Sermon preached on Matthew 6:25-34 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/7/2014 in Novato, CA
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Therefore Do Not Worry
Worry. Anxiety. Whatever you want to call it. This is such a common struggle for humans. Jesus addresses worry and anxiety in our passage. And to clarify, he’s talking about sinful worry and anxiety. I add that clarification just to acknowledge the flexibility of human language. There can be a healthy, righteous, concern that we should have about various things. Sometimes in our language we might use the words of worry and anxiety in a good way. “I’m anxious to go to church because I’m so excited to see what God will be doing among us today!” Or, you might say to yourself, “I’m worried that I’ve been daydreaming in my prayers; I want to focus better in them.” Those casual usages of the word “worry” or “anxiety” don’t seem to be describing any sinful action. They are used there to describe a righteous excitement or godly concern about something. That is not what Jesus is talking about here today.
Rather, Jesus is talking about the more typical ways these terms can be used. They typically are used to describe a sinful action of our hearts and minds. Instead of having healthy concerns and exercising Christian prudence in planning and organizing our lives, we fall into sinful worry or sinful anxiety. We become plagued by too many things, concerned about too many “what ifs”, fretting in a way that disregards the good providential care of God in your life. This usually adds much stress to our lives, and can sometimes even make us physically sick. Such sinful worry disregards the peace God would have for our lives and makes us prone to panic and fear of the unrighteous sort.
Now to be fair, we can appreciate, biblically speaking, why people are tempted to such worry. Just look at verse 25 and you’ll see two reasons given here why people might worry. First, they might worry about sustaining their physical life through food and drink. That’s certainly a need. Humans need food and drink to survive. Second, they might worry about their bodies, in terms of having clothing for them. Certainly, we can appreciate the need for clothing. And so these are real basic needs for humans; needs of food and clothing to sustain our lives and cover our bodies. I love how Jesus uses these as examples of what not to worry about. It’s a helpful transition from what he’s been talking about. He’s not talking here about the worry and anxiety you might heap upon yourself if you are trying to get rich. I can imagine a lot of worries that might come upon you unnecessarily when that’s your goal. But now he even addresses our cares for the basic needs in life.
And so Jesus addresses the basic real needs humans have: things as basic as food and clothing. And we can appreciate why there is so much worry about these things by humans. Think about what sparked all this worry. It goes all the way back at the Garden of Eden. There we humans had all the food we could want, with those trees provided by God. And interestingly, there, our first parents didn’t even have need for clothing; they both lived naked and unashamed. But the sin of our first parents changed everything. We were kicked out of that garden, with all the readily available food. At the same time, God cursed the ground, including having it produce thorns and thistles. Adam was told that we will only eat of the ground now in toil, in the sweat of our face. Adam was told we’ll have to do that hard work until we finally die. That was a sobering curse with regard to how we would now get our food. And of course with the fall into man, man’s eyes were opened to their nakedness. They immediately tried to make clothing for themselves with fig leaves. As I would imagine, they must not have been very good clothes, because God replaces them with clothe made from animal skins. After that, God sent them out of the garden. From here on they would need to make their own clothes.
And so are you getting a sense now why there is all this temptation to worry? Our sin has left us in an environment that is not easy to acquire even our most basic needs in life. Food and clothing is not easily come by in this world. Apart from the most basic terms described in Genesis 3 about the curse, we learn from experience what all this means. In our socially stratified society, few of us actually farm for food, or hunt animals and then make clothing out of them. But in whatever earthly jobs we have, they involve hard work. It’s hard work to earn the money to pay for these most basic needs of food and clothing. And it’s not just the hard work that causes the worry. It’s about everything that might go wrong. Just take farming for food, for example. Besides the thorns and thistles, you have drought. You have insects, or gophers, or mildews, or other plant diseases that might destroy your crop. Or when the crop finally comes, maybe the raccoons or rats will get to the fruit before you do. There are lots of things to “worry” about! All such temptations are ultimately rooted in the initial fall into sin.
