Tuesday, April 12, 2011

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, 16

WHAT – ME WORRY?
Matthew 6:25-34

Husband to wife:  “Why do you always worry?  None of the bad things you worry about ever happens.”
Wife:  “See – it works!”

“Because of this, I’m telling you, don’t worry about your life – what you’ll eat, or what you’ll drink – or for your body – what you’ll wear.  Isn’t the life more than food and the body more than clothes?” (25)

“Look at the birds in the sky that they don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, and your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you worth more than they?  And which of you by worrying is able to add one foot to his life’s path?” (26, 27)

“And why worry about clothes?  Learn from the wildflowers, how they grow.  They don’t labor or spin, but I tell you not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of them.  And if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, won’t He clothe you much better, ‘Littlefaiths’?” (28-30)

“So then don’t worry, saying ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we put on?’  For all these things the heathen seek.  For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But first seek His Kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (31-33)

“So then don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worry of its own.  Every day has enough problems of its own!” (34)

The Greek verb, merimnao is used six times in this passage.  It can be (and has been) translated as “be anxious,” “be concerned,” “have anxiety,” “worry” or something similar.  I chose to translate it “worry” because that seems to be its meaning in the context.  The word itself is not a bad or negative word as we often think of it.

In fact, Jesus is not, as we so often interpret this passage, condemning or forbidding worry or concern.  The word is found in a positive sense elsewhere in the New Testament (although in these instances we usually translate it “concern”):

“The single person – is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he might please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32; also see verse 34).

“…the members should be concerned about each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
 
“(Timothy) will be genuinely concerned about your condition” (Philippians 2:20).

No, what Jesus is warning about is the improper objects of our worries.

He had just been warning His hearers about the dangers of making wealth and possessions their treasures and failing to seek treasures in heaven.  (See:  THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, 8, Double Vision.)   We could imagine that many, perhaps most of His hearers would dismiss this warning as not being applicable to them.  After all, His disciples – His target audience – had left all to follow Him.  And the crowds who had gathered around were made up of needy people (Matthew 4:24, 25).

There were probably not too many here who were slaves of mammon (24).  Or were there?  The words “because of this,” however, ties this set of warnings to the previous.

We tend to think of mammon as money, riches or great wealth, an abundance of material things.  But if we remember that its basic meaning is that of any material object of trust, then it is possible for even poor folks to be slaves of mammon.

Perhaps most of these folks were too busy simply trying to make a living to worry about treasures.  But they were worried.  They were very probably worried about where their next meal was coming from.  They were worried about what they were going to wear when their clothes became threadbare.  And Jesus tells them not to worry?

Yes!  He is telling them to trust, to trust in the God Who is their Heavenly Father, Who cares for His children.  This is the God Who feeds and clothes His creatures, even though they are only part of His temporal creation.  If God takes care of His temporal creation, then won’t He take care of His eternal creatures – us?

The term that Jesus uses for His doubtful disciples is for some reason never (to my knowledge) translated accurately.  It is not “O ye of little faith,” but one word “Littlefaiths” (Greek:  oligopistoi), which may very well be Jesus’ own word, personally coined especially for His disciples!  It is found first in the Gospels and is always addressed to them (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Luke 12:28; also oligopistia – Matthew 17:20).  It seems to be a gentle affectionate rebuke, and puts the finger on the problem.  They didn’t lack faith.  Their faith was just too small!

As is ours!  We pray the prayer, “Give us today our daily bread,” but do we really believe He will provide?  Or perhaps we are expecting more than God has promised to provide.  Do we worry about the provision of our wants, when He has promised to supply our needs?

Jesus warns that failure to trust our Heavenly Father puts us on the same level as the heathen – the unbelievers.  They don’t have a Heavenly Father!  Whether we think of the heathen of Jesus’ day, who strained to appease their gods and “buy” their provision, or the heathen of our day who attempt to make it on their own with no help from any god, there is a danger of buying into their thinking.

There’s also a danger of taking Jesus’ words here as a license for laziness, to see trust as a simple “letting go and letting God.”  But we need to compare other warnings such as Paul’s, “If a person won’t work he shouldn’t eat!” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).  And we need to remember that the birds that God provides for are busy.

The real “worry” for the disciple of Jesus is found in verse 33 – to seek the Father’s kingdom – to enter it by faith and to promote it by our actions.  And we can’t tell if we (or others) are seeking the kingdom simply by looking at our (or their) bank accounts.

A prescription for dealing with worry – write the worry down and ask these questions:
  • Is it covered by Jesus’ promises?  If it is, then it’s God’s problem not mine.  I need to give it to Him.
  • Can I do anything about it?  If so, I should go ahead.
  • What if it comes true?  Is it a threat or an opportunity?

1 comment:

Judy said...

Dear Bill,
In a meeting recently someone quoted Jesus' words in Matthew 6 regarding provisions. She said there was never any reason to worry because if we made it a practice to "Seek first His Kingdom and righteousness", our basic needs would always be met. Someone else in the room said, "But what if He doesn't provide those needs?" Of course, the quick response was, "Then you aren't meeting God's conditions."

I sensed at the time that something was wrong but I wasn't sure what was bothering me. Are there instances when God doesn't provide the 3 basics Jesus mentioned? Certainly. In WWII when the Japanese invaded the Philippines and marched those brave young soldiers (and civilians) down the Bataan Peninsula, pure water, food, and clothing were not provided; nor were these provided during the next 3-1/2 years when these young men were held in some of the most ghastly prison camps of the war. Many died from lack of pure water, many starved to death; and when they were repatriated 3-1/2 years later, many were still wearing the same uniforms (now rags) they had worn when captured years before. Water, food, clothing? God's promise of provision? What's missing here? Did Jesus lie? God forbid. Or did the boys fail to appropriate because they didn't, "Seek first His Kingdom and righteousness." Also, God forbid.

I'd appreciate your thoughts.
Best as always,
Bob McCollum