Tough Stuff: Escaping the Trap of Wealth Worry (Matthew 6:25-34)

Sunday, January 11th, 2009
Sermon Series: Tough Stuff

Sermon Manuscript …

Tough Stuff - Difficult Truths from the Bible

Escaping the Trap of Wealth Worry

Tough Stuff–Difficult to give–Matthew 6:25-34

This was a great day for any farmer–he announced to his family that their best cow had given birth to twin calves, one brown, one white.  Overflowing with joy and generosity, he also told them he had already dedicated one of them to the Lord.  They would raise both of them, then sell both of them and give the proceeds from one of the cows entirely to the Lord.  His wife asked which calf was going to be dedicated to the Lord, and he said there is no need to decide that now, we will treat them both in the same way and when the time comes we will give one away.

Off he went to continue his morning labors.  Two months later at breakfast time he entered the kitchen again, but this time looking miserable and unhappy.  When his wife asked him what was the matter he said, “I have sad news to give you–the Lord’s calf is dead.”

Let’s be honest–all of us struggle to some degree with materialism.  With money, possessions, ownership and the things of this world, and Jesus knew we would struggle.  That’s why He said so much about it.  Of the thirty-eight parables in the New Testament, sixteen are on how we handle our money.  Christ said more about money and possessions than about heaven and hell combined.  In the gospels, one out of every ten verses deals with money or goods–288 verses in all.  And in the Bible there are more than 500 references to prayer, plus less than 500 references to faith–but there are more than 2,000 references to wealth and possessions.

No matter what country we live in, and no matter what time we live in, we need to hear what God says about money and possessions–and I believe you will agree with me when I say we desperately need to hear what God says about this issue today in the USA, now more than ever.  You know what’s going on in our economy, and I have heard many of you express fears of what it may mean for our future.

If I lose my job, will I also lose my house, my retirement, my ability to provide for my family?  People I trust have homes in foreclosure, is it only a matter of time ‘til it happens to me?  Man, Mom and Dad are sure a lot tighter when it comes to allowance, trips, sports and money in general, what’s going on?  I keep pumping money into my 401(k), but the total is going down–will all of my investment disappear if the stock market plummets?  Every time I go to the grocery store the cost of milk, eggs and bread gets higher–where am I going to get the extra money?  Rumor has it my company is planning to downsize–there’s no way I can survive if I get laid off or have to take a pay cut.  It’s been said the difference between childhood and adulthood is financial worry, and the top argument-starter in marriage, is money.

So what does Jesus have to say to help us?  Take your outline and open your Bibles to Matthew 6:25 to 34.  Jesus is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount–the greatest sermon ever preached exposing the external rule, keeping religion of the Pharisees, and demonstrating the true faith of a transformed heart.  And in the midst of a series of tests which demonstrate whether you’re in a true internal relationship or merely an external religion, the Lord describes the test of trust.  In verses 25 to 34, Christ says you know what’s in your heart by the level of trust you place in your Father.  Notice the entire passage–there are two main commands which give you the author’s intended message.

The main command is verse 25, DO NOT WORRY, and the concluding main command in verse 33, DO SEEK THE LORD FIRST–a do not command and a do command, a flee this and a pursue this.  Christ wants you to stop worrying and start seeking.  Both are essential–too many Christians focus on the do not’s and skip the do’s.  But there is no victory or blessing or peace unless you do both.  You not only need to stop worrying, but one of the big ways to stop worrying is to start to, and continue to, seek the Lord first.

You are not merely to put out fires, you are to plant something.  You are not merely to stop the bad habit but start a better one.  Just stopping a bad thing leaves a vacuum, and you need to fill it with a do.  You and I need both.  Jesus starts here with the stopping first.

#1  Don’t be worrying about your needs

Verse 25, “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?”  Don’t be anxious is don’t worry, and the tense tells us Jesus is saying stop worrying.  Later in verse 31 he tells us don’t start worrying.  So if you’re worrying, stop it—and if you haven’t started worrying, don’t.

Worry is like a rocking chair–it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.  The English term worry comes from an old German word meaning to strangle or choke.  That is exactly what worry does–it is an emotional strangulation resulting in all kinds of problems.  So Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious for your life.”   Life here is describing this temporal, external, physical life that involves eating, drinking, clothing and housing–stop worrying about your life now.

And Jesus starts verse 25 with “For this reason” which takes us backwards to verses 19 to 24.  Earthly treasure is corrupt–it blinds you to what God wants you to see.  So Jesus says you have to choose between God and money–you can’t have both.  Why?  Earthly treasures corrupt you, blind your spiritual vision, and tend to draw you away from serving God.  Therefore, or for this reason, don’t worry about those kinds of things–that should not be your preoccupation.

