The semester is fast approaching and I am focused on family and ministry. I am also recovering from a surgery on my nose. There are not enough hours in the day to get all that needs to be accomplished done. Something or someone will be neglected. The future has great opportunities, but also great threats. Daryl needs to be placed in either 1st or 2nd grade. He dearly wants to go into 2nd, but his grades last year were very poor in mathematics. Will he be a success in one grade and a failure in another? My wife wants the house to be in order before we get back to school. The contents of the cupboards are strewn around the house. Will she be able to write the script for Candlelight Carols, the Christmas program of Moody Bible Institute? Will we be able to coordinate the recording of an audio book? In the background of my life is the general anxiety that something important is going to be left undone.
This is where the words of Jesus pull me up short, “Do not worry … ” How can he say such a thing?
In Matthew 6, Jesus says
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 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? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The Sermon on the Mount lays out two paths. The correct path is one that is lived for God and him only. The second path is one that is lived for ‘not God’. Anything that is our ultimate goal – money, prestige, comfort – that is not God is a wrong way to live. We rationalize and justify why our thoughts are consumed with the pursuit of financial security, paying the bills, taking care of our families, or obtaining educational success. The truth is, though, that if anything leads us away from a focus on God we have made the most fundamental of mistakes. In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus’ focus is on the heart. It is not the seat of emotion that modern pop-songs are obsessed with. It is the seat of the will, our decision making function. At the core of my being I have a free will which can choose one thing over another. The essence of what it means to be human is marked by my ability to choose one thing over another. Jesus’ primary concern is not that we feel great about God, it is that we choose God. Like all of the quizzes we give ourselves about, “if you could choose one thing, what would it be?” Jesus does not allow a plurality of answers. Choosing my wife, my children, my car, my house, or even my Bible before God means to have chosen wrongly. There is no compromise. In our modern consumer society this is really radical. We are sold a god who gives us what we want and fulfills our own dreams. We are rarely presented with a God who asks for our complete surrender – a God around whom we orient our whole lives.
A good gauge for how we are doing in the Kingdom of God is to think about what we see. We choose to focus on what our eyes see. The passage above compares the eyes to a lamp which lights up a darkened path. When the path leads to the God who is light the disciple receives more light to guide them in how they should live. However, if a person pursues darkness, eventually the eyes cease to be any kind of helpful and discerning influence. We slavishly allow the darkness around us to permeate us to the core. It is a terrible course of events, but it is all to common.
Most people do not focus on darkness, though. They try and maintain multiple options. they divide their time between material gain, spiritual health, physical health, and the responsibilities of life. If all of these are maintained with balance it sounds wise to the 21st century mind. The Bible says, though, that trying to hold all these things in tension will just result in failure. God is not a responsibility to be balanced with others – he is the goal of life to be pursued without compromise.
When we try and have it all in a balanced life, we become anxious. We create the illusion that we are in control and that illusion must be preserved to maintain the related illusions of safety and security based in our own actions. However, Jesus points out that the future, about which we fret so much, is not within our control. The present in which we live is our only real environment. When we travel along the time-line of our lives and reach the future it is no longer the future but becomes part of the present. If we make wise choices in the present, the future will be taken care of. The only real choice of primary importance for today is, “Did I choose God?” If the answer is yes, the future is in his hands. He makes our paths straight and he cares for us. He cares for us with greater attentiveness than he maintains the beautiful flowers in creation or the plentiful birds of the air. If God looks after pigeons and causes roses to be fragrant and beautiful, won’t he do more for his own children? The sad response of many followers of God is to respond to life’s hurt and pain by protecting themselves. They trust God, but they also create a contingency plan just in case God doesn’t come through. God’s requirement that his followers be ‘all in’ seems a little too unrealistic to some of his own followers.
Jesus says that if you are ‘all in’ God will take care of the details. Even important things like family and finances will be taken care of. They are taken care of not necessarily in the way that we would choose but in the way that is best for us. Sometimes less is more in the kingdom of God. If less security and possessions hones our focus on God we have gained the greatest treasure that moth and rust can not destroy. For the Christian their greatest treasure is God himself. The relationship we cultivate with God surpasses all other relationships. God maintains and is faithful in his relationship with us. There is nothing to worry about because our ultimate treasure is managed by God. God manages himself perfectly. We can not control him so there is no threat related to the decisions we make. We can not lose him, so there is no threat to our safety and security. Ultimately fear for our own lives loses its power. If we lose our lives we gain the life with God that we have always dreamed of – uncorrupted.
Complete the following observation questions:
- What are the two locations where treasure can be stored?
- Where does Jesus tell his followers their heart will be?
- What is the eye called by Jesus?
- What are the consequences of healthy and unhealthy eyes?
- What can no-one serve? Why?
- About what should a person not be anxious?
- What is more than food?
- What does Jesus say about the birds of the air?
- What does Jesus say about the lilies of the field?
- Who seeks after food and clothing?
- What must be sought first?
- Why should we not be anxious about tomorrow?
Answer the following interpretation questions
- What larger sermon is the context for this passage?
- What is the over all message of the entire sermon? How does this passage fit into the context?
- How does a life lived for God contrast with a life lived for self when it comes to material wealth and worry?
- About what things in life might an ancient Israelite be anxious? How does that compare to today?
- How is an eye like a lamp? How does it relate to the path a life will take?
- In the west in the 21st century we tend to think of the heart as a romantic seat of emotion. Jesus does not use ‘heart’ in that way. How is his talk of the heart the same or different from ours?
- Why is it impossible to serve two masters? What ultimate goals would ancient people pursue other than God or money?
- How is hard work approached in the passage? How are hard work and anxiety related?
- Why are Gentiles an example of what not to do?
- How is anxiety related to a person’s priorities?
- How is anxiety connected to a lack of faith?
- Is anxiety concerned with the past, present, or the future?
Answer the following application questions:
- When people become Christians in the 21st century does Jesus become the absolute authority in their life?
- Who or what count as authorities in the life of a 21st century person?
- What is the attitude of the Christians that you know to worry?
- What is the attitude of Christians that you know to possessions, like their phone or their clothes?
- How should a young person plan for retirement? Should they invest in a 401k retirement plan, for example?
- On what possessions does society today place a high value?
- What kind of future do you want?
- What kind of future does God want for you?
- Is there anything in your past that you think might ruin your future?
- What are you anxious about?
- How can anxiety ruin a life?
- How can God set you free from anxiety? Do you really believe that God leads to healing from anxiety and worry?