Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

63. Worry (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-32)*

In the parable of the Sower, “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches” (Mt. 13:22) are identified by Jesus as the influences most powerful in men’s lives to choke the growth or the new spiritual life. So, appropriately, the Sermon on the mount deals with these side by side.

It is well-known that when the Lord said: “Take no thought for your life”, he meant: “Do not be anxious”, or-a trifle more accurately-”Stop worrying!

Luke has also another somewhat unexpected word (12:29) translated rather doubtfully: “neither be ye of doubtful mind”. This reading leaves most students in doubtful mind as to its correctness. Six times the LXX has it in the sense of “uplifted”- “though thou exalt thyself as the eagle”(Obad. 4). In that case the Lord may be saying: ‘ In this matter of food and clothes, don’t try to keep up with the Joneses’ -a not unnecessary admonition for the moderns who are fashion and affluence conscious.

LXX also (four times) uses a very similar word for ocean billows, thus suggesting the meaning; ‘Cease to agitate yourself over these things like a wild sea with uplifted waves.’ This meaning has in its favour an interesting passage in James which in its context seems to look back to the Sermon on the mount: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (1:6).

In these days of the affluent society, the commandment: “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or, “Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” seems to be completely irrelevant except in a very different sense! Yet even today many in the family of God find that the provision of the basic necessities of living means an unremitting struggle. In the Palestine of our Lord’s day, with all its acute social inequality, there was much hard grinding poverty, so that for many parents how to clothe the children and how to fill their bellies next day, must have been problems rarely out of mind.

It has been suggested that this year of the ministry was a sabbath year, bringing special worries regarding food supply, but also giving people leisure from work so that they could flock to Jesus in crowds. The following passages may have a bearing on this thesis: Mt. 6:11, 12, 26; 9:38; 12:8; Lk. 4:19; Jn. 6:11, 12.

The warnings of Jesus regarding worry are just as needful today as ever they were. Human nature is more than capable of making itself miserable over aspects of life.

Young people worry about passing examinations, about their careers, and especially about their boy-girl friendships. The aged get anxious regarding their personal needs in declining days and who will care for them in protracted illness. Parents never cease to worry about their children -- about their health, their progress at school, their friendships and moral outlook. And the middle-aged, who should have learned some degree of poise and maturity from their experience of life, are perhaps worst of all, if only because of the evident and inevitable signs of declining physical powers. And the number of those, of all ages, who have made life a burden to themselves and to many others through inability to accept a situation which they cannot mend, is positively countless. For all such the message of Jesus, based on the primitive example of food and clothes, can be a wonderful help. More than this, it can be a cure.

But the problem is an enormous one. Jesus did not underestimate it or treat it lightly as a trivial neurosis which a man can shrug off for himself.

So, contrary to his usual authoritarian style, Jesus proceeded to reason long and logically about this ingrained weakness so common in his followers. He catalogued nine separate reasons for a new and better outlook regarding the problems in life which steal a man’s sleep and give him ulcers.

“Surely life is more than food, the body more than clothes” (NEB). In other words, there are more important things in life to worry about than these. And this stands true of a vast number of other anxieties which men allow to beset their souls, So at the outset Jesus bade his followers get their priorities right. Effort there must be (1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Th. 3:8-10; Acts 18:3; 20:34). It is anxiety which is forbidden (Ps. 55:22: 1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6).Here the simple principle is implied: If God gives the greater (life itself) will He not also give the less (the means to sustain it)? cp. Rom. 8:32. Later on (in v. 26) Jesus reverses this approach: If He cares for the less (the birds and the flowers), will He not also care for the greater?
A glance at the birds and their carefree way of life should do you good. Neither by instinct nor reason are they capable of making provision for their future, much less of worrying about it. Nevertheless God provides for them continually, even for ravens (Lk. 12:24) which in their carrion- eating habits are hardly as attractive as the rest. Yet they are the first to be cared for in His New Creation (Gen. 8:7). Jesus was surely drawing his illustrations from Psalm 147: “He maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry...The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy” (v. 8, 9, 11). “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” Jesus reminded his hearers (Mt. 10:29). And, on another occasion: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?” (Lk. 12:6). These insignificant little birds were so common and so cheap that if you bought two farthings worth an extra one was thrown in for nothing. Yet, Jesus added, “not one of them (not even the one which cost you nothing) shall fall on the ground without your Father” (Mt. 10:29). During its care-free little lifetime that wee bird was fed and clothed and housed by the blessing of God. “Ye are of more value than many sparrows.” That unimportant creature did not come to its end except by the will and control of God. But it did come to its end. And so will you. But your entire life and destiny are in His hands. All is under His guidance and control-and He knows best. All your planning and forethought, all your worry and fret concerning the future can do no more than create one ripple in a mighty ocean. Therefore relax! God is in control, and He knows best.
What good does worry achieve, anyway? “Which of you by taking thought (by being anxious) can add one cubit unto his stature?” To this the practical answer is: Who, besides a small boy wanting to be as big as his dad, wants to be half a yard taller? The fact is that this word for “stature” has that meaning in only one other place (Lk. 19:3). In other passages (Jn. 9:21, 23; Heb. 11:11; Lk. 2:52) it means ‘‘age” -- and living longer is the very thing that people do worry about.

However the word “cubit” continues to present difficulty. So it may be that the Lord’s point is really this: ‘Did you not grow from being much smaller without, filling yourself with anxiety over the process? God did it for you, providing all the food needed for adequate growth. So will He not now continue to provide for you? Of course He will!’

The Lord’s mordant question also asks: ‘When did worry ever help a man to health and long life? Doesn’t it always have the opposite effect?’ So from this simple commonsense point of view worry is mere folly.

