Worry is a common experience for us all and it is therefore no surprise that Jesus has something to say about it. We worry about anything and everything: food, money, clothes, health, future, friends, family and so the list goes on. Worry is, in fact, the focus of the next section in our journey through this series on Matthew 4-11. In this post, I am going to wrestle a bit with what Jesus has to say about worry. Firstly, however, I think we need to define what we mean by worry, and how it relates to anxiety. My friend Bettina recently offered this most helpful distinction between worry and anxiety:
“I think there’s a lot of confusion about what we mean by worry and anxiety…what we mean by them when we’re out in the world talking…when we’re in a medical context different from what we mean in a theological context. But, it’s interesting that the dictionary so defines these two words with some overlap and they are often used interchangeably. Yet they’re actually different things that are best thought of on a spectrum. Both words involve feelings and are real things. I’d say it’s easiest to distinguish them by thinking of worrying as a feeling and anxiety as a state of being. The word anxious, however, is a feeling that is more synonymous with worry and different from a state of anxiety. As humans we are all created with a capacity to experience emotions and feelings…we are feeling beings and this capacity is in our DNA. It’s in our biology, and so if worry is a feeling, we will all experience worry at some time in our life…some of us more than others. This is completely normal because worry is part of the human experience. As with most feelings, it is what you do with them that has real consequences. So worry is seen as a subset of anxiety, with worry on one end of a spectrum, and anxiety at the other.”Dr Bettina Collins @ Building to Last March 2023 (Link to Talk)
What I take from that is that we need to be careful to define what we mean by worry, because it is vastly different to what we find at the other end of the spectrum: i.e. anxiety disorders. Bearing that in mind, we come to these challenging words in which Jesus says: “Do not Worry” three times (v25, 31, 34). The word here for worry is “Merimnau“, which literally means “a distracted or a double mind.” It is usually translated as “to care, to be anxious or to be concerned“. There are 17 occurrences of this word in the New Testament. Here, in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus offers us a number of great reasons why we should not worry.
1. Remember what truly matters (v25):
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Firstly, we need to read this passage in the context of what we saw in the previous section. We saw how Jesus presents us with the choice between two treasures (earthly vs Heavenly), two visions (healthy vs unhealthy) and two masters (God vs Mammon). The passage begins with the word “therefore“, implying that God’s Kingdom is greater than all the material things that we tend to spend out time worrying about. Jesus makes the point that our lives are more than food, and our bodies more than clothes. Important as these things are, we shouldn’t be consumed purely with our physical needs, because God’s Kingdom is greater. We need to keep things in perspective, and instead focus our concern on things with eternal significance.
2. If God feeds the birds, He will certainly care for us (v26):
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Jesus then points to some examples from the natural world. Firstly, there are the birds who Jesus says that His Father takes care of. They don’t store food away in barns, and yet God still feeds them. The birds are not prone to worry but, they do work hard! Jesus emphasises this point by then asking how much more valuable we are than these birds. The Bible declares that we are the only things in the created world that God made in His image. We have intrinsic value to God, He loves us, and He cares for us. Jesus is saying that we should not doubt God’s provision for us.
3. Our worrying achieves nothing (v27):
27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Jesus then questions what our worrying will achieve for us. It is so easy to find ourselves worrying, but the reality is that worry will add nothing to our lives. Indeed, worrying may actually take things away from our lives, because it leads to stress, and other even more serious health issues. Worry only leads to suffering.
4. If God clothes the grass, how much more will he clothe us (v28-30)?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
The next reason Jesus tells us not to worry comes with a strong rebuke that we are “of little faith” (v30). Jesus again points to nature, this time to the flowers of the field. His point is that if God clothes the flowers of the field, then we can be certain that God will not leave us unclothed. Additionally, flowers are temporary, they are here today, but tomorrow they get burned. Still however, God cares for them. We do not need to worry about what we will wear. Jesus wants us to exercise faith in Him that He will provide for us.
4. Our Father knows what we need (v31-32):
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
Next, Jesus reiterates that we don’t need to worry about what we will eat, drink or wear. Those who do not know God, i.e. the pagans, run after all these things, but we have a Heavenly Father who knows that we need them. The life we live with Jesus should be distinctively different than the people around us who worry about such things. We know better because, our Heavenly Father knows what we need, and will provide for us.
5. Seek First His Kingdom (v33):
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Jesus’ teaching here is not merely to instruct us to “not worry”. Jesus also commands us to seek after something else instead if worrying. We are to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness. Our priorities as followers of Jesus should be completely different, and born out of a desire to seek God’s Kingdom. Notice that Jesus doesn’t just say that it should be a priority, but our first priority. When we do seek His Kingdom as our first priority, our whole perspective will be transformed. This is a choice that we must make, and go on making day-by-day.
In the second half of the verse, Jesus promises that if we do seek first the Kingdom of God, then all the things we need will be given to us as well. It is not that we have to sacrifice our physical needs. No, Jesus promises to meet those needs as we seek after His Kingdom and His righteousness. It is a staggering promise with huge implications for why we should live lives of worry.
6. There is no point worrying about the future (v34):
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Jesus concludes this section by commanding us not to worry about tomorrow. There are enough troubles to worry about today. If we must worry, then we should worry about the present, rather than the future. It is simple common sense but, I know as well as you do that we find all sorts of things to worry about. It is part of our human nature to worry about things.
Much of our worry is, however, beyond our control, but that doesn’t stop us from worrying. This passage is a timely reminder of the pointlessness of our worrying. It doesn’t make us feel better. It doesn’t change things. If anything, it makes us feel worse. So why do it. Why worry? I said at the start that worrying is common to the experience of all of us. We all worry, about all kinds of things. Jesus’ words here challenge us to put aside that worry, and instead seek after Him and His Kingdom. Only then, with His Kingdom in view, will we be able to lift our eyes and enjoy seeing the wonderful ways that God loves, cares and provides for all f us just as He promised.
See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould
- Brave Enough to Follow
- A life of Abundance
- Living Distinctively
- Renovation of the Heart
- Above All Else
- Why Worry
- Building with Wisdom
- Faith, Fear and Doubt
- The Need of the Hour