Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:25a “Therefore I say unto you,. . .”
It is impossible to serve God and mammon at the same time. “Therefore” Jesus now commands us to actually live like we are slaves to the former, not the latter. We are not left to our own subjective speculations to determine whether or not we are really serving God. By our actions we can know which we are serving.
The simple declaration, “I say unto you,” is absolute boldness, sheer daring. Jesus unapologetically spoke as a Sovereign Lawgiver who rules our behavior. He appealed to no authority higher than Himself, for there is none. Jesus is God.
Matt. 6:25b “. . .take no thought. . .”
In Old English, “thought” referred to worry and anxiety. Bacon mentioned a man dying of thought. Shakespeare spoke of human resolve being weakened by “the pale cast of thought.” Our text simply and bluntly means, “Do not worry.”
I begin my remarks on this subject with a confession, an act my Director of Missions friend Dick Wakefield says is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation. I am among the world’s worst worriers. If there were a Worry Hall of Fame, I would be a charter member. My weakness, I fear, is shared by many. For some, worry is a favorite hobby. We are all guilty of it often. In fact, anxiety may be the most common sin committed by Christians, for nothing seems more natural to us than worry. I pray we all–including, and especially, your pastor–shall be helped by these lessons on worry. It is a serious matter, highly dishonoring to God.
To worry is to serve mammon. Worry is as much an obsession with stuff as greed is. The straight and narrow path has on both sides deep precipices we need to shun. In the Odyssey, as Ulysses passed through the Strait of Messina, he had to steer a middle course, avoiding on one side the cave of Scylla, a sea monster who ate sailors, and on the other side Charybdis, a whirlpool which sucked ships down to destruction. Believers must chart a course between the Scylla of greed, and the Charybdis of worry. One hoards too much, the other fears having too little. Thinking we cannot get too much, and fearing we will not get enough, may seem to be opposites, but share the same root–too much preoccupation with mammon, this world’s stuff. Like greed, worry is a form of enslavement to this world.
Worry distracts us spiritually. Satan tries to make our minds wander from God, and is not particular as to how he accomplishes the sinister plot. Whether by greed, coveting, or worry, Satan seeks to focus our thoughts on things, not Jesus.
The secret to doing anything well is concentration. This is especially true of our spiritual lives. Worry divides our minds, keeping us from having a single focus (6:22). God wants us to draw near to Him without our being distracted. It discourages us when we try to talk to someone who is not paying close attention. It is aggravating to be talking to someone on the phone when you can hear them typing in the background. It is a grief to say something to someone and then wait in vain for a response because they did not hear what we said. Since I sometimes in a crowd do not listen as intently to Ruth as I should, she on occasions has to say “Dr. Marshall” to get my attention. When communicating with others, we want their undivided attention. God feels the same way. He wants us focused on Him.
Our duty is to enjoy God, but we cannot do it if disturbed about stuff. Worry disrupts our enjoyment of God, making us disagreeable company for Him. Life devoid of cheer is not a beautiful testimony for God or before God. Our service to Him is acceptable if given fully and joyfully. “Serve the Lord with gladness” (PS 100:2). A glad tranquil heart is indispensable to effective service to God. Dwell on Him without distraction. Whatever divides our attention is service to stuff.
Worry distrusts God. It is sin, entailing a lack of trust in, and disobedience to, God. George Mueller said, “Where anxiety begins faith ends, where faith begins anxiety ends.” Worry paralyzes prayer, crippling it by tying it down to earth. Worry, inconsistent with faith and dependence, is a vote of no confidence in God.
Worry, extremely self-centered, makes us think, “Since I cannot see the solution, there must be no solution. If I cannot fix it, it cannot be fixed.” The devil told Eve she would be like God, and the serpent still trips us with this lie. In worrying, we try to be God, to take on ourselves more than we have a right to. Seeking to rely solely on our own strength and knowledge, we fail to depend on God.
The antithesis and preventative to worrying is to pray in faith. They are mutually exclusive. Worry is talking to self, prayer is talking to God. Worry speaks to self without confidence in God, prayer speaks to God with confidence in God.
When tempted to worry, we must run to prayer. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (PH 4:6-7 NAS). We have the right to pray about “everything” that might tempt us to worry. Whatever bothers us, we have the right to offer “supplication,” to make requests. Our pleas, though, must always rise to heaven atop a chorus of sincere thanks. By having us always ask with thanks, God thereby forces us to see that He will always see to it that we have something to be grateful for. As we often ask and thank, God’s peace shall guard, garrison and be a fortress around, our hearts, keeping us from worry.
We must learn to trust God, especially since He has condescended to make Himself known to us as a Father. John MacArthur tells a helpful story. World War II left many orphans in its wake, and the Allies built camps to house them. These children received the best food and care possible, but officials were perplexed when many of the orphans could not sleep at night. Psychologists were brought in to analyze the problem and came up with a solution. Every night when the children were put in bed, someone walked by the beds and placed in each child’s hand a piece of bread. Soon the children were sleeping soundly each night. Why? War had left these children devastated. Due to what had happened to them yesterday, they could not sleep today, and had no hope for tomorrow. They stayed awake at night, fearfully pondering what might happen the next day. That little piece of bread each night assured them they would wake up to at least one more meal. These children were afraid because they were orphans, having no earthly father to provide for them, but we believers know we do have a heavenly Father. Let our text be a nightly piece of bread to help us sleep, confident of tomorrow.