The Folly of Worrying

September 14, 2008 / No. 3428

Dear radio friends,

Matthew, chapters 5-7, make up a sermon Jesus preached during His earthly ministry. It is called the Sermon on the Mount, and it is filled with all kinds of instruction concerning our life in this world. The passage we are going to consider today is one such passage. It addresses our calling as believers in these uncertain economic times. In verses 25 and 26 of Matthew 6, we read: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”

There is a fact of creation that is clearly implied by Jesus in these words that He speaks to us. And that fact is this: man is inseparably connected to this creation. God created us in this fashion. It does not take much to recognize this fact. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day of the week out of the dust of the ground and after everything else had been created. Man was, so to speak, the crown of all God’s creation. All things were created first, thus setting the stage for man to be placed on the earth to live and multiply. Man is dependent upon creation to live. In fact, not only does man have to do with creation strictly from a physical point of view, that is, for his earthly existence since he is one creature among others, but, believe it or not, this earthly creation is intimately connected to the fall of man into sin and his final redemption in Christ.

Remember, when Adam fell into sin the earth was cursed for his sake. At Christ’s death, the earth shook, as well as at the time of His resurrection. In Romans 8:21 and 22, we read this concerning the earthly creation: “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

In the last day, when Christ shall come, we must remember as well that this present earthly creation, though destroyed, will not be totally annihilated. It will be redeemed and made into a new heavens and a new earth.

So man is intimately connected with this creation, physically as well as spiritually. And what is important to bear in mind is that there is a mutual dependence that the two have upon each other. On the one hand, man is called by God to replenish the earth and subdue it in the service of God. He is to use this creation, develop it, cultivate it, and replenish it with the fruit of the ground. This is man’s cultural mandate: to use and develop this earthly creation in the service of God. And in this way the creation depends on man.

On the other hand, man is, in turn, entirely dependent upon this creation. He needs it for food, clothing, shelter, and so on. Man is of this earth earthy. He is a creature inter-related with other creatures and dependent upon them. In this way man is no different from the animals and the plants.

But there is a major difference between us and the animals. God created man a rational, moral creature. He has given us a mind and a will. He has given us thoughts and desires. This means that we, apart from other creatures, are given the ability to use the creation intelligently for our purposes and designs. We are able to experiment with creation, develop it in such a way that we can utilize it to its fullest extent and subdue this creation. Man prepares the earth. He sows the seed; he cultivates the ground; he harvests it; he stores it so he can have food in plenty. And if this present creation had remained perfect, as it was before the fall of man into sin, there would have been no stopping man in using this present creation to its fullest potential, in a perfect and pleasing way, in the service of God.

But this was not to be, according to the eternal counsel of God for all things. Man fell into sin, the creation was cursed, and, as a result, the ground brought forth thorns and thistles. Ever since the fall, man has had to labor diligently, by the sweat of his face, to eke out a living in this world. He can labor very hard, but this does not guarantee that the earth will produce what he has planned for it. Because of the fall of man into sin, we face uncertainty in our lives. Along with this is the fact that you and I are no longer perfect. Man has fallen into the depravity of sin and unbelief. And that, too, is a reason for uncertainty in life. You see, instead of depending on God for the increase of the earth and what it affords, man depends upon his own arm of flesh. In unbelief, man uses this creation not in the service of God but in the service of his own name and in the service of sin. Though the child of God is redeemed and delivered from sin and unbelief, nevertheless he yet carries with him the old man of sin. And that old man of sin in us so often, in fact too often, falls into the same error as the unbeliever. Then you and I too, instead of looking to God, begin to look to ourselves and our own ability to make ends meet in this world. And when that happens, everything becomes uncertain once again. Who are we to predict what we are able to do in another year?

