To plan wisely for the future is good, but worry - especially about money - can be detrimental in many ways. Jesus encourages us to get the right perspective and trust God who provides for all creation.
To plan wisely for the future is good, but worry - especially about money - can be detrimental in many ways. Jesus encourages us to get the right perspective and trust God who provides for all creation.
Hello, welcome to Series 4 and Episode 15. We're in the Sermon on the Mount. Our topic today is about anxiety and worry about money. Jesus says, don't be anxious about money. We're studying in Matthew 6: 25 to 34.
Introduction and Recap
In every episode, we remind ourselves of the broader context which is that Jesus is building up his ministry in Galilee. He's spent some time travelling around, gathering his disciples together, performing miracles and teaching. We've gone through some very exciting material in Series 2 and in Series 3. This came to conclusion in Series 3 with the appointment of his twelve Apostles - the foremost disciples - the central group of disciples, who were going to be commissioned by Jesus to carry on his ministry, to multiply and to speak authoritatively on his behalf and other things as well. As soon as he'd appointed the Twelve, he started teaching quite systematically in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. The Twelve are gathered, other disciples are there, and also a crowd is eagerly listening in. This is the context, which you need to keep in mind as we are talking about this particular topic today. The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, as I've stated before on a number of occasions, is aimed at disciples, followers of Jesus. It is, essentially, a manual of Christian discipleship; it gives you some foundational principles and guidance on how to live the Christian life if you are wholeheartedly committed to Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7 and the equivalent passages in Luke's Gospel), is very important for us.
It teaches us about attitudes - we looked at the Beatitudes in the beginning of Matthew 5. It explains that following Jesus' teaching fulfils the Law of Moses, as explained in Matthew 5: 17 to 20, another very important passage. He goes on to teach about some ethical issues (anger, sexual ethics, what we speak and the quality of the things we say). Then we come into chapter 6 and there is teaching about the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and giving to the poor. All those things have been discussed by Jesus just prior to the section that we're going to look at now. He turns his attention in the previous episode - which I hope you've read but if not, you need to connect that one with this one because the two fit very closely together - to the question of money, wealth, investment and security. A tremendously important question for all of us - rich and poor alike - and many people live with significant material insecurity in all sorts of different parts of the world. This teaching is very important and, in the last passage (Matthew 6: 19 - 24) Jesus starts by saying, ‘“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”’ He's talking about priorities. What kind of an investment are you going to make with your life? Where are you investing? That's a very important question. People are always investing in either relationships, in farming, in property, in their job or in their family - trying to make money or trying to do some social good or perhaps (as in the case of discipleship) investing directly in God's Kingdom. That's really where this teaching is heading. in the previous episode Jesus really explains the issue of where you put your investment, and now we come to our text for today, Matthew 6: 25 - 34:
‘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 than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look 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? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If 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—you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”’Matthew 6:25-34, NIV
In this passage is that famous and wonderful statement: ‘but seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness,’ which we're going to come to in just a moment. It's a great climax of Jesus' teaching.
Before we get there, we need to connect this passage with the last one because Jesus starts, in verse 25, by saying, ‘“I tell you do not worry about your life.”’ The word worry is one that I want to think about for a moment and then we're going to connect the two passages together. ‘“Do not worry.”’ What does worry actually mean? Worry is a state of anxiety (or fear or deep uncertainty) about the future. It's a state of mind. It's a state of agitation. It's often quite an emotional state and it interrupts our pattern of living - this sense of anxiety can create anger. It can create depression; it can create all sorts of different emotional responses. We need to distinguish worry from reasonable concern and good planning for the future. Jesus makes it clear elsewhere (even in the Sermon on the Mount) that it's good to plan and it's good to think about the future. It's good to structure your life in such a way that you are building a good life, making a good future. For example, in the last passage of the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 7, Jesus likens his listeners to two groups of people: one who builds a house for their family on a very firm foundation made of rock; and others who build a house for their family on a very poor foundation, which has a lot of sand in it. He draws a distinction. He says, “If you're building on rock then if the hard things and difficulties in life come - storms - the house will stand. If it's on sand, then when storms come, the foundations will give way.” That whole teaching implies that we're planning, we're thinking. Financial planning - and financial management as an example of that - is a good thing but that's to be distinguished, fundamentally, from a state of anxiety which overtakes you and affects your well-being and, often, greatly influences people around you. Jesus says, “Don't worry,” but he says don't worry because of other teachings that he's given.
