THE CURE FOR ANXIOUS CARE

 

Week of November 11, 2007

 

Bible Verses:  Matthew 6:19-34.

 

Biblical Truth: Followers of Jesus love God and trust their Heavenly Father’s care to provide basic necessities.

 

Love God Above All Else:  Matthew 6:19-24.

 

[19]  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, [20]  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21]  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [22]  The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, [23]  but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! [24]  No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.   [NASU]

 

[19-21]  It may help if we begin by listing what Jesus was not forbidding. First, there is no ban on possessions in themselves. Secondly, ‘saving for a rainy day’ is not forbidden. Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter, and declares that the believer who makes no provision for his family is worse than an unbeliever. Thirdly, we are not to despise, but rather to enjoy, the good things which our Creator has given us richly to enjoy. What Jesus forbids His followers is the selfish accumulation of goods; extravagant and luxurious living; the hardheartedness which does not feel the colossal need of the world’s underprivileged people; the foolish fantasy that a person’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions; and the materialism which tethers our hearts to the earth. Our heart always follows our treasure. In a word to lay up treasure on earth does not mean being provident (making sensible provision for the future) but being covetous. To lay up treasure in heaven is to do anything on earth whose effects last for eternity. It seems that Jesus was referring to such things as these: the development of Christlike character; the increase of faith, hope and charity, all of which abide; growth in the knowledge of Christ whom one day we shall see face to face; the active endeavor (by prayer and witness) to introduce others to Christ, so that they too may inherit eternal life; and the use of our money for Christian causes, which is the only investment whose dividends are everlasting. All these are temporal activities with eternal consequences.

 

[22-23]  Not infrequently in Scripture the eye is equivalent to the heart. That is, to set the heart and to fix the eye on something are synonyms. The good eye is the one fixed on God, unwavering in its gaze, constant in its fixation. The result is that the entire person is ‘full of light.’ If light is taken in its usual connotations of revelation and purity, then the individual with a single eye toward kingdom values is the person characterized by maximum understanding of divinely revealed truth and by unabashedly pure behavior.

 

[24]  Anybody who divides his allegiance between God and mammon has already given it to mammon, since God can be served only with an entire and exclusive devotion. This is simply because he is God. It is a question of comparable worth: the intrinsic worth of the One and the intrinsic worthlessness of the other. It is vital for our spiritual well-being that the question of our devotion be settled once and for all. Life in the kingdom of God calls for single-minded allegiance to the King. In that context, we are stewards of everything we have – family, home, business. We do not possess them. They are gifts given by the Lord, the blessings of His rule over us. They are never, ever, to become our masters, or even to compete with Him for mastery over us.

 

Trust God for All:  Matthew 6:25-32.

 

[25]  Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, 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: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27]  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28]  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29]  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30]  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31]  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' [32]  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.    [NASU]

 

Because transient earthly treasures do not satisfy and do not last [19-21], because moral and spiritual vision is easily distorted and darkened [22-23], because a choice must be made between God and money [24], because the kingdom of God demands unswerving allegiance to its values [19-24], therefore do not worry, and in particular do not worry about mere things. Just as earthly possessions can become an idol which deposes God by becoming disproportionately important, so also can earthly needs become a source of worry which deposes God by fostering distrust. Loyalty to kingdom values rejects all subservience to temporal things, whether that subservience be the type which accumulates endlessly, or the type stamped by a frenetic, faithless, and worried scurry for essentials.

 

The teaching in 6:25-34 is calculated to act as an antidote to worry. In essence, Jesus says to us, ‘Sit down. There are several issues that you need to think through.’ Think through is the important phrase because healing of the diseased spirit – the process Scripture calls sanctification – begins in the mind. The transformation of our character begins with the renewing of our mind. Only when we think with minds that have been instructed by Christ will we begin to live in a way that benefits the kingdom of Christ. God transforms our lives by the renewing of our minds as we study and submit to the teaching of Scripture. In it, God’s Spirit opens our eyes to understand spiritual things. In this particular section of Scripture, a series of directives is given to us with the intention of renewing our minds so that our lives become consistent with the kingdom in which we live. This is Jesus’ antidote for anxiety.

 

(1) Look at the whole of life. Have you even noticed what happens when you become anxious about something? It begins to dominate your thinking, and you see everything in the light of your anxiety. Jesus bids us to look at the whole of life. The birds of the air and the flowers of the field demonstrate what an exquisite designer and provider God is. If He provides with a tender, fatherlike care for these, how much more will He provide for the people He has purchased at the infinite cost of the death of His Son [Rom. 8:32]? Can you not believe that the Lord will provide for you everything you need in your life?