You say, “Well can’t we at least worry about the basics, if not the luxuries–what about my house, kids or paycheck?”  Verses 19 to 24 say if you’re a child of God you have a single goal, treasure in heaven–you have a single vision, seeing God’s purposes proclaimed—and you have a single Master, you serve God alone, not money.  Therefore do not become preoccupied with the things of this world.

What is He talking about?  Read on in verse 25 as to “what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on.”  Hey, I don’t worry about that–what’s the big deal, some of you say.  We have two refrigerators full of food, and plenty of supermarkets open 24/7, tap water and bottled water in abundance, Lake Skinner right next door, and a closet full of clothes and shoes for every season.

Yet if you lived when Jesus spoke these words, you’d have a different perspective.  There were times the snows didn’t fall in the mountains and the result was the streams would totally dry up in summer–then there was no water.  Crops sometimes failed, locusts would come, animals would migrate–there’d be no food anywhere to eat.  When that happened, your income dried up with it.  You could not purchase clothing and might lose your land and shelter with it.  It was a real possibility for people to lose all their resources to live on.

So to say don’t worry to people who were totally dependent upon the natural resources surrounding them–to say don’t worry to those who lived on the edge of a desert, to say do not worry about your food, drink or clothing to those people is a shocking statement.  How much more should we who live in abundance see our worrying about our wealth as sin?  So Jesus adds to the end of verse 25, “is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?”  Jesus says our life here in a body is more than food and clothing.

Have you heard anyone ask, “Is this all there is to life?”  Most people here are totally consumed with the body–decorating it, fixing it up, painting it, clothing it, taking care of it, putting it in a nice car, protecting it in a nice house, stuffing it full of good tasting food, sitting it in a nice chair, hanging a bunch of jewelry all over it, piercing it, painting it, growing hair on it, coloring the hair already on it, taking it out on a boat, taking it skiing, soaking it in the tub, washing it in a shower, resting it in a bed.  Yet the body isn’t the end of everything–life is not contained in this body.  Life is contained in the very nature of God.

I live, not because my body lives, but because God gives my body life.  Life is more than the body–more than food, more than clothes.  It’s Christ–to me to live is Christ.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  If we don’t see that life is Christ, we will seek other things.  And Jesus tells us we can trust Him to take care of those other things.  Jesus gives us three reasons not to worry about our needs.

First  Trust the Lord for your food since He takes care of the birds

Verse 26, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”  When my boys were growing up, they never worried about their next meal–that thought never entered their minds.  Their only concern was whether it would be something they liked.  There was always something to eat because I provided it for them, and their amazing mother prepared it for them.

They did have questions on the type of clothes we provided–they were into certain fashions, but Jean and I we were only into the Italian fashions from Walla Marta and French fashions of JC Pennia.  But they never wondered if there’d be clothes to wear.  They also never worried about a place to sleep.  Their dad provided all that.  But I am nothing compared to the faithfulness of our heavenly Father supplying us with what we need.

So Jesus tells us there is no need to worry by first using an illustration of food and God’s provision for the birds.  Verse 26 starts with a command, “Look at the birds of the air.”  Picture where Jesus is teaching this sermon, at one of the most beautiful places in Israel–on the north side of the Sea of Galilee.  The sun is shining, water is rippling and a soft breeze is blowing, and as Jesus is teaching in the open air, with people sitting at his feet, there is no doubt birds are flying about, landing and feeding.

So verse 26 continues, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  Every bird in this world lives because God gave it life.  And when God gives life to the bird, He doesn’t say, “Okay, you have life, now you figure out how to maintain it.”  You never see birds loitering together at 7-11 having some smokes, saying to each other, “We have got to come up with a plan to stay alive!”  No, birds have no self-consciousness, no cognitive processes, no ability to reason–but God planted within birds an instinct.  They have a divine capacity to find what is necessary to live.  The point is, God does not just create life–our Father sustains it.

How do birds do it?  Birds don’t just go to the edge of a tree and wait for food to drop in their mouths.  Their God-given instinct tells them where to find it–they go out and work for it.  They get busy searching, gobbling up insects and worms, preparing their nests, caring for their young, teaching them to fly, pushing them out of the nests and migrating with the seasons.  All this work must be done if they are going to eat.  And isn’t it funny, birds never say, “I am going to build a bigger nest,” nor do they overindulge themselves.  And most importantly, they never worry.