And yet Jesus commands us to not worry. I would like to especially point out that this teaching is particularly addressed to God’s people. Yes, even the pagans can take heart that God has a general love and compassion that he shows to them
so that sun and rain comes for them too, that they would have food, for example (i.e. 5:45). That should comfort their worrying hearts. That being said, Jesus’ command to not worry in this passage is coupled with a number of reasons why we should not worry. And as we look at those reasons, some of them are especially pertinent to a believer. As a Christian, our relationship with God through Christ, should be one that dispels worry, now and into eternity. On the other hand, there should be a real worry for unbelievers, now and into eternity. As we’ll see today, such worry will only be truly addressed by the salvation that comes in Christ.
So then, let’s look at the reasons why Jesus says that as followers of him, we should not worry. As we look at this passage, there is structurally speaking, three big places where it says, basically, “Therefore, do not worry.” Verse 25, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry.” Verse 31, “Therefore do not worry. Verse 34, “Therefore do not worry.” Don’t miss all those “therefores”. Three times we are explicitly commanded to not worry, and all three have a rationale grounded in his teaching in this sermon. The presence of these “therefores” tells us that we are supposed to notice all the reasons why we should not worry as God’s people. And these reasons are meant to encourage our hearts that are prone to worry with the love and care God has for you.
The first “therefore” in verse 25 connects us with the previous passage. It refers back to Jesus’ teaching in the verses just before our passage for today. They are a reason not to worry. In other words, if we have God as our master, not wealth, then we have no reason to worry about material things. If we have the single focus on laying up heavenly treasure, instead of earthly treasure, then we have no need to worry about earthly things. This is not to disregard our earthly needs, but it is to say we won’t need to be worried and anxious about them when our love and loyalty is on God and looking to serve him.
The last two “therefores” deal with the reasoning in our passage for today. And in fact, as we walk through our passage, we see more than just two more reasons why we should not have such sinful worry. So, let’s walk through the passage verse by verse and observe the several reasons given. First, go to verse 25. The reason given here is that there is something more to life than food and clothing. Yes, God knows these are our needs. But is that really all life is about? Too often we might be tempted to let life be about such things. But Jesus wants us to see that life is something so much more. People might realize this, for example, when they work, work, work, under the rationale that they are providing for their family, and then realize they never get to see their family. Life is something so much more than just acquiring our basic needs. Given the context of Jesus’ sermon, we especially think of our relationship with God. And yet how often we are asked about how that relationship with God is going, and the answer is that it’s not going very well because I don’t have time to spend with him, because I have to work, work, work. See the point? Life is more than just food and clothing.
Next, go to verse 26. The reason given there is given with the example of the birds. Jesus says that God’s provision for the birds implies that we should not worry about God’s provision for us. His point goes like this. Jesus says that the birds do no farm or store up their food in barns; instead God feeds them. His point here then is a “how much more” type of argument. If God cares for the birds like this, how much more will God, who is your heavenly father, care for you? When we hear that, remember that humans have been created in the image of God, and so are of more value to God than birds. And also remember, that as a believer, you are now a part of God’s family by adoption; he is your heavenly father in this way, and that means if he’s concerned to care for the birds, he’ll be so much more concerned for your well being as his child. This is meant to dispel worry. As a side note, this does not mean that we should act like the birds here and not farm or store up for the future. People often come up with that wrong conclusion. The Bible is clear that humans should farm and should even exercise Christian prudence in terms of storing up food for the future. Recall that was even the godly advice of Joseph to Pharaoh in Genesis. And so Jesus’ point here in verse 26 isn’t saying we shouldn’t work hard and store up. Rather, this is part of his point. If the birds do fine without any of that, surely you have nothing to worry about since not only do we humans farm and store up, but your heavenly father’s concern for you, means that he’ll be caring for you through all such labors.
