Preached by Jason Abbott
In the text just before this one, Jesus warned his disciples about the danger of putting their trust in wealth and possessions. In today’s text, he will teach them where they should put their trust and where they should take their worries; namely, in and to the God who created and sustains and loves them tremendously.
Trusting in the Lord and taking our worries to him, Jesus explains, is a kind of antianxiety prescription. It’s the right medicine for the worries of this life.
Let’s read the passage together and, then, pray for God’s sovereign guidance as we study it this morning.
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, 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. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows…you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
If we understand what Jesus teaches us here, then we’ll recognize two facts: (1st) that we’re all in critical condition and (2nd) that only Jesus has the prescription that’ll heal us. Our condition is worry and anxiety; his prescription is for us to trust in God for contentment and peace.
Let’s see how this works.
1. The condition (vv. 22-30)
Anxiety is largely a human condition. Worry is uniquely a human problem, as the title of the 1994 book: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers provocatively suggests. At least one of the points Dr. Robert Sapolsky makes in his bestselling book is that, while Zebras may have moments of stress (say when they’re running from a lion) humans prolong such moments by imagining the many ways we might be caught by lions. We have nightmares about lions. We contemplate how awful it would be for us to be eaten by lions. So, we spend our time and money to prepare ourselves against the imminent lion attack—even though we live an ocean away from Africa and the nearest pride of bloodthirsty lions!
We do this don’t we. Maybe not with real lions, but with metaphorical ones! We fear many possible scenarios. A 2017 study conducted by Chapman University listed the eighty top things Americans worry about. 1 What’s interesting to notice, when looking through the list, is how many of the things, that create all the anxiety and worry in us, are completely outside our control. Consider a few:
– #1 Corrupt Government Officials (Other than voting and writing letters, what can you personally do to take care of this problem?)
– #11 Economic/Financial Collapse (Perhaps you could put all your money in gold and hide it under a mattress. That might help for a little while.)
– #21 Nuclear Weapons Attack (If you have a way of controlling this one, then we need to talk, because you’ve got serious power.)
– #31 Being Unemployed (Well, you should do your job well and honestly, but sometimes great employees lose their jobs.)
– Granted, there were fears on the list over which we can exercise control. #41 Sharks (Stay on land.) #76 Clowns (Don’t go to a circus or carnival.) #78 Zombies (Get professional help.)
Yet, in all seriousness, what do you worry about, and does such worry help? Does it change anything? When you worry about losing your job, do you become (by worrying) a better employee? When you worry about your spouse leaving you for someone else, does it make you a better husband or wife? When you worry about your kids making bad decisions, does worrying make you a better parent? Jesus says, No. He says:
…do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing (vv. 22-23).
…which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest (vv. 25-26)?
Note that Jesus begins with the absolute basics—life, food, clothing (v. 22). He says don’t even worry about these most basic or most essential kinds of things. And, if this is where he starts, then surely he wouldn’t condone less essential kinds of worrying…would he?! In short, when Jesus tells them not to worry about basics, he’s commanding them not to worry about anything. Not even about their survival! Not even about what they need to live! Now…that is extreme.
Next, notice that Jesus points out that you and I don’t really exert any power over things by worrying. Our worries are incapable of adding even one single hour to our lives (v. 25). And, he points out that that’s a small thing (v. 26).
If you’re like me, you may wonder how adding time to a life is a small thing. Even one hour added seems like a big thing to me. To Christ’s audience, however, his statement wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. They would’ve understood exactly what Jesus meant by saying this. They would’ve understood that he wasn’t talking about it being a small thing to them, but a small thing to the only One who chooses how long a person’s life lasts. They would’ve heard Christ’s point loud and clear—Your worries don’t exert any control over things because only God controls things. Only he sees your unformed body and ordains the days of your life (Psalm 139:16). They’d have known it was only a small thing to their big God.
And friends, this point, concerning our inability to control stuff by worrying, is important for us to grasp and accept—because too often we flail about worrying for nothing. Often, we worry about that hypothetical pride of lions across the ocean who could be learning to swim at this very moment.
My wife can tell you about times when I toss around all night long worrying. I can worry about people inside church. I can worry about people outside church. Sometimes, I can worry about whether there will be enough parking for visitors. Other times, I can worry about whether there will be too much parking for visitors because no one will come. You know what worrying like that at night does for me? It makes me tired. It makes me irritable. It takes away my ability to enjoy the day. It makes me a bad husband, father, friend, and pastor. What a payoff!