It is only people who stockpile, hoard and only people who worry.  Birds don’t worry about where they are going to find their food–they just fly till they find it, and God provides it.  So verse 26 finishes with, “Are you not worth much more than they?”  No bird was ever made in the image of God, no bird is a joint heir with Christ throughout eternity, and no bird has a mansion in heaven.  So if God sustains the life of a bird, don’t you think He’ll take care of you?  Life is a gift from God, and if God gives you the greater gift, which is life–don’t you think He will give you the lesser gift, which is the sustaining of your life with food?  So don’t worry.

Just as God provides for the bird through its instinct, so God provides for man through his work.  Birds act on instinct and collect food, and men act by labor to collect food, but it is God Himself who supplies the food, and everything else we need.  You say, “Wait a minute it was my ideas that got me where I am today.  It was my creativity.”  Who gave you your mind?  God could have made you a vegetable.  “Yeah, but everything I have in life I got because I worked hard”–like Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.”

Now take a breath–go ahead and breathe!  If it weren’t for God, you wouldn’t even get to take your next breath.  If God took His hand of blessing off your life, you wouldn’t even have the health you have to work.  You wouldn’t even have the mind you have to think.  God provides us with all the things we need.

When I was very young, my dad used to take us backpacking (at 10,000 feet).  It was amazing how fun it was.  We enjoyed it so much because of my father’s provision and skill.  When we were cold, he would make us warm with a fire and a bed.  When we were hungry, he would catch fish and cook them.  When were bored, he would invent things for us to do that were fun.

That’s what our heavenly Father does for His children.  God provides for us, so Jesus tells us it’s foolish for us to worry in verse 27, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?”  A cubit is the length from the finger tip to the elbow, about 18 inches.  So Jesus is saying, which of you by worrying can lengthen your life.  We know for a fact that worrying actually shortens your life.  Charles Mayo of the Mayo clinic once said, “Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system.  I have never known a man to die from overwork, but many have died of worry.”  It is foolish to worry.  So much so that Jesus not only provides food, but we are to . . .

Second  Trust the Lord for your clothing since He dresses the flowers

Verse 28 to 30, “And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. 30 But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?”

The only real worry anyone in this room has about clothes is style and color-coordination.  There are people here who actually live for clothes–there are never enough shoes, T-shirts, dresses or suits.  We’ve made a god out of fashion in our culture–just walk the mall and you can observe all the shrines of worship called display windows.  I’ve actually played with charts found in certain stores that were supposed to help you match clothing colors and styles.  Yes I know–they didn’t help.

Now some of you don’t care about clothing at all—personally I hold to the Gilda Radner view of clothing.  I wear what doesn’t itch.  Literally, I base my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.  And it’s true, some days there are young moms so stressed out they’re delighted just to know they have their underwear on–that’s a good day.  But none of us are worried about having enough clothes.

But in the first century having the resources to make clothes or to buy clothes was a real concern–it was a real source of anxiety.  But Jesus tells them not to worry.  It’s like telling us not to worry about our economy or health or whether a single will get married or a young couple will get a house—or not to be concerned what the new president is going to do to the country.

So Christ commands, “Look at how God dresses the flowers.”  Flowers don’t require clothing–they don’t need a needle and thread.  Yet flowers are fantastically delicate, beautiful and intricate, but they don’t require anything to make them so–God dresses them up.  So in verse 29, even the wise, super-rich and experienced king Solomon could never dress up as magnificently as a flower.

When verse 30 says God so arrays the grass of the field, the word arrays means to robe, to dress or to clothe.  And if God would robe the flowers of the grass as magnificently as He has, won’t He clothe His own children?  Aren’t you more important?  Two springs ago, for about two weeks, the hills off I-15 were loaded with so many bright orange flowers, it took your breath away.  But the grass and flowers didn’t last very long–just 14-21 days and they turned brown, got crispy and became a fire hazard.

In the first century when you wanted to start a fire, you’d grab some grass and dried flowers and use that to get the wood flaming to cook, heat the house or fire pottery.  Do you feel the weight of what Jesus is saying?  God will take care of you.  A God who would lavish such beauty on a temporary flower will lavish the necessary clothing on one who is His eternal child.  Don’t worry, don’t give into anxiety, don’t fret and don’t lose sleep.  Trust the Lord for your clothing since He dresses the flowers.  Don’t be (at the end of verse 30) men or women of little faith.

Every time the phrase “men of little faith” is used (four times), it’s always used to describe no trust about food, clothing or life span, as it is here.  If you can trust God to save you from your sin, deliver you from Satan, keep you from eternal punishment in hell–Jesus says you should easily be able to trust Me for the basics of food, clothing or life.  It’s crazy to think you can trust God for the great act of salvation, but then worry about whether He’ll provide a bit to eat or clothes to wear.  And Jesus makes this clear when He says . . .

