Sermon on the Mount

Freedom from (Material) Anxiety

Matthew 6:25-34

Teaching t12615

Introduction

The Sermon on the Mount is an example Jesus’ teaching during His early public ministry. It is His counter-cultural manifesto – critiquing the religion of the Jewish leaders, and setting forth the priorities of His kingdom for His followers.

6:25-34 sets forth another priority – let’s read it and see if we can figure out what it is (read). Jesus wants His followers to have growing freedom from material anxiety. Anxiety (merimnao) is concern run amuck – ruminating over what might happen, obsessing over things you can’t do anything about, “assuming responsibilities God never intended you to have.”

“Do not worry” (6:25,28a,31,34) is not a rebuke (“Shame on you for worrying!”); it is an invitation: “You don’t have to worry about these things.” Why? Because God is a good Father (6:26,32) who is willing and able to care for His children. By simply receiving Christ (Jn.1:12), you become God’s child and come under His care. If you have never done this, I hope that today will be the day you do!

Once you become God’s child, the key to gaining increasing freedom from material anxiety is not increasing your income or improving your investment portfolio; it is increasing your faith in your heavenly Father (6:30b – “You of little faith!”).

This is also true for the many other kinds of anxiety that plague us – anxieties related to our children, romantic relationships, difficult conversations, circumstantial change, social settings, health, physical appearance, etc. For God’s children, anxiety is the evidence that our faith in God is weak. Conversely, exercising faith in our Father is the key to a more anxiety-free life.

How can we cultivate a stronger faith so we may be more free from anxiety? Jesus gives us three answers to this question. Let’s take a close look at each of them...

Faith argues with anxious thoughts in light of what God says

Faith in God is not mystical experiences or feeling-states. These are sometimes by-products of faith, but faith essentially is the choice to think consistently with what God has revealed in His Word. This is why much of Jesus’ instruction in this passage is correcting our thinking through rational argument. If you’re worrying, Jesus says, start arguing with your anxious thoughts in light of what God says:

Read 6:25b – “If God has provided me with my physical life, He will provide me with the things needed to sustain it (until His purpose for my life is completed).”

Read 6: 26 – “If God provides sustenance for His lesser creatures, He will certainly provide sustenance for me – His beloved child (assuming I’m willing to work).”

Read 6:27 – “If worrying is powerless to produce change, why keep doing it when there are more productive things to think about?”

Read 6: 28-30a – “If God provides ‘clothing’ for transient plants, He will certainly provide clothing for me – His child destined to live eternally.”

Read Lk.12:32 – “If God has gladly given me the greatest gift (inclusion in His kingdom), He will certainly provide for my material needs.” (See also Rom.8:32.)

Another rational argument is: “If God has provided for me in this area (or other key areas) in the past, He will certainly provide for me in this area now.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones hits the nail on the head in his commentary on these verses: “The real trouble with ‘little faith’ is that it does not think ... Faith, according to (Jesus’) teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows life’s circumstances to bludgeon him... The way to avoid that, according to (Jesus), is to think. We must spend more time in studying His lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking... The trouble with most (Christians), however, is that they will not think. Instead of doing this, they sit down and say ‘What is going to happen to me? What can I do?’ That is the absence of thought; it is surrender, it is defeat...(But) faith can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon him and knock him down... The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and...he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. If you lie awake at night for hours, I can tell what you have been doing; you have been going round in circles. You just go over the same miserable details about (the situation). That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think.”

There’s nothing exotic about this, but it is effective! Don’t waste your time waiting for a feeling or experience to cure your anxiety. Do the hard work of learning God’s promises. Then, when you realize you are anxious, run to God and say: “Father! I am worried that... But You promise that ... Father, in spite of what I feel, I choose to trust what You say. Thank You that Your Word is true.” Sometimes, the anxiety dissolves immediately. Sometimes, it dissolves gradually through the day so that not until later do you realize: “I’m not anxious about that anymore!” (Proactive meditation on God’s promises is also the best preventative of anxiety – see Phil.4:8.)

This is foundational to the faith in God that overcomes anxiety. But there are two other crucial features of this faith...

