The Code of Priorities: God vs. Needs

Most times we assume materialism is a problem reserved for the rich, or at the least for those with “comfortable” lives. The Scriptures certainly warn these to be on their guard against “the love of money” (1Timothy 6.10), that they not “fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” (1Timothy 6.17) and that they “store up treasures in heaven” rather than on earth (Matthew 6.19-24). But what about the less fortunate, those who struggle to make ends meet; are they immune to materialism? Sadly no, because whether they have a lot or next to nothing, most find themselves wanting more. And this wanting more will lead to misplaced priorities and reveal that our true master was “things” rather than God (Matthew 6.24). In Matthew 6.25-34 our Lord addresses those whose focus might be turned from God to the basic necessities of life.

25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6.25-34)

Do not worry.

The seriousness of Jesus’ command to not worry is evident from the fact that Jesus repeats it three times in the passage (vss. 25,31,34). However, before we proceed further let’s understand that Jesus is NOT prohibiting hard work and planning for the future. The Scriptures uniformly agree that “laziness” is ungodly (see Proverbs 6.6-11; 24.30-34; Ecclesiastes 4.5; 2Thessalonians 3.10). Furthermore, work is emphasized as it would allow one to provide for his own family (1Timothy 5.8) and for others in need (Ephesians 4.28). Work and planning for the future are good and blessed by God, but worry is a tool of the evil one; a tool he has used with devastating affect: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13.22).

Why worry is so wrong.

Jesus is concerned that His disciples would be consumed by worry, and for good reason. First, worry shows that we lack faith in God. Jesus brings our attention to our Creator by posing the question, “is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, why not trust God who gave us life, rather than allow our minds to be filled with worry over the necessities of life? “Why should the Creator give us life, only to starve us to death? If He gave us the greater gift of life, why would He withhold the lesser gifts necessary to maintain it? Can’t we trust the One who gave us life to give us food? Our lives are not a fluke, and their continuation is not dependent on blind chance. We have been created in the image of God for purposes which He will surely work out by His faithful providence. What is our problem? We have forgotten the wonder of our origins and, therefore, fallen into skepticism about our future.” (Paul Earnhart)

Second, worry shows that we are no different than the world. “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” (Matthew 6:31–32) D. A. Carson provides this insightful commentary on the moral danger of worrying like the rest of the world: “Lack of uncompromising trust in God is not only an affront to him, but also essentially pagan. In other words, verse 32 provides two important reasons why we are not to sound worried and frustrated like secular men. The first is that if we worry as pagans do, it is transparent that we are pursuing the same things they are; but if we are, then because the kingdom values are so different, the kingdom is necessarily being denied. Second, such worry on the part of those who profess faith in God constitutes some sort of denial of that profession, since the heavenly Father is well aware of our needs (cf. also 6:8), and our conduct is advertising loudly that we don’t believe it.

Finally, worry is dangerous because it hinders our striving for the Kingdom. We should read vss. 25-34 as one thought: “do not worry… but seek first His Kingdom.” Worry makes us distracted from what is truly important. So we should take Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha to heart: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10.41-42).

Jesus’ solution for worry.

  1. Grow your faith. Remember that God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, and then remember that you are “worth much more than they” (vs. 26). Paul also reminds us of how trusting prayer can cure our anxieties: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)
  2. Seek the Kingdom. What Jesus means by vs. 33 is clear from the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Those who seek the Kingdom have pure hearts devoted completely to God (5.8) and want nothing more than righteousness (5.6). Their first thought is that God’s will be done and they trust that He will provide their daily needs (6.10-11). We “seek” the Kingdom knowing that it will be found and trusting  that “all these things will be added to you.”
  3. Take one day at a time. Jesus concludes the passage by again warning against worrying “about tomorrow”, but then says, “each day has enough trouble of its own.” “It is as if Jesus recognizes that there will be some unavoidable worry today after all. But let’s limit it to the concerns of today! Our gracious God intends us to take one step at a time, no more; to be responsible today and not fret about tomorrow. “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And if there will be new troubles tomorrow, so also will there be fresh grace.” (D.A. Carson)

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