The next reason Jesus gives for why we should not worry is in verses 27-30. Start in verse 27. Basically there he says that you shouldn’t worry because it doesn’t do any good! In other words, there is a futility to worry. We worry in vain because it doesn’t ultimately help us. Jesus makes this point first by asking the rhetorical question in verse 27. His question is basically who can add to his stature by worrying. The word for “stature” here in the Greek could refer to either your height or the length of life. Depending on how you translate the phrase, Jesus is asking in verse 27 how your worrying can either add to your height or lengthen your life. Of course, worrying is not going to help you in either way.
Jesus further develops this futility of worrying in verses 28-30. There Jesus gives an analogy where he contrasts the clothing of Solomon with the “clothing” of lilies. This example has a great similarity with Jesus’ example of the birds. Jesus gets us to consider the lilies this time. They don’t toil, nor do they spin; spin clothing in other words. And yet, look at how God “dresses” them. Imagine a field full of flowers with vibrant colors. They are beautiful! Jesus then gives another “how much more” argument here with the lilies. If God so clothes them, even though they have such a fleeting existence, how much will God not see to your clothing? Again, the idea of our greater worth before God than some fleeting lilies is evident. We don’t need to worry about our clothing when we have a God who loves and cares for us in a way greater than these lilies.
Though, I did say that this lily analogy helps to further make Jesus’ point about the futility of worry. It’s the reference to Solomon in verse 29 that seems to help make that point. You see, on the one hand, the beauty of the lilies is to encourage us that God who cares for us more than he does for lilies, will clothe us. Yet, on the other hand, you have verse 29. Even Solomon, in all his glory, wasn’t clothed in the kind of beauty that the lilies have. There’s a tension here between Jesus calling us to seeing our worth in God’s eyes, but also to humility. If Solomon with all his wealth and all his wisdom couldn’t clothe himself even as well as these fleeting lilies, why should we think our worrying will be able to do any better? If even Solomon couldn’t improve upon the lilies, why do we think all our constant anxiety and stressing out about how we will be clothed will be worth it? In other words, just as our worry can’t add to our life or height, it also is not an effective instrument of securing clothing.
Jesus gives yet three more reasons why we should not worry. I will just mention them quickly with some brief commentary. First, Verses 31-32, Don’t act like the pagan gentiles who worry about such earthly mundane things. You, unlike them, have a relationship with God where he is your heavenly father. He’ll care for you, so you don’t need to have such simplistic concerns. Second, verse 33, we have something better to seek after and set our heart’s concern upon. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. The pagan gentiles don’t set their heart on such things, but we should as believers. And this is meant to dispel worry, that as we put our attention on God, and his kingdom, and his righteousness, all the other such things, things like food and clothing, will come as God’s blessings in due time. We’ll spend more time on that verse next week, Lord willing. And then finally, verse 34. There is enough to be concerned about for today. Focus on today and let the troubles of tomorrow come when they come. Again, that’s not against planning for tomorrow, but it is against worrying about tomorrow.
And so these are some key reasons that Jesus mentions of why we should not worry. So many good reasons not to worry. But will you believe Jesus today? You see, that is at the root of our worries, according to Jesus in verse 30. He addresses those prone to worry, as “O you of little faith.” Don’t mistake this as talking to the heathen here. He’s talking to the believing community. He’s talking to the people with faith. Those who have God as their heavenly father. The problem isn’t no faith; the problem is too little faith. We need to see our faith grown. Believe in Jesus’ words here as he assures your heart that you don’t need to worry.
And with that call to grow in your faith in Christ, let us further reflect on how our Lord brings today’s theme of worry all together in our salvation. We’ve started our sermon off saying that we tend to worry about things like food and clothing, because of mankind’s fall into sin, where we now live in a sin-cursed world. It’s a real question for the average person of “Where will I get my next meal?” People have starved to death and have gone without clothing. We can appreciate the temptation to worry. But Jesus has sought to encourage believers today in the love and care of God for his people. I want to do that further today by pointing us again to the work of our savior in this matter.
