Matthew 6 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Do Not Value Possessions Enough to Worry About Them

Jesus' message here picks up his earlier discussion of secret charity (6:1-4). If many prosperity preachers err in urging Christians to seek material gain (see vv. 19-24), many of us err by doubting God's power to provide. Yet in this passage while Jesus emphasizes God's power, he also stresses that God guarantees only what we need. If God sustains life and protects our bodies, will we complain if he does it differently from the ways our culture values (v. 25)? If he feeds us like the birds (v. 26; compare 1 Kings 17:6) or clothes us like the flowers (v. 28), he will have provided us more than what our culture values, not less (v. 29). Yet if God provides for birds and flowers, he will also provide for us (v. 30).

God promises the basics. This theme is important to the passage (vv. 25-26, 28-30). Jesus twice uses a standard type of Jewish argument traditionally called qal wahomer-"how much more?" (vv. 26, 30). If God cares for birds and for perishable flowers, how much more for his own beloved children (compare vv. 8, 32)!

We generally expect biologists today to examine and classify data without making many ethical or theological pronouncements. But ancient naturalists were sometimes also sages who regarded all God's creation as a legitimate field for inquiry. Wisdom sayings often addressed nature (for example, 1 Kings 4:33; Ahiqar column 6; Sirach 43:33).

Jesus draws a lesson from God's care for birds and flowers (Mt 6:26, 30). Some other Jewish teachers also recognized that God provides for creatures (compare Ps 104:24-27) and that people are worth much more than birds (compare m. Qiddusin 4:14). Jesus, who regards God's original creation purpose as still valid (Mt 19:4-6), believes that the God who cares for unemployed animals will care still more for his children, regardless of their economic situation.

People in Jesus' day considered their cloaks essential, and the law in fact took this for granted (Ex 22:26-27; Guelich 1982:339). Paul (less given to hyperbole than his Palestinian Master) declares that Christians need nothing more than food and clothing (1 Tim 6:8). But Jesus declares that God can provide for us adequately even if we lack clothing (Mt 6:25)! He then goes on to assure us that God will supply covering for our bodies, pointing to the splendor of the fields, whose vegetation is nevertheless used as fuel for baking bread. Solomon's splendor had become proverbial (for example, CIJ 2:83, 837; m. Baba Mesi`a 7:1), but it remained minuscule compared to the splendor of God's creation (compare Ps 8:1-9). In the end, wealth does not matter, but God will supply what we genuinely need.

Jesus again shames his hearers by reminding them that even Gentiles seek material things. Pagans seek (NIV run after) their own needs (Mt 6:31-32; compare Ep. Arist. 140-41); God's children should seek instead God's agendas, assured that God will also care for them in the process (6:33). Even in Jesus' model prayer, disciples seek God's kingdom first (vv. 9-10). Faith is not an intricate ritual to get what we want for ourselves; faith is obeying God's will with the assurance that he will ultimately fulfill for us what is in our best interests. That kind of faith grows only in the context of an intimate relationship of love between the heavenly Father and his children.

Some people today associate faith with being able to obtain possessions from God, but Jesus did not even associate it with seeking basic needs from God. Pagans seek those things, he warned (v. 32; compare 5:47; 6:7); we should seek instead God's kingdom and his righteous will (6:33). It is when his people care for others in need among them that God supplies the needs of his people as a whole, perhaps because then he can best trust them to use his gifts righteously (Deut 15:1-11; Blomberg 1992:126). In our lifelong plans and each day as we decide what to do with our life and resources, we have fresh opportunities to prove to God our love for him-or our lack of it.

Anxiety does no good. Jesus highlights this theme in Matthew 6:26, 34. Anxiety will not add even the smallest unit of time to one's life. Not only is it true that we cannot extend our life by worrying, but daily experience in our comparatively fast-paced culture confirms the wisdom of an earlier Jewish sage, who observed that worry and a troubled heart actually shorten life (Sirach 30:19-24). If much study is wearying to the flesh (Eccl 12:12-undoubtedly many a scholar's favorite verse), worry about wealth also banishes sleep and destroys the flesh (Sirach 34:1).

Unlike some ancient philosophers, Jesus never condemns people for recognizing their basic needs; their Father knows they need food and clothing. Yet he calls them to depend on God for their daily sustenance. Those who can trust their heavenly Father to care for them (as most first-century Jewish children could depend on their earthly fathers) need not be anxious concerning clothes or food.

Jesus paints his point in graphic word pictures. Like a typical sage, he finally notes that one has enough to worry about for the day without adding tomorrow's worries (Mt 6:34; compare Prov 27:1). Employing the typical rhetorical technique of personification (Kennedy 1984:60), Jesus further admonishes his hearers to let tomorrow worry about itself. Yet when Jesus forbids us to worry about tomorrow, this does not mean that concerns will never press upon us. It means instead that we should express dependence on God in each of these concerns. We should pray for our genuine needs (v. 11), provided we pray for God's kingdom most of all (vv. 9-10; most of Paul's "concerns" fit this category: 2 Cor 11:28; 1 Thess 3:1-5). The part of the future we must concern ourselves with and work toward is what he has revealed to us and called us to do (compare Mt 10:5-25).

Previous commentary:
Do Not Value Possessions Enough to Seek Them

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