Scripture: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:31-34 ESV
Observation: Having challenged his disciples to focus on those matters of eternal import that yield treasures in heaven and having warned them to be aware of the object of their desires (God or money), Jesus transitions to the outcome of worldly pursuits: anxiety. He begins with a command to not be anxious about the necessities of life (what we will eat or drink or wear) and follows with a rhetorical question: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (v.25b). Then, drawing on the setting of this sermon on a hillside (which, from Matthew’s perspective, is a mountain, see 5:1), Jesus invites his listeners to observe the beauty of their heavenly Father’s creation: the birds that forage for food and the lilies that adorn the fields. Amid this live illustration, he timely asks a series of poignant questions:
- “Are you not of more value than they?” (v.26b ESV)
- “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (v.27 ESV)
- “And why are you anxious about clothing?” (v.28a ESV)
- “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (v.30 ESV)
Thus, having stirred feelings of conviction in his disciples, he issues three commands, two of which involve resisting and one to pursue:
- Do not be anxious about your necessities of life (food, drink, and clothing); the Gentiles seek after these things.
- Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and he will provide for your every need.
- Do not be anxious about what lies ahead; you have enough trouble to sort out in the present.
At the heart of these commands, Christ compares and contrasts the world’s ways with his believers, which begins with what they seek.
Takeaway: At this point, his audience undoubtedly is feeling uncomfortable, for Jesus has exposed:
- their internalized anxiety;
- their pursuit of excessive luxuries that go beyond basic needs (just as the pagans do); and,
- their failure to prioritize God’s kingdom and righteousness.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel exposed reading this passage—and all of the Sermon on the Mount. And that’s precisely the intent of Jesus’ message: to show us how far we are from obtaining these high standards outside of his grace that shores up our shortfall.
Regarding pursuing our insatiable desires over needs, not to minimize the plight of the poor, it’s incredibly challenging when we have the means and ease at our fingertips. Indeed, Jesus warned his disciples about how wealth can impede entry into his kingdom (19:24). Moreover, our developed countries have some of the highest rates of anxiety and depression. While there are many causal elements, particularly abuse and neglect, the fear of missing out (FOMO) is high on the list. Advertisers understand this and thus craft messages that stir the FOMO in us—provoking a sense of discord and anxiety. So how do we navigate life in a prosperous nation prioritizing God’s kingdom and righteousness? Here are eight suggestions extracted from Jesus’ Beatitudes:
- Remember our spiritual poverty: develop attitudes of gratitude for God’s grace revealed in the Cross of Christ.
- Mourn for others: allow their suffering to penetrate our hearts.
- Practice meekness: restrain our strength with humility.
- Hunger and thirst for righteousness: grow in our understanding of the sinful nature of our hearts and the glorious extent of God’s grace.
- Show mercy toward others as the Father and Son have shown us.
- Pursue purity of heart: be holy as God is holy—worship and glorify him.
- Seek to restore peace where there is strife: focus on our calling as Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation.
- Press into conflict and persevere persecution: as the Holy Spirit leads, stretch ourselves outside our comfort zones to grow Christ’s kingdom.
Remember, practice, show, and seek—these action verbs capture the heart of this most excellent sermon ever preached. And when we do, our Savior’s peace that passes understanding will guard our hearts and minds, and his Holy Spirit will empower us to seek our Lord’s kingdom and righteousness above all fleeting worldly pleasures.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for imparting your Son’s righteousness to us by grace through faith in him. So would you please help us to prioritize seeking and growing his kingdom and revealing his righteousness to an anxiety-ridden world that has settled for second best? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling