10. Materialism and Temptation to Worry (Matthew 6:25-34)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (26:28) |

Harry Hanley Parker (1869-1917), detail of Sermon on the Mount (1905), mural, Calvary United Methodist Church, West Philadelphia.
Harry Hanley Parker (1869-1917), detail of "Sermon on the Mount" (1905), mural, Calvary United Methodist Church, West Philadelphia.
Image of full mural.
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:25-34)

Matthew 6:19-34 contains many contrasts:

6:19-20 Heavenly treasures Earthly treasures
6:22-23 Good eyes Bad eyes
6:23 Light Darkness
6:24 God Money
6:25-30 Worry Faith
6:31-33 Seeking earthly things Seeking God's kingdom

Let's examine some of these contrasts.

Money has the potential to derail our spiritual life disastrously. How we think about and handle our money is not just a personal matter, it is a discipleship matter. That is why Jesus spends time teaching about its twin evils -- the temptation for money to become the:

  • Focus of our life, another master, another god (6:19-24), and
  • Focus of our worries and cares and thus consume our joy and life direction (6:25-34).

Jesus is speaking about materialism. The dictionary defines materialism as "a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter." Also "a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than spiritual or intellectual things."1

Anatomy of Anxiety

This section's passage 6:25-34 examines how worry about money can erode our very faith. Notice in verse 30b, Jesus chides those who worry for their "little faith." Undue worry ought to be viewed as a lack of faith, something to be overcome.

First, let's look at the word "worry." The KJV uses the phrase "take no thought" a number of times in this passage, but that translation can be misleading. NASB and RSV use "do not be anxious." NIV and NRSV render it "do not worry." The Greek word is merimnaō, "to be apprehensive, have anxiety, be anxious, be (unduly) concerned."2 And it conforms well to the English dictionary definition of worry: "mental distress or agitation resulting from concern, usually for something impending or anticipated, anxiety."3

Illustrations of the Father's Care (6:26, 28-30, 32)

Jesus gives two illustrations of his Father's care for the disciples, and it centers upon value. First, he points them to the birds:

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (6:26)

The birds are under the Father's care. Not one falls to the ground without the Father knowing about it, yet a pair of sparrows could be purchased for a penny in the market (Matthew 10:29).

Then he points them to the flowers:

"See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." (6:28-29)

Q1. (Matthew 6:26-30) What point does Jesus make with his twin Parables of the Birds of the Air and of the Flowers of the Field? Is the point trivial or is it valid?
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May in Northern California is a glorious time. The blue lupine has reached its zenith and covers the fields in blue tinged with purple vetch. But it doesn't last for long. Soon the first winds of a hot summer begin to blow. So it was in the similar climate of Palestine. Very quickly these gorgeous flowers lose their blossoms and are burned with the grasses for fuel. The point here is that since the Father provides for the least valuable, how much more will he care for the very valuable -- us.

What Worry Can't Do (6:27)

We should have a wise concern for the future and take whatever steps we need to now to provide for ourselves and our families. Farmers have done that for thousands of years -- saving seed and planting crops for future harvest.

But what Jesus is addressing here is the kind of destructive anxiety that eats into our souls and deprives us of sleep. Anxiety that robs us of our present peace and joy, and propels us into a mythical future where we lack what we need, where we are gripped by fear -- and which often is only that, a myth. Many of our fears and worries never materialize, and our worrying seldom has anything to do with fixing or repairing the future, only fearing it.

Jesus recognized the impotence of worry:

"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (6:27)

This verse contains a word that can have two possible translations: Greek hēlikia: "the period of time that one's life continues, age, time of life." Or "bodily stature."4 So KJV has, "... add one cubit unto his stature," while NIV and other modern translations are a bit more figurative: "... add a single hour to his life." No matter how you take it, the point is the same: our worrying accomplishes nothing at all.

Worry Is Sin (6:30-32)

This corrosive worry is thinly disguised unbelief. Jesus says:

30 "If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" 31 "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them." (6:30-32)

In verses 31-32, Jesus notes that the "pagans" or "Gentiles" (ethnos) also seek after food and clothing. Believers ought to be different somehow!

Worry is a sign of little faith. Faith and anxiety are opposites, and Christians are to open their lives to faith and to reject worry. Worry involves the constant fretting and anxiety that results from thinking about future problems. We Christians are to grow out of that habit. The Apostle Paul tells us how to do that:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about these things." (Philippians 4:6-7)

These two verses spell out the steps to escape worry's death grip. They require disciplining our minds and thoughts, something that even worldly people have realized is a prerequisite to success:

  1. Pray, bring your worries to God. Instead of letting your worries rattle around in your mind, formulate them into prayers and petitions to your Father.
  2. Pray with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for what? For what God has done in the past. When we take time to praise God for who he is and what he has done in the past, we are encouraged and strengthened to believe he will do that for us in the future as well. Praise is the language of faith and stirs up faith.
  3. Turn your thoughts away from topics of anxiety to those good and noble thoughts that will bring you peace.