Third  Trust the Lord since He already knows your need

Verses 31 and 32, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ 32 For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”  Again, Jesus says don’t start worrying about food, drink or clothing.  Verse 32 is literally, the pagans seek their gods over these things.  The idea of seeking is “an all-out” passionate appeal.  They really want their material needs met by the gods they invent.  But sadly the pagan gods don’t know and don’t care.

But Jesus says your Father does know, and by implication, does care.  God does know your need–He knows everything about you.  Psalm 139:1 to 4, “O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me. 2 Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thought from afar. 3 Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, and art intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all.”

God is omniscient–He knows everything.  “You mean when I said those gossipy things to my friend?”  He knows it.  “When I closed my door and watched that stuff?”  He knows it.  “When I feel all alone, like no one cares?”  He knows it.  “Those times I doubted His care and really let fear take over?”  He knows it.  What about foreclosures, job losses, no savings and a sick economy . . . what?  He knows it.  And the good news is, not only does God know everything, but 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”  Our car doesn’t start, we are out of cash, the kids get hurt, we ruin a blouse, the dog makes a mess, and what do we do?  We forget God knows and God cares–so what should we do?  Do not worry, and . . .

#2  Do seek Christ first

Read verse 33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”  Simply get your life focused on the eternal spiritual priorities, and God Himself will take care of your physical needs.  In contrast to the do not command (do not worry), Jesus now gives a do command–do seek first His kingdom.  How do you stop worrying?  By continually seeking, searching, looking, pursuing and striving for His kingdom and His righteousness.

As Jesus says this, He starts with a contrast–the first word in verse 33, de (but) is best translated rather.  Rather than worrying, rather than being like the pagans, rather than being of little faith, rather than worrying about the future, rather than seeking possessions and money seek first Christ’s kingdom.  The Greek word first means first in line of more than one option.  No other options compare to Christ’s kingdom or righteousness–this is the highest priority and the most important.

Now this is a familiar verse, but make sure you understand it correctly.  Jesus is talking about salvation and the Gospel here.  He is talking about being our Lord and our Savior.  His kingdom means He’s Lord, and His righteousness means He’s Savior.  He is talking about trusting Christ alone to save us and provide for us.  Instead of living under the rule of the Romans, the Jews wanted to be ruled by their own leaders–but Jesus says to live under His rule.  Notice it is His kingdom.  It will be His rule now and someday His physical rule for a thousand years.

When the Jews present at the Sermon on the Mount hear kingdom, they think rule–Roman rule, Jewish rule and now Jesus rule.  They think obedience to, submitting to, and following that rule.  And Jesus adds, instead of trying to be right with God through their own righteousness, by the so-called righteousness supposedly gained by keeping the traditions of the Jewish faith.  So Jesus now calls His listeners to live by His righteousness.

Remember the point of the Sermon on the Mount is to debunk the false religion of the Pharisees who were trying to earn their own way.  They were trying to be good enough to get to God, to be righteous enough to be acceptable to God and go to heaven.  But Jesus says true followers of God trust only Christ’s way to get right with God and go to heaven.  You have to be perfect to be right with God and go to heaven, so Jesus says you will not make it on your own efforts–you must depend on God’s perfect righteousness.

This is what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  While on the cross, Jesus took all the punishment for the sins of His children upon Himself and satisfied God’s anger over our sin.  Now if you turn to Christ and trust Him alone for salvation, He takes your sin upon Himself and gives you His perfect righteousness so you can stand perfect before a perfect God now and forever.  And Jesus tells us if we continually submit to His rule alone and trust in His righteousness alone to make us right with God, then as we depend on Him, as our Lord and Savior, He will provide all our other needs, like food, clothing and life.  So He promises at the end of verse 33, “and all these things shall be added to you.”

If we’re in Christ, we don’t have to worry about where we are going to get our food, our clothing, or fear for our lives, as Jesus says in verse 34, “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Jesus says, don’t worry about the future, the future is going to have its own trouble.  Just wait until you get to it.  C.H. Spurgeon says, “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”

There is going to be trouble in the future–all you pessimists are right.  But that is where your pessimism must stop–if you are saved you have a heavenly Father who is going to care for you.  He will provide not all your wants, but all your needs as you pursue Him as your Lord (His kingdom) and your Savior (His righteousness).  Therefore do not worry, and if you are worrying, stop it now.  And to obey, God wants you to respond in an unusual way–ready?

