The Gentiles

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:31-32).

Jesus begins with birds, moves on to flowers, and ends with the Gentiles. Birds are part of creation; they are neither good nor bad; they simply are. Flowers also are part of creation, but Jesus assigns them to the fire. Now he speaks of Gentiles—the outsiders, the unbelievers, the ones who are not part of his kingdom. Our Father sends sun and rain to all people, whether they believe in him or not. A person’s wealth and comfort today is no measure of that person’s faith, salvation, or eternal home in heaven. God sends daily bread whether we ask for it or not. We pray for daily bread, but not to earn it. God would not forget to send our daily bread if we forgot to remind him. He does not withhold our daily bread until we pray the proper words. Our prayers remind ourselves of the source of every good blessing we enjoy.

If God intends to send us good things whether we pray or forget to pray, why should we pray? We talk to God because we have a relationship with God. He is our Father; we are his children. The Gentiles have no such relationship with the true God. They may pray to false gods; they may trust spells and incantations to bring them good things; or they might believe that they earn everything they receive because of their good deeds. We trust God, not ourselves. We discuss with God everything that matters to us.

Jesus already said that we are not to pray like the Gentiles. Our prayers have no magic ability to give us what we want. Jesus adds that we should not worry as the Gentiles worry. When we pray to God about our needs, we mention those needs with confidence. We already know that God loves us. We know that he understands us. Since God can do anything he wants, we can assume that he will meet our needs. Experience shows us the same truth that Jesus proclaims: we receive what we need from the hand of God whether we worry about it or not. The things of this world are in God’s hands as surely as our eternal safety is in his hands.

Food and drink and clothing come from God. Our behavior in this world belongs also in God’s hands. Giving to the poor and praying and fasting are not reasons for us to worry. We are expected to give and to pray and to fast, but these actions are not worthy of our anxiety. The Gentiles—those trying to earn God’s blessings and his rescue from evil—worry about these things. We know that these things are gifts. We continue living according to our relationship with God, not worrying about whether the things we do are good enough for God. God has accepted us, not according to our good deeds, but because of what Jesus did for us. For that reason, we do not have to be anxious. J.

Lilies of the field

“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 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?” (Matthew 6:28-30).

All people possess a few basic needs: food and drink, clothing and shelter, something to do, someone to love, and a reason to hope. We pray about these things when we ask our Father for “daily bread.” It might seem natural to worry about these things, even to be anxious about them, but Jesus tells us that such worry is not natural. When we live according to the human nature God created—our nature before it was contaminated by sin—we accept what we have as peacefully as flowers accept what they have. We do not ask ourselves how we are going to obtain more.

Jesus remarked that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Now Jesus adds that outward beauty is given even to the grass of the field, “which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven.” Most of us do not use grass as fuel, but in western Asia wood is scarce and therefore is too valuable to be burned. When Jesus speaks of fire, he never mentions it lightly. Fire pictures eternal punishment. Jesus assures us that even those who will end in judgment’s fire will have their needs met today. God does not care less for those who trust in him, those who will spend eternity with him in a perfect new creation.

In the present world, which is not perfect, people sometimes face poverty, desperate need, and starvation. Every day more than enough food exists in the world to meet the needs of every person, but it is not distributed evenly. Therefore, Jesus encourages us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and even care for people in prison. We help God keep his promises to care for his people, even as God also cares for birds and flowers. As we help our neighbors, we are not earning God’s blessings. The blessings of God remain free gifts—and that is one more reason we do not have to worry.

We are not among those heading for the fire. We are of great value to God. Therefore, we need not worry about the things of this world. We need not worry about our physical needs, nor about whether we have done enough good things for God, or even whether we have enough faith. Jesus calls us people of little faith, but little faith is enough faith. The size of our faith does not matter; the power of the God in whom we trust matters. God keeps his promises even to those who have only a little faith.

Unlike the birds, we sow and reap and store in barns. Unlike the flowers, we toil and spin. We use the talents and resources God gives us to take care of ourselves and to help one another. Through all that we do, we remember God and his promises. Our eyes are on Jesus, not on ourselves. For that reason, we do not have to be anxious. J.

Do not be anxious

“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? 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? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27).

The words sound like a commandment: “Thou shalt not be anxious,” or, “Thou shalt not worry.” We know that when we worry, we are not trusting God. When our eyes are on God, we will not worry, because we know that God keeps all his promises.

Yet when we say to one another, “Don’t worry,” we want our words to be heard as a promise, not as a command. We threaten no punishment against the person who worries. Instead, we assure others that they have no reason to worry, that everything is under control, that everything will turn out fine.

Jesus offers the same promise. To assure us that his promise is true, Jesus tells us to look at the birds. They do not worry, and yet God takes care of them. Jesus is not telling us to “be like a bird”: he simply wants us to be confident that God takes care of us. Birds lack the intelligence to plan and to worry. We have enough intelligence to plan, and with that intelligence comes the capability to worry. We also have the capability to trust. We see that God kept his promises in the past. Unlike the birds, we know that God provides us with everything we have. Therefore, we are able to trust that God will continue doing what he has done. We are able to trust that God is going to do what he promised to do.

Worry is counter-productive. It wastes time and energy. Worry never makes us taller or causes us to live longer lives. In fact, worry harms our lives. It has the potential to shorten lives. For that reason, some people treat worry as a sin; they take the words “do not be anxious” as another commandment from the Lord.

Our faith—and our physical lives as well—will be far healthier when we treat these words of Jesus as a promise. Do not worry about food and drink, about daily bread, because God will provide them. Do not worry about the forgiveness of sins, because Jesus has already paid in full to remove all our sins. Do not worry about what you will do for God, because God will guide you by his Word. Do not worry about all the big decisions (or all the little decisions) of life, because you are in God’s hands. Even when you make a mistake, God forgives you and cleanses you and gives you the ability to continue serving him from that point onward. So, do not worry. J.