Matthew 6:19-34 (AD 28)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” (v.25)
File that one next to, “Do not be anxious about anything…” (Philippians 4:13)
Note first the “Therefore” in Jesus words. The reality of our treasures in heaven and the priority we should place on those over anything here, drive the reality that worry is unproductive, unnecessary and…forbidden. But isn’t that merely piling guilt on top of people who are already so stressed that they’re worrying? Might not Jesus and Paul have been exaggerating to make a point? Except they were both being serious and completely straightforward in saying that we must not worry, and were not using hyperbolic language around these comments, which we need to take at face value.
Bear in mind that God’s commands are almost invariably, obviously for our benefit. “Do not worry” is a good example. It’s not one of those Pharisaical additions to the Law designed to control and guilt-trip people into unthinking compliance. Rather, it is a command similar to ‘do not be proud’, ‘do not commit adultery’, in as much as our obedience to God will make us more healthy, happy and joyful in our life and relationship with God. And unlike God’s commands against gossip, lust and greed that can be so tempting at times, the command against worry is one we can all get behind and say “Amen, I’d love to obey that one”.
So step one, perhaps, is to see this command as an example of God’s grace to us, before then thinking how we might go about obeying it.
Which takes us back to verses nineteen to twenty-four and ‘Treasures in Heaven’. In order to place our current woes in their proper context, we must nurture an eternal perspective. It’s not that life on earth doesn’t matter, or that there aren’t good reasons for us to feel stressed – Jesus certainly did in Gethsemane when faced with being killed. But when we recognise that worry is a temptation without foundation we can start to deal with it.
‘Do not worry’ isn’t a stick to beat stressed people with, it’s a reassurance. God is commanding and inviting us to emerge from the toxic pool of worry in which we are sometimes content to flounder, and instead to live in the light of our future home. That doesn’t mean we don’t use the motivation of weekends, holidays, a glass of wine, nights out, the company of loved ones, days off or a hot bath as motivation to get through the day. But it does mean that we recognise those things as temporary and focus on our eternal and glorious future. The very worst thing that can happen now will not affect – one iota – the trillion years of joy that lies in front of us.
How so? Because “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).