Do Not Be Anxious
Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34
Three weeks ago, when we began studying Matthew 6, I told you that Jesus used the word “reward” seven times. That’s a positive word being used a perfect number of times.
I find it interesting that in the final section of chapter 6, our passage for today, Jesus uses the word “anxious” six times. That’s a negative word being used an imperfect number of times.
Rewards good. Anxiety bad. Focus your attention on God and the blessings of His kingdom. This is just another example of why I love the Bible! Thoughtful and beautiful down to the smallest details.
We begin reading today in verse 25.
25 “Therefore I tell you,
Jesus is drawing a conclusion based on what He just said in the previous verses about serving God instead of money. His argument then, is this: “because your heart is devoted to God and His kingdom instead of the world” …
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.
This is the first command. Do not be anxious about your life. Specifically, he refers to what we consume and what we wear.
What does it mean to be anxious about those things? Some of this will clear up as we keep reading, but for now there is a broad way to think about this that may be helpful.
Most people live their lives with an unspoken philosophy. We are trying to get as much out of life as we can. We are trying to have the best life we can have. Solomon described it like this: “Eat, drink, and be merry – for tomorrow you may die!”
And I think Jesus is challenging that philosophy. His disciples don’t need to worry about living our best life now. Jesus wants to convince us to trust God and be content.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
This reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in an essay called “The Weight of Glory”.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
And so, Jesus pleads with us – don’t you know that there are more important things in life than the stuff you’re getting anxious about?
26 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?
Don’t you know that my Father loves you and that your needs will be met?
27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
Anxiety is probably subtracting hours from our lives, medically speaking. Nothing is gained by worry.
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
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?
Compared to us, birds have short lives. Grass and flowers have even shorter lives. But for the time they are meant to live, God provides everything they need.
And here Jesus introduces the word faith. Jesus will use the word “faith” 19 times in Matthew, but this is the first time he uses it. And the way Jesus uses the word faith here, He is saying that anxiety expresses a lack of faith.
Most people think the opposite of faith is doubt, but it’s probably more accurate to think of it as self-sufficiency. Rather than trusting and depending on God, we believe it is our job to get what we need. We are running out of time or resources or energy and that’s why we worry.
But if it is God’s responsibility to care for His children, that changes everything! And that’s exactly what Jesus says.
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
And then Jesus ends the chapter with my favorite verse in the Sermon on the Mount:
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The message is clear. Followers of Jesus are commanded – “do not be anxious”.
It’s a waste of our time and it demonstrates a lack of faith in God.
But how should we apply this message? There are several difficulties when it comes to applying this command and we need to think carefully.
One of the challenges here is that in a room of 100 people, there are probably 20 different responses to the words of Jesus here. People have different pastoral needs and Jesus often teaches in ways that can be applied many different ways. The statement “do not be anxious” is not so simple to apply in a world riddled with anxiety and very confused spiritually.
D.A. Carson illustrates this very well in his commentary on this chapter. I’m going to paraphrase him for time. He says imagine three men.
The first is cheerful and carefree. He rarely gets anything done and never gets anything done on time. He doesn’t worry about the next five minutes, let alone tomorrow. It is very difficult to get him to work at any task. Everyone knows him as “the nice guy”, but he’s irresponsible and insensitive to the needs of others.
The second person is almost hyper-responsible. He takes every grief and burden seriously. The state of the economy is a constant weight on his mind. Every bit of bad news prompts a new outbreak of anxiety. His constant worry is causing ulcers.
The third person is balanced and dependable. Married with two children, this man works faithfully to support his family. But one night, he wakes to discover that his wife can’t speak or move the right side of her body. A brain tumor is discovered, and the surgery is a failure. His wife has been given less than three years to live.
Now imagine that all three of these men are listening to a sermon on Matthew 6. The preacher concludes the sermon by telling the church that worry is shameful and wicked but gives no further application. How will each man react?
Probably, the first man will leave the church quite happy. He always knew that other people were uptight all the time.
The second man may feel quite rebuked by the sermon. He knows it is for him. He worries that he has been denying the Lord and feels despair. Without any sense of irony, he begins to worry about worry.
The third man listens to the sermon, and, unless he is remarkably mature and full of grace, bitterly sneers under his breath that the preacher should watch his own wife die before speaking on so difficult a topic.
That’s why application is so difficult but so important. The first man probably needed to hear something about discipline, self-sacrifice, and hard work. The second man should hear about God’s providence, of the means and results of prayer, and of the selfishness at the heart of our worry.
The third man needs to have a brother in Christ weep with him, pledge support, and remind of the proof of God’s love in Christ – the cross of Jesus.
What do you hear when Jesus says, “Do not be anxious.” I want to put up some Biblical guard rails in how we apply this to our lives.
First, there is a type of worry that is evil, but there is a type of worry that is good and responsible. Seeking the kingdom involves a measure of healthy worry. Jesus Himself sweat drops of blood the night before He went to the cross. What was He so concerned about? Doing the will of His Father! I think that proves that God created us with the capacity to experience anxiety of some kind and that it’s not all bad. The question is, WHAT are we anxious about?
Second, Jesus is not giving us a license to trash our bodies. We should care for our bodies. We should think about what we put in our bodies and what we keep out. But there is a difference between caring for the body God gave us and being obsessed with it. It’s possible to live a healthy life without being obsessed over fitness and dieting. And remember, we are not promised tomorrow. In Christ, we are promised eternity – but this body is still going to die.
Third, Jesus is also not giving us a license to be lazy. Able-bodied Christians are expected to work for a living. Birds aren’t fed by a miracle while sitting lazily in a tree. Birds actually work pretty hard for their food. Paul actually commands the church in Thessalonica, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Fourth, Jesus is not prohibiting us from planning ahead. How do birds eat in the winter? Most of them migrate hundreds or thousands of miles! Proverbs 6 encourages us to consider the way ants store up food for themselves. It’s a good idea to save and plan.
Fifth, Jesus is not exempting us from times of trouble. He commands us not to worry, but He doesn’t promise an easy life. God feeds the birds, but birds sometimes get eaten or fly into windows. Grass withers. Flowers fade. He provides for them until, in His good providence, it is time for them to die.
Finally, Jesus is not exempting us from taking care of other people. In the end, God promises to provide for His children. Very often, the Church is the means by which God feeds and clothes people who are unable to do so. God’s church has always been known by this. The early Christians gained a reputation in the Roman empire for supporting not only their own poor but anyone in need.
This is an important point. Jesus could command His disciples not to worry about having their needs met, even widows and orphans, because God would be using the Church to meet those needs! Instructions to care for the poor are everywhere in the New Testament, but no one says it more clearly than James, the brother of Jesus:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
So, with those guard rails in place, what IS Jesus asking us to do? He’s asking us to trust His Father. The Father knows what you need and when you need it, including the path of suffering. Trust Him. That’s it. And know that the Son of God walked a difficult path before you. Even when you struggle to trust God, remember that Jesus trusted Him perfectly in your place.