25 “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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 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? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Peter J. Gomes, the late minister of Harvard University once told of a sermon he preached on our text this morning and a very surprising reaction he received to it.
Some years ago I gave the commencement address at a very posh girls’ day school in Manhattan. Many of the brightest and the best of the girls went on to Radcliffe and to other elite colleges, and soon thereafter would make their way into the expanding stratosphere of the establishment once reserved for their brothers. They were able, aggressive, and entitled young women on the threshold of conquering the world, and I rejoiced in their achievement, was happy to celebrate with them, and wished them well. I took as my text on that bright sunny morning in midtown that wonderful passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, where he asks, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Neither for Jesus nor for me was this a hostile question, and he goes on to invite his listeners, as I did, to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, yet their heavenly father provides for them. Are you not of more worth than these?”
All were not pleased…and at the reception the father of one of the girls came up to me with fire in his eyes and ice in his voice, and told me that what I had said was a lot of nonsense. I replied that I hadn’t said it, but that Jesus had. “It’s still nonsense,” he said, not easily dissuaded by an appeal to scripture. “It was anxiety that got my daughter into this school, it was anxiety that kept her here, and it was anxiety that got her into Yale, it will be anxiety that will keep her there, and it will be anxiety that will get her a good job. You are selling nonsense.”
One would not expect such a reaction to a sermon against anxiety, yet, when we stop and look closely at what we have made of modern life, we realize just how much anxiety is bound up with our daily lives. We are ostensibly working hard so as to remove anxiety from our lives, yet, ironically, what we are doing seems only to increase it.
This business of casting off anxiety and worry and studying the lilies works well for poets and dreamers. After all, it was Emily Dickenson who once said that the only commandment she did not break was Jesus’ commandment, “Consider the lilies of the field.” But we’re not Emily Dickenson, right? We have things to do, and they must be done well to maintain what we have and, if we are fortunate, to have even more.
In January of this year, the Barna group released their findings on a new survey on “Temptation and America’s Favorite Sins.” Under the grouping, “Particularly Western Temptations,” Barna discovered that 60% of Americans say they are tempted to worry and anxiety. I would suggest that the kind of anxiety we have fostered in our culture is, indeed, a particularly Western phenomenon. Travel to what used to be called the Third World and, while you will say perhaps different kinds of anxiety, you will see a startling lack of the soul-destroying worry and angst that we have invited into our lives.
Jesus addressed the reality of worry, of anxiety, because He knew what the presence of such corrosive forces can do in and to the lives of His people. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is a depiction of life in the Kingdom of God. It is utterly fascinating that, in this brief discourse, Jesus thought worry to be sufficiently dangerous so as to warrant careful consideration.
Let us consider today the dangers of worry and anxiety.
I. Worry is an Insult to the Love of God. (v.25-26)
Let us first define what the biblical idea of anxiety or worry is. The Greek word for “anxious” is merimnao. It refers to “apprehension, anxiety, or worry.” It is interesting that the word is used two times in the Apocrypha for the idea of insomnia. This is worry that keeps you up at night. This is life-shortening, relationship-destroying, ulcer-producing, sleep-depriving, soul-debilitating worry. This is what Jesus is condemning.
What He clearly is not condemning is careful, reasonable planning, or a healthy sense of work and production. In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul is apparently addressing a church situation in which some believers were so convinced that the return of Christ was imminent that they had stopped working. To them, Paul said this:
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Work is not worry. Planning is not worry. But worry can creep in and pervert both work and planning. J.C. Ryle put it nicely when he said, “Prudent provision for the future is right; wearing, corroding, self-tormenting anxiety is wrong.”
What Jesus is condemning is a mindset of anxiety and fear and worry in which we are held captive by a kind of physical, mental, spiritual, vocational, and relational hypochondria.bbIn Catch-22, Joseph Heller writes about the anxiety that had gripped the characters Yossarian and Hungry Joe:
There were lymph glands that might do [Yossarian] in. There were kidneys, nerve sheaths and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There was Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. There were fertile red meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer cell. There were diseases of the skin, diseases of the bone, diseases of the lung, diseases of the stomach, diseases of the heart, blood and arteries. There were diseases of the head, diseases of the neck, diseases of the chest, diseases of the intestines…There even were diseases of the feet. There were billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential traitor or foe. There were so many diseases that it took a truly diseased mind to even think about them as often as he and Hungry Joe did.
