"Do Not Be Anxious" (Matthew 6:25-34)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Matthew 6:25–6:34
“Do Not Be Anxious”
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
May 12th, 2019
I. Defining the Term
This morning, Jesus wants to speak to you about being anxious. One of the reasons I know that is because he uses that very word six times in the ten verses we're going to study together. But before we hear from Jesus, I think it's very important we clarify what we mean when we use the words anxious or anxiety. In a recent article for the Gospel Coalition, author Joe Carter gave a helpful breakdown of the different realities or feelings or experiences someone may be referring to when using a word like anxiety.
The first type of anxiety Carter gives is what he describes as a God-given emotional response for our benefit. If you run into a 600 pound grizzly bear in the Yukon, you should be feeling anxious. That's the way God designed us, and it's a good thing.
The second type of anxiety he mentions is a disordered physiological response. This kind of clinical anxiety is often the result of trauma. It is a chronic condition and can affect a wide range of individuals, including soldiers, first responders, and victims of abuse.
The writer describes a third type of anxiety as a natural consequence of sin. A man with a serious gambling problem, who is deeply in debt as a result, is going to feel anxious when all his financial obligations come calling. This kind of anxiety should not be surprising.
Finally, the article tells us about an anxiety we could describe as a sinful responses to God’s providential care. As we'll see in a few minutes, that... is the kind of anxiety Jesus wants to talk with us about this morning.
Now, let's be clear: it's not always easy to distinguish between these options, especially when you yourself are anxious, OR, when you are talking with someone who is struggling through anxious feelings. Thoughtful questions can help clarify things. But ,at the very least, I hope this breakdown causes all of us to be more cautious about labeling or handing out advice.
With that being said, let's consider what Jesus has to say. Turn over to Matthew 6.
II. The Passage: "Is Not Life More" (6:25-34)
This morning we are picking up where we left off in our last lesson. You may recall that last time we looked together at verses 19-24, in which Jesus spoke to us about laying up treasures in heaven rather than on the earth. So let's pick up his teaching in verse 25. You'll notice right away that “therefore” is the first word in this next section. That's a 'connector' word, isn't it? I'll explain how these passages connect in just a few minutes. Until then, listen to what Jesus tells us here about being anxious...
“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.”
I'd like us to think about Christ's teaching here by thinking about four different aspects of what he's communicated to us. For example, in the first verse, in verse 25, we hear about...
1. Jesus' Command (vs. 25a, 31, 34)
The command is clear, isn't it? Verse 25: “Do not be anxious”. Jesus goes on in verse 27 to ask his listeners, “why are you anxious”. He repeats the command in verse 31, “do not be anxious”. And in verse 34, we find the same command given a third time: “do not be anxious”.
Now, since anxiety is a feeling, this command is not quite like the command to not lie or not murder. This command is more like God's command to “not be afraid” or to “fear not”. The difference with these commands is that they seem to speak into our inward struggle as encouragements toward trust. A command like “do not lie” should keep me from lying; it should deter a decision to lie. But a command like “do not be anxious” often works initially in the midst of anxiety; it serves as a reminder that I don't need to worry.
Therefore, if you are struggling with the kind of anxiety Jesus is describing here, as I've said before on this subject, I think it's important to see that his words are not a pointing finger. They are a hand on your shoulder. I believe he is reassuring us more than reprimanding us.
But that being said, this does not mean we should miss the connection between this kind of anxiety and sin. I think we'll clarify that connection as we move on to the subsequent points. Speaking of subsequent points, the second part of verse 25 reveals...
2. Jesus' Concern (vs. 25b, 32)
What exactly is Jesus concerned about when he gives us a command like, “do not be anxious” (or in some translations, “do not worry”)? Well notice the specific anxiety-inducing areas mentioned in verse 25. According to Jesus, in terms of this lesson, to be “anxious about [one's] life” means worrying about what you will eat or what you will drink, [or]... what you will put on [your body]. Why is Jesus focused on these areas of food and clothing? Because they are what we'd call the basic; the necessities.
But if someone is not sure about how these necessities, these basic needs will be met, isn't it normal to worry? In one sense it may be understandable. But according to Jesus, worry shouldn't be our normal.
I think verses 31 and 32 are also helpful here in terms of Jesus' concern. Listen again to how he restates verse 25...
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [But look at what he goes on to say... ] For the Gentiles [i.e., the nations] seek after all these things...
Okay. Of course the nations seek these things. They're the necessities. We might ask, “What's your point Jesus?” I believe when Jesus talks here about the nations “seek[ing] after all these things” he's not simply talking about being a consumer of these basics. He's talking about being consumed by these basics. It's one thing to work in order to provide for you and yours. It's quite another thing to be dominated by such needs.
It's that idea that begins to help us understand the “therefore” of verse 25. What are we tempted to do when consumed by, when dominated by the pursuit of such needs? We are tempted to (v. 19) “lay up for [our]selves treasures on earth”, in an attempt to find lasting significance, security, and satisfaction.
Now, some of you know firsthand the temptations that come with financial uncertainty or food insecurity. But I'm guessing most of us today are not necessarily concerned about whether or not we'll eat tomorrow (if you are, please come talk with me). In the same way, most of our closets and drawers are full of clothes. So... is this passage even relevant for us this morning? Is this just a 'be ready if it happens to you' kind of lesson?
Well... yes and no. This passage should definitely inform how we face times of financial hardship, when and if they come. But it should also inform us more regularly in terms of how we define our basic necessities, AND the temptation to be consumed by meeting such needs.