 

(2) Look at the nature of life. Now He underlines the nature of the Christian life: your life is in the hands of your Father. He has designed it. He knows the end of it from the beginning. He plans each step of the way to fulfill His purpose for you and through you. You will have all you need to fulfill that purpose, and when that is accomplished, you will be taken home to be with Him. Why worry when He has your life in His hands? Your worry is a sign that you do not adequately know Him, or that you do not trust Him, or have not yet yielded to Him as you ought. It is only when we want to take our lives out of the Father’s hands and have them under our own control that we find ourselves gripped with anxiety. The secret of freedom from anxiety is freedom from ourselves and abandonment of our own plans. But that spirit emerges in our lives only when our minds are filled with the knowledge that our Father can be trusted implicitly to supply everything we need. This is why the Bible has so much to say about the sovereign rule of God. The whole of the Sermon on the Mount depends on the fact that God rules this world, that His ways are perfect, and that His purposes will be brought to pass. It is God, our Father, who sets the boundaries of our lives, who prepares good works in advance, for us to accomplish [Eph. 2:10], and who promises that when we live according to His plan, we shall lack nothing. When we see that, then we also see the pointlessness of anxiety, and the purposefulness of trusting everything to Him.

 

(3) Look at the Lord’s generosity. Many of our anxieties spring from a basic suspicion of the Father’s grace. But Jesus demolishes this suspicion in 6:24-30. No Christian who properly appreciates what He is saying should be deceived again. Jesus uses the argument of from the lesser to the greater. If the Father cares for little birds, how much more will He care for His people who have been created to show His glory and speak His praises. The logic is irrefutable. Let it grip your mind, and you will be free from pursuing what the faithless pagans seek [6:32]. Notice Jesus’ language here. He says that the pagans ‘run after all these things.’ They know nothing else worth pursuing. But the Christian ‘runs after’ the Lord [Ps. 42:1]! How foolish to seek the gift when it is possible to seek the Giver.

 

Seek God Before All:  Matthew 6:33-34.

 

[33]  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [34]  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.    [NASU]

 

[33]  The Heart of the Matter. Our part is to avoid consuming worry, even over essentials, and to pursue the kingdom of God. The word ‘seek’ here is present imperative, suggesting unceasing quest. God’s part is then to provide His children with what they need. Three limitations must be observed. (1) This promise is to the children of God, not to all men indiscriminately. (2) Jesus promises that necessities will be provided, not luxuries. God in His lavish mercy often gives much more than the essentials; but He here pledges Himself only to the latter. (3) The major exception to this pledge occurs when Christians are suffering for righteousness’ sake. Some are martyred by starvation and by exposure. The overwhelming importance of the kingdom may require self-sacrifice even to this ultimate degree. God’s most common way of meeting the material needs of His poor children is by laying such needs on the hearts and consciences of others among His children.

 

Two reflections: First, we Christians desperately need to assess our goals and commitments in the light of what the Scriptures teach about caring for the hungry (see Prov. 22:9; 25:21f.; Is. 32:6; 58:6ff.; Ezek. 16:49; 18:7; Matt. 25:42; Luke 3:11; 12:48; Acts 4:32ff.). Christians first of all ought to support their own, but they must reach out to others as well. Sooner or later the mad race toward more and more possessions must cease: let Christians choose to get out of the race now, before there is no choice. On the second point, work and profit are not to be despised. Rather, they often are the means God uses in order to provide for the needs of others. God blesses certain believers with abundant income in order for them to share their blessing with others in need.

 

[34]  Final Reason for Reducing Worry. So far Jesus’ reasons have been essentially theological. They have turned on the compassion and providence of God, and on the superlative value of the kingdom. But this last reason is purely pragmatic. 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. And if there will be new troubles tomorrow, so also will there be fresh grace. The person who enters the kingdom adopts the perspectives of the kingdom. In broadest terms, this entails unswerving loyalty to the values dictated by God, and uncompromised trust in God.

 

 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      What goals do you have in life? And, more important, what process do you use to set your goals? What is the relationship between what we value and the goals that we set. What does Jesus teach us in these verses about how we are to set goals?

 

2.      Why do we worry about things that may or may not happen in the future? What does worry or anxiety say about our spiritual maturity? How will a growing knowledge of our Heavenly Father change little faith to great faith and reduce our anxieties?

 

3.      How can we make the kingdom of God and His righteousness our all-encompassing treasure; the highest priority in our lives? How does worry and anxiety interfere with this goal?

 

 

References:

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount , D.A. Carson, Global Christian Publishers.

The Sermon on the Mount, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.