There are people who live their lives gripped by this kind of suffocating fear, and that is a tragedy. It is interesting to note that the first reason Jesus gives us for rejecting worry is that worry is an insult to the love of God. Listen to what He says.
25 “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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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?
He warns against worry in the area of food, health, and clothing. He then makes the fascinating observation that life is “more than food, and the body more than clothing.” That may strike us as odd. As a matter of fact, without food, we will lose our lives. Without food, we will die. Just some verses back we were cautioned to pray for “daily bread.”
But this misses the point. For citizens of the Kingdom of God, the absence of food does not threaten our lives at all. It may threaten our bodies, our health, and our physical lives, but citizens of the Kingdom of God have a different view of life: it is unending. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8. Our life is more than food.
But what is really striking is verse 26.
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?
“Are you not of more value than they?” You are! God likes His little birds, but God loves His people! There is something unique about you, something that sets you apart from the animals. Do you realize that you are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God? Do you realize that He loves you?
When you give in to fear, to anxiety, to crippling worry, you insult the love of God. Do terrible things happen? Yes. Do terrible things happen to the people of God? Yes. Why? I do not pretend to know. But even here the believer rests in the hands of a good God. The believer lives free from anxiety, even as tragedy befalls them.
It is not wrong to grieve. It is not wrong to ask God, “Why?” It is not wrong to struggle. The Lord God is not demanding inhuman stoicism. But what He is doing is reminding us that even in the struggle, we need not despair, even in the pain, we need not resign ourselves to fear. Our God reigns and our reigning God loves us! This is why time and again, God’s Word comforts us. Joseph Tson once said from the pulpit of Westminster Chapel that there are 366 verses in the Bible exhorting us not to worry. He noted, “We have one for every day of the year and one for Leap Year!”
II. Worry is Fruitless…It Helps Nothing. (v.27)
On a practical note, worry is fruitless as well. Here is how Jesus put it.
27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
It is interesting that there is a long debate over the last phrase of v.27. Is it a reference to length of life (“add a single hour to his span of life” ((ESV))) or to height (“add one cubit unto his stature” ((KJV))). That is interesting, but not critical, for neither translation affects the central point: worry is fruitless and helps nothing. All the worry in the world cannot make you taller or live longer, Jesus says. It is wasted energy.
Kevin DeYoung writes that “anxiety, after all, is simply living out the future before it gets here.” You will immediately understand the absurdity of living out the future before it gets here: we do not know the future.
Honestly, how often have you spent mental and spiritual and physical capital on things that never happened? How often, after the fact, have you looked back on your worry and anxiety with embarrassment and shame?
III. Worry is an Insult to the Demonstrable Providence of God (v.28-30)
Worry also insults the demonstrable providence of God. By demonstrable I mean observable. By providence, I mean God’s hand of care and provision. In other words, we can see God’s provision all around us! Once again, Jesus points us to nature.
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 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?
If God provides for throw-away flowers and grass, will He not provide for you? Stop and study a flower, Jesus says. See the intricate care and provision He has shrouded it in. Observe its delicate and baffling beauty. See how poets and song writers have waxed eloquent on the flowers. And that’s God’s window dressing for the world! If God lavishes the earth’s window dressing such, will He not care for you?
Peter Burn’s “Consider the Lilies” says:
Consider the lilies,
Ye sons of despair;
Consider the lilies,
Ye daughters of care.
And from them instruction receive:
Though fragile and feeble,
Yet, see how they grow,
“They toil not, they spin not,”
Nor care do they know,
But, kept by their Maker, they live.
Consider the lilies!
To them ever give
Attention and study –
They’ll teach you to live,
The secret of peace they will show;
Then, ye from distresses
And cares shall be free,
Like them ye shall flourish,
Though lowly you be,
Like them, ye in vigour shall grow.