Then there is also another uncertainty. We begin to use our jobs as a means to accumulate unto ourselves more and more of this earth’s possessions. We set ourselves goals that often times are far beyond our means or, at least, push our means to their limits, all because we use God’s creation to accomplish our own ends. So, because of sin, we create another uncertainty. And in creating that, we can become worrisome in this life. That uncertainty is: Will we have enough money to fulfill all of our earthly desires (not our needs, now, but our desires)?

And along with this sin, along with the curse of God on creation, and along with our desire to want more of this earth’s goods, comes that sin of worrying. Ah, yes. Worry. That is a sin, you realize. Worry means to be filled with anxiety and fear for the future. This is a term used by Jesus in the passage we consider. When He says, “Take no thought,” He is not saying that we may not take any thought of the future. He is saying that we may not worry or become anxious over what shall be. A modern euphemism for the term “worry” is stress. We are filled with stress over our lives.

To worry is to be troubled with the cares of this world to the point of fatigue and even depression. It is to become worked up over what will be before it even happens. That is worry. It is the very opposite of trusting in God, the very opposite of letting God take care of us. And that is why we need to hear the Word of God in this passage, too. Let’s face it, people of God, all of us, because of sin, worry at times about the future. We all face the question of whether in the year to come, for example, we may possibly lose everything that we have or whether we are going to have enough to pay the bills or not. And much of the time we react in unbelief by worrying about these things.

We begin to “take thought for the morrow.” We become troubled about our future—will we have enough to eat, will we be able to clothe our family properly, will we be able to find adequate shelter? And this worrying increases especially when the economy seems to be failing us, when we look at our pocketbooks to see whether we have enough money to fill a tank of gas. Then we begin to worry.

In the verse we consider, Jesus makes us see the utter folly in worrying about the future, in order that we can pray in faith and hope. As we who hold down jobs look ahead at the means that God has given us to support ourselves and our families, we must fully understand the folly in worrying about these things—worrying about whether we will have enough to care for our families. Jesus points out this folly, this shallowness of faith, this unnecessary anxiety. He does this by showing to us two indisputable facts.

In the first place, our Savior points out the folly of worry when He says to us at the very end of verse 25: “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” In asking us this question, Jesus uses the argument from the greater to the less. Is not our life much more important, much greater, than the food needed to nourish it? Is not our body, in which our life is found, much more important, much greater, than the clothing we wear to protect it and cover it? If God gives something as important as life, and places us in this present creation to live, is it not foolish to think that He will not supply what is necessary to sustain that life? That is what Jesus means. Will God, who gave us our life, fail in His providential care over us to give us the little food that we need to live? Oh, we must realize, of course, that it does not take as much to fulfill this need as we think it might. This is why, when we pray to our Father in heaven, we ask Him to give to us only our daily bread. Nothing more. Just food necessary for life.

Then the question is: Has He ever failed to do that for us? Are we so foolish to think that He will fail to do that in, let us say, the year to come? Yes, He may withhold wealth; He may withhold what we would like to have. We may not be able to sit down and eat as sumptuously as we have in the past. But God will give us enough to keep us, enough so that we are able to support our lives in this world. God, in His providence, provides His creatures that which they need to live.

The same is true when it comes to clothing and shelter. God gives us our physical bodies as a tremendous gift to us. And we cherish them, as we ought. Well, if God gives us something as valuable as our bodies, ought we not to believe that He will see to it that our bodies receive covering and shelter from the weather? God has given us raiment and shelter, more than sufficient, in the past. What makes us think that He might possibly not do so in the future? He may not give us as fancy a house as we want. And, let’s face it, in our society, the trend is toward buying a nice, fancy house. God may not give us as many outfits to wear as we may covet. And, again, the stores are filled with those kinds of dresses and clothing. But then, it does not take as much to clothe and cover us as we may think. And we can be sure that God will give us what we need to clothe and shelter ourselves in the future. Why then worry if God is going to provide? The fact is that God will, in His providential care for us as His creatures, provide for us.

