There are some kings who find it very effective to keep their subjects in constant anxiety. If the people are anxious about their life, and worry about where their next meal is coming from, then perhaps they will be more willing to do the king’s bidding in order to get the food they need from the king’s storehouse. Anxiety keeps them in their place. Fear makes the monarchy firm.
God’s Kingship and Our Anxiety
But one of the greatest things about Jesus is that he does not want his people to be anxious. The main point of today’s text is that God does not secure his kingship by cultivating anxiety. On the contrary, the aim of God’s kingship is to free us from anxiety. God doesn’t need to keep us anxious in order to establish his power and superiority. Instead, he exalts his power and superiority by working to take away our anxiety.
If you are born again, if you have turned away from sin and are following Jesus as Lord in the obedience of faith, his will for you this morning is that you not be anxious about anything, but that you enjoy deep serenity and peace and security. Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 6:24–34 precisely for you — to help you overcome whatever is making you anxious this morning.
Our Common Struggle
I suppose I chose this text today for myself as much as for anybody. I feel anxious every time I come back from vacation. It feels like it used to when I went back to school after a long summer. I wasn’t sure I would still be able to write. Or maybe this new teacher would require a lot of oral book reviews in front of the class.
But my struggle with anxiety is not just at the end of vacations. I wake up anxious virtually every morning. It’s probably some weird quirk in my personality, or maybe some remnant of imbalanced parental upbringing, or more likely because there is sin in my mind and heart every day. Whatever the reason, it is a very real experience that I hate and have to deal with every day. So this sermon is for me. I will probably check this tape out of the library in a few weeks and listen to it early some morning when I am bouncing on my jogger before breakfast.
But I know it’s not just my problem. I got a letter from a young woman in another state last week, who had just broken off a relationship with a man because he simply did not take any spiritual leadership in their relationship. She closed her letter like this, “I want so to live a life that honors God, and it was easy to go off for awhile in a dream, thinking of being a wife and mother. But without a man who truly relies on God, it is nothing, only heartache. Sometimes I lose hope that there are men who really do live like that — but I know there are. So I will continue to trust in God’s best for me.” There are a lot of young people who are anxious about whether they will ever get married.
I got another letter last week from David Jaeger, one of our missionaries who serves in Liberia. David was very honest about some of the struggles of living in the village with the Gola people. He said, “As I look to the future of our work here in Liberia I feel very anxious. I wonder if the Muslims will listen to our explanations with an open heart. Will they believe? I worry about the handful of believers here. Will they change some of their ways and walk in obedience? Language study is a continual source of anxiety, as is preparation for Bible studies and sermons . . . etc.” Missionaries get anxious, young people get anxious, pastors get anxious, everybody gets anxious.
“Jesus has made himself king over us to take away our anxiety.”
We need a word from the Lord Jesus this morning to remind us that his kingship is not built on the anxiety of his people. He has made himself king over us for the very opposite purpose, namely, to take away our anxiety. In my own life, the sheer statement from the Lord that he does not want me to be anxious has a great tendency to give me peace. But when you add to it the reasons he gives why we don’t need to be anxious, his word becomes tremendously powerful. So let’s spend the rest of our time looking at some of these reasons in Matthew 6:24–34.
Do Not Be Anxious
Everybody can see plainly that the main point of this text is that disciples of Jesus should not be anxious. Verse 25: “Do not be anxious about your life.” Verse 31: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’” Verse 34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” So one thing should ring in your ears when you leave this morning, namely, “Jesus does not want me to be anxious.”
But that is just the negative way of stating the main point of this passage. There is a positive way found in verse 33, namely, instead of being anxious, “Seek first God’s kingdom.” In other words, when you think about your life or your food or your clothes or your spouse or your job or your mission, don’t fret about them. Instead, make God the king in that affair and in that moment, and hand over the situation to his kingly power and do his righteous will with the confidence that he will work for you and meet all your needs.
To seek the kingship of God first in every affair and every moment of life is a thrilling way to live. It’s full of freedom and peace and joy and adventure — and hardship, and it’s worth it all. If you believe in the kingship of your heavenly Father, you do not need to be anxious about anything. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
Eight Reasons to Combat Anxiety
I see at least eight reasons Jesus gives why his disciples should not be anxious. Time is short, but I will try to mention them all. Who knows which one might be perfectly crafted to meet your special need?
1. Life Is More Than Food and Clothing
The first is given in verse 25: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.” Why? “Because life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” What does this mean?
Why do we tend to get anxious about food and clothing? Because there are three things that we would lose if we did not have food and clothing. First, we would lose some pleasures. Food tastes good. It is pleasurable to eat. Second, we would lose some human praise and admiring glances if we didn’t have nice clothes. Third, we would lose long life if we had no food at all or weren’t protected from the cold with warm clothes. So we get anxious about food and clothing because we don’t want to lose physical pleasures or human praise or length of life.
