Don’t Be Anxious, Your Heavenly Father Cares
One of the things I love about being a pastor, as opposed to an itinerant preacher, is that I get to come back week after week and clarify and correct the things that I have said poorly or incompletely, or that have been misunderstood.
My prayer is that over time the message of the Bible will be heard in its fullness and balance, even if from week to week things may sometimes be lopsided. So let me try to answer two very thoughtful questions that were raised in response to last week’s message.
Give to Gain
You recall the main point was from Matthew 6:20 — that we should lay up treasures in heaven and not on the earth. I argued that the way you lay up treasures in heaven — the way you increase your reward and joy in the presence of God — is by giving your money away in the name of Christ rather than storing up more and more for yourself.
I used two verses to support this. One was Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.” And the other was Luke 14:13–14: “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
In both of these texts, giving freely with no thought of getting money back is seen as a way to increase your reward and your joy in heaven. Something happens for the heart that gives which increases its capacity for joy in the age to come.
“What matters when you give is what kind of heart you are giving from.”
And as part of this call to lay up treasure in heaven I called for a simplified, exile-like, wartime lifestyle that enables us to give more, rather than treating this world as our home and treating this age as though it were a time of peace, when in fact is a time of conflict between God and Satan, and between righteousness and unrighteousness, and between belief and unbelief, and between light and darkness. And the stakes in this conflict are eternal.
So, I concluded, let’s put a governor on our lifestyles (because if you don’t, expenses will always expand to fill the income) and then let us give more than we ever dreamed. Let’s be hazardous in our risk-taking for the glory of Christ. This kind of freedom and this kind of love, I argued, will make us the happiest people on planet earth. Because Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Loving and giving like Jesus will probably involve suffering, but the joy in giving and the increased joy in heaven — the joy set before us — will be worth it all.
Now, two thoughtful questions came to me out that message. One said, “Since both the texts that you used to explain laying up treasures in heaven had to do with giving to the poor (Luke 12:33; 14:13), don’t you think that your closing application in calling people to make pledges to Education for Exaltation was lopsided since that is really not a giving to the poor but to a building program?” The other question was this: “When you stress the imagery of wartime living, do you leave any room for aspects of life that don’t fit well in the wartime imagery, like art or leisure? Are there not other images of the Christian life that are more restful than war?”
Here are my responses to these two very legitimate questions. Let’s take them in reverse order. Yes, absolutely, there are other images of the Christian life that are more restful. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:1–2). That is a very different image than bombs dropping and blood flowing. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).
And yes, there is a proper time and place for the Christian to benefit from, evaluate, and transform the whole range of human culture, including the arts. In fact, it is virtually impossible not to be a part of our modern, western culture, and if you do not think in terms of measured appropriation, biblical evaluation, and thoughtful transformation, you will probably be consumed by the culture, and won’t even know that you are more American than you are Christian.
So, yes, by all means, use all the images of Scripture (not just war) to shape your life. And then let your radically Christian, God-enthralled, Christ-treasuring, giving-oriented, sacrificial life of love engage and shape your culture.
Where to Give
And in response to the other question: Yes, my application last Sunday was lopsided. The message was about open-handed, free-hearted, sacrificial, joyful giving. The texts focused on giving to the poor, and I focused on the building side of Education for Exultation. I said more clearly in the first service than in the second, “If you must choose between giving to the poor and giving to Education for Exultation, then by all means give to the poor. But I also said that most Americans do not have to make that choice. And if you meditate on the teachings of Jesus in prayer, he will make it plain what you should do.
What I didn’t stress (but I do now!) was that those texts (Luke 12:32–34; Luke 14:13–14; etc.) show how much Jesus really cares about our ministry to the poor and what a crucial role it should have in our overall priorities and what a long way we have to go as a church to be all that God wants us to be in personal and structural engagement with the poor here and around the world.
Grace to Give
My hope and prayer is that two things will motivate you to give generously and sacrificially this year to get us into that building debt-free next January, precisely because you ponder those texts about giving to the poor.
One is that an utterly crucial part of those texts has to do not just with what kind of ministry you are giving to, but also what kind of heart you are giving from.