To all this anxiety, Jesus says, Stop! He wants better for you.
Before we move on to the solution Jesus gives, I want to caution some here and put others here at rest. Too often in the church, when talking about anxiety, we’ve tended to shame those who struggle with it. We’ve even made it a measure of spiritual maturity. And, while anxiety and worry are products of a fallen world, and even signs of our natural, sinful inclination to trust in anything and everything but God, they’re not more sinful than pridefully puffing ourselves up as “spiritual” through the shaming of someone who is anxious.
Scott Dunford recently tweeted a truth Sam Allberry shared at a conference he was attending. It applies here. Allberry said this:
What defines us, as Christians, is not that we don’t have sin, but what we do with our sin. 2
Friends, usually we cannot control the fears of life which make us anxious. We cannot simply tell ourselves to stop worrying and immediately stop worrying. Nor should we, matter-of-factly, tell others to just stop worrying either! (After all, who sits around hoping for something to worry about?!)
Instead of this, we must remember what we and they—if they’re believers—are commanded to do with anxiety. We must remember what Jesus teaches here.
2. The prescription (vv. 31-34)
Look again at this encouragement from our Lord. He says:
Instead [of worrying about what you’re going to eat or drink or wear or do], seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (vv. 31-34).
In short, Jesus says, whenever you find yourself worrying and anxious, seek after God—focus on the purposes of God or, as the passage before this one put it, be rich toward him (Luke 12:21). This is the way to handle our worries.
Note the specifics. Jesus says, God is pleased to give us his kingdom (v. 32). In other words, Christ tells us not to worry about what we have or what we need because our generous, heavenly Father wants to share his eternal riches with us.
Next, note that, because we have eternal riches, we can live differently now. We’re told to sell our possessions and give to the needy (v. 33). Just think about it. Not only are we not worrying anymore about what we’ll eat or drink or wear or do, when we entrust these things to God, he gives us such contentment and confidence that, now, we can give those things away freely. That is super unworried!
I really enjoy charity auctions. I love the competitiveness of bidding at them. Anyway, my sister-in-law started a non-profit, and they host an annual auction, where a lot of rich people get together and purchase art to support her organization and its ministry. All a good thing, right?!
Well, because I make bank as a pastor, we always get an invitation to come. No…obviously not! We simply get an obligatory invitation because we’re family. Her non-profit has no illusion that Natalie and I will come and drop big money. More importantly, Natalie was under no illusion we’d do so either. Until, one year, I began bidding (against one of the richest families in Jefferson City!) on a painting which she liked. You should’ve seen how uncomfortable she got as I kept bidding, how she grasped my arm tighter and tighter, whispering angrily: Jason, stop!
And, when we won the bidding war, she was horrified. She was so anxious! She was so worried! And, yet, I wasn’t concerned, at all, since I had a good father who, before the auction began, assured me that he’d pick up the tab. I was playing with house money, so to speak. And, it freed me up to be generous without worry or anxiety. (And, when she found out, even Natalie forgave me…eventually.)
Friends, whose money are you playing with? If you have trusted in Christ, then you’re playing with house money. And, if you’re playing with house money, what is there to worry about? You’re heirs in God’s kingdom. You can be generous with your time and money and possessions without worry. Be free!
Well, let me end where Jesus ends because it has very practical implications for us. It’s a kind of litmus test for idolatry. In the very last line of today’s passage, Jesus tells us:
…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (v. 34).
If, however, you wanted to highlight the ideas of our text in that statement, you could also say this: …where your treasure is, there will your anxiety be also. In other words, if you want to find what you actually worship, look at your worries and anxieties. They’re symptoms of idolatry. Justin Taylor perceptively says this about them:
Worry always has its inner logic…. If I’ve forgotten God, who or what has edged Him out of my mind and started to rule in His place…? What do I want, need, crave, expect, demand, lust after? Or, since we fear losing the things we crave getting, what do I fear either losing or never getting? Identify the specific lust of the flesh. Anxious people “eagerly seek” the gifts more than the Giver. They bank treasure in the wrong place. What is preoccupying me, so that I pursue it with all my heart? Identify the object of your affections. 3
This is wise counsel, and these are excellent questions to ask ourselves. And, as we close, allow me to pray that we would not only ask ourselves such questions about the root idolatry of our worries, but that we’d also take those worries to God and allow him to renew our faith and calm our anxious hearts. Let’s pray.