He starts (verse 25) with that very important word ‘“Therefore,”’ which means ‘as a result of the things previously stated.’ in the previous teaching, he gives three reasons not to worry. First of all, in verses 19 - 21,
‘19“(Don't) store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”’Matthew 6:19-21, NIV
In this teaching, Jesus is saying earthly treasure does not satisfy our need for meaning, significance and value, and it doesn't last. It's fragile, you can lose it - many of you will know exactly what I mean. You can gain money but you can lose money, and very often you can lose money a lot faster than you can gain it. Jesus says, “Don't worry about things because you shouldn't be investing too much there, anyway. You should really be investing in God's Kingdom.” In verses 22 and 23, Jesus points out that a pursuit of money and materialism distorts our moral and spiritual vision.
‘22“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”’Matthew 6:22-23, NIV
The pursuit of money and wealth comes in many forms and it is rampant across every society. Lots of people are very keen to get rich, to get secure, to make a lot of money and to make a big impression with their wealth. It distorts our moral and spiritual vision; it always tends to focus our attention on ourselves and the more interested we get in materialism and money, the more we build barriers around ourselves to protect ourselves from losing what we have gained. Jesus gives this as another reason saying, “Don't worry about it because if you're so keen on accumulating material possessions, it's going to do you some harm. It's going to focus you, selfishly - much more on yourself - and that's not a good thing.” In verse 24, Jesus points out that money is a bad master:
‘24“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”’Matthew 6:24, NIV
With all these things in mind, Jesus then says, ‘“Therefore, ... (don't) worry.”’ The connection is that worrying about money (and focusing on accumulating a lot of money and making yourself secure) actually does you harm: It can harm you psychologically; it can harm you spiritually: and it can distort your understanding of the Kingdom of God so that you're not following him wholeheartedly.
Jesus' Antidote to Worry
Jesus is saying, “Let's adopt a completely different attitude in the Kingdom of God, amongst disciples.” Can you see how revolutionary this teaching is? This is remarkable! This is very counter-cultural, certainly in the Western world where I live but if you live in another part of the world you'll probably think that it's also going against the culture that is around you, where money is such a major preoccupation of so many people. Jesus says that you don't need to worry and he gives us a way of thinking about material provision that helps us not to worry. Let's think about that for a moment. It's all very well having the command, “Don't worry,” but those who are prone to anxiety know that it's not something you can snap out of very easily - it's something that absorbs a lot of your emotional energies very easily. Jesus is now leading us on a journey of thinking differently and, essentially, putting our trust in different things and, indeed, in a different person. He's leading us along a journey in this teaching: to trust God and to invest in the things that God wants to do in this world, rather than to create a secure and private world for ourselves, where we feel safe and secure and we keep everything else at arms length. That's the type of journey that we're on, in thinking about the teaching that Jesus gives today. It's a very radical, challenging, even difficult, teaching that you're going to have to think about, pray about, meditate on and reflect on significantly because this will be a challenge to many of you - as it is to me.
Jesus' journey out of worry is based on reflecting on the natural world, thinking significantly about what we see around us and what it tells us about God. For example, verse 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?”’ And then he goes on to say, verse 28: ‘“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow,”’
Let's pause for a moment and think, “What does this really mean?” Let's think about birds. The country of Israel is in a Mediterranean context and experiences a lot of migrating birds - birds that come in and out of the country at different seasons of the year That would have been the experience of many of the listeners of the Sermon on the Mount. That makes me think about my own situation. Let me tell you something that happened yesterday. I'm recording this in the early summer of our climates here in the UK, in the month of May. In our early summer and late spring-time (March, April and May), we experience a lot of movement of migrating birds and yesterday I stepped out of the back of my house and, as I often do at this time of year, I looked up through the trees around into the sky and the clouds above and I saw what I see every day at this time of year - and that's a bird called a housemartin. It's like a swallow or a swift and these birds migrate between Africa and our country (the UK) and other countries in the northern hemisphere. They migrate every year and in the autumn (our autumn, or fall) the birds go south to the warmer climate of Africa and then, when our climate gets warmer, they come and they appreciate the warmth of our climate and all the food that they can get in our climate. This happens every single year. As I look up in the sky, as I did last night, I see birds that have come and gone between our country and Africa all their lives and I think some of those birds probably come back to the same area in our country that they came in previous years - as that's often what happens with migrating birds. I think more deeply and I think, “They're not worried. They're not anxious. They travel from one country to another to get a good climate, good food, good living conditions and good breeding conditions. God is looking after them. God is providing for them.” They're still there, in abundance, year after year, and it's that sort of thought that Jesus wants us to dwell on.