In other words, the texts call us to a radical freedom from insecurity — a radical liberation from fear and anxiety, and a passion that Christ be exalted in our sacrificial lives of generosity. I hope that will be your experience if you never give a dime to the ministry of this church. Far more important than giving to this ministry, is that you give from that kind of heart somewhere, especially to the poor. And may God give you the grace to make it at least ten percent of your income — you who have tasted the preciousness of Christ who gave everything for you.
The other thing that I hope motivates you to give to Education for Exultation is the trust and the conviction that all the education and prayer and urban dreaming and global strategizing that goes on in that new building will bring a hundred years of blessing to the poor in Minneapolis and in the nations of the world — indeed not just a hundred years, if Jesus tarries, but a hundred ages of years as the poor are helped now and made rich in Christ.
In other words, I am asking you to ponder seriously whether you believe, what I believe, namely, that there is a correlation between providing a home for this ministry called Bethlehem — spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ — and the emergence and sustaining of people and vision for gospel ministry among the poor, here and around the world.
A Home-Base for Spreading
If there is no correlation in your mind between this $8,000,000 building and the alleviation of suffering — temporal and eternal — for the poor and all others, then don’t give to this vision. But if you believe, as I do, that there is a deep and hope-filled correlation between building a strategic nerve-center as a base of operations for sixty employees (ministers!) and as a place for preparing 10–15 TBI pastors and missionaries each year, a place for planning and supporting extension sites like Roseville, and a place to turning squirrelly six-year-olds into radical, God-centered world Christians ready to lay their lives down for the unreached poor, if you believe in that correlation, then I hope you will make the pledges I called for last week. Indeed, I pray that you will do that and stretch your regular giving so that we can fulfill that vision embodied this year in a budget increase of 26 percent.
Where does someone like Jon — whom we just commissioned this morning to bring the gospel of Christ to an unreached people — come from? Well, primarily he comes from a work of sovereign grace in his life. And then he comes from a family — Randy and Muriel and Amy. And then he comes from a life of relationships and schooling. And finally, he comes from a lifetime of meeting God week after week at Bethlehem — one of those squirrelly six-year-olds who is now ready to risk his life for the poor. If I did not believe there would be a correlation between this new building and that, I would not give, indeed I would not survive in the ministry here.
My aim last week and this week is to motivate you to seek the kingdom of God first, from a heart that is not shriveled up with anxiety, but is free to give — however God leads you to give.
Jesus’s Eight Reasons Not to Be Anxious
And so I promised that today we would look at the reasons Jesus gives not to be anxious. Three times in verses 25–34 Jesus says, “Do not be anxious.” Verse 25: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Verse 31: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” Verse 34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
“God prospers us not to raise our standard of living but to raise our standard of giving.”
Clearly, Jesus wants his disciples to be free from enslaving anxiety. That’s why he gives at least eight reasons to help us fight the fight of faith. He knows this is a battle. He knows you are going to wake up from time to time with irrational anxiety attacks. He knows that there will be wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6). He knows he is sending us out like lambs in the midst of wolves (Luke 10:3). He knows that the time will come when those who kill you will think that they are serving God (John 16:2).
And in spite of all that, indeed in all of that, Christ wants his people to have peace not anxiety — so much peace that we are free to keep giving — giving to the poor, giving to the cause Christ in the midst of great calamity and stress. To quote Randy Alcorn again: “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but to raise my standard of giving.” The same thing can be said of why he gives us peace. So let’s look at Jesus’s reasons not to be anxious.
1. Life Is More Than Food. The Body Is More Than Clothing
Verse 25, I am passing over the reason found in the word “therefore” at the beginning of the verse and going straight to the reason found in the last part of the verse: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. [Here comes the reason] Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
I take this to mean, since life can’t be sustained without food and the body will freeze, or be shamed into oblivion without clothes, Jesus must mean: life and body (literally “soul” and body) are more than the physical life that is sustained by food and adorned by clothing. In other words, don’t be anxious about your soul and your body because those who might take your food and your clothing, and even cause your death, cannot take your real life or rob you of your resurrection body.
The bottom line defense against anxiety is: in Christ you are immortal, and to die is gain. That’s why Jesus says in Luke 12:4: “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.” In other words, there is something far worse than death, and it can never happen to you in Christ. So don’t be anxious.
2. You Are More Valuable Than the Birds That God Feeds
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?”
