First Things First
It’s not often I preach on the same passage twice, especially in short succession. But here we are, considering Matthew 6:25-34, the very same passage we looked at almost one year ago on April 5, 2020.
I’m not sure if you remember that Sunday, but the COVID-19 situation was really fresh and lots of people were concerned about the financial impact of everything that was coming. At that point it was very common for me to hear, “I’m not worried about the virus, I’m worried about what the virus is going to do to our economy.” And so I preached on that passage to help address some of the specific concerns on people’s hearts in those days.
And here we are, almost a year later. What has this year been like for you compared to your concerns a year ago? For some people, no doubt, this past year has been very challenging financially. And the big-picture story of our economic future as a country is still being written. But at the same time, we know that others have done relatively well. Some businesses around here actually boomed over this past year. As a church our giving was stronger in 2020 than in the year before.
So, given all of that, do you think that we need to hear from this passage again? Do you think we need another reminder about what Jesus had to say about financial worry?
I think so. And I have four reasons for why I think we need to hear from this passage again.
Number one, if you had an okay year financially, it would be good to remember the reason why. And the reason is not that this whole pandemic situation hasn’t been that bad or that you really overestimated things last year. No, the reason is that God has taken care of you, just like He promised.
It’s so easy to be like that buy who was sliding off his roof and called out to God to save him. The next moment, his pants snagged on a nail and he was safe. So he called out “Never mind, God, I’m fine.”
If you were fine this year, that was your Father taking care of you, and this passage is a good reminder of that.
Second reason: maybe you didn’t do great this year. Maybe you really struggled financially. But if you are listening to me right now, that means you are alive. It means that you had enough food to eat and enough shelter for your body to sustain your life to this point.
And this passage will be a good reminder that this is what that God has promised us: not fat savings accounts, but food and clothing. What we need to live. That’s why 1 Timothy 6:8 says “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” And this passage is an important reminder of this.
Here’s my third reason for not skipping over this passage this morning: I had some situations this year, totally unrelated to COVID-19, which threatened my sense of financial stability. We had our tenants move out of our condo in Regina, and then had that almost happen again, and then we totalled off our vehicle, and from a human perspective there were some moments were things looked very fragile, financially.
And I’d love to tell you that in each of those moments, my mind immediately went to this passage and I remembered how God had taken care of us and I felt no doubt whatsoever.
But that wouldn’t be the full story. In reality, in many of those moments I acted a lot more like the disciples in the storm waking up Jesus and saying “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). I did not necessarily remember God’s provision in the past and respond with faith as I faced this new situation. And so pandemic or not, I know I could use another reminder of what Jesus has to say in this passage.
My fourth reason for preaching on this passage again comes from the fact that I’m not just going to re-preach my message from a year ago. This week I approached this passage in a fresh way and prepared this sermon from scratch, and once again I was surprised by the process. When you approach this passage in the context of the Sermon on the Mount there are things that jump out which you might miss otherwise, and I’m excited to share those with you this morning.
So let’s start there, with a quick review where we’ve been. All throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has been making reference to eternal reward and eternal treasure and the choice we have to make between reward here on earth or reward in heaven.
And in last weeks’ passage, which Tim handled for us quite ably, Jesus made it clear that seeking heavenly reward does not just apply to the “religious” part of our life. As if when we pray or fast or give to the poor we’re supposed to seek heavenly reward, but the rest of our life is just like everybody else’s.
No. Jesus wants our whole hearts, and that applies to every part of our life, including what we do with our money and possessions. And so we don’t store up for ourselves treasures on earth, because that will pull our hearts away from Him. We don’t serve money, because that will interfere with us serving God.
And someone could reply, “Ok, I get that. I’m not supposed to go out and deliberately accumulate a whole bunch of excess stuff for myself that I don’t need. But how far do you carry ‘you cannot serve God and money’? Because a guy’s got to eat, right? I’ve got to worry about money at some level if I’m going to survive, right?”
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve said things or asked questions like that? “I know I’m supposed to serve Jesus, but let’s be realistic here. I need to take care of my needs, right?”
I can’t tell you how many conversations like that I’ve been a part of. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who live like that.
But Jesus will have none of it. He said “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24), and He means it, all the way down. That statement applies to whether or not we’re storing up treasure for ourselves. And the point of today’s passage is that it applies even to the way we seek our daily necessities.
“Therefore I Tell You”
So please understand this point. Today’s passage does not come out of the blue. It is very connected to what we saw last week. And we see that in the opening word of verse 25: “Therefore.”
“…You cannot serve God and money. 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” (Matthew 6:24–25).
