Our songs have been songs of hope and trust in the living god, and we come to Matthew 6, and the Lord Jesus’ discussion of anxiety and its antidote. We’ll begin in verse 25, but you’ll notice that the first word, or therefore, points you back to the immediately preceding verses, and so these passages are tied together in thought. Matthew 6, beginning at verse 25, hear God’s word:
Our Lord and our God, we know the difficulty with which we struggle with the sin of worry, we know the frequency with which we are vexed by it, and we ask Your own divine intervention. Teach us by Your Word to trust in the Savior, in your providence, in Your purposes for us. We ask, O God, that You would enlighten us by the truth of Your Word, and You would search our hearts as we consider how this truth applies to us. We pray, heavenly Father, that we would honor You in our thought life and in our desires and ambitions, and in every area of our life before You. We ask these things in Jesus name, Amen.
Worry is the respectable sin. Christians know that they are not supposed to murder , commit adultery, or lie, or cheat, or steal, or, at least they are not supposed to admit that they do; but we all admit to one another that we worry. And perhaps we do so because we do not realize what a vital spiritual issue it is. It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Matthew Henry reminds us that Jesus speaks to His disciples over and over again about the issue of worry. He is deeply concerned about worry because worry, He teaches, is a sign that our treasure is in the wrong place. Worry, Jesus teaches, is a moral deficiency that can be traced to three factors in our lives.
It can be traced to unbelief. We don’t believe that God will provide for us and so we worry about it. It can be traced to a lack of submission to His Lordship. We want to be in control of our lives. We know that we’re not, but we’re trying as hard as we can be to be in control of our lives, and so we worry about the gap between what we’re trying to do and what we’re not sure that we can accomplish. Worry can be traced, frankly, to worldliness – having our desires set on the wrong things – things that we know we may not obtain rather than set on those things that we know that we cannot lose if we will but set our hearts on them. Worry you see, Jesus teaches, is a spiritual matter.
And our reflecting on worry today gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves: What are the root causes of our worry? What does our worry teach us about our relationship to Christ? And what does our worry teach us about our spiritual priorities? If we will address those questions today individually and today particularly, I promise you there is spiritual blessing awaiting. If we will deal with that hard matter that worry attaches to us all, and let me say, that worry is not simply a temperamental matter. I am temperamentally inclined to worry. I can find a dark cloud behind every silver lining. And I am temperamentally tempted to this particular sin, but I can’t blame this on temperament; this is a spiritual matter and all of us are affected in different ways. Let me say very briefly. Don’t simply associate worry with fear or with anxiety. That is one part of worry, that is to be sure. But we’re going to see today that when Jesus said, “Do not worry about anything,” that He is speaking about two sides of worry and all of us struggle with one or other or both of those sides of worry.
There is the anxiety kind of worry. We fret over things; we fear things. Someone was telling me that there was an article in the newspaper about what we fear, and it said that people fear being in car wrecks, and people fear cancer, and people fear financial disasters in their lives. We could make lots of lists of what we fear if we wanted to today. That’s one side of worry – becoming paralyzed and fretful over things that might happen , the things that are outside of our control – anxieties controlling our lives.
But there’s another side of worry as well. The Lord Jesus says that side of worry is ambition. You see, you may not be worried about financial disaster, but your whole life may be wrapped up in gaining financial security. In that case your worry manifests itself, not in anxiety, but in ambition. You have become preoccupied; you have become fixated on some terrestrial reality and you have lost sight of the greater things – the first things. Either one of those ways are ways that we can fall prey to the sin of worry.
The Lord Jesus Christ, in this passage today, is addressing you and His disciples asking you to examine your hearts in regard to worry. And He teaches us at least two great things here.
I. We must wage way on anxiety in our lives.
The first thing that He makes clear throughout the passage is that we must wage war on worry in our lives; we must wage war on anxiety in our lives. He opens in verse 25 with these words to the disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried for your life, as to what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on.” There Jesus’ words approximate the extent of Paul’s comprehensive commands that we are not to worry about anything. In Philippians Paul says, “Do not worry about anything.” The Lord Jesus’ command here comes as close to that as it possibly could without using the same words. Christ is determined that His disciples see that this is a religious issue.