Q2. (Matthew 6:25-34) How many times in this passage does the phrase "do not worry," "do not be anxious," or "take no thought" occur? In what way does excessive worry on sin? Are worry and trust exact opposites?
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Q3. (Matthew 6:31-32) Why does Jesus mention the "pagans" or "Gentiles" in verse 32? What point is he making? How should a Christian differ from a Gentile, according to Jesus' teaching in this passage? What emotional and faith effect does the phrase, "your heavenly Father knows that you need them," have in your life?
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Seeking God (6:32-33)

32 " For the pagans seek after (epizēteō) all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33 But seek (zēteō) first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:32-33)

People are always seeking something. In verses 32-33 two words for "seek, seek after" occur..

The Greek verb zēteō, means "to seek, look for." Here it has the connotation: "to devote serious effort to realize one's desire or objective, strive for, aim (at), try to obtain, desire, wish (for), desire to possess (something)."5 NRSV renders it, "But strive first for the kingdom of God...."

So what is it you seek? Pagans or Gentile unbelievers seek after temporal things -- food, drink, clothing. What's more, Jesus says, "your heavenly Father knows that you need them." They aren't bad things. But they can preoccupy our "seeking" so we do not have time, energy, or interest to seek the Source of those things -- God himself. Jesus taught:

"The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke [the Word], making it unfruitful." (Matthew 13:22)

Seek God First and Foremost (6:33)

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (6:33)

The difference, then, between the disciple and others is that the disciple seeks God first. He or she gives priority to God first. This is the same issue that Jesus touched on in 6:21 -- "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." We seek first what we treasure most. He also touched on it in 6:24 -- "No one can serve two masters ... You cannot serve God and Money." We are not to seek our welfare and God with equal intensity. The great Quest for God must be first and foremost, not relegated to religion or Sunday practice, "... that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18b).

Seeking God's Kingdom and Righteousness (6:33)

The object of our seeking is to be two-fold, according to Jesus.

First, we are to seek God's kingdom or God's reign in our lives and in his world. In the Lord's prayer we are taught to pray,

"Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (6:10).

We are not only to pray for it, but seek for it to come about.

Some are longing only to leave this earth and get to the peace of heaven. But the disciple is to seek for God's kingdom here on earth, too. Will it come? After World War I, "the war to end all wars," many Christians saw things as getting better and better, and a belief in the post-millennial reign of Christ was popular. Then World War II revealed the evil in man and in the world, and pessimism set in. Now Christians were longing for the pre-millennial Rapture, just to get away.

While I agree that the Kingdom will not come completely until Christ rules literally on the earth (Revelation 20:4), I believe that we Christians are to seek God's Kingdom in the here and now and not be satisfied with the reign of evil. We are to be salt and light in the earth (Matthew 5:13-14). We are to be leaven in the loaf (Matthew 13:33). We are to be agents of change -- faith-filled followers of the Miracle Worker from Galilee who left changed lives in his wake. We are to seek the Kingdom of God.6

Second, we are to seek God's righteousness. Much of Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount compares the Pharisaic understanding of legalistic righteousness with Jesus' heart righteousness which is the spirit of the Law. We are to seek the impossible righteousness that resonates with Jesus' command: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (5:48). This kind of heart righteousness is not the stuff of religious observance alone. Nor ritual. Nor even righteous deeds. It comes from a persistent, insistent, thirsty seeking after God. It comes from a dissatisfaction with our own imperfections until we let him break our hardness of heart and then mold us more fully into his image. A simple song expresses this heart Quest:

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me!
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.7

Ultimately it is not a self-produced righteousness that we seek. It is a righteousness that he works in us, that is, the personal righteousness that is the fruit of Christ's righteousness imputed to us by faith (Philippians 3:9).

For so long we have sought everything else -- food, shelter, advancement. Seek Him first, says the Discipler. "Seek first God's Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (6:33).

All these things will be given to you as well (6:33b)

So many people seek happiness with their whole being yet somehow never seem to attain it. It is ephemeral. But when we seek God, wherever and however he leads us, we can see and taste his Kingdom and his righteousness and we find that he meets our temporal needs, too.

