Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:27 “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his
Jesus here continues His attempt to keep us from worrying. Our Master not only gave us commands, but condescended to explain the why of His edicts. His explanations help us understand His reasons, and take the thorns out of obedience.
Verse 26 taught worry is unneeded. Verse 27 teaches it is also useless. A cubit was the length from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, about eighteen inches. It would be silly to lie awake at night, worrying how we could add eighteen inches to our height. Jesus uses this absurdity as a metaphor to teach us it is just as silly to worry about trying to increase the measure of our lives. Worry is useless. Not only can it not add one hour to our lives; it can actually shorten them. Also, even if anxiety does not shorten our lives, it will make them miserable.
Our text not only rebukes anxiety, but also humbles our ambitions. We often need to be reminded there are certain things we humans cannot do. This helps us avoid a God-complex. Some matters Jesus reserves to Himself and holds in His hand. One of these details is the length of our lives. A monarch of England died, saying, “All my kingdom for a few moments of time,” but it made no difference.
We each receive a slice of eternity within which we must make our mark for eternity. We all have an allotted time span, and worry will not increase its length.
Does this mean we should be fatalistic and not practice healthy habits? No. A part of being human is a God-given ability and responsibility to use good sense. I heard a whimsical story of a national study on longevity. America’s three oldest looking men were sought out to find their secrets on long living. The third oldest looking man said, “I walk three miles every day.” How old was he? “One hundred ten.” The second oldest looking man said, “I lived a Godly, holy life.” He was one hundred twenty. America’s oldest looking man said his key to long life was, “Whiskey and wild women.” When asked his age, he replied, “Twenty-nine.”
Use common sense. Be holy, eat right, sleep, and exercise, but also remember our efforts are ultimately subservient to higher forces. We are to do what we can and should, and then not worry about matters outside our control, including duration of life. We cannot alter, and must entrust ourselves to, God’s providence.
Worry is useless. Without anxiety, we grow from one cubit to four cubits, passing through the various stages of life. God makes all these advances in life happen; and just as He determines life’s progress, He also determines its end.
We are all moving toward death, carried by a force we cannot resist. Americans, in denial about this inevitability, are addicted to youth. Old is bad, young is good. Many end up looking or acting absolutely ridiculous in their artificial contrivances to appear younger than they are. Like it or not, we cannot stop the aging process. Hair will turn white or recede. Steps will grow slower. Faces will wrinkle. Bodies will decline and die. Christians are to honor old age and revere the elderly. The Bible deems aging a natural blessing, not a curse. Make peace with the process and enjoy the ride, knowing for believers the best is always yet to come.
Matt. 6:28a “And why take ye thought for raiment?”
Why do we worry about clothes? In our country, we seldom have to worry about necessary clothing. We often seem unable to find anything appropriate to wear, yet our closets are bulging. Since Jesus told people who had one or at most two sets of clothes not to worry about raiment, what would He say to us today?
We should not be obsessed with clothing–no fear of not having enough, and no pride in being ostentatious. We rarely have to worry about the former, but are often obsessed with the latter. For some, style is everything. The most important place in their world is their closet (and I am not referring to their prayer closet).
As Christians, we experience problems with clothing when we transgress two regulating boundaries: moderation and modesty. Learn moderation. Keep impulses under control. Do not misunderstand; looking tacky is no virtue, and dressing in style is okay. The problem is being obsessed with fashion, for in doing this we create for ourselves a totally unnecessary and artificial assortment of articles to be anxious over. The clothing industry helps us manufacture things to worry about. We often make a god of fashion, bowing at the altar of designer clothes.
A friend once jokingly explained to me why Polo clothes cost so much. He said if you look at their logo through a magnifying glass, you will see the little man riding on the horse is wearing an Izod shirt. Nothing is inherently wrong with designer clothes. They are for us merely a cultural expression, like wearing robes is in some countries. Our crisis arises when restraint is lost, when we waste money on expensive clothes we will wear only a few times, or when we lust after stylish clothes in order to be ostentatious. A peacock obsession with what we wear can only feed our sinful pride, and rather than be overly proud of our clothing, we should be humbled by it. Clothes were originally given to us by God to cover the shame of our nakedness caused by our sin. Clothing thus typifies our sin, reminds us of our wrongdoing. For us to take hyper-pride in clothing would be like a criminal taking pride in his handcuffs. We need to practice moderation.
To moderation add modesty. Clothes, if used effectively, help us look good by covering up some of our flaws. Clothing should be used to make us look attractive, but not at the detriment of modesty. There are always modest, attractive styles in style. Necklines and hemlines do matter to God. When considering necklines, think of astronauts and fly high. When thinking of hemlines, think of aquanauts and dive low. Unfortunately, many get their astronauts and aquanauts completely turned around. I remember once meeting a pastor’s wife whose neckline was so low that I had to look straight up at the ceiling while talking to her.
I do not advocate dresses to the ankles, ruffles to the chin, or sleeves to the wrist. I rather say saints should prioritize modesty when deciding what to wear.
Do not worry over clothing. Stay mindful of its purpose. It warms and protects from the elements. Show moderation; do not create artificial things to worry about; avoid overspending and ostentation. Be modest; let clothing aid our virtue.