“If you are gripped by anxiety, you have lost sight of the greatness of life.”
And to this Jesus responds: if you are gripped by anxiety over these things, you have lost sight of the greatness of life. Life was not given primarily for physical pleasures, but for something greater — the enjoyment of God. Life was not given primarily for the approval of man, but for something greater — the approval of God. Life was not even given primarily for extension on this earth, but for something greater — eternity with God in the age to come.
We ought not to be anxious about food and clothing because food and clothing can not provide the great things of life — the enjoyment of God, the pursuit of his gracious favor, the hope of eternity in his presence. We get anxious about food and clothing to the same degree that we lose sight of the great purposes of a God-centered life.
2. The Birds Rely on God
The second reason Jesus gives for not being anxious is in verse 26: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” What we see when we look at the birds is not a lesson in laziness. They dig their worms and snatch their bugs and pad their nests with strings and leaves. But Jesus says it is God that feeds them. What we see when we look at the birds is a creature who does not act as though God is only a merciful provider for today but won’t be tomorrow. Birds don’t anxiously horde things for the day of God’s demise. They go about their work as though when the sun comes up tomorrow, God will still be God.
How much more, then, should we reckon with the reality and mercy of God tomorrow, since we are not brute birds, but children of our heavenly Father. The biggest difference between a disciple of Jesus and a bird is that we have the capacity of honoring God by our faith. And God values the exercise of our faith more than he values birds. So we ought not to be anxious because the birds have taught us that God can be counted on to work for us tomorrow just as much as today.
3. Anxiety Is Useless
The third reason not to be anxious is in verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” The argument is very pragmatic: anxiety doesn’t get you anywhere. It doesn’t do you any good. Whatever problem is causing you to feel anxious, you can be sure your anxiety will not lessen the problem. It will only make you miserable while you try to deal with it. So don’t be anxious. It’s useless.
4. God Delights to Adorn
The fourth reason Jesus gives for not being anxious is in verses 28–30 — this time from the lilies.
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
When you look at a lily, which has no will of its own to labor and spin, yet adorned with beautiful form and color, if you believe in God, you must draw at least this one conclusion: God delights to adorn things. But if his delight finds expression in adorning grass, that’s here today and gone tomorrow, then surely his delight in adornment will express itself in how he clothes his children!
“When we have finished carrying our crosses on torn shoulders in this life like Jesus, there will be kingly robes for us all.”
But someone may protest: “God has not adorned me! He has not adorned the poor Christians of our land or overseas.” Are you sure? Very few of us are dressed like Solomon. True. But we couldn’t do our work if we were. I would only ask this question: Where have you ever seen a disciple of Jesus who did not have the adornment he needed to do what God had called him to do? Be careful. Do not measure the perfection of God’s provision by some standard below his calling. And do not forget that when we have finished carrying our crosses on torn shoulders in this life like Jesus, there will be kingly robes for us all.
5. Unbelievers Are Anxious
The fifth and sixth reasons why a follower of Jesus shouldn’t be anxious are given in verse 32: We shouldn’t be anxious about what we eat or drink or wear because “the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Anxiety about the things of this world puts us on the same level with the world of unbelievers. It shows that we are really very much like the world in what makes us happy. And that ought not to be.
6. Your Heavenly Father Knows Your Needs
It also shows that we don’t think our Father in heaven knows our needs. Or perhaps we don’t think he has the heart of a loving Father. Anxiety shows that we are too close to the world and too far from God. So don’t be anxious — the world has nothing eternal to offer, and your loving heavenly Father knows your needs now and forever.
7. God Will Carry Your Burdens
The seventh reason not to be anxious, in verse 33, is that when you seek the kingdom of God first, he works for you and provides all your needs. The best reason to stop being anxious is that when you do, God starts being anxious for you. It’s such a foolish thing to insist on carrying anxious burdens which God has promised to carry for us when we put his kingly honor first in everything we do.
8. A Portion for Each Day
The last argument in verse 34 says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” In other words, God has appointed to each day its portion of pleasure and trouble. And as your days so shall your strength be. So don’t misappropriate God’s allotted troubles for tomorrow. Don’t bring them forward into today in the form of anxiety. Believe that God will be God tomorrow.
The main point of all this is clear and unmistakable: Jesus does not want his followers to be anxious. He does not secure his kingdom by keeping his subjects in a state of worry. On the contrary, according to verse 33, the more primary, the more central his kingship becomes in our lives, the less anxiety we will have. Jesus came, lived, died, rose from the dead, in order that he might reign as King over an anxiety-free people.
So come to Jesus. Forsake all other allegiances. Take your vow of loyalty to the King of kings. And seek first in all you do to make known his kingship over your life. This and this alone is the way to freedom from anxiety.