Jesus' Parables for Disciples
56. Winning the War against Worry (Luke 12:22-34)
James J. Tissot, detail of 'The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.
"22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:22-34, NIV)
If we are captured by greed, or her second cousin, incessant worry, they we miss out on real life. That's the inescapable conclusion I reach when I read Jesus' familiar words once again.
"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (12:15b)
"Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes." (12:23)
"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be
given to you as well.
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (12:32)
Provide ... a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted ... for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (12:33-34)
The Kingdom of God is the most wonderful gift of all; food, clothing, fortune, fame all pale before it. They are nothing to compare with it. God's children are free to rejoice and exalt in the Kingdom, their gift. But first, they must put food and clothing, storing up and giving to the poor in proper perspective or they'll miss the point entirely.
If you're like me, you're most familiar with this teaching in the context of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). The meaning is essentially the same. Perhaps because it's so familiar you think you know what it means. But Luke's rendering of Jesus' core teaching is just enough different (it was probably delivered on a different occasion) that it forces us to look again, this time more closely. I encourage you to explore this passage with new eyes.
Let's begin by examining some of the words used in this passage:
"Then Jesus said to his disciples: 'Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.'" (12:22-23)
In this passage, Jesus uses two word couplets: life/eat and body/wear/clothing. The Greek word used for "life" in this passage is psychē, a many-sided word from which we get our English word "psyche." Depending upon the context, psychē can mean "(breath of) life, life-principle" or "the soul," seat of man's inner life, feelings and emotions, the "seat and center of life that transcends the earthly."527 I've heard Bible teachers make distinctions about "soulish" thoughts vs. "spiritual" thoughts, but none of that applies there. Luke uses the word psychē to refer to earthly life itself. Curiously, Luke pairs psychē, "life" with Greek sōma, "body." Often these words are arranged as opposites, soul vs. physical. But here they are used in Hebrew fashion as synonymous parallelism. Both words refer to physical life, one relating to food, the other to clothing.
Jesus point is:
"Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes." (12:23)
Such a simple, but profound thought! So often we take for granted the hum-drum of everyday survival and existence. Sometimes we get on treadmills that assume that the material aspects of life are all that it is about. How foreign a concept to Jesus. "Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes." There is "more" he assures us, using comparative form of the Greek adjective polys, "more."528
The key phrase he uses is "don't worry," Greek merimnaō, "have anxiety, be anxious, be (unduly) concerned," then "care for, be concerned about something."529 This word is used twice in this passage:
"Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear." (12:22)
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (12:25)
Now that Jesus has introduced his premise, he begins to illustrate it.
"Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!" (12:24)
The word translated "consider" is Greek katanoeō, "notice, observe" something carefully. "Look at (with reflection), consider, contemplate something."530 We're invited, with Jesus' other hearers, to contemplate what we see around us. I expect that farmers and those who spend lots of time out of doors observe and reflect upon the birds, animals, and plants that they see around them. Jesus has done that, and now he turns his hearers' attention to the raven. The Greek name for this bird is korax, "crow, raven."531 According to the Mosaic Law, Jews could eat "clean" birds, such as doves and others birds that fed on grains, but not unclean birds, including the raven, hawks, vultures, and owls (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14) which the people associated with feeding on carrion and blood.
Jesus has just told the Parable of the Rich Fool who is ready to tear down his storehouses (Greek apothēkē) and build bigger ones. Now he singles out the raven for consideration, who doesn't sow or reap, and doesn't have any storeroom (tameion) or storehouse (apothēkē). The word translated "storeroom" is Greek tameion, which refers to a storage room532 in contrast to a stand-alone granary.
The rich man has every advantage; the raven has none. Yet the raven has an even greater advantage -- God. God himself provides food for the unclean raven. God himself makes a way for this black discredited bird. When we worry about food we leave out the God Factor. "God feeds them." And then Jesus reminds his disciples that they are of much greater value than birds. This is the argument of lesser to greater. If God even feeds unclean birds, will he not much more provide for humans?