Faith actively seeks God’s kingdom & righteousness

Read 6:30b-32a. Jesus connects faith and worry with what we actively seek. The Gentiles (i.e., those who do not belong to God) are like homeless orphans. They don’t have a father to care for them, so they worry constantly about how their needs will get met, so they constantly seek (epizeteo; present tense) ways to meet them (e.g., beg from this person; steal from that store; look in this dumpster; check at that shelter). The worrying incites the active seeking – but the active seeking does not cure the worrying.

You don’t have to be a literal homeless orphan to live this way! If you worry about your material needs, you actively seek get-rich-quick schemes, “toy” sales, etc. If you worry about certain people’s approval, you actively seek to hide, boast, flatter, etc. If you worry about your children, you actively seek the key punishment/reward, how to control their behavior, fix their future, etc. If you worry about your physical appearance, you actively seek this diet, that exercise plan, this outfit, that makeup/hair-replacement, etc. If you worry about your heath, you actively seek these supplements, that new therapy, etc. If you worry about difficult conversations, you actively seek how to avoid them, how to control them when you can’t avoid them, etc. The worrying incites the active seeking, but the active seeking does not cure the worrying. This is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The faith that drives out worry, Jesus says, is the faith that engages in a different kind of active seeking – read 6:32b,33. Instead of actively seeking to meet your own needs, argue against your anxious thoughts (see above) and start actively seeking His kingdom and righteousness. Then you will see God provide for your needs, and this growing track-record of God’s faithfulness will weaken your compulsion to worry. What does it look like to actively seek God’s kingdom and righteousness?

“Seeking God’s kingdom” does not mean seeking entry into God’s kingdom. If you have received Christ, you have a permanent place in His kingdom. Rather, it means seeking to advance His kingdom in this world by letting Him use you to influence influencing people toward Christ (review 6:10; Rom.6:13).

EXAMPLES: material generosity (Lk.12:33); sharing your faith; faithfully using your spiritual gifts to serve others; discipling other Christian friends; intercessory prayer; etc.

Are you building a lifestyle around this priority? If I asked you: “Who are you seeking to influence for Christ these days?,” could you answer? Do you stick at this (at least sometimes) even when you feel worried? The more you seek this, the less you will worry!

“Seeking God’s righteousness” does not mean trying to become more righteous by your own moral will-power. The Bible warns us this is a blind alley (Rom.7). Rather, it means pursuing godly character by cooperating with His shaping work.

EXAMPLES: staying nourished by God’s Word (2Cor.3:18); carefully observing character models (Phil.3:17); prayer for insight into what God is working on (Jas.1:5); listening to character feedback from others (Proverbs)

Have you made this an ongoing priority for your life? If I asked you: “What character area(s) is God working on these days?,” could you answer? Do you seek this more than your worry-strategies? The more you seek this, the less you will worry!

So if you want increasing freedom from anxiety, you need to exercise your faith through these two means (review). Jesus provides us with a third means in 6:34 (read)...

Faith focuses on the present instead of the future

“Tomorrow” means the future in this life, not the next life (which we should focus on). “Tomorrow” can mean an hour from now or 24 hours from now or a year from now. Worry thrives when we focus on what bad things might happen in the future.

EXAMPLES: “What if my son ...?”; “What if I lose my job?”; “What if I can’t get it all done next week?”; “What if she gets mad when I bring this up?”; “What if...?”

I’m an expert at this – my wife calls it “horriblizing” or “catastrophizing” the future. I let myself think about possible future problems without consciously factoring God into the picture, and it quickly gets very dark.

But worry shrivels and faith grows when we focus instead on trusting and serving God in the present. We can express faith only in the present, and God provides for us only in the present. Therefore, “How can I trust and serve God in the present situation?” is key to increasing freedom from anxiety. EXAMPLES:

Recognize my current anxious thoughts and argue against them now.

Give thanks to God for today’s provision.

Love the person who is right in front of me.

Cooperate with God on the character issue He is showing me today.

Prepare appropriately today for a future responsibility (e.g., study for next teaching; plan next week’s grocery needs; set next month’s goals). If this is not possible, drop it and focus on the other responsibilities in front of you.

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE: This is how we increase our faith and reap the benefit of a more worry-free life! God will personally and patiently apprentice you in each of these – will you be His apprentice?

Of the 19 times the New Testament uses merimnao, 6 mean “legitimate concern.” The other 13 refer to unhealthy over-concern.

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 2 (Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), pp.129,130.

“(The Enemy) wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter XV.