In particular, worry is a manifestation of worldliness. It may reflect misplaced priorities, misplaced ambitions, misplaced loyalties, misplaced trust, misplaced hopes. When Jesus meets worry with a direct contradiction just like Paul, “Don’t worry. Do not worry, don’t do it.”
Now let me pause and say very quickly that, as we saw last week and as we no doubt shall see again, there is a difference between worry and genuine concern. There is a difference between proper caring concern about earthly matters and fixation on those matters. Jesus, when he says, “Do not worry,” is not saying that we should not concern ourselves with making a living. Just wake up tomorrow and I’ll leave the food on the doorstep. The Lord Jesus is not saying that it is improper to concern yourself with how you’re going to feed your family, nor is he saying that we are exempt from our responsibilities to help one another when we’re in a time of need. Someone comes to us hungry and they have no means at that time for gaining food and we say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, be warmed and be filled.” Those are the words of the Pharisees. We must concern ourselves with the practical assisting of one another in times of need. Nor is Jesus saying that we are exempt from troubles in this life. Jesus is not saying, “Christians, you ought not to worry because you don’t really have any troubles in this life.” It’s very interesting that that is not what the Lord Jesus Christ says in this passage. In fact, in this passage He promises us that we will have trouble. So He’s not saying, “Don’t worry because you really don’t have any troubles.” He’s saying, ‘Don’t worry’ for another reason. He’s not saying, “Don’t worry because there’s an absence of trouble in the life of my people.” He’s saying, “Don’t worry because of the providence of God in your life despite your trouble.”
So the Lord Jesus is not condemning our proper provision for the future and He’s not condemning an appropriate concern for the present, but He is attacking that wearing anxiety which frets over whether God will give us what we need or that preoccupation with those things which are temporal to the point that it clouds our eyes to the most important thing in life.
Jesus knows that worry displays itself in various forms. Worry may come in the form of fixation – something that you just can’t let go of. You’ve prayed about it. You’ve done all you could about it. Worked on it and, in the night, it comes back to you. You rehearse it in your mind over and over and over again. It may be a fear. It may be a desire but you just can’t let it go. Worry has taken hold if you have fixated. Worry also comes in the form of preoccupation, doesn’t it? When we give our attention to one particular duty and we keep doing it and doing it and we forget everything else. We neglect other duties because we’re locked on to this one thing. Our anxiety is stoked about it and we can’t think about anything else; we’ve got to do that. Worry also manifests itself in imbalance because sometimes we give ourselves to a duty which is comparatively unimportant in light of all our other duties, but we’re so anxious about it we can’t leave it alone, and we neglect things that are far more important so that we can do that thing.
Those of you who are computer users, and even our youngest students are computer users, know something about this kind of imbalance that is manifested in worry. Since the advent of the computer, we spend much of our time making sure our headers are nice and that our margins are fixed the way we want and the type is neat and that bold and that italic is put in the right place and sometimes we work real hard to make sure that the paper looks great and then we forget to write the contents of the paper. The layout’s beautiful but there’s no content, and we hand it in to our teachers and they say, “How much time did you spend writing the contents of the paper?” “Well, I was working on the margins.” It looks nice but we have given ourselves to something which is comparatively unimportant. An imbalance has come. We have fixated on something that has caused us to leave alone that which is really important.
Worry occurs in all those forms and it’s roots can be found in these problems. The root of worry, or the roots of worry, can be found in the problem of trust. We have a trust problem – some of us who worry. We don’t believe that the Lord is going to provide what we need. We fear that we may be left without something we need so we worry about it. A lot of good that does us but we feel better after we’ve worried about it. Sometimes worry’s root problem is a problem of submission. We say that Christ is Lord, but really, we want to be Lord of our lives. And we’ve got wonderful plans for our lives. And we’re working very hard to make those plans come about, and we know that we ultimately can’t make them come about because we’re not sovereign and we have a problem submitting ourselves to His Lordship in our life and consequently, we worry.