Of course, this doesn't mean that God fills a bird feeder every morning for the ravens. They spend their day finding food and devouring it. It's not a "cake walk." Nor are we to expect God to put us on "Easy Street." But we are to expect him to provide for our needs. Jesus tells us to expect that!
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?" (12:25-26)
Worrying can't accomplish anything -- anything at all, says Jesus. So why do it?
The words Jesus uses in this passage are words of physical measurement. The word translated "cubit" (KJV) or "hour" (NIV) is Greek pēchys, "originally 'forearm,' then 'cubit' or 'ell' as a measure of length (about 18 inches, or .4652 of a meter)."533 The word translated "stature" (KJV) or "life" (NIV) is Greek hēlikia, "age, time of life" and sometimes as "bodily stature."534 The Greek, then, uses mixed metaphors: (1) a metaphor of physical length with (2) a metaphor of time or lifespan. Since a derivative usage of hēlikia is "bodily stature," Jesus could be saying, "By worrying you can't add a cubit to your height." But most contemporary scholars prefer the translation, "By worrying you can't add 18 inches to the journey of a lifetime." The reason is this. Verse 26 sees this addition as a "very little thing." While adding 18 inches to a 5 foot man would be seen as a "big thing," adding 18 inches to a lifespan is miniscule, and therefore seems to fit better.
However you take verse 25, the meaning is the same. If you can't accomplish anything by worrying, why do it?
"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!" (12:27-28)
Jesus has had his hearers consider how God feeds the ravens to assure them that God will provide the food they need. Now, to illustrate that God will provide for the clothes that they need, he turns their minds to the lilies of the field. The word "lilies" is the plural of Greek krinon, "'lily' ... Some think of the autumn crocus, Turk's cap lily, anemone, or gladiolus. Perhaps Jesus had no definite flower in mind, but was thinking of all the wonderful blooms that adorn the fields of Galilee."535
In Northern California where I live, spring breaks into all its colorful glory in the fields and meadows. First, yellow mustard erupts in riotous splendor, covering whole orchards in its pale gold. Then, fiddleneck unrolls its flowerhead with yellow-orange, and the reddish purple clasping henbit peeps out. A few weeks later the fields are full of the violet-purple of winter vetch, and roadsides and disturbed places are carpeted with the blues and purples and whites of lupine flower cones. The countryside is awash with color. It is this unmatchable splendor that I believe Jesus was referring to. Not just a single lily, but a virtual garden of wildflowers overcoming the fields and mountain slopes of Galilee and Judea.
Consider that, Jesus says. Consider the glory of the wildflowers, and then realize that even Solomon, Israel's richest king, could not compare. The grasses of the field are clothed with glory, even though in a few weeks the grasses will be bone dry and be collected for use in cooking fires. So why are we so concerned about clothing when God so elegantly clothes the wildflowers?
What's more, Jesus says, "Your Father knows that you need them." The implication is that how could a good and wealthy Father look on and allow his children not to have enough food and clothing? We don't have to convince our Father of the need. He knows the need. He is aware of it. You don't have to lay siege to heaven's gates asking for it.
That's our problem, according to Jesus, seeking after the wrong thing.
"And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them." (12:29-30)
The phrase translated "set your heart on" (NIV) or "seek" (KJV) in 12:29 is Greek zēteō, "seek, look for." But here the context suggests a common, but somewhat removed meaning: "try to obtain, desire to possess something" or "strive for, aim (at), desire, wish."536 This verse's "seek not" is paired with the "but seek his kingdom" of 12:31.
In 12:30 Jesus notes that the unbelievers (Greek ethnē) "run after" all such things. The Greek verb is epizēteō, a compound verb with the same root, zēteō, "seek" and a preposition epi-, "upon." Thayer notes that the addition of the preposition epi- "seems to be directive rather than intensive."537 Epizēteō in this phrase seems to mean "strive for, wish, wish for."538
But the NIV's translation "set your heart on" may be about right. We can fixate on getting enough to eat, and clothes to wear. We can fixate on money for the rent or mortgage, and gas for the car. When bills pile up, we fixate on them. We "set our heart on them." But Jesus says this fixation is wrongly placed. Instead, the fixation belongs on the kingdom of God. Look at the flow of thought in 12:29-31.