You need to see that connection for this passage to make sense. Because Jesus is telling us that if we are serving God instead of money, not only will we not store up treasures for ourselves on earth, but we will also not even worry or spend our life seeking after our daily necessities like food or clothing.
Now how is that possible? How is it possible for us to go through life without being focused on meeting our needs? I mean, a guy’s got to live, right?
And Jesus’ answer to that question comes in the form of a question, right there in the rest of verse 25: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Now I’ll admit that up until my study this week, I don’t think I really grasped what Jesus was saying here. I always thought He was saying something like, “Don’t be worried about food or drink because there’s so much more to life than that.”
And it never made much sense to me because how are you supposed to do all those other things in life if you’re hungry and naked?
Let me suggest that there is a better way to understand these words. Jesus is not so much talking about life itself but rather the God who gave us life.
Think of it this way: you have life. What did you do to give yourself life? What are you doing even now to sustain your life? What were you doing all the hours you were sleeping last night to make sure that you’d wake up in the morning? Nothing. Life is something you’ve just received—from God. You are alive right now because God decided to give you life.
Same with your body. What did you do to get a body? Nothing. You were just given one with all of it’s amazing systems that are working away by themselves right now to keep you functioning. And by whom? God.
So if God has given us something as amazing as life and as wonderful as your body, don’t you think he also going to give us food to sustain that life and clothing to cover that body?
That’s the thrust of this statement, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” If God gave you the greater things—life and your body—then is He not going to give you the lesser things of food and clothing?
And that’s really the point of this whole passage. God is going to take care of our needs. He is going to “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). And so we can focus on serving God instead of money. We can serve Him with all of our hearts and all of our lives without worrying about having to take care of ourselves at the same time.
Illustration 1: The Birds
So verse 25 basically sums up this whole passage. But because Jesus is a good teacher, He doesn’t stop there. He really wants us to get this. And so in verses 26-30 he gives us two examples or illustrations of what He is saying.
The first illustration or example is there in verse 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?” (Matthew 6:26).
Just notice here that Jesus tells us to look at the birds of the air. Seriously: next time you’re outside and there’s birds around, obey Jesus and look at them.
He made birds the way He did in order to teach us some things. And here’s one of their lessons: birds don’t farm. They don’t practice agriculture. And they haven’t gone extinct yet. Why? Because God cares for them.
And you might say, “God doesn’t feed the birds. They feed themselves. The food for them is just there as a part of the natural processes of our world.”
But Jesus’ perspective is that the natural processes of our world are governed by the hand of God. Like Psalm 104 tells us, He is the one governing the food chain. “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God... These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” (Psalm 104:20-21, 27–28).
This world is not just running by itself. If the birds are eating, it’s because God is feeding them.
Now please understand that Jesus is not telling us to be like birds and stop farming. In fact, that’s the whole point. He’s telling us that birds don’t do these normal things that we do, and yet they’re still fine because God takes care of them.
Please also understand that Jesus isn’t telling us to be lazy. Birds work. We have birds in our backyard and they don’t just sit there. They’re always flying around to get at the food that they need. But the food is always there.
And so after pointing us to the birds, Jesus asks two questions. The first one comes at the end of verse 26: “Are you not of more value than they?”
These days it’s very politically incorrect to say that people are more valuable than animals. But God thinks so. We were made in His image, as we’re going to be studying in Genesis 1 in just a few weeks. We are more valuable than birds. So if God takes care of them, then than don’t you think He’s going to take care of you, seeing that you are far more valuable to Him then they are?
The second question comes in verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
These two questions fit together so well. First, since you’re more valuable than the birds, don’t you think God is going to take care of you? Second, how does worry change anything anyways?
I think we often give ourselves excuses for worrying. We assume it’s just normal and okay. Like if someone says, “I heard some bad news from the doctor and so I’ve really been worrying about what this means for my future,” we just nod sympathetically as if that’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do.
But just imagine someone saying it like this: “I heard some bad news from the doctor, and I made a list of all of the things I could do to really help things work out, and after a lot of research I decided that worrying was going to be the most valuable use of my time. So last night I wanted to be sleeping, but I kept myself up with my guts churning and my heart racing and my face sweating, working hard to think about all of the bad things that might happen to me. And I’m really hoping that all of that effort I put into worrying is going to pay off.”
Look, if you can’t control the future, than what’s the point of worrying? That’s what Jesus is trying to help us see here. This also connects to his statement down in verse 34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Not only can you not change tomorrow, but you can barely handle today’s troubles.
