“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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 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? 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 (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV).
For many chronic worriers, like me, this is a familiar passage of Scripture. How many times have I read this in times of stress and anxiety? Many times I have simply quoted to myself the words, “Consider the lilies,” and found an immediate reminder of God’s goodness and provision. The difficulty, however, with familiar passages is that we often take them for granted and can easily miss key aspects of Scripture. To counteract this tendency, consider stopping here for a moment and asking God to allow you to look at this passage of Scripture with fresh eyes and an open heart. Ask him to bless you with clarity and personal application as we consider this beautiful passage.
Keeping in mind that we are studying part by part a compilation of a longer discourse, Jesus introduces this subject with the word “therefore,” which as every good literature student knows to ask: What is the “therefore” there for? (Wasn’t this the same class that taught us not to end a sentence with a preposition?). “Therefore,” then, directs us back to verse 19 through 24:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:19-24).
Looking back at this passage we find that “therefore” is there because earthly treasures do not last (6:19-21), and because our spiritual view can be darkened (6:22), and because we are to make a distinctive choice between God and possessions (6:24), and because the kingdom of God demands our undivided devotion (6:19-24). Considering all of this, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” (6:25).
The word “anxious” here can also be translated “worry” and is the Greek word merimna, and as we will see, when here, it is contrasted with trusting God. You could say that worry is the antithesis of trusting God. However, this is not the only use merimna is used in Scripture, and it is not the only way we use the word “worry” in our vocabulary. For example, was the Apostle Paul worrying when he wrote, “apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28)? Was he daily sinning on behalf of the churches? No, sinful worry is not concern. Or, consider Scripture’s use of such stressful words as “wrestling,” “fighting,” or “a race.” Is the Christian life just one big stressful life of worry? No, sinfulworry is not effort.
So, at the risk of providing to narrow a view on this, allow me to propose a definition of worry (at least in considering this context): Worry is a self-centered lack of confidence in God in which the temporal stuff of life is elevated to an unrighteous level of attention. Think about it. When you worry, are you self-consumed? Full of self-pity? When you worry, do you demonstrate a lack of confidence in God? When you worry do you elevate the importance of stuff?
Before we dig further into the passage, if worry is at its essence a lack of confidence in God, how then do we overcome worry? It’s easy to say, “Just trust God,” but does the Bible provide practical advice on how to overcome worry? Indeed it does. Consider Peter’s words: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). Or, consider Paul’s words to the Philippians:
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:5-7).
So, how do we overcome worry and demonstrate confidence in God? Consider these words: humility, prayer, and thanksgiving. By humbling ourselves we realize that we are not in control. God is. By submitting ourselves to pray bringing our supplications to God, we realize that God is our provider and loving heavenly Father. By being thankful to God we realize that all good things come from God and that he is our provider of everything…including the stuff! Remember these three action words when you are faced with the temptation to worry: humility, prayer, and thanksgiving. And, then do them!
Understanding then the context of Jesus introduction and better understanding the word “anxiety” or “worry,” consider now all of verse 25: “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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). Literarily speaking, Jesus is making an a fortiori argument, which essentially sounds like this: “If this, then how much more that?” Jesus will use this a fortiori structure throughout this passage, so watch for it and the importance of its use.
Note that in contrast to 6:19-24, Jesus is no longer talking about storing up wealth. He now is talking about our daily provisions. In essence, we are not to worry about what we prayed for: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Just as we found that our true treasure is God, we also find that he is our provider of our daily needs as well. When we pursue riches or worry over our daily needs, we place stuff in the place of God. But when we treasure God and trust him for our needs, we worship God and glorify him.
To provide a beautiful picture of this truth, Jesus points to nature: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). Warren Wiersbe says of this verse, “All of nature depends on God, and God never fails. Only mortal man depends on money, and money always fails.” But, Jesus’ example gives us more than a word-picture. He also helps define our world view.
Do you have a worldview? Whether you like it or not, you do. Think of your worldview as an operating system. Your worldview in fact determines how you think and feel and act. Your worldview also helps you answer some of life’s most difficult questions, such as: Is there a God? Who created the world and the universe? What is humankind’s nature and destiny? How do we know the difference between right and wrong? And, there are many more questions that are answered simply by what our worldview is.
Consider for example some of the worldview options:
1. Native-pagan worldview: Science is unknown and life is lived in subjection and fear to the whims of the spirits or gods. If you have ever been on a trip to a remote area in a third-world country (or to a bohemian coffee shop in a college town), you have likely encountered this kind of worldview. It is alive and active today.
2. Mechanistic/Atheistic worldview: Nothing exists except matter, energy, and space. If you are a college student, you have already encountered this worldview which sadly dominates many of our nation’s campuses.
3. Star Wars worldview: There is a good force and a bad force, but no personal God. The good force normally wins (especially if Han Solo sticks around to help out his buddy Luke Skywalker).
4. Biblical worldview: God created the earth with precision and predictability, and he sovereignly sustains it. Nothing happens outside of his control. He also may intervene in his created order with change, such as a miracle. It is his prerogative.
Of course, I have taken some liberty in my categories, mostly for fun, simply to point out a few of many worldview options. My point is to demonstrate the picture of a Biblical worldview demonstrated beautifully in verse 26, and that if you struggle with this view, then you may not have a Biblical worldview. The Biblical worldview of Matthew 6:26 says: God has created a world in which the birds are cared for and much more so his children.
Of course, this raises other logical questions: Don’t some birds die of starvation in the winter? What about Christians in famine-stricken third-world countries who suffer malnourishment and even starvation? Does God not care for them? These are valid questions, but are not addressed directly in this passage. They are, however, addressed indirectly in terms of a Biblical worldview and a supreme trust in God. For example, think of this in Biblical terms. Consider the wisdom books of the Bible. Proverbs is the standard of what is normally true, but then you read Job and understand the God-glorifying exceptions to the Proverbs. Or, consider Ecclesiastes’ cynical response to the success of Proverbial-living: “vanity.” Or, consider the “all-business” woman you thought you knew in Proverbs 31, until the bedroom door is closed in the Song of Solomon! Sometimes things happen as we expect in God’s economy, but sometimes they happen very differently. In other words, the Bible is consistently teaching us that we are to trust God and follow his revealed will, and when things don’t happen the way that we assumed they would, then…trust God! Such is the case with the “birds of the air,” and so it is with us.
Are you trusting God in your circumstances? Or, are you full of worry? Have you rationalized your worry labeling as part of your personality, or your burden to carry? Have you lost sight of the fact that if you have saving faith in Christ, God is your loving father who provides for your every need? Take this time to examine your heart. Take this time to confess your sins to your heavenly Father and receive his forgiveness. Remember the three words to help you overcome worry in your life: humility, prayer, and thanksgiving. And, consider these encouraging words from an old hymn:
When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
but our toil he doth richly repay;
not a grief or a loss,
not a frown or a cross,
but is blest if we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.