"And do not fixate on (zēteō) what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world fixates on (epizēteō) all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But fixate on (zēteō) his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."
We are to seek after (zēteō) the Father's kingdom with all the energy we have previously spent struggling for food and clothing and shelter. That doesn't mean that we aren't to get a job and earn a living like anyone else. Most of the time that's exactly what it will mean. But instead of focusing on the struggle for everyday necessities, our minds and hearts are seeking his kingdom and his glory. And when we do that, Jesus promises, he will "give" us what we need for sustenance. The promise is clear: "These things will be given to you as well." The Greek word translated "given" (NIV) is prostithēmi, "add, put to," of things that are added to something already present.539
"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." (12:31)
In the back of my mind I hear a syncopated old African-American spiritual (that recalls Isaiah 26:3):
"I woke up this morning with my mind ... stayed
I woke up this morning with my mind ... stayed on Jesus,
I woke up this morning with my mind ... stayed on Jesus.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelu-u-u-u-jah!"
That's what this is all about -- where we focus our thoughts and longings and prayers. Are we so occupied with survival that we are distracted from Jesus and his kingdom? Then we are left with the struggle. But if our thoughts and mind and prayers focus on Jesus and his kingdom, then we have a promise that he will supply every need that we have in relation to the abundance of his riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
Paul's instructions to the Philippian church were similar. When they faced want or striving or fear, he told them. It is a matter of your focus:
"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 such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:6-9)
Focus on the problems and struggles of life and you get anxiety. But focus on God and his provision and you are flooded with the peace of God.
For the last few days I have been meditating on this single verse. Yes, I have read it all my life as I have come to Luke's Gospel, but now for me it is special, energized:
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (12:32)
Jesus addresses his disciples as his "little flock." The word translated "flock" is Greek poimnion, "flock," especially of sheep.540 Jesus calls them his "little flock," using the Greek word micros. In many languages, the diminutive of a noun is used as a term of endearment. That's why Jesus calls his disciples "little flock," his tiny flock of twelve, whom he cares for with all his heart, and with whom he is sharing his life. You and I, my friend, are part of that "little flock" now. We are seeking to walk with him, to listen to him, to emulate him, to absorb his thoughts and attitudes and philosophy of life. We are his "little flock."
Then he tells us, "Do not be afraid." In this passage Jesus has been dealing with the panic and anxiety we feel when we focus on survival. Let's look at the different ways Jesus describes this:
- "worry" (Greek merimnaō, 12:22, 25, 26)
- "little faith" (Greek oligopistos, 12:28)
- "fear not" (Greek phobeō, 12:32)
Our worrying and fretting are sinful. Our worry represents unbelief, or only a tiny bit of belief mixed with a whole lot of unbelief. Our worry represents fear, terror, which drives us and panics us. Our worry is sinful. But in the midst of our fear, Jesus speaks to us: "Fear not, little flock."
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (12:32)
The reason we don't have to be afraid is because the Father gives us the kingdom. The Greek verb is a common one, didōmi, "give something to someone." "Give" in the sense "grant, bestow, impart."541
What does that mean? What is this kingdom he is giving us?
- The full inheritance that belongs to the King,
- The full attention that is the right of the royal family,
- The full privilege of reigning alongside the King,
- The full provision of every need that we have,
- The full pardon for all our sins against the King and his kingdom,
- The full love and favor of the King himself,
- and a whole lot more that we scarcely understand.
Wow! We're struggling with bills and food, and he bestows upon us his entire Kingdom in which all the riches and glory of God dwell. In the Kingdom is the answer for every need we have or will ever have. We focus on the need rather than the Kingdom and its glory which is the abundant, overflowing answer to the need! How stupid. How ungrateful! How unseeing we are! No wonder Jesus says, "Seek his kingdom, and all these things will be added to you" (12:31).
