Scripture Introduction: In the preceding portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ warns against seeking earthly riches beyond our essential needs, but in this portion of the sermon we will see how He teaches us not to worry even about the basic necessities of life.
Read Matthew 6:19-34
Introduction: Walter Kelly, creator of the old Pogo comic strip, once said: “When I don’t have anything to worry about, I begin to worry about that” (as cited here).
Mr. Kelly illustrates well the problem that so many of us have. We just have a built in tendency to worry. But in the passage before us today we will see that Jesus doesn’t want us to worry. We will see that He 1) admonishes us against worrying, 2) asks a series of probing questions arguing against worrying, and 3) asserts our true priority that alleviates worrying.
I. Jesus Admonishes Us Against Worrying
We see this in the first part of verse 25.
NKJ Matthew 6:25a Therefore [διὰ τοῦτο, diá toũto, for this reason] I say to you, do not worry [μεριμνάω, merimnáō] about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.
When Jesus begins by saying therefore, or for this reason, He is indicating that the problem He has just warned us about in the preceding context (vss. 19-24), the problem of desiring the earthly riches, often begins with worry about our earthly needs. So He does not just warn us about the danger of seeking earthly riches but also about the root problem of excessive worry about our needs. For it is this worrying that so easily leads to a desire to hoard such riches. And, as we shall see, this desire for earthly things is itself a lack of faith in God. Such a lack of faith then in turn fosters the kind of self-reliance and materialistic idolatry that Jesus wants us to avoid. It is a vicious cycle that Jesus wants to end in all of us!
Notice also that Jesus addresses the most basic needs that all people have – food, water, and clothing – and commands us not to worry about these things.
Application: But some of us may be thinking that, if we have a right to worry about anything, surely it is our most basic needs! After all, when we wake up in the morning, isn’t one of our first thoughts of the day about getting a drink of water or a cup of coffee? Or about what we will have for breakfast? Or about what we will wear today? Surely Jesus doesn’t mind if we think about such things? The answer is that, of course, He is not saying we should take no thought at all about such things, but only that we shouldn’t worry about them. After all, earlier in the sermon Jesus has already told us to pray about such things each day:
NKJ Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread.
This is one reason that the King James Version needed to be corrected in its translation of this verse, which reads, “Therefore I say unto you, ‘Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on …’” (italics mine).
The New King James Version gets it right when it translates the command as do not worry. But Jesus doesn’t just give us a bare command. In order to reinforce the command and to help us see why it is so important, He offers us reasons not to worry, which leads to our next point.
II. Jesus Argues Against Worrying
We shall see that, beginning in the last part of verse 25, Jesus begins to ask a series of rhetorical questions that are designed to reveal the real source of our worrying, namely a lack of faith. With these questions Jesus also appeals to logic, making arguments both from the greater to the lesser and from the lesser to the greater.
First, we see that Jesus offers an argument from the greater to the lesser.
NKJ Matthew 6:25b Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
In other words, if – as Jesus assumes here – God has given us life itself and the bodies we possess, is He not also able to provide the food and clothing we need to sustain our lives and provide for our bodies? If He can do these greater things, how much more capable is He of doing these lesser things?
Observe also that Jesus is stressing that true life is something more than merely this earthly life and meeting our bodily needs. He is reminding us of what He has already taught in the preceding context, that there are rewards in Heaven where we should be laying up treasures for ourselves.
Second, we see that Jesus offers a series of arguments from the lesser to the greater.
These arguments focus upon the way God providentially cares for His creation, doing such things as feeding the birds and adorning the flowers of the field.
NKJ Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
In other words, if God takes care of the birds which are of comparatively lesser value, will He not also take care of us who are greater value. As a poet once wrote:
Said the Robin to the Sparrow, “I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings rush about and hurry 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.” (as cited by John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 165)
I have seen this poem in several commentaries or Bible study resources, and it does reflect well the central point Jesus is making, which is that we can easily worry when we shouldn’t. When we are consumed with worry, we really do act as though we have no heavenly Father to care for us, don’t we?