Yesterday, I also visited a shop in our town where plants and flowers are sold. I saw such beauty and my wife and I were buying some plants, which is a wonderful thing to be able to do - such beauty, so many flowers, so beautifully clothed with colour in their petals and their structure, so many multitudes of wonderful colours. We love the beautiful colours of clothing, but Jesus is saying here that the flowers are beautifully clothed, without even consciously thinking about it, without worrying about it. They don't have the capacity to worry, they're not that sort of creature - they're plants - but they have an incredible ability to flourish and be colourful and to be provided for. Jesus wants us to learn from the natural world - the plant life, the bird life, the animal life - and to realise that God provides for them in amazing ways and even though that doesn't work out perfectly every time, because of the complexities of our world and the fact that we live in a fallen world, yet the abundant provision of God is always evident when you look around you. That's really worth doing where you live - in your country, in your location. I love walking out of the city and the town and going into the hills nearby where I live. I do it frequently and it reconnects me with a sense of God's amazing and wonderful provision.
Jesus wants us to have a leap of our imagination, to connect what we see around us with the character of God who is the provider, and to realise that he has a special commitment to provide for his regenerate, born-again children and disciples - the very people who are being spoken to by the Sermon on the Mount - not just in first century Israel, but right the way through the years to you and me. Jesus is inviting us to trust that same God. Yes we plan. Yes we work. Yes we make wise decisions. Yes we think about money. Yes we budget. Yes we need to save at times. Yes we need to look after our families. Yes we need to be careful with our crops if we have a smallholding.Yes we need to be careful with our possessions - but we don't need to worry and we don't need to worry when things aren't working out as perfectly as we would like. What we need to do is to trust God. Jesus says it's the pagans, the people without Christ or faith, who are rushing around worrying: ‘“The pagans run after ... these things,”’ says Jesus, they're anxious, trying to accumulate all the time. No, we don't need to do that because, ‘“your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”’
A Right Perspective
This leads us to the final point and the climax of this teaching which links together the two passages from the last episode to this one. Verse 33:
‘“But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”’Matthew 6:33, NIV
The focus of our emotional energies and our thinking and our planning - beyond the necessary provision for ourselves and our families - the focus should be to ask the fundamental question: how is God wanting his Kingdom to grow through me, my family, my church, my life, in the place that I live? What is he doing? I need to seek to be a builder of God's Kingdom. There are a number of different ways I can do that. Matthew 6: 10, in the Lord's Prayer, tells us that we should pray, ‘“Your Kingdom come.”’ We know, from many New Testament texts, that the Kingdom comes through conversion, salvation through preaching. Our preaching, our sharing our faith, our testimony, to other people is a way of advancing the Kingdom. We know that God works through local church communities and so investing in a good church community that you can trust (with leaders who you respect) which is on a mission that you can identify - that's an important way of building God's Kingdom. Caring for the poor, giving to your church, investing in Christian family life to build up your own household - these are all ways in which we can advance God's Kingdom and respond to the particular things that the Holy Spirit has called you, personally, to do. We pursue God's righteousness by living right; living according to God's principles. In fact, living according to the Sermon on the Mount as much as anything else - this is a very profound passage.
A Bad Example in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, there's a very interesting example of somebody who became very materialistic and lost his way completely. Somebody very important. It was actually one of the kings of Israel: King Solomon, the son of King David, the third King of the united kingdom of Israel. Solomon started out with a very strong heritage; his father had built up the kingdom and he was given a gift of spiritual wisdom and he was following God but, through the course of time, he became corrupted (he became interested in other gods, he became interested in womanising and gathering women to him, and he became interested in gathering material possessions). He became very rich but he became very materialistic. He fell into spiritual depression and decline and came under the judgement of God. This is recorded in Ecclesiastes 2, you'll see the description of Solomon's life as he pursued material things. He found it was, ultimately, meaningless.
That's really what Jesus is saying here, material things seem tremendously attractive at the time but, ultimately, they lead nowhere. You can't take them into eternity; they don't change your relationship with God; they don't provide you with ultimate security; they can be lost as quickly as they can be gained; they can create tremendous anxiety; they can separate you from people around you by causing you to focus on yourself - they can do you a lot of harm. Wealth needs to be handled very carefully and sensitively and freely shared with other people.
Our reflection, as we conclude, is that the opposite of worrying about provision for our life and money is to seek God's Kingdom. It's amazing what happens when you think consciously and actively all the time about how you can please God, how you can serve his Kingdom. It puts everything else into glorious perspective. It enhances that sense of trust because we see God providing for us. God never promised material wealth to his disciples; it's a false gospel to say that he wants to make you richer and richer. No, he promised to meet your needs - that is what is explicitly taught here: ‘“Your heavenly Father knows that you need them,”’ verse 32. Your Heavenly Father knows your needs - food and clothing; he's committed to provide them. We need to trust him because God is our Father.
My final thought is this, from verse 34:
‘“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”’Matthew 6:34, NIV
You can't control the future and, if there's a little tendency in you to try and control everything so you can manage it, here is an opportunity to let go of control and to increase your faith and trust in the Living God. Plan for the future, yes. Pray about the future, yes. Trust God for the future, yes. But don't worry about the future; seek the Kingdom of God.