Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:26a “Behold the fowls of the air:. . .”
To help lessen our tendency to worry, Jesus encouraged us to become religious ornithologists, spiritual bird watchers. He wants us to be observant students, attending the school of the birds, and learning from them absolute trust in God.
Matt. 6:26b “. . .for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into
barns;. . .
Birds, incapable of rational forethought, do not practice agricultural methods. They neither plant, harvest, nor store, yet God feeds them. By saying birds cannot farm, Jesus was not promoting laziness. Birds do not cultivate, but certainly are not lazy. They are busy, rising to their labors before we do every morning. Flying back and forth to their nests, they take endless trips, seeking insects and worms. They diligently and persistently exert themselves, foraging for food.
Jesus was saying birds have less chance to prepare and stockpile food than we do, yet they do not worry. Nor should we. If God takes care of creatures who can not plant and harvest, how much more will He take care of those who can?
Matt. 6:26c “. . .yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.”
Note, He is “your” Father, not theirs. God is not the Father of irrational creatures in the same sense He is our Father. In God’s cosmic house, birds are as adornments, people are the children. “Shall the great housekeeper of the world water his flowers, prune his plants, fodder his cattle, and not feed and clothe his children? Never think it” (Trapp). One who provides for pets will not neglect His own offspring. “He that feeds his birds surely will not starve his babes” (Henry).
No bird falls to the ground without our heavenly Father knowing it (MT 10:29). Ponder, then, how much more often we are on His mind and in His sight. God knows “all the fowls of the mountains” (PS 50:11), and each of us, too.
Birds teach us to work without worry, to do what we can while depending on God. They have only instinct, but use it to their advantage. They do what they are able to do, and expect food to be supplied. When a woodpecker bangs his beak against a tree, he actually expects scared delicious bugs to come scurrying out from under the bark. We, too, need to do what we are enabled to do, trusting God to provide our sustenance. Scripture teaches us to prepare for the future. Plan ahead, go to school, buy insurance, have retirement accounts, make a will. God gave us the ability to think about the future in order to hope, to dream, to be able to plan ahead, but we instead often use this precious ability to fret and stew.
There is nothing wrong with using forethought and planning in order to save for a rainy day. What is forbidden is distrusting God’s providence and doubting His goodness. “Foresight and foreboding are two very different things” (Maclaren). The former helps us plan well, the latter paralyzes good thinking, chokes spiritual insight, and inhibits wise planning. Our duty is to do our best in God’s strength in every situation, and then to leave the results to God. The farmer must plow, and then leave the harvest to God. The student must study, and then leave the grades to God. The businessman must plan, and then leave the results to God.
Jesus’ desire for us is use of means coupled with peace of mind. He wants us to labor, but not to be distressed or oppressed. Jesus wants us to learn this lesson from the birds: work hard, do what you can, trust God, and do not worry.
Birds trust God according to their ability without anxiety. No wonder God ordained them to be the ones to fill our world with music. Scripture says birds “sing among the branches” (PS 104:12b). In China, one of our group began asking, “It’s quiet here; where are the birds?” We later learned Mao in one of his fits of insanity ordered all birds to be killed, resulting in an unnatural, eerie silence.
The birds sing, for their hearts are carefree, trusting in God. Shame on us humans for letting worry silence our praise. By the Lord’s grace, let us strive to work hard, do what we can, plan ahead, trust God, worry less, and sing more. Civilla Martin lifts our spirits in the right direction:
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.
Matt. 6:26d “Are ye not much better than they?”
The verdict of our Master, the Creator of the Universe, is clear: people are a nobler order than birds. People are life’s highest species. When God took a form other than His own, He donned human flesh. We are dearer to God than birds are. Jesus said, “Ye are of more value than many sparrows” (MT 10:31). People are created in God’s image, and thus worth more than everything else in the creation.
This distinctive Christian teaching is the foundation for America’s belief in the dignity and importance of the individual. People, not governments or institutions, are supreme. Not even other creatures rise to the status of human beings.
This does not mean we have a license to be careless with our environment. I often grieve that such a small number of evangelical Bible-believing Christians are in the environmental protection movement. People are stewards of the creation. It was entrusted to us by God, and we shall answer to Him someday for how we handled this stewardship. Air and water should be clean. Animals should not be abused. The Bible says, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast” (PR 12:10). We believers have a responsibility to take care of the environment.
However, having said this, we also have to say plants and animals are not equal to human beings. Trees, flowers, dogs, cats, horses, and owls are not as sacred as human beings. Laboratory animals are not equal to people. If transplanting a baboon’s heart can save a person’s life, the procedure should be done.
As our culture loses the supremacy of human worth, we are all paying a heavy price. A lower view of human life has spawned many of our social evils, including abortion on demand, euthanasia, kids killing kids and parents, adults abusing adults and children. Before we can harm another human being, we must devalue them in our estimation. We need to learn again that human life, in every form, at every age, at every stage of development, is sacred before God.
We can thank the theory of evolution being taught as fact as the source of many of our social ills. Evolution de-humanizes humanity. As the Biblical view of our species is discarded, the dignity of people fades. The Bible lifts humanity to its highest level of significance. We will be able to regain and promulgate the true greatness and dignity of people only if we accept the truth of Holy Writ.