Do Not Worry
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look 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?
27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
My text this morning is written in Matthew 6:33:
33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
This is one of the most difficult passages for the modern ear. Most people are worried about their lives, about what they eat and drink. Whole television channels are devoted to watching people cook and eat; there are popular competitions, and people are prepared to pay a fortune for a tiny portion of what is sold to them as ‘… exquisitely prepared food made from the finest ingredients …’ Lives are devoted to the cultivation and making of the finest wines. Never before have people been more concerned about their bodies, what they look like and what they wear. Even people like the Prime Minister seems to think that there is nothing wrong with spending £1,000 on a pair of leather jeans.
Trish had an interesting moment. She bought some clothes at the Shepshed factory outlet, and was offered a large tan leather handbag for a tenner, because she had spent over a certain amount of money. Months later she was consulted at work about the purchase of a handbag costing hundreds of pounds for a colleague as a gift, because she obviously knew a lot about these things because of the expensive handbag she was using. They could not believe that hers cost a tenner from Shepshed!
Jesus put it simply in the question: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Of course it is. Jesus explains by using examples from nature – the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields - and adds that even those with the greatest wealth cannot come close to the beauty of what God has created.
Firstly, I want to focus on what Jesus is not saying; he is not advocating carelessness, nor doing nothing, what he is condemning is anxiety, because it denies the love and faithfulness of God and chains us to the things of this world. Worry and anxiety springs from a desire for external securities and from our reluctance to commit to God alone for all that we need to make our lives rich and full. Jesus is condemning being ‘… full of care …’ for those things which we are powerless over and which rob us of the joy and fulfilment which ought to characterise our lives.
Secondly, Jesus is exhorting us to live our lives with prudence and serenity. We need to be responsible and take the appropriate steps to make sure that we have done all that we can – and then leave the rest up to God to provide for us. Jesus calls us to live and not merely exist. If our focus is on things like food and clothing and possessions – then we merely exist. Jesus came so that we might have life, and that in all its fullness. Prudent – meaning careful provision for the future is right; ‘… wearing, corroding, self-tormenting anxiety is wrong …’
Prayers for students taking examinations …
Thirdly, how do we experience the reality of this full and wholesome life that Jesus came to give us? Paul picks up this theme in his letter to the Philippians 4 from verse 6:
6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And again from verse 12:
12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
God has given us life, and will provide all we need to maintain it; he has given us a body and will provide all we need to sustain the body as well; he has called us into being and will look after us.
We need to make a decision: do we choose the fragile and illusory joy of earthly wealth or the true riches of God in Jesus Christ our Lord? Do we choose real wealth – fellowship with God and the service of God – which is incorruptible – or do we fill our lives with the shallowness of worldliness? The two are incompatible because God asks for self-sacrifice, money urges us towards selfishness and self-advancement. The author to the first letter of Timothy chapter 6 issues this warning:
6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that* we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
The author continues to offer practical advice from verse 11:
11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made* the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
We embrace life in its fullness and live it when we have our priorities right, and we have this right when we devote ourselves to seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness above all else. When we do this, all the things we need for our bodies will be provided as well.
But what does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God? Again, Paul comes to our aid in Philippians 4:
8 Finally, beloved,* whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Throughout the ages, Christians have understood that the kingdom of God becomes a reality when one strives for beauty, truth and goodness for all. If we think about it, these elements bring together the teachings and example of our Lord.
It is not for nothing that I believe Jesus used the examples of the birds of the air and the flowers of a field as examples. People can come to know the Lord through observing the beauty of nature – as Paul states in Romans 1:20:
Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.
And the most beautiful and special of all creation are we humans, who, being in the image of God share in the glory of creation and have the ability to bring into existence beauty – be in it music, art, literature, drama, scientific discovery, inventions that transform lives for the better – the list is endless. What I believe Jesus is challenging people to do here is to ask:
What gifts has God given to me? How can I use them to make life on this earth more like life in heaven? Am I living a life of beauty in the actions I perform for others? Remember an earlier reflection a few weeks back where Jesus spoke of salt and light where he concluded: “16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Remember how he spoke of our righteousness – our goodness – needing to surpass that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. In this Sermon on the Mount which we have been reflecting upon, Jesus has provided us with practical advice – all of which – makes the Kingdom of God become more and more real. *In the earlier parts of Chapter 6 there is advice about giving generously the charity, about praying and fasting and the verses immediately prior to our passage today lays the foundation, most notably verse 19-21 where Jesus states:
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust* consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
There is a sense that the compliers of the lectionary should have included verse 24 which brings all this wisdom together:
24 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
Happiness, fulfilment, contentment – what it means to live life in all its richness takes striving – it does not happen automatically; but it takes striving for the right things. Jesus put it this way in verse 33:
… strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.