Jesus saw the Kingdom as present, at hand, as he preached and taught and healed. He also saw it as coming, "Thy Kingdom come...." He lived in the unseen Kingdom that was to fill with glory as inevitably as the rising sun gilds the clouds with its rising.
But we're not finished yet. There is one more word in this sentence to consider. The word translated "pleased" is Greek eudokeō, "be well pleased, take delight."542 God doesn't grudgingly share his Kingdom with us. He doesn't do it because he promised and can't bring himself to go back on his word. Jesus says that he is delighted to give us the Kingdom. It is the Father's joy, his abundant pleasure to bestow upon us his kingdom. He has been waiting from all eternity to do this, and now is overjoyed to do it. I daresay the Father is more overjoyed to bestow upon you his entire Kingdom than you are to receive it.
And what should our reaction be to this unexpected and overwhelming bonus?
"Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." (12:33)
We're so focused on this world and ensuring ourselves a good life here. Though we're quick to deny it, we bear more resemblance to the Rich Fool than the trusting disciple. But when all our needs are met by God, in bestowing upon us his Kingdom, we can afford to be generous. We are no longer grasping at life, and holding onto our possessions for dear life. We can look around us and be concerned about others' needs. If we have extra possessions, we can sell them and give to the poor. That may not make earthly sense, but it makes heavenly sense, and -- Jesus says -- accrues for us treasure in heaven. We are rich toward God in contrast to the Rich Fool, who had everything but possessed nothing.
Do you believe you have the Kingdom? Then how does that belief affect your everyday attitude toward material things, toward wealth, toward survival? If it makes no difference, then you don't really believe it.
"Because," Jesus concludes," where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (12:34). He leaves his disciples with a clear question: What is your real treasure? What absorbs your attention and your time? In which world do you live? Jesus calls you to another plane of existence, an unseen but very real Kingdom in which he will meet every need of your body, mind, soul, and spirit. The gift of the Kingdom is intended to encompass your heart. So I ask you again, Where is your treasure, my friend?
Father, I have lived much of my life in ignorance of the wealth and peace of your Kingdom. I have lived as if there is no Tomorrow. I have worried and fretted and feared. I have disbelieved your promises. And I am ashamed. Please forgive me -- I know you will. Increase my peripheral vision that I might see and live in your Kingdom now, and in the age to come. In Jesus' name and in his power, I pray. Amen.
"But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:31-31)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- Jesus gives five reasons in 12:22-30 why we shouldn't worry and strive over the material needs of life, food, clothing, shelter, and the like. What are they? (Read very carefully and then list the reasons)
- Extra Credit. God's care over sparrows is mentioned in 12:6-8. Ravens are mentioned in 12:24. What is similar about these statements? How does the raven differ from the sparrow, from a Jewish viewpoint?
- Jesus refers to our focus on material possessions in three negative ways. The first is "worry." What are the other two:
- worry (12:22, 24, 25)
- ________ (12:28b)
- ________ (12:32)
In what sense is this sin?
- What is the significance to you that the Father has given you the Kingdom (12:32-32). How does it make you feel? What does it consist of? How is it effective in this life? How is it effective in the life to come?
- Why should you sell possessions and give to the poor (12:32). What sense does that make?
- Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? (12:34) How can you know?
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 Psychē, BAGD 893-894.
 Polys, BAGD 689.
 Merimnaō, BAGD 505.
 Katanoeō, BAGD 415.
 Korax, BAGD 444.
 Tameion, BAGD 803.
 Pēchys, BAGD 656-657.
 Hēlikia, BAGD 345.
 Krinon, BAGD 451.
 Zēteō, BAGD 338-339.
 Thayer, p. 238.
 Epizēteō, BAGD 292.
 Prostithēmi, BAGD 718-719.
 Poimnion, BAGD 684.
 Didōmi, BAGD 192-193.
 Eudokeō, BAGD 319.
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