All around you is evidence of God’s care. He is not cruel. He is not forgetful. He is for us, and we are safe in His hand, even if evils befall us.
IV. Worry is a Mark of Spiritual Lostness and is Therefore Unbecoming for Citizens of the Kingdom of God (v.31-34)
Finally, worry is the mark of an unregenerate heart, a lost heart. It is not becoming for a citizen of the Kingdom of God to act as if God is not present and caring for His people.
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Yes, “the Gentiles seek after these things.” Gentiles worry. Gentiles are bound in fear. Gentiles are suffocated by anxiety. Why? Because they do not know the Lord. They are blind to the truth. Thus, for lost people, anxiety is a natural disposition. Kevin DeYoung writes that, “Worry about the future is not simply a character tic, it is the sin of unbelief, an indication that our hearts are not resting in the promises of God.”
The people of God dare not act like people who are hopeless without God. The people of God dare not act as if there is no God. Our Savior has called upon us not to worry. Our Savior has called upon us to trust and rest in God.
And that fact is key: our Savior has called upon us not to worry. That fact alone is what makes His instructions to consider the lilies of the field imminently practical. I suspect some of you have been listening to this and thinking, “Fine and good, but that is not practical and that is not real life. I simply cannot live life in the modern world without anxiety.” But that thought assumes that we know greater burdens than the Lord Jesus Himself knew. That is demonstrably false. The One who gave us this teaching knew a burden we will never know, yet He gave it nonetheless!
John Stott relays how the German Protestant pastor, Helmut Thielicke, who had opposed Hitler, faced the difficult task of preaching to his German congregation in from 1946-1948, in the years immediately after World War 2. The Germans were a devastated people, broken and hopeless. Dr. Thielicke chose for his preaching plan in those years the Sermon on the Mount. As he came to our text this morning, he reflected from the pulpit on how odd and seemingly impractical these words about considering the lilies and the birds must seem to a people who only recently tasted the anxiety or war and defeat. “We know the sight and the sound of homes collapsing in flames,” Dr. Thielicke said, “Our own eyes have seen the red blaze and our own ears have heard the sound of crashing, falling and shrieking.”
Could such a people who had experienced such horrors really take seriously these words about considering the birds and lilies, these words against anxiety. Here is how Thielicke concluded. He drew the attention of his people to Jesus and said:
Nevertheless, I think we must stop and listen when this man, whose life on earth was anything but birdlike and lilylike, points us to the carefreeness of the birds and lilies. Were not the somber shadows of the Cross already looming over this hour of the Sermon on the Mount?
Yes! The shadow of the cross was already on Jesus when He taught us not to be anxious, not to worry. This Jesus who teaches this carried a burden while teaching it that we will never know! The man of sorrows knew what burdens were. He would soon kneel in a garden and sweat drops of blood. He was anguished. He knew the temptation to anxiety and despair. But He said, “Not My will but Thy will be done!”
There is comfort in that. Brothers and sisters, there is no sin in feeling the weight of a burden. There is no sin in sweating blood, even, over that with which we are confronted. But citizens of the Kingdom of God do not stay there. We do not let the struggle become anxiety then worry then despair then the abandonment of God. We must say, “Not my will, by Thy will be done.” And as we say that, we will look to our side and realize that we say it with the Lord Jesus, the One who told us not to worry, not to be anxious, not to despair.
Friends, consider the lilies.
Do not worry.
 Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book. (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996), p.178-179.
 Judith Farr, The Gardens of Emily Dickenson. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), p.178.
 Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Ed., E. Ray Clendenen. Vol.11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Academic, 2011), p.259.
 John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p.163.
 Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (New York, NY: Everyman’s Library, 214.
 R.T. Kendall, The Sermon on the Mount. (Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2011), p.295.
 Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something. (Highlight Loc. 475 [Kindle]).
 Peter Burn, Poems. (London: Bemrose & Sons, Limited, 1900), p.39.
 DeYoung, Highlight Loc. 487-488 [Kindle].
 Stott, p.168.