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Viewpoint Tracts on Bible Subjects

JESUS calls US to be
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The Christian religion is the worship and service of Jesus Christ. It’s not Mary we worship, but her Son. We worship neither saints, angels, a law code, nor even God’s Spirit. It’s JESUS who is to be honored. The Bible is our guide.

BFL18-99 -- Jesus Wonders
Why We Worry

Please read and consider —

by John R. W. Stott -- Matthew 6:25-34. False or
secular ambition — our own material security.

Most of this paragraph is negative. Three times Jesus repeats his prohibition *Do not be anxious* (25, 31, 34) or `Don't worry' (JBP) . And the preoccupation he forbids us is food, drink and clothing: *What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?' (31).

Yet this is precisely *the world's trinity of cares* (Spurgeon,p.39): *for the Gentiles seek all these things* (32). We have only to glance at the advertisements on television, in the newspapers and in public transport to find a vivid modern illustration of what Jesus taught nearly two millennia ago.

A few years ago I was sent a complimentary copy of *Accent*, a new glossy magazine whose full title was *Accent on good living*. It included enticing advertisements for champagne, cigarettes, food, clothing, antiques and carpets, together with the description of an esoteric weekend's shopping in Rome. There were articles on how to have a computer in your kitchen; how to win a luxury cabin cruiser or 100 twelve bottle cases of Scotch whiskey instead; and how 15 million women cannot be wrong about their cosmetic choices.

We were then promised in the following month's issue alluring articles on Caribbean holidays, staying in bed, high fashion warm underwear and the delights of reindeer meat and snowberries. From beginning to end it concerned the welfare of the body and how to feed it, clothe it, warm it, cool it, refresh it, relax it, entertain it, titivate and titillate it.

Now please do not misunderstand this. Jesus Christ neither denies nor despises the needs of the body. As a matter of fact, he made it himself. And he takes care of it. He has just taught us to pray, `Give us this day our daily bread.' What is he saying then?

He is emphasizing that to become engrossed in material comforts is a false preoccupation. For one thing, it is unproductive (except perhaps of ulcers and yet more worry); for another it is unnecessary (because 'your heavenly Father knows what you need', 8 and 32); but especially it is unworthy.

It betrays a false view of human beings (as if they were only bodies needing to fed, watered, clothed and housed) and of human life (as if it were merely a physiological mechanism needing to be protected, lubricated and fuelled).

An exclusive preoccupation with food, drink, and clothing could be justified only if physical survival were the be-all and end-all of existence. We just live to live. Then indeed how to sustain the body would be our proper first concern. So it is understandable that in emergency famine conditions the struggle to survive must take precedence over other things.

But for this to be so in ordinary circumstances would express a reductionist concept of man which is totally unacceptable. It would downgrade him to the level of animals, indeed to that of birds and plants. Yet the great majority of today's advertisements are directed towards the body -- underwear to display it at its shapeliest, deodorants to keep it smelling sweet, and alcoholic beverages to pep it up when it is languishing.

This preoccupation prompts these questions: is physical well-being a worthy object to which to devote our lives? Has human life no more significance than this? *The Gentiles seek all these things.* Let them. But as for you my disciples, Jesus implies, they are a hopelessly unworthy goal. For they are not the 'Supreme Good' in life.

We need now to clarify what Jesus is prohibiting, and what reason he gives for his prohibition. First, he is not forbidding thought. On the contrary, he is encouraging it when he goes on to bid us look at the birds and the flowers and 'consider' how God looks after them. So the familiar AV `Take no thought' is mistaken and misleading.

Second, he is not forbidding forethought. I have already mentioned the Bible's approval of the ant. Birds too, which Jesus commends, make provision for the future by building their nests, laying and incubating eggs, and feeding their young. Many migrate to warmer climes before the winter (which is an outstanding example of provident - though instinctive -- forethought), and some even store food, as do shrikes which stock their own larder by impaling insects on thorns. So there is nothing here to stop Christians making plans for the future or taking sensible steps for their own security. No, What Jesus forbids is neither thought nor forethought, but anxious thought.