Others of us have a desire or an ambition problem. We worry because we are essentially worldly. Now don’t miss one of the opportunities that Jesus is giving here. Jesus is certainly telling His disciples. Your walk with me, your walk with God, can become clouded by becoming distracted with the cares of this world. But Jesus can also be asking a deeper question here. Jesus can be asking this question: Is it possible that your worry is an evidence that you don’t have a relationship with your heavenly Father? Is it possible that your worry is showing you that what you really love and really have an ambition for and what you really have a desire for is noteternal fellowship with the heavenly Father? That’s a good question for all of us to ask. Where is our heart? You see it’s flowing on from what the Lord Jesus has already asked us: ” Where is your treasure? Where is your heart? Who is your master? What does your eye set itself on as the things that you most desire in life?” The Lord Jesus knows that worry may manifest that you care more about the things of this world, that you’re not sure whether you’re going to get or not, than you do about your eternal fellowship with the living God. Something which no believer fears is ever going to be taken away from him or her. To worry is an opportunity for self examination and its roots can be found in problems with trust, with submission, and frankly, with worldliness.
Now Jesus knows that worry is a powerful enemy; and He knows that the only way that worry can be beaten , the only way that this insidious sin can be rooted out of our lives is through truth and through trust. He knows that our minds must first be brought past it with the word of truth. If we don’t think rightly, we’ll never beat worry. But he also knows that, ultimately, worry cannot be conquered by right thinking. It is only conquered by faith. So it takes both truth and trust to beat worry. We may review Jesus’ words about right thinking in these passages and still not beat worry in our lives because worry is ultimately at bottom a sign of a lack of trust in our heavenly Father.
So bear that in mind as we look at Jesus’ arguments in verses 25-34. He gives us six arguments that we can use against worry. When worry is zeroing in on you, and you feel surrounded and absorbed and consumed in it, the Lord Jesus says use these truths to fight back against worry.
First of all, He addresses the issue of our priorities. That’s the first battle that He says we need to fight against worry. Look at verse 25, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” If you want to battle worry you must argue your priorities against it. You must ask , “Well, isn’t life more than what I eat and drink and wear?” Isn’t it interesting that 2,000 years after Jesus’ time we’re still preoccupied with what we eat and what we drink and what we wear. What are most advertisements in all the media about? What we eat, what we drink and what we wear. What status we attach to these things. And the Lord Jesus says life is more than those things. And the advertisements are saying, “Life is these things. If you get more of them, you have more life.” And the Lord Jesus is saying don’t be fooled by that lie. Life is more than that; your priorities are misplaced if you find your trust in those things and if you have put your hopes and your trusts in those things, you’ll always worry and you’ll wonder. When are you going to lose them or if you’re going to get them.
The second argument that the Lord Jesus gives us we find in verses 26 and 28. It’s the argument of providence. He not only says argue your priorities against worry. He says argue the providence of God towards His creation against your worries. In verse 26 He says, “Look at the birds of the air,” and in verse 28 He says, “Observe how the lilies of the field grow. And look – God provides for the birds, God clothes the flowers, the grass of the fields – those things are creatures.” He teaches us there that God’s providence towards His inferior creatures ought to comfort those of us who have a heavenly Father. Birds of the air and the grass of the field do not have a personal relationship with the living God and heavenly Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ disciples do. Therefore He says, ” If God cares for them, don’t you think He’s going to care for you? The Lord Jesus is even a little bit tongue in cheek in that you see where He says in verse 28, “Are you not worth much more than they? Aren’t you worth more than birds?” It’s a little bit tongue in cheek. He’s saying, “Come on, you’re the children of the Living God. He provides for birds and you’re afraid that He’ll provide for your needs?”
Then He argues a common sense argument in verse 27. He says worry is unproductive. Worry doesn’t do you any good. Worry is ineffective to positively change anything to get you the results that you want. Notice His words, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” He’s saying, “OK, go ahead and worry. What’s it going to get you? A few more ulcers is all it’s going to get you. It doesn’t do anything to change your situation.” It isn’t a positive, constructive response to the difficulties of life.