In light of that, consider why Jesus concludes verse 25 the way he does: Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Maybe Jesus is confirming our ideas about expanding that list of basic necessities. “Yes, Jesus, life is about more than food and clothing. It's also about a nice house, a nice job, a nice vacation, a nice phone, a nice car, etc.” But is that what Jesus is saying? No.
I believe what Jesus is telling us in this verse is clarified by yet another verse: verse 33. It's in that verse we discover...
3. Jesus' Corrective (v. 33)
What exactly did Jesus mean when he asked, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Well, listen again to how Jesus expands on that in verse 33.
[You may be tempted to worry about food and clothing... ] But [v. 33] seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Notice first the word “first”. The ultimate issue in this passage, the ultimate issue that Jesus Christ is speaking to you about this morning is the issue of what comes first in your life. That's it. That's what it all boils down to. What comes first?
How were the “Gentiles”, how were the nations off track? By seeking food and clothing? No. By seeking such things “first”! You see, what we put first is what we value most. What we put first is what believe we need above everything else. What we put first is how we define “life”. But if started this morning by reading everything in Matthew's Gospel that came before this passage, we would have read about what Jesus said in chapter 4 when he was slowing dying of starvation in the desert, when it would have been, by some estimations, the perfect time to worry about, to be anxious about food. Jesus told the devil...
“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
“Is not life more than food?” Absolutely. The “more” of human life is God and his will. My body might depend on food to survive, but my body, spirit, and soul ultimately depend on God and his will. I have nothing apart from Him. I am nothing apart from Him. This is precisely why Jesus teaches his followers to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, that is, let your life be consumed with the pursuit of God as King and submission to his word and his ways. Remember, what we put first is what believe we need above everything else.
And that's another idea that helps us understand the “therefore” of verse 25. No person can ever separate their financial thinking from their spiritual thinking. Why? Because (v. 24) “you cannot serve God and money”. Why? Because (v. 24) they are “two masters”. It's either one or the other. To put money and possesions “first” is a rejection of God. But to put God “first” is a rejection of that mindset of materialism.
But remember, we do so in light of the entirety of verse 33: ...seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. That last phrase speaks to the final aspect of what Jesus has communicated in this passage. We also read here about...
4. Jesus' Consolation (vs. 26-32)
Jesus gave us a command: “Do not be anxious” about your genuine needs. This was motivated by a concern that we would be wrongly consumed by the pursuit of such provision. In light of this, Jesus offered a corrective: life is ultimately about God and his will. Therefore, our first pursuit should always be Him. But we do that in light of the consolation Jesus details so eloquently in verses 26-32.
In that middle section of this passage, Jesus uses a three-step strategy to dissuade us from doubt; to promote assurance and deflate anxiety. What are these three steps?
First, he asks us to consider the natural world: how are birds fed and how do the flowers of the field blossom? It is the Creator God who provides for their needs. Second, he asks us to consider our value in comparison with the value of these birds and flowers. As the only things in all creation made in the image of God himself, we are far more valuable than ducks and daisy, or finches and ferns. Third, if he provides for birds of the air and the flowers of the field, AND, if we are far more valuable than these, will he not also provide us with what we truly need?
And to bring all of this into greater clarity, as think about what need in this life, we read these reassuring words at the end of verse 32: your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. For the disciple of Jesus, the Creator God is also your “heavenly Father”. What greater consolation could we have? This is why Jesus, in verses 9-11 of this same chapter, taught us to pray... “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread...”
In this prayer, as in all of life, we are called to “seek first the kingdom of God”, comforted by the fact “that all these things will be added” by a loving Father, whose resumé of provision is all around us, every single day. Therefore, when not addressed, when not attacked, this kind of anxiety is ultimately a stubborn refusal to accept God's gracious power and provision. How could that be anything but sin?
III. Redefining Our Needs
Brothers and sisters, friends, I'd like to suggest that we think about applying these four points by means of four questions. Please ask yourself these, in all honesty: First, what am I truly putting first in terms of my everyday pursuit, my daily devotion, my personal priorities? This becomes evident when we go on to ask, second, over which area or areas am I most tempted to become anxious? In the grip of such temptations, third, do I understand and embrace how God is the provider in terms of my genuine needs? And finally, with that reassurance, fourth, do I know what it looks like to live each day for God's agenda above my own agenda?
What is absolutely key in all this is remembering the question Jesus posed at the outset of this passage: Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? As those who are always tempted to reduce life down to simply getting certain earthly needs met, we desperately need God to redefine our needs; to help us understand what truly matters. And God has done just that in a message he calls and we call the gospel or 'good news'.
Think about it: since we are “dead” in our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), we desperately need God's Spirit and God's word to give us new eyes. Why? To see our desperate need for God, the One “from [whom] and through [whom] and to [whom] are all things” (Romans 11:36). But for us as corrupt people, in order to be with this incorruptible God, we desperately need “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Knowing that we cannot manufacture such holiness, we look to what Jesus did on the cross for us, recognizing we desperately need “the forgiveness of sins” he makes possible (Luke 24:47), and the holiness “which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”. (Philippians 3:9) But being reconciled to God, we also need a new heart with which to love him, we desperately need Jesus' resurrection power, “that we too may walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
What are your greatest needs? Each day, what truly matters most? God, his Spirit, his word, his Son, his forgiveness, his holiness, and his power to live a new life, for his agenda before everything else. That is what it means to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. You may not know exactly how to do that each day, but seeking to know how, seeking to grow in that, is something we can do, together, without fear that our other needs will not be met. Brothers and sisters, hear the words of Jesus: “do not be anxious about your life”. Let's pray in light of the command, concern, corrective, and consolation of Christ.