All we have is right now. You don’t know the future and you can’t change the future. The future is God’s department. And you are God’s department. So you can leave your future with Him and let Him care for you like He does the birds.
Illustration 2: The Flowers
In verse 28, Jesus gives us a second illustration that has to do with clothing. This might seem strange to us, but clothing was a much bigger deal to the people back then. Clothes weren’t cheap and many people didn’t have more than one set of clothing. They were concerned about clothing the way that we tend to be concerned about housing. And so Jesus gives this illustration to them in verse 28:
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28–29).
Once again, the next time you see some flowers, which will probably be in a store for us here in Saskatchewan, stop and consider them. That’s what Jesus is telling us to do. Look at them and consider how beautiful they are.
And what did they do to get that? What did they do to look so nice? Nothing. They just grew. God just did that for them.
And they’re only plants. They grow and they die. Verse 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?”
Do you get the point? You matter to God more than plants. And if God takes care of the plants, He will also take care of you.
The Command Again
After giving us these two illustrations or word pictures from verses 26-30, in verse 31 Jesus repeats the main command or the big idea to us: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31).
Because God feeds the birds and clothes the plants, because you matter so much more to Him than either of them, and because worry can’t change anything anyways, don’t be anxious about what you’ll eat or drink.
Does that make sense? Are you getting it? I hope so, but even if you’re not, Jesus isn’t finished yet. He really wants us to get this, and so He’s going to keep going to make this even more clear to us, giving us even more reasons to be worry-free.
Look at verse 32: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things.” The word for “Gentiles” is εθνος (ethnos) and it speaks about the nations who don’t know God. They seek after these things. They build their whole lives around them because they don’t know God as a providing Father.
But we should know better. We should know, as the rest of verse 32 says, that our “Heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Once again, just like back in verse 8, this wonderful theme of God’s attentive father love comes to the surface. We have a Father who is paying attention to us and knows what we need long before we do. So we don’t need to worry about our physical needs.
My kids were having a FaceTime call with some family earlier this week. And one of my boys asked their two-year old cousin how much money he has. And his dad, my brother-in-law, said, “He has about 55 cents.”
And you know what? Nobody freaked out. Nobody said, “He only had 55 cents? How is he going to survive? How is he going to pay for food and the heating bill and the mortgage?”
That would be ridiculous, because we know his dad. We know that his dad has a good job, and we know that he is going to take care of his son.
And it’s the same with us. We know our Dad. We know that He pays attention to us and knows what we need. And as a result we don’t need to worry. But even more than this, our life has a totally different orientation from those who don’t know God like this.
And that’s really the point here in verses 32 and 33. Did you notice how Jesus’ language has shifted in these two verses? He is no longer just describing anxiety. Now He’s talking about the whole direction of our life.
“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32–33).
Verse 33 is so important because it sums up not just today’s passage but last week’s as well. Last week told us not to store up treasures for ourselves on earth. And in this passage Jesus tells us that we are not even to spend our life seeking to meet our physical needs.
Instead, we are to live as full-time disciples of Jesus, spending our lives seeking after His kingdom. We’re hungry and thirsty for righteousness and we seek to satisfy that hunger and thirst more than our physical needs. The rule of God in the hearts of His people is our number one priority, and we trust God to take care of the rest.
That’s why Jesus is telling us not to worry. Not so that we can live a comfortable little life but so that we can be free to seek God’s kingdom.
And like Grant Osborne writes, “The question that arises is, ‘How am I to take care of my basic needs if I am always serving God?’ Jesus’ response is simple—because he is always serving you!”1Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, vol. 1, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 249.
A Clarification About Work
Now I really want to drive this point home, but first I want to make sure we understand what Jesus is not saying. He is not saying we should not work to provide for our needs. We’ve already seen that the birds work to get at food. We see in the life of the Apostle Paul that, when he needed to, he made tents to provide for his needs. And he told the Thessalonians, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
And yet, when we look at Paul’s life it’s pretty obvious that providing for his needs was not the main driving force in his life. He made tents when he had to, but you could hardly accuse him of “seeking after” food and clothing. His life was built around the mission God had given him, and the tent making just fit in around that.
And when you read the whole letter to the Thessalonians, you’d never get the idea that just working a job was the main point of their life. Earlier in that letter he said to them, “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” ( 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
That was what their life was really about. Glorifying Jesus through good works. And their jobs just fit into that.
The Real Point
This is what we see all throughout Scripture: we are full-time disciples of Jesus, seeking first His kingdom and righteousness, and our jobs are just one part of that. Our jobs are one of the ways that we bring glory to Jesus. Our jobs are one of the outlets for the good works God has set before us. And yes, our jobs are one of the ways that God provides for us. He gives us that work to do.