Luke’s version adds: “If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why are ye anxious concerning the rest?” (12:26; Ps. 39:5). From the context it would seem that adding inches to one’s height or years to one’s life are what Jesus describes as “that thing which is least”. How drastically the Lord’s sense of perspective differs from that of all others! And worry is of no avail here. Then how can it possibly be worthwhile in more important issues-the issues more important even than good health and long life! The man who can learn this tremendous lesson is carefree for the rest of his days.
Next, “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow”. The Greek word here bids the disciple “learn the lesson well”. These flowers, lovely past describing in their frail mortality, neither toil as men do, nor spin as do the womenfolk. Yet, “even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” When the queen of Sheba comtemplated all the marvels of Solomen’s court, including “his ministers and their apparel, there.was no more spirit in her” (1 Kgs. 10:5). In more up-to-date language, it took her breath away! And this was the splendour of Solomon’s ministers! Then what of Solomon himself? Nevertheless, not only to the human eye but also to God’s, the humble but bright beauty of the Galilee anemone is far more lovely than Solomon. It fulfils to perfection the lowly role God has designed for it. But not so Solomon. Yet its ultimate destiny is to be “cast into the oven”. The commentaries which interpret this as allusion to the poor firing their ovens with dried grass are about as far from reality as it is possible to be. The suggestion that equates with golden corn in its harvest loveliness ultimately being baked in the nation’s ovens is better, but this leaves behind the original figure of the lilies. The most likely interpretation comes away from the literal oven and pictures the charm of the frail flower dried up and withered, made brown and brittle by the scorching winds of fierce summer heat (ls. 40:6-8). Christ’s arguments fortiori is once again irresistible in its simple logic: If God takes so much trouble over the smallest things in His creation, is it likely that He will allow anything untimely to befall you, His sons and daughters?
Amidst all this reasoning and persuading comes one brief but searing word of rebuke: “O ye of little faith.” It was the Lord’s only epithet of reproof for his disciples. The worst thing he can say about them (in this age as in that) is that they are of little faith. And since all justification is by faith, those who worry of write their own reproach before ever the Day of Judgment comes.

This is so fundamental that Matthew records this mode of rebuke from the Master’s lips no less than five times. The other four are:
  1. When the disciples were fearful in the storm on Galilee (8:26).
  2. When Peter feared as he walked on the water, and began to sink (14:31); yet who would have attempted what Peter assayed to do?
  3. When the disciples were concerned about having no food with then (16:8).
  4. The Lord’s reproof of the inability of his disciples to heal the epileptic boy (17:20 RV).
Would twentieth century disciples have come off any better in any one of those situations?
“After all these things do the Gentiles seek.” This is only another way of saying: Worry is heathenish; it transmutes disciples into heathen (Mt. 13:22 s.w.). The Israel of God re-assert their Gentile-ness when they worry, whether the issue be big or small. To this day that truth still stands. Members of the modern affluent society give plenty of thought to these questions: “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” - but in a very different sense. However it is just as pagan. Indeed, more so. When a child of God finds himself concentrating time and energies on such minor things there is then serious ground for worry!
“Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” And if a man knows that God knows, and still persists in worrying about this or that, he as good as declares that God is not God. This is atheism.

But if God knows, that should be all sufficient, for He knows best. There is no better re-assurance. There are those who would water down the Lord’s words to meaning merely that God knows, but stands aside and lets events take their own course. This is an anaemic theology.
There is only one kind of worry that is permissible: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (about which you are given to worrying) shall be added unto you.” Here the word “first” implies that it is not wrong to seek food and clothes. It is wrong to worry about them. And there are much more important things to seek after. Let it be noted also that concentration is to be on God’s righteousness, not on one’s own (Phil. 2:13; 3:9; Jn. 15:4; Ps. 37:3, 4). As long as the spotlight rests analytically on one’s own spiritual flaws and failures there can be only discouragement, wretchedness and panic. But if instead there be a deep appreciation of the Father’s marvellous graciousness, compassionate loving-kindness and tender mercy, His irrepressible providence and unmerited unearned beneficence-if these wondrous attributes claim their proper share of one’s spiritual outlook, even this worry flies out of the window (Mk. 10:29, 30). It has no place at all.
“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” As who should say: Whilst the earth is full of, sinners, is there not enough of evil today to I claim your attention without ruining yet more < your powers of serving God by worrying over what tomorrow may or may not bring?

Here Luke adds a most reassuring verse which Matthew has quite unaccountably omitted: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32).

Some of the Lord’s “little flock” are even given to worry that they are only a small unimpressive group. But that is the way it has always been. The prophets’ repetition of the word “remnant” proves this. And Christ’s expression here is specially emphatic.

If indeed it is the Father’s good pleasure to “give you the kingdom”, then of course He will meantime “freely give all things.”

Well might Jesus peremptorily bid his disciple: “Be not therefore anxious for the morrow.” All worry breaks this commandment. It is a sin.

Notes: Mt. 6:25-34

God cares for the birds to the extent of legislating on their behalf: Dt. 22:6, 7.

Nor gather into barns. Contrast Lk. 12:18.
Consider. s.w. Gen. 24:21; 34:1; Job. 35:5 - all passages worth considering.
In v. 25: “Stop worrying”. Here the aorist means: “No more, not even once.”

The evil thereof. in Lk. 16:25 material evil. So also here? - or moral evil?

Lk. 12:32

Good pleasure is a word which Old Testament uses for acceptable sacrifice. Here, the “little flock” makes itself an acceptable sacrifice, and in return receives the kingdom.

Previous Index Next