So Jesus assures us in this passage that worrying is folly, first of all because of God’s providential care over us. And if we are not yet assured of this, then Jesus tells us to turn to the birds of the air and the lilies of the valley for an example of His care. Not a bird can fall from its nest except by the will of our Father. The birds do not sow, neither do they reap or gather into barns, but take a look at God’s providential care over them. Consider them! God sees to it that they have food and nests and that not one of them will die until He so chooses. Will the same not be true of us?

Consider the lilies. Consider that extremely beautiful flower with its sweet fragrance. The lilies need not worry that God will clothe them. He does. And He does that so extravagently that they exceed in beauty the garments of Solomon.

What need is there then for us to worry? God will provide. God will see to it that the crops will produce what is sufficient to feed us. God will see to it that we have clothing and raiment sufficient for the future. What a wonderful way to view our lives. What assurance that gives us in our prayers as we come to God asking Him to care for us in this life.

If that does not give us enough assurance (and it should), then Jesus adds one more truth that holds for every one who is a child of God. The believer can have this great assurance. The believer can! God is our Father. Christ refers to this at the end of verse 26. There He speaks of God as our heavenly Father. He does this when He reminds us that we are of much more value to our Father than the birds of the air. This is what Jesus means when He says, “Are ye not much better than they?” Jesus wants each one of His believing children to know that we are worth much more than any other creature in this world, including most men, because, after all, we are God’s very own children. Let us not forget that either, as we plan for the future. God is our heavenly Father! From eternity, in His great, great love for us, He has chosen us to be His very own people in Christ. He has chosen us in Christ to share in blessed fellowship and communion with Him, chosen us to share eternity with Him. He has adopted us in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why God did not leave us in the corruption and guilt of sin and despair. God loved His people so much that He gave His only begotten Son to die the accursed death in order to deliver them from the clutches of sin and hell. He did not leave us in our unbelief and misery. Instead, He adopted us in the very blood of Jesus Christ and gave us to believe on Him. How did He adopt us through His blood? By taking away our guilt, by making us righteous before Him. Christ paid the price of sin, and He reconciled us to God so that we who were at one time alienated from God, and who were at one time spiritual orphans, have now been brought nigh to God in the blood of Christ, adopted in His blood. We who deserved nothing of His hand received the greatest gift of all in the death and resurrection of Christ. We were made to be God’s children, members of His household and family. And if God, in His great love, went through all this on our behalf, what makes us ever think that He will not provide that which we need in the year to come?

Are we of so little faith? God loves His people in Christ. We are the apple of His eye—His pride and joy. We are His children. As a Father, God will care for us as no earthly father can, because He is our heavenly Father. Earthly fathers may want to take care of their children and give them what they need. And they may work hard and strive to do it, but at times they cannot do it because, after all, they are only human. God is not a man. God is a heavenly Father. And He is able to provide us with all things, and willing, being a faithful Father.

Our Father has created all things and sustains them by His power and might. He directs all of nature. There is not one thing that can grow or die but according to the divine will of God. He reigns in the heavens. There is not one event that takes place in your or my life except that He sends it. And if this God is our Father, if this God is for us, then what, people of God, can ever be against us in this world? There is nothing for us to worry about, nothing for us to become anxious over or to “take thought of,” there is nothing at all that should trouble our hearts and fill them with care. We ought to be filled with childlike faith and trust in Jehovah. We pray, in that faith, nothing doubting. And, after praying, then we rest in God and are content in the way that He leads us.

Let us come before our Father in prayer.

Our gracious and eternal Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast provided everything that we need. We ask that Thou wilt give us this day our daily bread. And in confidence we go forth in our lives knowing that Thou wilt provide for us everything that is necessary for body and soul. Teach us, Father, also to be humble and to realize that we must desire of Thee only those things that are necessary for this life lest we be filled with worry and discontentment. When we are, forgive us, for the sake of Christ and work in us faith, not doubting that Thou will indeed care for us as our heavenly Father. We ask these things in Jesus’ name alone, Amen.