Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"Do Not Worry"
(Delivered Thanksgiving Sunday, November 24, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
INTRODUCTIONThis morning, I'm going to preach from someone else's sermon - in fact, from the greatest sermon ever preached. We'll look together at a section of the Savior's teaching from the Sermon on the Mount. It has always been one of the most precious of Scripture passages to followers of Jesus; but it seemed to me to be a particularly appropriate passage to help get us ready to celebrate Thanksgiving.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we find this comforting exhortation from the Son of God:
The exhortation of this passage is simple: "Don't worry about your life;" and that's an exhortation we need today; because we're living in very uncertain times. (I know that's something preachers say a lot. It adds a little 'drama' to their sermons. But on a strictly human level, the times we're living in really are far more uncertain than before.) Every day, the very real threat of war grows stronger. Every morning, we turn on the news with a little bit of apprehension - fearful of what we might discover occurred somewhere in the world as we slept. Every week or so, our government alerts us to the potential of some new terrorist attack. Every new paycheck we receive seems a little more precious than the last, because of the unexpected turns that the nation's economy can take.
And of course, those are just the things we could worry about on a global or national level. Besides these, there are lots of things we could have anxiety over on a more personal level: concerns for our own families, concerns for our own jobs, concerns for our own health, concerns for our own church, and even concerns for our own personal futures. There is so much in our lives right now that's outside of our control. And though it's always easy to become overwhelmed with worry; this seems to be particularly true this holiday season. Think of it - even the department stores are worried!
But then - as if to lift us far above it all - comes this authoritative exhortation from Jesus. In this morning's passage, God's Son invites us to be restored to the perspective His Father wishes us to have as His own dear children; and He encourages us to rise with Him above the chronic worry that characterizes those who are outside God's family. This passage truly helps put us into the proper frame of mind for Thanksgiving.
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First, notice that Jesus tells us ...
1. WHAT WE'RE NOT TO DO (vv. 25a, 31).
Do you notice how Jesus begins this exhortation? He starts off by saying, "Therefore I say to you ..." In the original language of Matthew's gospel, Jesus says, "Because of this ..." or "For this reason ..." This means that these beloved words are the consequence of what He says in the proceeding verses. We cannot appreciate what it is that we're exhorted not to do, unless we look back to what motivated the exhortation in the first place.
Look at verses 19-21; and you'll find that, behind this exhortation, is Jesus' teaching on material things. What He says there presents us with one of the greatest reasons why people worry today. There, Jesus says,
I believe that each one of us, whether we know it or not, are laying up a treasure somewhere - a treasure that is either primarily on earth or primarily in heaven. And because that treasure is primarily either in heaven or on earth, it is either safe in God's hands, or subject to the world's uncertainties. So long as someone's heart is wrapped up in building a heavenly treasure, their heart will be as secure as heaven. If their heart becomes wrapped up in pursuing an earthly treasure, then their heart is as uncertain as their treasure is. Having one's security wrapped up in an uncertain earthly treasure is, I believe, the main reason people are plagued with worry.
If our treasure is on earth - where it is subject to so many things that can cause it to be lost to us - then we'll always have one eye on the protection and advancement of that earthly treasure; and thus, our vision of spiritual things will be divided and obscured. Jesus goes on to illustrate this fact to us by saying;
I remember an elderly man that I used to visit and pray with. He had a terrible problem with cataracts in his eyes which made him practically blind for most of his later years. He finally had the cataracts taken away, however; and now that he could see clearly, he told me he was eager for me to come and visit so he could finally get a glimpse of what I really looked like. The lamp of his body, as it were, was "whole", and now he could view me - his pastor and friend - in the clear, unobscured light of truth. (He got to see me before he went to the Lord. And even though it's been a few years since then, I still haven't quite gotten over how disappointing he said I looked.)
Similarly, we can have spiritual "cataracts" form around our spiritual eyes; that those cataracts form because of the things of this world. Our spiritual eyes, as it were, light up the whole inner man; but if they're clouded-up and obscured by a love for the things of this world and a continual pursuit of a treasure on the earth, we fail to see things clearly. Our vision is "bad". As a result, we suffer from a "great" spiritual darkness. We don't see things as they really are. This obscured spiritual vision - as a result of a devotion to building an earthly treasure - is, I believe, yet another reason why we tend to worry.
And look at what Jesus says next;
"Mammon" is an Aramaic word that refers to "earthly wealth" or "riches". The NIV translates it "money". Jesus tells us that you cannot serve both God and mammon. A devotion to one expels a love for the other. The apostle John put it this way:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
You can see, then, that Jesus is teaching us about the danger of setting our hearts on a treasure-store of earthly riches and material things. He isn't saying that we shouldn't have or use the things of this world; but rather, He's telling us that, if we base our security in life on an earthly treasure, (1) we will have invested ourselves in a treasure that's certain to be lost to us, (2) we will have impaired our ability see things as they really are, and (3) we will have compromised our devotion to the one who made us for Himself. How could we help but live a life of worry in such a spiritual condition?