Just think of what Jesus knew he had to accomplish when he began his earthly ministry. He knew the cross lay ahead of him. He occasionally mentioned this to his disciples ahead of time as a prophecy of his suffering. At the cross, He would have his clothes removed and given away as they crucified him. There he would bear the punishment for the sins of God’s people as he thirsted. Think of what it would be like each day if you knew that destiny was getting closer and closer. Think of how tempted you might be to worry and dread it in anxiety. And yet it was not until the night of his arrest that we see Jesus in the agony which made his sweat become like great drops of blood. But even then, when sufficient indeed would be the troubles for his coming day, he did not worry or sorrow like those who have no hope. But he entrusted himself to the loving heavenly father through prayer. It is amazing that we do not see Jesus with such agonizing blood-like sweat for days or weeks or months or even years ahead of the cross, for he knew what was in store for him. But Jesus took each day of his earthly ministry at a time. And when he finally came to that day of his suffering on the cross, he approached it in prayer, laying all his concerns and agony of his spirit before his Father who did give him strength. I love, by the way, how Luke’s gospel says that in his prayer that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel was sent to him to strengthen him. How awesome is God’s provision, even in such details.
Jesus could have easily spent most of his life worrying about the coming day of the cross, but of course he did not. He was not consumed by a life of plaguing worry. Rather, he took each day at a time to ultimately become the cure for all our temptations to worry. Just think about it. How is it that we can have all the reasons Jesus gives us here today about why we should not worry? Largely speaking, it is because of the redemption he won for us by his blood shed on the cross. For example, the reason God is our heavenly father, is because of our adoption. That adoption was only possible because God reconciled us to himself through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Now we have the encouragement of God’s fatherly care and provision for us.
And yet this was God’s plan from the beginning. Originally in the Garden of Eden, he put us in a place where we would not have any reason to worry about food and clothing and other such basic needs. And even after the fall into sin, and being expelled from the garden, he foretold a day when such would be restored unto us. That’s what was pictured in the wilderness wandering of Israel in the Old Testament. Think about it — if any time there was reason to worry and fret over what to eat and what to drink and what to wear, it would be for the Israelites in the wilderness wandering for those forty years. And yet, during that time, God cared his children. He had water come from the rock. He sent manna from heaven. Their clothes did not wear out over all that long time. These were all miracles. But they were miracles that were supposed to communicate an important truth. God will provide for his people. Now, and into eternity.
The temptation is to worry when the provisions are not immediately here. But let us remember that what was pictured there in the wilderness wandering, is only a small foreshadowing of what eternity with our Lord will be like. In glory, it says in Revelation 22, that there will be no more curse. It says that there will be the tree of life which will have fruit that will always be in season. And in Revelation 19:8 it talks about how the church will be clothed in fine linen, clean and bright, which is the righteous acts of the saints. And so do you see what God’s plan is for us? Already in this sin-cursed world, we see God’s wonderful provisions for our life’s needs; yes they come with troubles and too often we might find ourselves in want. And yet even then we need not worry. God our father cares for us, and is working all things toward our time with him in eternity. Then, there will be no more temptations to worry, for we will never be in any need again.
So then, brethren, feast your faith with these truths. God has given then for us who too often are of little faith. God does not want your faith to starve. He wants you to feast on the bread of life who has come down from heaven, and be satisfied. Nor does not want you to be naked and exposed to the world through the doubts of your worry. Rather, he wants you to fully embrace that robe of righteousness that he has supplied for you in Christ, that your confidence would be in him. May the Lord then grow your faith by the working of his Word and Spirit today, and may you be encouraged that he will give you all that you need to be spiritually nourished here and now; and may you look forward to the final arrival of glory. And may even the Lord’s Supper that we are about to partake of today further excite you in these truth and grow your faith in him in all things. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.