Formations 08.26.2018: Anxious for the Future

Matthew 6:25-34

In a sense, today’s passage pushes back against last week’s Central Question about having an undivided focus. The fact is, we all have many concerns. Among them are basic questions of livelihood: food, clothing, and shelter. Do we ever really have an undivided focus on anything? How can we not give these matters our attention? If we didn’t, our lives would be a disaster.

At the same time, we can’t let these matters overwhelm us. If we’re not careful, concerns about paying the bills and taking care of the people who depend on us can hamstring us with anxiety. That’s where we can find comfort from Jesus’ words in Matthew 6.

I’m sure Jesus understood that everybody who heard his words knew what it was like to worry. In a peasant society like first-century Galilee, living hand to mouth was simply a given for most people. If we put ourselves in the sandals of the most vulnerable members of society, perhaps we’ll hear the grace in what Jesus teaches here.

Jesus urges his disciples to entrust God with certain things while they devote themselves to the main thing. To be sure, they can and should maturely pay attention to the necessities of life. The crucial thing, however, is not to let appropriate concern slip into paralyzing fear of the future.

Jesus assures us that God will provide all the things that consume so much of our attention. Our job is to seek God’s kingdom.

Discussion

• What kinds of things tend to make you anxious for the future?
• How do you tend to deal with anxiety when it comes?
• What is the difference between acknowledging our basic needs and striving for them as the Gentiles do (v. 32)?
• What does it mean to strive for God’s kingdom and righteousness?
• Who has impressed you with his or her single-mindedness? What habits or characteristics contribute to that person’s sense of focus?

Reference Shelf

The Kingdom of God

Jesus is said to preach the gospel of the Kingdom (4:23), and the word “Kingdom” forms an inclusion around the Sermon (5:3; 7:21). The promise, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” brackets the first eight beatitudes (5:3, 10). The Kingdom is to be the first priority for disciples (6:33). It is considered to be imminent and is present to be entered (5:20), but it is also considered to be not yet accomplished (5:18) and to be entered into at the end of time (7:20). The Lord’s prayer petitions God to act with the establishment of God’s reign on earth.

David E. Garland, “Sermon on the Mount,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 811.

Trusting God

The passage begins with a prohibition of being anxiously concerned. Merimnao refers essentially to a state of mind. This warning is about being so self-concerned about taking care of one’s own needs, even if indeed we are talking about the necessities of life. But such anxiety leads not only to worry but also to activity—seeking to secure one’s needs or life by one’s own efforts. Jesus is not calling for his disciples to be irresponsible or reckless. He does not rule out forethought or planning, but he does insist that faith, not fear and anxiety, be the motivating force in what we decide and do and how we react, and he does insist on leaving the results in God’s hands. Thus the exhortation says not to be anxious about one’s life…. Life is much more than the basic concerns about food, clothing, and shelter. The point of the rhetorical questions in v.25b is that if God has given one life and a body, much greater gifts than mere food and clothing, then a fortiori God is able to take care of the lesser needs. We have here an example of an argument from the greater to the lesser.

The example from nature in v. 26 reinforces the point. Birds of the air neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. Now in point of fact, wild birds work very hard for their food, but that is not the point. The point is that God provides the place and time and opportunity for them to be fed, and so a fortiori he will do the same for human beings as we are of much greater value to God. Verse 27 provides another illustration. Who is able to add a cubit…to one’s height or lifespan? … Verse 28 exhorts that we study diligently the lesson learned from the wildflowers…. The wildflowers grow without laboring or spinning for that matter…. The great beauty we can adorn kings with in clothing pales in comparison to the beauty of such flowers. Verse 30 stresses the contingency of things. The grass of the field once cut and dried was burnt in a furnace for fuel in a wood-poor nation like Israel. And yet God takes care even of wild grass, clothing it in beauty. How much more so will he cloth humans. In this verse we also have the term oligopistoi that Matthew may have added to his source; it is a usual feature of the Matthean redaction as a way of characterizing the disciples who have little or only weak faith (cf. 8:26; 14:31; 16:18). Here it refers to lack of confidence in God’s providential care for his own. Anxiety about such things is really a slap in the face of God. It is a way of saying “I don’t trust you, God, to take care of things.”

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006).

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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