Here the argument not to be anxious has two massive premises leading to the conclusion. Premise one: God is so completely in control of the natural universe that he may be said to feed the birds of the air. Every berry eaten or insect snatched from the air or worm pulled from the ground is provided by God. He does that for birds.
Premise two: you are of more value to God than the birds. God values more and is more committed to his people who glorify him with their minds and wills than he is to animals who have no ability to consciously glorify God. As Peter says in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Vastly more than for the birds whom he feeds. So don’t be anxious.
3. Anxiety Accomplishes Nothing
Verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Here is a simple, practical argument: anxiety does no good. It accomplishes nothing. It doesn’t help. Preach this to yourself: I am accomplishing nothing helpful by this anxiety. It is only making a hard situation harder. I will listen to Jesus and say no to this useless emotion. I refuse to be mastered by a useless emotion!
4. The Grass and the Lilies That God Clothes Last for a Day, but You Are Eternal
Verse 28–30: “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?”
This is almost the same as the argument from the birds of the air. But not quite. The point there was that you are more valuable than the birds that God feeds. The point here is that you are eternal, and the grass and the lilies last for a day. Yet God clothes them more beautifully than Solomon.
Again the most amazing truth for us is the truth that Jesus virtually takes for granted: God’s sovereign rule over the world of nature extends to the seemingly insignificant color of a lily and the white puff-ball of a clover patch. These are not mere natural laws that God put in motion and set loose to do good or bad things with no control over them. These are his doing.
And the inference for our souls is: if God is so intimately and lavishly involved with grass and flowers which are like a vapor, then how shall he not care for his children who are eternal? So trust him! Trust him! “O you of little faith.” The issue is trust. Anxiety is a trust issue (verse 30). Trust your Father. Come what may, he will take care of you.
5. Anxiety Is Worldly
Verse 31: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things.”
Here the argument is: if you are anxious, you are like the world. This is what people do who don’t know God. Anxiety is worldly.
Be careful that you not become cynical at this point and say, “Piper you are naïve. You think you can dispel this monster so easily. Just remind us that the world is anxious. That will help?”
“If you are anxious, you are like the world.”
To which I say: These are not my words. These are the words of the Son of God. These are his prescriptions, not mine. Be careful lest you speak ill of Christ. He is not naïve. He knows the monster of anxiety better than you do. And he knows best how to fight it. And it is a fight. That is why he is multiplying weapons for you. Sometimes one will work and sometimes another. Don’t blow these off. Put them in your armory. The very one you mock might someday save your life. Don’t be anxious about things. The Gentiles do that.
6. Your Heavenly Father Knows What You Need
Verse 32b: “And your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
The argument is: Don’t be anxious because you have Father; he is “heavenly” not earthly; and he knows exactly what you need. “Father” means he loves you and you are on his heart as a child. “Heavenly” means he is sovereign over all the earth and nothing can stop him from doing good to you. “He knows that you need them” means that he is never at a loss to know what is good for you and he has all the wisdom it takes to meet your need. So rest in this: Your heavenly Father knows what you need.
7. God Will Supply Everything You Need to Do His Will and His Righteousness
Verse 33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
The argument is God will supply everything you need to do his will and his righteousness. Yes he promises that some of us will be imprisoned and that some of us will be beaten and some of us will be killed. Paul says in Romans 8 that famine and nakedness will come for some, but will not separate us from the love of Christ. In all these things we will be more than conquerors through him who loved us. We will have all the clothing and food and drink that we need to do the will of God, including his time when his will is for us to die.
There is no guaranteed physical comfort in this world, no guaranteed life on earth. But no trial will befall you for which he will not give you all you need to endure to the end and be saved.
8. God Does Not Overload Any Day with Trouble
Verse 34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
The argument is that God does not overload any day with trouble. Each day has its appointed amount. So don’t reach into tomorrow and bring its troubles into today. The comforting point is unsaid, but obvious: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23). Each day has its own appointed troubles, and there are new mercies appointed for us every day so that you can bear the troubles. Trust him they will be there.
Freed from Anxiety to Be a Generous Giver
These eight arguments are a gift to you from the Lord Jesus to free you from anxiety and to make you a generous giver. If you will receive him as Savior and Lord and Treasure of your life, you will have his promises with him.
Receive them. Believe them. Make them the means by which you fight the good fight of faith every day. We are walking into grave days. One group of people more than all others should be free from anxiety: the people of Christ.