However, although birds are God’s creatures and He does care for them, Jesus does not call God their heavenly Father. This is a special relationship that we have with God, which makes Jesus’ point all the more clear. If we He takes care of them, surely He will take care of us, who are His children, created in His image and redeemed by Christ!
Notice also that Jesus describes the birds as “neither sowing nor reaping.” Does this mean that He doesn’t want us to sow or reap? Is He indicating that we shouldn’t be concerned about working to meet our needs? Some have been tempted to think so, but there is no reason to think that Jesus doesn’t want us to be hard workers. Paul certainly didn’t understand Jesus’ admonition this way when he wrote to the Thessalonian Christians:
NKJ 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
As Thomas Constable observes concerning Jesus’ teaching here, “This does not mean we can disregard work, but it does mean we should disregard worry” (Notes on Matthew, e-Sword).
Jesus also seeks to highlight the ineffectiveness of worrying, as we see in His next rhetorical question.
NKJ Matthew 6:27 Which of you by worrying [μεριμνάω, merimnáō] can add one cubit [πῆχυς, pḗchus, which here may refer to an hour of one’s life] to his stature [ἡλικία, hēlikía, mature age, maturity]?
This question reinforces Jesus’ point by emphasizing that worry is useless anyway because it simply doesn’t accomplish anything! It can’t make you grow more mature or lengthen your life, can it? The point is essentially the same whether one prefers the translation of the New King James Version or that of the ESV and NASB:
ESV Matthew 6:27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
NAU Matthew 6:27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
I prefer these translations because I think they better fit the context, which is about our lives rather than how tall we are. But as I said, the essential point is the same. Worry doesn’t accomplish anything. It can’t add any more time to our lives, whether to live or grow taller. In fact, a good case can be made that worry will shorten our lives! And it can take over our lives and rob them of joy as well. As playwright Arthur Somers Roche poignantly observed, “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
No wonder our Lord Jesus wants us not to worry. And no wonder He offers us so many arguments against it, as He continues to do with His next rhetorical questions.
NKJ Matthew 6:28-30 So why do you worry [μεριμνάω, merimnáō] about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
In other words, if God shows such concern for the flowers of the field – which are here for a short time and used for fuel when dead and dried out – will He not also be concerned for us? The answer is that of course He will be concerned that we have clothes to wear. And if we think otherwise – which is what we demonstrate when we worry – then the real problem we have is a lack of faith.
Notice the progression of the argument. First Jesus warns against seeking earthly riches rather than treasure in Heaven (vss. 19-24). Then He zeroes in on what so easily leads to such a desire for earthly riches, which is worry about the future (vss. 25-27). And now He pinpoints the source of such worrying, which is a lack of faith (vss. 28-30). This is why George Muller once correctly asserted that, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”
Application: Let us not deceive ourselves. To the degree that we worry we do not really trust God as we should. But, some of us may think, shouldn’t we be concerned about meeting our basic needs? Isn’t this why Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, as we have already been reminded? Isn’t this why Paul said that we should work for our bread? Shouldn’t we be concerned also because in meeting our own needs we may also meet the needs of others? And doesn’t Jesus also command us to meet such needs of others and even tell us that the future judgment will take this into account? For example:
NKJ Matthew 25:31-36 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Such concern for others can also be for their spiritual welfare, as Paul reminds us:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 … besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
So, how do we understand such passages in a unified way? Well, there are a couple of points that need to be remembered.