This is the meaning of the command *me merimnate*. It is the word used of Martha who was 'distracted' with much serving, of the good seed sown among thorns which was choked by the 'cares' of life, and by Paul in his injunction, 'have no anxiety about anything.' (Lk.10:40; 8:14; Phil.4:6). As Bishop Ryle expressed it: 'Prudent provision for the future is right; wearing, corroding, self-tormenting anxiety is wrong.'

Why is it wrong? Jesus replies by arguing that obsessional worry of this kind is incompatible both with Christian faith (25-30) and with common sense (34), but he spends more time on the first.

Matthew 6:25-34. 1. Worry is incompatible with Christian faith. (25-30). In verse 30 Jesus dubs those who get het up over food and clothing 'men of little faith'. The reasons he gives why we should trust God instead of being anxious are both *a fortiori* (how much more)' arguments. One is taken from human experience and argues from the greater to the lesser; the other comes from sub-human experience (birds and flowers) and argues from the lesser to the greater.

Our human experience is this: God created and now sustains our life; he also created and continues to sustain our body. This is a fact of every day experience. We neither made ourselves, nor keep ourselves alive. Now, our `life' (for which God is responsible) is obviously more important than the food and drink which nourish it. Similarly our 'body' (for which God is also responsible) is more important that the clothing which covers and warms it.

Well then, if God already takes care of the greater (our life and body), can we not trust him to take care of the lesser (our food and clothing)? The logic is inescapable, and Jesus enforces it in verse 27 with a question: *Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?*

It is uncertain whether the last word of his question (*helikia*) should be translated `span of life' (RSV) or `stature' (AV). It can mean either. To add half a metre to our stature would be a remarkable feat indeed, although God does it to all of us between our childhood and adult life. To add a period of time to our lifespan is also outside our competence.

A human being cannot achieve this by himself. Indeed, far from lengthening his life, worry 'may very well shorten it', as we all know. So just as we leave these matters to God (for they are certainly beyond us), would it not be sensible to trust him for the lesser things like food and clothes?

Next, Jesus turns to the sub-human world and argues the other way round. He uses birds as an illustration of God's supply of food (26) and flowers to illustrate his supply of clothing (28-30). In both cases he tells us to 'look at' or 'consider' them, that is, to think about the facts of God's providential care in their case.

Some readers may know that I happen myself to have been since my boyhood an enthusiastic bird-watcher. I know, of course, that bird-watching is regarded by some as a rather eccentric pastime; they view the likes of me with quizzical and patronizing amusement. But I claim biblical -- indeed dominical -- warrant for this activity. `Consider the fowls of the air,' said Jesus according to the AV, and this in basic English could be translated `watch birds'!

Indeed, I am quite serious, for the Greek verb in his command (*emblepsate eis*) means `fix your eyes on, so as to take a good look at'. If we do take an interest in birds and flowers (and we should surely, like our Master, be gratefully aware of the natural world around us), then we will know that although birds *neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet our heavenly Father feeds them*, and that although *the lilies of the field (anemones, poppies, irises and gladioli have all been suggested as alternatives to lilies, although the reference may be general to all the beautiful spring flowers of Galilee) ... neither toil nor spin*, yet our heavenly Father *clothes* them, indeed more gorgeously than *Solomon in all his glory*.

This being so, can we not trust him to feed and clothe us who are of so much more value than the birds and flowers? Why, he even clothes the common grass *which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven*!

‘You see,’ writes Martin Luther with great charm, ‘he is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. it is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men ... Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher ... It is as if he were saying I prefer to be in the Lord's kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and he himself is the cook and the host. Every day he feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of his hand.’ Similarly, this time quoting Spurgeon: ‘lovely lilies, how you rebuke our foolish nervousness!’

More familiar to most of us will be the doggerel —

Said the robin to the sparrow:
‘I should like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.’

Said the sparrow to the robin:
‘Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.’

It is a delightful sentiment, yet not a strictly accurate reflection of the teaching of Jesus. For he did not say that birds have a heavenly Father, but rather that we have, and that if a creator cares for his creatures, we may be even more sure that the Father will look after his children.

republished by Ray Downen