But in my experience, many church-going people flip the whole thing around and go at it backwards. They start with providing for their needs. They start with seeking after food and clothing and a nice house and fun hobbies, and their whole life is built around those things. And then they try to fit Jesus into all of that. They try to go to church on Sundays as long as it’s convenient for them. Their relationship with God, their part in God’s mission, their good works, it all comes out in little bits and pieces only if it fits around what is really important to them.
And that is not what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple of Jesus means seeking first His kingdom and trusting that He will add to us what we need.
And this goes for more than our jobs. Gary Thomas’ excellent book “The Sacred Search” applies this passage to the way that so many young people hunt for a spouse. He writes about the way that so many people seem to insert some words into verse 33 here: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, except when you’re choosing someone to marry. In that case, you should follow your emotions, insist on a thrilling romantic attraction and overall relational compatibility that makes the relationship fun, and then all these things will be added unto you.’”
And then he writes these words, which apply not just to marriage but to everything that we’ve been talking about today: “Let me ask you: do you trust Jesus? Do you believe that He truly has your best interests at heart, that He would never mislead you—that if you follow His advice, you’re setting yourself up for the best, most meaningful, and most fulfilling life imaginable? Can you count on Him knowing what He’s talking about? Do you think it’s possible that the second most important decision you’ll ever make—who you marry—should be based on Jesus’s fundamental agenda for our lives: seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness? Do you believe every significant decision we make should be run through this grid?”2Gary Thomas, The Sacred Search: What If It's Not about Who You Marry, But Why? (pp. 21-22). David C. Cook.
Do you see why I said this passage surprised me this week? It starts off looking like a passage about worry, and it ends up being about, well, everything. The whole direction of our life. What we seek—what we are after. It tells us that disciples of Jesus seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and trust Him to provide everything else that we need.
There’s so many questions this passage makes us ask, but parents, let me ask you, what are you raising your children for? What is the direction in life that you are pointing them in as they grow? Are you teaching them that their goal in life is to get a good education so that they can get a good job so that they can have enough money to provide a good life for themselves? And then to somehow try to fit Jesus into that?
Do you hear what Jesus is saying about that kind of life today? That this is a godless way of living? An atheistic way of living? Living as if our Father is not going to provide for us as we seek His kingdom?
Young people, let me ask you yourselves about your life. How many of you want your life to play out according to that script that I just described? Maybe your parents are doing everything right but you picked this up from the world around you somehow. And you’re living out this script that tells you that your teen years are about having fun, and then after that you need to get a good job, a nice car, a good looking spouse, a comfortable house, and then you just spend your life enjoying your nice comfortable existence. And as long as you go to church during the winter months and send your kids to Awana, you’ll keep God happy and everything will be fine.
That is the script by which many people are living their lives. And young people, I’m pleading with you today to take that script, crumple it up in a ball, and throw it back into the fires of hell from where it came.
And instead, would you accept from Jesus this morning His script for your life? His plan for your life? It’s really simple and it goes like this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
And this isn’t just for young people. Maybe you’ve been going to church for decades, and you realize today that you’ve been living just like people who don’t know God. You’ve been seeking after physical things and have been basing all of your life plans on that. Today, would you hear Jesus calling you to something better, something bigger, something truer and more exciting than anything you might have imagined?
Because that’s what this passage is about. Jesus gave us these promises to free us from small little lives preoccupied with taking care of our small, little needs and to help us step into a big, expansive vision for our life focused on the kingdom of Jesus. In other words, we don’t just pray “your kingdom come,” but seek that kingdom with our very lives.
And if we had time this morning I could tell you story after story of how God provides for His people when they seek His kingdom first. I’m sure you know many of those stories yourself.
But more than the stories, we have the words of our King before us today. So young people, older people, everybody in between, will you build your life around the kingdom of God? Will you shape your priorities and your decisions and your plans not around accumulating treasure for yourself, or even meeting your basic needs, but around the mission of being and making disciples of Jesus?
What exactly is that going to look like for you? What exactly are the good works that Jesus has prepared for you as your kingdom work?
I can’t tell you. But what I can tell you is that it starts with open hands, surrendering our plans, our needs, to our Father. That’s why we’re going to sing this last song here together. “All of my ambitions, hopes, and plans, I surrender these into your hands.” That’s how a disciple of Jesus prays.
May God grant us the grace to say and mean these words together today, and to say to God, “Your kingdom is what I’m going to seek. Your rule on this earth is what I’m going to give my life for.”