"Do not be anxious," sounds easier than it is. The following is a detailed outline of Matthew 6:25-34
I. Do not worry about your life.
A. Do not worry about what you might eat.
B. Do not worry about what you might drink.
C. Do not worry about what you might wear.
II. Consider the birds of the air.
A. They do not sow.
B. They do not harvest crops.
C. The heavenly Father feeds them.
D. Are you not more valuable than the birds?
III. Can any of you by worrying add to his or her life a single hour?
IV. And why do you worry about clothing?
A. Consider the lilies of the field. They don't work.
B. But not even Solomon could match their clothing.
C. Now since God clothes the grass will he not clothe you?
V. Do not worry
A. Do not say "What are we to eat?'
B. Do not say "What are we to drink?"
C. Do not say "What are we to wear?"
D. For the people of the world are the ones who seek these things.
VI. You keep seeking the Kingdom and his righteousness and all these will be yours.
VII. So do not be filled with anxiety for tomorrow.
A. For tomorrow will have its own worries.
B. For each day has its own supply of evil.
Matthew the tax collector mentioned in the book is traditionally attributed with writing this gospel. However, some scholars say that a later Jewish Christian living in Antioch penned the book. He wrote for a church that was made up of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. (Hare, 2). Most scholars think the writer of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark and a source called "Q" that many believe all the Synoptic Gospel writers used. (Anchor, 622)
The theme of this passage is quite obvious. If only all biblical passages had such an apparent theme. "Do not worry." This is pretty simple to say, but almost impossible to practice.
Throughout the Old Testament, there seems to be anxiety over the pressures of everyday life in mostly agricultural land. Drought and famines do come. Yet Jesus seems to preach that those in the Kingdom have the power to keep from this normal angst. (Craddock, 155)
The overall genre for this passage is Gospel. The passage is a teaching straight from the mouth of Jesus. Red-lettered authority, my friend. There are poetic elements to it, as Jesus taught using poetry. Some call this section of Matthew's Gospel "Jesus demands on Israel."
Matthew and the other Gospels are an extension of the keryma about the fulfillment of the kingdom brought by Jesus. Matthew and the other Gospels are an extension of the kerygma about the fulfillment brought by Jesus. This fulfillment is described as especially the death and resurrection. The saying "sufficient to the day as its evil" has a proverbial ring to it. There have been no exact parallels found to this "proverb" but Proverbs 27:5 is similar. (Hagner, 166).
Geographically, this is the "Sermon on the Mount." In Matthew 5:1, Jesus climbs to the top of a mountain to preach this message. In Luke the same passage is the "Sermon on the Plain." Does it matter where he preached it? I'm not sure. I think the mountaintop preaching may have been connecting him with Moses and the Jewish people in Matthew's audience will appreciate the connection.
The overall theme of Matthew is that Jesus preaches and brings the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is a large portion of the Gospel. This passage is included in that Sermon on the Mount. The passage shows the thoughts of Jesus on committing all worries to God. Jesus shows that even in his death he commits all to God and trust God to bring victory even out of his own death. (Hare, 3-5).
Matthew 6 is a message of Jesus that he preached at the beginning of his ministry. The storyline of the New Testament begins with Jesus' birth, continues with brief remarks on his childhood (Matthew 2:23, Luke 2:41-52). The story of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, continues with his being baptized by his cousin, John, known as the "Baptist." (Matthew 3:1-17).
Jesus then enters the wilderness to be tempted. (Matthew 4:1-11). The first preaching of Jesus is recorded in Matthew as "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." (Matthew 4:17). He then calls his first disciples. In Matthew he calls two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. They are fishing and Jesus tells them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people" or in older translations, "I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:20). He then calls James and John, who also leave their fishing nets to follow Jesus.
Jesus begins healing in Matthew 4:23-25. It is a general statement about his healing. He heals the diseased, those in pain, and the paralyzed. This is all seen as signs of the Kingdom of God come to earth.
Matthew 5 begins with the Beatitudes. Jesus then gives a lengthy ethical discourse. Jesus discusses fasting, loving enemies, lust, and all kinds of practical instructions. Matthew 6:25-34 comes right in the middle of this long discourse. After he finishes this statement on worry, he goes into a statement on "Do not judge."