Notice again in verse 32, He gives another argument against worry. We’re to remind ourselves when we give in to worry, we’re giving in to pagan thinking. If you want to think like a pagan, go ahead and worry. He says this, “For the Gentiles eagerly seek after all these things.” He’s telling his disciples, “Don’t fall into the trap of thinking like an unbeliever. Gentiles are consumed with these things in their lives. Gentiles can’t think about other things other than this. You shouldn’t be that way. Don’t give into that trap.” You see, Gentiles – they really do have something to worry about. They are apart from God and they have only the anticipation of eternal condemnation. You, however, have nothing to worry about,” the Lord Jesus Christ said. “For your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Again in the end of verse 32, He gives us this argument that we are to use against worry when we it attacks us. This again is a pointing to the providence of God, but now it’s God’s fatherly providence – His paternal providence. And He says, “For your heavenly Father knows the things that you need.” Our heavenly Father knows what we need better than we know what we need. He provides it for us – fully and graciously.
Christ calls His disciples to use that as an argument against worry when we’re tempted to fret, and again, He gives a final common sense argument against worry in verse 34. He basically says that worry is wasteful. It just distracts you from doing that which is useful. Why? Because we don’t know the future. And to speculate and worry about the future is ridiculous. Notice His words, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” The Lord is saying that troubles will come. We don’t know what troubles will come; we don’t know when those troubles will come and it does no good for us to fixate on them and worry about their coming. Instead, we must deal with those things as they come because trouble is just a part of life in a fallen world. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, the Psalmist once said. The Lord Jesus said there is no sense in speculating on what trouble may come. All of these are arguments that the Lord Jesus provides us to use against worry when we are tempted to give in to it. But we will not prevail against it until we trust in God’s providence. Because the key to Jesus’ argument is the phrase your Father who is in heaven. Your Father who is in heaven knows what you need. And when we realize that, when we realize our heavenly Father knows our needs and He provides for those needs and when we can trust in that, there is the root weapon against worry.
II. Our chief purpose should be God’s kingdom.
Jesus then directs us to a second truth. He directs us to the truth that we must make sure that our prime ambition, our first purpose, our chief end, our most important desire and motive in life is God’s kingdom.
He teaches us this in verse 33 where He says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Jesus is saying, When you’re dealing with worry, stop and ask yourself: What am I seeking in life? What’s the most important thing to me in life? Am I seeking God’s kingdom? Am I seeking to see the conscious and practical rule of the Lord Jesus Christ worked out in my life? Is that what I’m seeking? Am I seeking His righteousness? Am I desiring to see the holiness of God implanted in me by grace lived out in practical relations with my neighbors, my relations and with my friends? Is that what I want? If that’s what I want, nobody can take that away from me. I don’t need to worry about that. Nobody under heaven can take that away from me. So, if I’m worrying my heart must not be on that. I must want something that I really might lose.
And notice again the order that He says we’re to seek it. We’re not just to seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness; we’re to seek it first. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom.” He’s saying, “Look, there are many responsibilities in life. There are even many legitimate desires in life. I may desire to pursue a hobby. I may desire to pursue a relationship. I may desire to pursue a recreation. I may desire to pursue a vocation. I may desire to pursue a particular business plan. All of those are fine as long as they are not the first thing. Do we seek first God’s kingdom. Does it show in our choices? Does it show with what we do with our money? Are we really seeking God first with what we do with the resources that God gives us? Does it show? Do we give then towards the cause of the kingdom, or do we spend it on something else? Do we really show that He is first in our lives with what is important to us- with what we value. Are Christian friends and fellowship with them? Is that more important than being with the right crowd? With the movers and shakers? With the beautiful and the powerful? Or do we really value Christian fellowship with strong Christian friends more than that? Students, you will face those struggles this year. Will you value those who are seen in the eyes of other men and women or will you value those who are close to God who walk with Him? Will they be the ones that you want to be near? Or will you choose to be with those who are trendy and beautiful and handsome and popular? All of us face that decision in life. And the Lord Jesus is saying. When we worry it is a sign that perhaps our priorities have gotten out of order or perhaps they were never in order.
You see, the cure for anxiety is to recognize that the heavenly Father knows and sees and understands our lives. And He cares for us and so we can give ourselves over to the cause of the kingdom not worrying that we will be provided for because we know that He provides for us. We can abandon ourselves into His care and give everything for Him because we know that all these things will be provided for us in the here and hereafter if we will but trust in Him. Where is your trust? Have you trusted in Him? Does it show even in the hour of anxiety?
Let’s look to Him in prayer.
Our Lord and our God , we would commit the whole of our life into your generous hand and seek first the kingdom, for Christ’s sake. Amen.