First  Remind yourself daily that God knows what’s going on

He is in control of you, our city, state, nation and world—and He cares for you as His child.  As you daily act on that belief you can trust Him to provide what you need.  Something breaks down, goes wrong, blows up, hurts you, or you lose your job, your house, your money, your retirement, remind yourself–God is in control of what is happening.  He knows every detail, motive and cause, and He cares for you.

Listen Christian worrier, worry is not a small sin, an acceptable sin, an “everyone does it so it’s okay” sin.  Worry is an attack on the very character of God.  Every time you worry, you’re saying to Jesus, “I believe you died for me and will bring me home to heaven someday, but for today and with this issue, I will not trust you.”

Some of you need to study the Word more so you can find out who God really is.  And the rest of you who know the Word well need to be refreshed in the Word every day so you are ready to rely on His truth, and can be 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”

Second  Readjust your understanding of wealth

Biblical wealth is having more food than you can eat, more shelter than you need to live, and more clothing than you need to stay warm.  Everyone in this room is wealthy–we are a wealthy nation.  Many who have lost jobs or lose a home in our culture are still biblically wealthy.  We have to readjust our understanding of wealth.  Your possessions and money are not yours–you are stewards.  You will not take anything with you to heaven.

You have never seen a hearse pull a trailer, right?  So what are you worried about?  God will take care of you, God will take care of your children, and God will take care of His Church.  We are to be content with food, clothing and shelter.  Christians and churches are not responsible to pay each other’s mortgages, but you may someday consider having another family live with you to provide shelter or put someone up in a hotel or shelter, who knows?  Christians and churches are not responsible to pay someone’s gas bill, but you may give your best clothes to another so they can stay warm.  Christians and churches are not responsible to buy someone liquor, but you should be willing to buy them a meal or provide food coupons.  Jesus does not require us to provide each other with wealth, but we are called upon to provide each other with food, clothing and shelter.  We can help in other areas, but Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:8, “And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.”

Third  Examine your own heart over money and material things

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says what you do with your money and possessions is a test of your heart.  In fact, Christ says in verse 21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Christ says He knows a lot about our hearts by what we do with our treasure.  There are two treasure chests in this life.

#1 The treasure chest of this world says life is all about being a winner through achievement, possessions, money, popularity, climbing the ladder, and having men’s applause.

#2 The treasure chest of Christ’s eternal kingdom.  People who are fired up about God’s kingdom live in a way in which they sense God’s smile.  They invest in God’s purposes through love, servanthood, and giving of themselves for Christ’s cause.

I can tell where the affections of your heart are pointed just by looking at two pieces of your equipment–your calendar and your credit card bill (if you’re younger, your spending money).  Jesus says if your calendar and checkbook reflect that your primary investments are this world system, that’s a bad heart indicator.  But if your calendar shows blocks of time invested in God’s system and blocks of money invested in God’s purposes, those are good signs.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can give very little to God’s purposes financially and still claim to be a healthy Christian.

What do your checkbook and calendar say about your heart?  And check your heart when it comes to specific material things.  Ever taken your young kids to Toys R Us and watched them lose control and want everything?  You’d think we’d grow out of it, but when some of us go into Barnes and Noble our heart still loses it.  Or to an auto parts store, golf store, sports store, music store, jewelry store, clothing store, car dealership, computer store, and for a few women here, any store–like Teddy going up San Juan Hill . . . charge it!

You know things are a problem when you start using words like my and mine.  Yet who gave all of that to you?  God did.  It’s just on loan to us.  God owns everything.  As the Bible says in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Trusting God as the owner of all your things really does deliver you from worry.  If you own something in your heart and you lose it or fear you will lose it, then you’ll always be insecure.  But if God owns it and you merely manage it for Him, then you can be secure in the fact that the One who will provide all you need and is in control of everything will also give you His possessions and take away His possessions when it is best for you and for Him.  There is incredible security in owning nothing, but only in managing them for our God.  When the car gets wrecked, now you can say, “It’s your car, Lord!”

Fourth  Salvation is God’s answer to worry

Jesus is talking about turning to, depending upon, trusting in, following Him when He says in verse 33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”  If your entire focus is this earth, then you will always be worried about material things, money and possessions.  But if you seek Christ, His rule over you and His righteous standing before God and not your own, then you can be freer from the pull of possessions.  But you must come to Him on His terms, not yours.  Turn from your sin, living life your way, and depend by faith in Christ alone to make you right with God–and once He does, He says He will take care of you.  So what is there to worry about?  George Mueller says, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, but the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”


ABOUT THIS PREACHER

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.
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