The Gospel continues with more accounts of sermons, healings, and finally ends with Jesus going "up to Jerusalem" to be crucified. He is buried in a borrowed tomb, but praise God he rises on the third day. The resurrection is the central event of the New Testament.
The economic conditions in Palestine in the first century were not good. Almost all of the famines that Josephus mentioned are in the first century. There were several natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, and famine. (Theissen, 37-38) Herod had taken over much of the land through confiscation. Some in the world today, yes even still in Palestine, struggle with the same issues. Personally I don't fear drought and famine because even when Oklahoma had a horrible drought in 1998, other people in the country brought in water and crops. Telling people not to worry about food and water is one thing when they are well-fed such as those in my church. Telling a homeless person who is glad to get one meal a day at the City Rescue Mission not to worry seems almost callous. Is it callous or is it asking them to seek something higher than food and clothing? But how can one say such things when their children are hungry? I don't fully understand, but I am trying. I talk to people who have lived in Africa who tell of Nazarene pastors' families who eat only once every four days. They are not bitter of ungrateful to God or the church. They are simply grateful that God has provided food every four days. I think those families understand and believe this passage. I'm not sure I do. I don't really want to worry about it. I will say there have been times in my life when there was very little food in my house as a child. We never went hungry. God did provide in the form of Christian friends who brought food or let my parents know of jobs.
Matthew uses the word basileia (Greek for "Kingdom) more frequently than any other of the Gospel writers, nearly three times as many as Mark. Everything in the Gospel somehow relates to this theme of the Kingdom (Hagner, 1x, 1xi, 1xiii). Matthew also uses the term dikaiosouna (righteousness) which is common only to this Gospel. The righteousness which Jesus teaches his disciples is a higher righteousness.
In Matthew, the ones who know God as their Father are the ones for whom the best in life is the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom's righteousness. To strive after the Kingdom means to strive after the righteousness of God (Matthew 6:33); and by receiving the Kingdom we receive the righteousness that comes with the Kingdom. Righteousness, the way the Jews perceived it, was a human activity. The rabbis taught the people that righteousness had to be a human work, including obedience to the Law and doing acts of mercy.
Jesus taught the people that righteousness was both God's demand and God's gift. Only a person whose righteousness exceeded those of the scribes and Pharisees was allowed entrance into the Kingdom. "Here is the very heart of Jesus' teaching, the renunciation of self-attained righteousness and the willingness to become like children who have nothing and must receive everything." (Ladd, 65, 79).
God is at work in the text through his own Son, Jesus Christ, come to earth to not only tell us that God loves us, but to show us. Jesus preaches that those who live inside this Kingdom of God do not need to worry about everyday things like food, clothing, and lifespan. Why is this so? There are Christians who go hungry. There are Christians who die young. The ultimate answer to these questions will not be found in this passage, but at the end of the Gospel when Jesus rises from the dead. If a follower of Jesus dies of starvation or of persecution, their hope is in the Resurrection, never in physical survival.
This passage seems full of grace. God is giving the gift of peace of mind. However, the passage immediately following says, "Do not judge lest you be judged." Biblical themes of trust, hope, and faith are also present. The birds and the lilies are not symbols of prosperity, but testimonies of God's care. The passage also assures that God cares for the poor and values them. He takes care of those the world abandons. Throughout the Old Testament, God condemns his people for abandoning the poor, the widow, the orphan and the sojourner. Jesus reminds the people of the same thing. (Hare, 74)
The human condition is all over this passage. We all worry. Some have more reasons than others. If one doesn't have the money for basic necessities one usually worries. Those in Christ long to live this way. We don't want to worry about our needs. Yet we do. Somehow Jesus wants us to get this message that the Kingdom of God is all that matters. How do we as humans even begin to grasp that? When we have empty bellies and our children go hungry? When disease, famine, and natural disasters threaten our existence? What really matters? Jesus says to human beings that the only thing that matters is faith in God. Being human means one has needs of food, shelter, clothing…basic, yes, but necessary for life. Jesus wants us to rise above that and trust in his resurrection hope.