And so, Jesus says, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life ..."
Now, before we go another step further, stop and be honest with yourself. Are you worrying about your life today? Do you greet this Thanksgiving season with "worry"? Do you find that you're bouncing back and forth between the guilty feeling that, on the one hand, you should trust God more than you do; and, on the other, a desperate sense of uneasiness because of all the things that can rob you of your earthly security? Jesus' exhortation to you, dear brother or sister, is "Do not worry about your life ..."
When Jesus says, "Do not worry," He uses a Greek word that means "to be anxious" or "preoccupied" or "careful" - to "take thought", as it is in the King James Version. He uses this word translated "worry" six times in this passage. And the context clearly shows us that the content of that "worry" is the things of this world that we need in order to live. Jesus says, in verse 25, "... Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on" In verse 31, He says, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'"
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Now Jesus is a masterful Teacher and Counselor. He doesn't tell us what not to do without also telling us why we're not to do it. And so, He follows up His exhortation "Do not worry about your life" by giving us ...
2. REASONS WHY WE'RE NOT TO DO IT.
The first reason He gives for why we're not to worry about our daily needs for life is found in the nature of our life itself. Jesus says, "Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" (v. 25b).
What does Jesus mean by this? I think that a clue is found in a parable He told about a man who tried to build such a secure earthly treasure for himself that he'd never have to worry about his life again. Jesus said,
And it's very instructive how Jesus began this parable. He said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (v. 15).
We're often accustomed to seeing a financially successful, prosperous person and saying, "Well; he or she has built quite a life for themselves." But that's not what God calls "life". An abundant and successful life is not defined by us, but rather by the One who made us for Himself. And He says that life does not consist in even an abundance of things, but rather in being rich toward Him in our souls.
And so, we're not to worry about things like our food, or our water, or our clothing; because they don't make up the stuff of life. These things aren't an end in and of themselves, but are, instead, only the means that serve a greater end. They are not "life" but only the things that serve our bodies; and our bodies are only meant to house our souls. And it's that soul which is capable of an eternal relationship with God. That eternal relationship is what God calls "life". "This is eternal life," Jesus prayed, "that they may know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
May we never make the things that maintain our bodies 'bigger' in the scheme of things than they really are. Let's keep them in perspective. They are NOT the stuff real life is made of. An eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ - that's "life"!
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A second reason Jesus gives for why we're not to worry is found in everyday examples of God's loving care. Jesus says,
I can never read that without having a funny picture in my mind. I envision birds outside in the back yard, desperately working with hats and gloves on - one operating a tiller, another using a hoe, and another using a rake. Birds walking back and forth sowing seeds, or spraying the ground with a garden hose. I imagine them pacing around, wringing their hands - or wings - as they wait for the crops to grow. I think of them worrying among themselves, saying, "Will it be a good crop this year? What if the gophers get to it first?"
Now, I have seen birds out in my back yard catching worms. They have to do a little work to get their food. But I've never seen them start a worm-farm. They don't need to. God provides for them every day.
Jesus calls us to "look" at them and learn from what we see. He argues from the lessor to the greater; showing us (1) that God provides daily for the birds of the air, (2) that we are of greater value to God than the birds, and (3) therefore, God will surely provide for our daily needs as well. In another context, Jesus says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).
Jesus gives us another example from nature. He says,
Again, as you might expect, this creates another funny picture in my head. I see lilies at tables and work benches - all in a row - working in sweatshop-like conditions as they frantically operate sewing machines and looms and spinning-wheels. (I see one particular lily with a tape-measure in its pedals, and pins in its mouth - measuring the other lilies and doing their colors.)
Of course, the idea is ridiculous. And yet, Solomon - the wealthiest and most elegantly adorned of all the kings - could do no better than faintly model his fashions after the simple lilies. And lilies are short-lived - here only for a day or so, then gathered up and thrown away with the rest of the yard debris. We are much more valuable to God then they.
Jesus again uses an argument from the lessor to the greater: (1) that God beautifully 'clothes' the grass of the field, (2) and that we're far more precious to Him than the grass of the field; (3) therefore, we can rest assured that He'll see that our need for clothing is faithfully met.
In all of this, Jesus is urging us to look at the examples of God's faithful care that we see in nature; and to rest assured that this same God will meet our needs and faithfully care for us too. We don't have any reason to worry.
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A third reason Jesus gives us for not worrying is because worry is an utterly ineffective thing to do. He says, "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?" The word translated "stature " means "a period of life"; and may here refer to the whole duration of someone's life-span.