First, we must distinguish between concern about our daily needs – concern that we take to God in prayer – and worry about such things. The difference between concern and worry can be a subtle one, which makes it all the more easy to deceive ourselves about it. But perhaps we can safely discriminate between the two by recognizing that concern can leave these things with God after praying for them, but worry can’t let go of them. Here we must remember the words of Peter:
NKJ 1 Peter 5:6-7 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Just as Jesus taught, so Peter also connects our casting our cares upon the Lord with trust that He really does care for us. When we continue to worry we only show that we doubt that He really cares. Remember also the words of Paul to the Philippian Christians:
NKJ Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Paul says that we will have peace when we pray without worry. So this is another way to tell the difference between a genuine concern that we that we take to God versus worry that we hang onto.
Second, we must also distinguish between selfless concern for others and selfishly worrying about our own needs. And this concern for others should be a kingdom concern, which leads us to out final point.
III. Jesus Asserts Our True Priority That Alleviates Worrying
We see this in verses 31-34.
NKJ Matthew 6:31 Therefore [οὖν, oún, so, hence] do not worry [μεριμνάω, merimnáō], saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”
Before Jesus asserts what should be our ultimate priority, He restates His command not to worry. He does this with the apparent desire to highlight that the real cure for worry is to be found not only in trusting God more fully, but also in getting our priorities straight, as He will make clear in what He goes on to say next.
NKJ Matthew 6:32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek [ἐπιζητέω, epizētéō]. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
Jesus is making two points in this verse.
First, when we worry more about our temporal, earthly needs than we do about eternal, heavenly things, we are behaving the same way the heathen do. This means that we are in reality seeking the same things in life that they seek. Are we not then salt that has lost its saltiness (5:13)? Are we not failing to let our light shine before men as we ought (5:16)? Are we not like those who receive the word among the thorns? Remember what Jesus said about the thorny ground:
NKJ Matthew 13:22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.
Second, when we worry as the heathen do, we are acting as though our heavenly Father does not really know or understand our needs. So again we see lack of faith as a primary issue.
But we will never have a stronger faith until we have the right priorities, as Jesus makes clear in what He says next.
NKJ Matthew 6:33 But seek [ζητέω, zētéō] first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
In other words, if we seek His kingdom and righteousness first, then we can be confident that our needs will be met. But what is the kingdom and righteousness that we are to seek first? Well, we are to seek the advancement of the kingdom now through the advancement of the Gospel, just as Jesus did:
NKJ Matthew 4:23a And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom ….
This means we must make the proclamation of the Gospel a first priority in our lives, doesn’t it? And it also means that we must pray for the kingdom to come more fully now and ultimately in the future, as Jesus taught us to pray earlier in the Sermon on the Mount when said, “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10, italics mine).
When Jesus refers to seeking His righteousness in connection with seeking His kingdom, He is talking about living a more righteous life that will elicit a reaction from others and is an integral part of the witness we have that will help to advance the kingdom. As we live such righteous lives, we will elicit both a negative and a positive response, as Jesus also taught earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:
NKJ Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
NKJ Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works [which would be righteous works] and glorify your Father in heaven.
If we are thus seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, then we will find that His concerns begin to outweigh our concerns. We begin to find that our faith becomes stronger as we prayerfully depend upon Him to work in and through us. And we begin to find that we have less and less reason to worry about the future as well, something which Jesus addresses yet again in what He says next.
NKJ Matthew 6:34 Therefore [οὖν, oún, so, hence] do not worry [μεριμνάω, merimnáō] about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry [μεριμνάω, merimnáō] about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
We do not need to worry about tomorrow when we trust God with each day. But Jesus ends this part of His teaching with an added reminder that each day will bring trouble of its own. Why, then, would we want to bring tomorrow’s trouble into today and deal with it twice?! As George MacDonald has pointed out, “No man ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow’s burden is added to the burden of today, that the weight is more than a man can bear” (as cited by Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 224).
Conclusion: Thus we come to the end of Jesus’ admonitions not to worry, and I hope that those of us who trust in Him as Lord and Savior will leave here today encouraged to trust Him more and more each day, making His priorities our own and learning not to worry because we know our lives are in His loving hands.