man who ever lived could not match. Further, Jesus adds a note of extravagance to God’s lordly creativity: God expends this creative energy on the beauty of flowers that have an immensely short shelf life. Wildflowers in Jesus’ day were plucked almost daily to be used as fuel in cooking fires, yet God does not hold back in crowning them with colorful glory. Jesus’ point is simple: If God lavishes His goodness and glory on things that very nearly exist only to be consumed, won’t He expend His authority and power as Creator and Lord much more on those He has chosen, called, and redeemed to be His image-bearers? The One who is restoring us to bear His image in the world, to exercise dominion on His behalf for the fulfillment of His program (Col. 3:10), who bestows such honor on those who rebelled against that authority, will without question give those men and women what they need. Believing anything less is wicked unbelief.
D. We are not to worry because that is what people without faith do (vv. 31-32)
Many of the old Baptist confessions of faith carried the line, “There is a radical and essential difference between the righteous and the wicked.” Jesus highlights one of these differences, at the level of how our nature affects our understanding of life and reality. Unsaved people are cut off from God as Lord, Father, and Creator. This is a more awful idea than we might first anticipate. Besides the obvious implications for their salvation, this also means they are cut off from the true understanding of the world, how it works, and the meaning of life. They have no fully-orbed nor heart-level, lived-out concept of a sovereign, holy, personal Lord who is involved in very detail of life and has an overarching program and plan for the world, into which all things fit. Jesus’ exhortation falls into two sections; “do not worry…for the Gentiles eagerly seek,” and “do not worry…for your heavenly Father knows.” Do not worry, because unbelievers do that, and they have none of the knowledge or resources you do. Positively, do not worry because you have a heavenly Father who knows—a word which carries the idea of deep and full, often experiential, knowledge—what you need and has all authority and power in heaven and earth to give it to you.
Additionally, “Gentiles” should not be understood as contrasted with the church as a new, spiritual Israel. The church had not yet been formed, and was still an unrevealed mystery institution (Matt. 13, 16:18a); Jesus was speaking to Jewish people under the Law of Moses. To be a Gentile was to be outside the covenant and its blessings and provision, and outside of relationship with the one true God (cf. Eph. 2:11-12). It is in this non-covenantal, non-relational sense that Paul uses it in his letter to the Thessalonians as well, after the start of the church and inauguration of the new covenant (1 Thess. 4:5). God’s people in the present dispensation, though distinct from Israel, nonetheless share in their majestic blessing of a covenant-keeping, personal, and wonderfully fatherly God.
E. We should “worry” instead about seeking after God and His holiness (v. 33-34)
Here, Jesus exhorts His people in a fresh way. Take the energy you would have spent worrying and choose to expend it on your true master and king, and His work. This is ultimately an issue of faith. There is always a little part of us that wants to check and re-check; to ruminate, over-plan, and have back-ups to our back-up plans. We want to fret and fantasize about all the ways things can go wrong, and some of us take pleasure in frustration and setbacks, as if our “victimhood” should earn us pity or sympathy. Jesus forces us into a decision: Refuse worry. Throw yourself instead with wild abandon into the pursuit of God’s purposes. The idea is that you can do one or the other, but not both. And that is the problem. We want to trust God, but we also cannot give ourselves fully to Him. What if He doesn’t come through? What if He doesn’t rescue us? And so we sacrifice vital energy and time and mental capacity on something that accomplishes nothing and in fact is detrimental to everything good God wants to give us and accomplish in the world.
Will you make the choice to trust God and sacrifice yourself for His program? Will you throw yourself into His arms, knowing that if He does not come through, you’re sunk? Will you trust Him in this way, or will you continue to attempt to meet needs in your own strength and frustrate the very provision and blessing you crave? Your risen Lord calls you to exercise you regenerate will and trust Him for all things in time and eternity. Do it, and be blessed!