We could spend the whole rest of our lives - from this moment to the end - doing nothing but worrying about how long we'll live; and in the end it will not have contributed one bit to the duration of our lives. No one will ever lay on their death bed saying, "I have but one regret - I wished I had worried more." No one has been able to point to some great accomplishment and say with pride, "See what I have done? And I did it all by worrying about it." Worrying takes up an enormous amount of our energy; and yet is the most unproductive thing we could ever do. Jesus' argument is simple: If it accomplishes nothing - not even to add a few inches to our life-span - then why waste time doing it? The Bible says,
Prayer accomplishes so much; but worry accomplishes nothing. If anything, it robs us of quality prayer time.
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A fourth reason Jesus gives for not worrying is because it is inconsistent with faith. Jesus calls worriers, "O you of little faith" (v. 30). He says, "Therefore do not worry saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek" (vv. 31-32a).
In the New Testament, a "Gentile" is symbolic way of describing an unbelieving person - someone who is outside the community of faith. Paul described such people as "... without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Such a person lives in a "secular" frame of mind. They do not look to God as their Provider; and so, the focus of their lives MUST be to seek out what to eat, or what to drink, or what to wear. It's all up to them. Worry is the appropriate frame of mind for the person who has no relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
But it's very inappropriate for a believer to live in an anxious and worried frame of mind. They aren't to live as if God wasn't there. They aren't to live as if the provision of life is all up to them. They have a powerful and wealthy heavenly Father who wonderfully provides for them; and they are to live confidently under His continual care.
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And finally, Jesus urges us not to worry because of the knowledge of our Father. Jesus says that we don't need - like the Gentiles - to scramble after what we are to eat, or what we are to drink, or what we are to wear; "For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" (v. 32).
Many of us can testify to times in which God has remarkably provided for our needs before we even realized those needs existed! It's very clear that our heavenly Father perfectly knows the end from the beginning; and has a complete understanding of our every need. He doesn't always give us things we want - and we can be grateful He doesn't! And He may even allow us to suffer times of need - but always only for a brief while, and always in order to teach us some new lesson about His faithfulness. But He will always prove to have provided completely for our needs from out of His perfect wisdom and knowledge. His provision often seems, from our imperfect perspective, to arrive at the last minute; but from His perspective, it's always right on time.
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So we see that Jesus is a good Teacher; and He gives us the reasons why we're not to worry. And now, notice that the good Teacher also shows us ...
3. WHAT WE'RE TO DO INSTEAD (vv. 33-34).
I find three things we're to do instead of worry. First, we're to make sure we have the right priorities in place. We're to seek God's concerns first. Jesus says, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness ..."
Unlike the people of this world, our first concern is NOT to be the things of this world. We know the truth about those things. Peter wrote,
If the destiny of all these things is to one day be burned up, then they should occupy the least amount of our concern as possible. Our primary focus should be on the God's kingdom rule in the lives of people, and on His righteousness as brought about through Jesus - things that will last eternally. We should only value these temporal things in so far as they serve eternal purposes.
Second, as we make His kingdom and His righteousness or primary concern, we should trust God to provide everything else. Jesus said that as we do so, "all these things" - that is, the things we need for our daily bodily sustenance - "shall be added to you." In the grammar of Jesus' original words, we are being described as the passive recipients of those things. They are "added" to us by Another. We can count on the promise that the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, "... My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
And finally, Jesus closes with a wonderful word of wisdom for us. We are to limit the extent of our care to today only. He says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (v. 34).
Now of course, we're not being told that it's wrong to plan for the future if we can. That's appropriate and wise to do. But we're not to "worry" about tomorrow. God has not designed us to bear the concerns of more than one day's needs at a time. If we go beyond that, we've falling into the trap of worry; and - truth be told - we've fallen into the bad practice of playing our own 'god'. We have absolutely no control over the future. Only God does. When we worry about tomorrow, we're beginning to borrow troubles from days that are yet only in the hand of God; and Jesus exhorts us not to do this. Don't even start to be concerned about tomorrow until you wake up tomorrow morning.
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Would you like to be free from worry? In our day, many make that seem like a very irresponsible thing to do - to cease from worrying about tomorrow. Well, here's some very good news: We have it on the highest authority possible that we may cease - once and for all - from worry. Jesus, the Son of God, gives us permission to stop worrying; and He invites us to, instead, be confident and content about a future that will be faithfully provided for by His own Father.
As the adopted children of the Father of Jesus Himself, we have the greatest reasons of all to cease from worry - and the greatest reasons of all to be thankful. Let's celebrate this Thanksgiving with the right frame of mind before our great and gracious Provider. Let's celebrate worry-free to His glory.
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