July 19 – Matthew 6:25-34
What an unsurprisingly relevant passage we have for this week. Over the past few months, as we’ve gone through an anxiety-inducing season, you’ve maybe already turned to this passage for comfort. As much as Jesus primarily focuses on worrying over provision here, you can exchange any other source of anxiety (illness, loneliness, injustice, instability) and the teaching is the same.
This past Sunday Michael Darbouze (Durham lead pastor) made an important point that I think is worth reiterating. When we read this passage we’re prone to view it with our modern understanding of anxiety, but here Jesus was talking to a first century audience that didn’t consider anxiety, or depression or a number of other things, as a specifically medical disorder. Jesus is talking here about the universal human experience of worry, the kind of worry that mankind has been prone too since they first hid from God in the Garden. The word for anxious in verse 25 is merimnao, which translates “to be anxious” but has a connotation of being pulled apart or tugged in different directions. The kind of fretting that sucks your mind away, that divides your attention and distracts you from the rest of life, that kind of worry is what Jesus is addressing. So this passage speaks to everyone, not just those who consider anxiety a specific struggle for them (though for those who do live with anxiety disorders I think Jesus has more to say than just this passage, as helpful as it is).
In our discussion below we’ll hit the “therefore” that starts this passage; it’s important to see that this command to not worry over material things is tied to Jesus’ previous teaching that “you cannot serve God and material possessions.” (see last week for more on the word mammon) Often our worry stems from our idolatry. Jesus specifically targets clothing and food in his examples, which would’ve been daily worries for his primarily agrarian, subsistence-living audience. Depending on your economic situation those examples might not hit home, but again, fill in that blank with whatever you tend to fret over: your job, your bank account, your possible success/failures, how other people think about you, etc. To this Jesus would say, “Is not life more than that?”
This human proclivity to worry tends to stick primarily in the material realm, not having or securing enough of what you need or want. Interestingly, Jesus uses two material examples, birds finding food and flowers blooming, to illustrate why we shouldn’t worry over material things. When we worry we tend to isolate ourselves, thinking, “How can I possibly make that deadline?” “Where will I get the money to do that?” We decide it’s all up to us. But Jesus’ point is that we aren’t lone agents in the material world. What we suppose is a cold universe in which we must fight and fret to attain what we need is actually a universe saturated with the presence of God, who is able and desires to provide for us. The bird isn’t just finding food; God is feeding it. The lily isn’t just blooming; God is helping it get dressed.
In fact, much of our anxiety is produced by not believing God will hold up his end of the deal. How often do we stress over a lack of provision when God, who created all material things, can provide whatever he wants? How often do we wring our hands over complex issues in our lives, forgetting the God of all possibility can make a way? In his examples Jesus doesn’t just call our minds back to God’s sovereign control over the universe, though he most certainly does that. He also reminds us about how God feels about us. “Are you not of more value than they?” He picks this back up again in Matt. 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” If we’re worrying over whether God will provide this or that, it’s helpful to ask ourselves whether we’re forgetting God’s control or his care for us, or both.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” isn’t a trite answer to anxiety. If you talk to someone who seriously struggles with anxiety I guarantee they have a story of some oafish confidant telling them, “Well just don’t worry about it.” That’s not what Jesus is saying. First off, Jesus gives examples in the world around him not just to prove his point but to give us a strategy for reminding ourselves of God’s control and care. We can look for our own birds and lilies to keep this fresh in our minds. I also think this gets back to Michael’s point about Jesus’ context, and specifically the meaning of merimnao. Rather than having our minds and hearts pulled in opposite directions, Jesus calls us to a singular focus or commitment, an all-eggs-in-one-basket approach to the Kingdom of God that recognizes this material world can’t possibly be where our hope resides, an approach that realizes our loving Father is close at hand, working in and through the world around us. Because our worry would divide our mind from our Father, Jesus would call us to “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7)
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Matthew 6:25-34 for us?
• What stands out to you from this passage?
• Since this starts with “therefore,” how can the passage before this help us understand it?
• Why do you think Jesus wants us to lay down anxiety?
• How does this passage hit you in this season of life?
• Jesus gives the birds and the lilies as examples. What are some examples from your life that show God’s capacity to take care of you?