As mentioned above, there is an indirect quote to Proverbs 27:5. Jesus refers to the Torah all over the Sermon on the Mount. He assumes his Jewish audience will know the Torah. Boys were required to memorize the Torah starting at the age of five.
"Anxiety and wordy need not govern the disciple who has known the grace of the Kingdom. This is not just sovereign care about the Father that should be trusted, but his fatherly grace and love." (Hagner, 167) When we read this passage, deep questions are brought to mind, including: "Droughts and many other catastrophes can shorten the lives of birds and flowers as well as that of humans who trust in God." (Hare, 74). We also ask, "Are we not supposed to care if we eat or have proper clothes to wear?" We ask, "Does this give permission to people to be lazy, and not work, since we are not supposed to be concerned about material possessions?"
These are difficult questions to answer. In a land filled with oppression and poverty the Galileans knew the harsh reality of wondering if they or their children would have enough to eat or proper clothing for the weather. The Romans controlled the economy with their own, and not the Jewish peoples' interests in mind. The Jews who had money usually got it by cheating other Jews, such as tax collectors.
How do we get away from everyday life to "seek the Kingdom?" Is it even possible?
Somehow, Jesus seems to be saying that worrying will not change things. He does not say, "Do not work so that you will not have enough food or clothing." He seems to be saying for us not to be so consumed by everyday living that we leave the Kingdom of God out of our thoughts.
It is easy to get caught up with everyday living. We don't leave time for the kingdom. Just yesterday I was faced with the dilemma of getting this paper done, grading done, housework finished, taking my kids to the orthodontist, and I had an opportunity to serve food to the homeless down at OKC Compassion.
Living as a part of the Kingdom requires strategy. We must give up some things. Greed. Desire to be the best, climb the corporate ladder, getting ahead, keeping up with the Joneses. We must leave some things in God's hands. We must do our best to feed and clothe ourselves and our children, but do we need as mush as we Americans think we do? We consume way too much of the world's resources. Perhaps one of the messages we must learn from this passage is "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle."
"Live simply so that others may simply live." Ouch.
In the Beatitudes, anxiety is simply a natural reaction to poverty, hunger, and the pressures of everyday life. Yet the Kingdom has the power to change natural reactions. The lilies Jesus mentions are probably not lilies at all, but a certain type of wildflower that blooms in the spring on the hills of Palestine. (Crawford, 562). Since they are wild, God is seen to be caretaker of them. Are we like the wildflowers, depending upon God for our needs? Growing where planted? Being content where we thrive? Or are we hothouse flowers that must have constant incoming worldly goods?
One of my colleagues is known for saying this at the beginning of every sermon. "I hate this passage." He always hates his passages. Because when we start "digging in" to the Word of God, we find it rips us up, convicts us, and makes us look at everyone around us as real people needing love and attention. How are we supposed to live in our own little safe places if Jesus keeps throwing these words at us? How are we supposed to seek to get rich if he tells us to quit worrying about money? How in the world will I ever get that new house if I am moved with compassion towards those who have no place to live?
The Kingdom enters our lives violently. The Kingdom changes the very reason for our existence. Instead of being concerned for food, drink, and clothing as the "nations of the world" are, we are concerned for the Kingdom. The Kingdom is our life.
Craddock, Fred B. Luke. Interpretation Commentary. Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1990. 155-65.
Crawford, Patricia. "Lilies." Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. 1 vols. San Francisco, CA: Harpers, 1985. 562.
Hagner, Donald. Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word P, 1993.
Hare, Douglas R. Matthew. Interpretation Commentary. New York: John Knox, 1993. 1-86.
Ladd, George E. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.
Markquart, Edward F. "Thanksgiving: anxiety about money, food and clothing. A Gospel Analysis." Sermons from Seattle. 1 June 2007. 3 Oct. 2008
Tashjian, Jirair S. "Tax Collectors and Sinners." Christian Resource Institute: The Voice. 1 Jan. 2006. Christian Resource Institute. 3 Oct. 2008
Theissen, Gerd. Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress P, 1979.
Waldrup, Jody. Holman Bible Dictionary. Ed. Trent C. Butler. New York: B&H Group, 1991.