Sometimes I think of Jesus' tragic words:

"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)

Searching for the wrong thing first will damn us. We disciples must set our eyes towards one great Quest, and one only: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness," and with it comes a promise: "and all these things will be given to you as well."

The word translated "be added" or "be given" is the future passive of Greek prostithēmi, "'add, put to," here with the connotation, "to add as a benefit, provide, give, grant, do."8 He will add to our Kingdom-seeking the other things that we need. He will quench our spiritual thirst and our natural one as well.

Ultimately this Quest is a faith-Quest that sorts out priorities and settles upon the one great goal of seeking God first. God takes care of the rest and will not disappoint us, if our heart is rightly placed. Just as he feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, he will meet all our needs, too.

Labor Still Needed

Can we take this passage as an excuse not to work for a living? Of course not. Jesus was well aware, I am sure, that birds still had to find and gather their food. In our scientific age we know that flowers must still grow by manufacturing tissue using the elements in the air and the ground by means of photosynthesis. Work is not excluded. The point is that God provides for their needs.

Watchcare Still Needed

Though God supplies food and clothing, shelter and "everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3), that is no reason for us to focus exclusively on ourselves and not be concerned about the needs of others. Scientists who have studied famines have come to an interesting conclusion: the problem is not that there is not enough food, but that there is a distribution problem. Distributing food to starving villages in the Sudan or to refugees in Bangladesh requires compassion and, often, a will to resist the evil of corrupt rulers who would deprive their citizens of basic needs to accomplish their own selfish political purposes.

Jesus acknowledged that we will always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11), but affirms that we are obligated to help them as we are able:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

Indeed, sometimes we are the essential means that the Father uses to provide clothing and food to his children. "Your heavenly Father knows that we need them" (6:32) and he uses his servants to help supply the needs of his other children.

Q4. (Matthew 6:33) What is the command in this verse? How must our seeking God differ from our seeking of food and clothing, according to this verse? What is the promise found in this verse?
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Tomorrow Will Worry about Itself (6:34)

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (6:34)
Sermon on the Mount: The Jesus Manifesto, by Ralph F. Wilson
Sermon on the Mount: The Jesus Manifesto
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Worry, worry, worry. We fall so easily into churning about the future. Worry, you see, is always future. You don't worry about the now, you just live in it. You can only worry about the future. However, we can deal with worry by turning our eyes toward the One Quest for God's Kingdom and righteousness. That is the focus of our future.

Jesus concludes this part of the Sermon on the Mount with a touch of humor: "Tomorrow will worry about itself." Oh, I know some sober-sides contend that Jesus never smiled, but we know better. I find it hard to believe that Jesus uttered this phrase without more than a hint of a smile. Perhaps a chuckle, too. Think about the silliness of tomorrow worrying all by itself and maybe you'll get the joke.

His final observation is: "Each day has enough trouble of its own." What he is saying is that we don't need to go borrowing trouble from tomorrow; we have enough already. Deal with today by God's help. Then tomorrow, deal with tomorrow, and he'll help you there, too. Alcoholics Anonymous rightly has adopted as a slogan, "Take one day at a time." Yes, that sums up Jesus' teaching here very well.

Q5. (Matthew 6:34) Is there humor intended in verse 34? What is the point of Jesus' joke here? What is the command in this verse?
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Every Easter Sunday many churches sing that Bill and Gloria Gaither song, "Because He Lives." It expresses so well the comradeship we have with God that replaces our worry with something divine:

"Because He lives I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives."9

Prayer

Lord, sometimes I get so distracted by everyday life that I forget to talk to you about it. Forgive me. Help me to seek you constantly -- your presence, your help, your wisdom, your mercy. Let my life revolve around you, your righteousness, and your Kingdom. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

References

  1. Merriam Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary.
  2. Merimnaō, BDAG 632.
  3. Merriam Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary.
  4. Hēlikia, BDAG 435-436, meanings 1a and possibly 3.
  5. Zēteō, BDAG 428, 3.a.
  6. Some more recent translations such as the NIV, RSV, and NASB do not include the words "of God," since these words are missing in a number of early and important manuscripts (Aleph, B, etc.). However, in an interesting change of scholarly opinion, the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament explains the absence of "of God" as an accidental scribal omission, and includes "of God" in their text, though in brackets to reflect some uncertainty. This is now reflected in the NRSV which restores the full phrase "kingdom of God." (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 18-19.)
  7. "Spirit of the Living God," words and music by Dan Iverson (©1935. Renewed 1963 Birdwing Music)
  8. Prostithēmi, BDAG 885, 2.
  9. "Because He Lives," words and music by William and Gloria Gaither (©1971 by William J. Gaither, ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management)


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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