Commanded Unto Liberation: Chapel Sermon, Moody Bible Institute
And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!
“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!
“And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.”
I want you to picture with me two kids, maybe eight years old. These two kids are best friends, but there’s one distinct difference between the two. One of them is an orphan. Now, this may sound strange, but I’ll ask you to bear with me and try to follow my thought here... if the one friend who has parents behaved like his orphan friend--in other words, if both kids acted like orphans-- would the true orphan wish he had parents? I’m going to come back around to this idea, but for now please keep it in the back of your mind.
This message is from Luke 12:22-32, and I’ve titled it, “The Command Unto Liberation,” because here Jesus issues a command not to worry, but as we’ll see, this is not a command to simply quit doing something He dislikes; but a command to stop doing something that we have been freed from the need to do, and because we have been given so much in Christ, to worry over daily living is to diminish in our minds the sufficiency of Christ.
Financial problems are up at the top of the list for many of us students. For many it’s never certain if tuition or rent money are going to be there for next month. You don’t know where the money’s going to come from and you don’t know if there will be enough, and all anybody tells you in comfort is, “Just have faith; God will provide.” Now, as much as this may be true, the distance between those words and a real experience of freedom from worry is enormous and hard to bridge. As I said, this command is not a command to just quit doing something because Jesus doesn’t like it. God’s commands are never arbitrary. They are always realistic. In this passage Jesus teaches us what the true nature of worry is, and, rather than teach us how to not worry, He teaches us how if we are God’s people, if we are born-again followers of Christ, we have already been set free from worry.
Context. The middle section of Luke’s Gospel, sometimes referred to as Luke’s travel narrative, combines the different trips Jesus made to Jerusalem into one major journey, with the cross as the final destination. The different teaching discourses recorded in this section are primarily geared toward preparing His disciples for His crucifixion and the coming of His kingdom. At the end of chapter 11 Jesus is having it out with the Pharisees over their hypocrisy, which He warns His disciples about in the beginning of chapter 12. In keeping with His main focus of preparation for the Kingdom Jesus uses the hypocrisy of the Pharisees to prepare His disciples for coming persecution, by encouraging them to boldly proclaim Him in persecution rather than concealing their faith. At this point Jesus is speaking to His disciples while being surrounded by an enormous crowd, and someone from the crowd asks Jesus to help him settle a family dispute over an inheritance, which Jesus refuses to do, opting instead to launch into this long discourse, still directed to the disciples. The second part this discourse is passage for this message. In the first half of the discourse Jesus addresses greed, saying to store up treasure in heaven rather than on earth, and then beginning in verse 22 he addresses worry or anxiety over basic daily needs.
Greed and worry are just different manifestations of the same problem: material preoccupation. I am borrowing this term from R. Kent Hughes, who says that “worry is the emotional reward of material preoccupation.” Material preoccupation is when people revolve their daily lives around their material needs. Material things are ultimately not ours, and material preoccupation is when we act like they are. This is when there is more focus and attention put on earning an income to pay our rent and our tuition than on being Christ-like in our homes, in our school, and our jobs.
I. Beginning in verse 22, Jesus says For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. When He says, “For this reason,” he means the principle that underlies both the current and previous passage, which dealt with greed. From Jesus’ perspective, both issues of greed and anxiety over daily needs are answered by the same principle, which He states back in verse 15. “For not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” If God is the ultimate source of life, and sin breaks fellowship with God, then a sinful man is dead before God. So, if life and death are not determined by the state of the body, and are not constituted by that which affects the body, then life does not consist of any physical or material thing, only spiritual. It’s like a battery: when the battery is dead the shell is there but the power is gone. The life of the battery is not made up of the shell and the label. The life of the battery consists of the power that should be in it, and even when the power is there, its power was put there by an outside source. When a man comes to life before God, having been atoned for by the blood of Christ and conformed to His resurrection, he has life, but his life consists only of Christ’s life. A man’s life cannot consist of possessions when his life is not his own. So, to paraphrase this verse, what Jesus is saying is, “Rather than worrying and seeking after that which life does not consist of, be concerned and seek after that which life does consist of,” which, in short, is Christ and His kingdom.
II. In verses 24 through 28 Jesus gives us three examples from nature to show us just how well He cares for all His creation, and how much more He cares for His own people by comparison. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! The ravens don’t store up food for themselves, yet they’re fed; the flowers don’t work to spin fabric for their own garments, yet their clothed; and the grass has an insignificant lifespan, being used in the ancient world to heat ovens. We could analyze the metaphors here all day long, but the main point is that God cares for His creation regardless of how we view their significance or contribution to the world. God cares and provides for His creation simply because they’re His, but not only does He care for them, but He cares for them to a much higher degree than we could ever care for ourselves, even with unlimited resources. The comparison to Solomon in verse 28 is significant, because he was the richest king in history, but as Jesus points out, was not able to clothe himself as well as God clothes the lilies. A modern version of this concept would say that Bill Gates cannot clothe himself as well as God clothes grass and flowers, and he can’t feed himself as well as the birds are fed. That being said, the main point overall, is that if God cares so much for the birds and the flowers and the grass...how much better will He provide for us?
There’s something else significant in the text here. What makes the provisions for nature so much greater than what people can provide for themselves is that God’s provisions for nature are bestowed because nature cannot provide for itself. Nothing can compare with what God provides to those who are unable to do for themselves. These are provisions of grace. God doesn’t need anything that He’s created, so by definition, everything that God has created needs Him, so what God provides for whomever cannot provide for themselves is deserving of a great deal of attention. I’m speaking primarily of our salvation. This is the same concept we see in Genesis 3 in Adam and Eve’s fig leaves and the skin tunics God made for them. The fig leaves wither, die, wear out and eventually fall off, but the covering provided by God lasts and does not wear out or fade away.
The end of verse 28 is an exclamation that shows us just how God views anxiety over material needs. The plain, ugly reality of worry and anxiety is that it is a lack of faith. To worry is to show by our behavior that we do not believe in God’s love, God’s care and His provision for our lives. To worry is to demonstrate our belief that we, who are created in the image of God, are no more valuable than animals. When we worry we show God and the rest of the world our unbelief.
III. Verses 25 and 26 contain a very simple, very practical reason to not worry. Very simply put, worry is ineffective. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but this is a big issue for a lot of people. And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? So much of the time when we come across circumstances outside of our control we get nervous and we mentally hold onto things as if somehow by our thinking we can affect the outcome. Our tendency is to act like if we don’t constantly think about it then somehow we’re irresponsible or that the outcome will automatically be the worst possible outcome if we don’t tightly uphold the situation in our thoughts. I think it’s human nature, but whatever is a natural human tendency is probably the opposite of God’s will. So, if a situation is outside of our control, we have to acknowledge whose control it is under. Rather than worrying about something that’s outside our control we should instead acknowledge God’s control and rejoice in the fact that the outcome is not our responsibility. If the responsibility of the outcome is not ours, then why worry about it? We only make ourselves miserable by doing that. And rather than adding time to our lives by worrying, we will probably end up shortening them. God really doesn’t want us to be stressed out, but we stress ourselves out by worrying about things we cannot change.
IV. The next two sets of verses, 29 and 30, and 31 and 32 contain negative command and a positive command, each with an explanation of why. And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. Jesus is not suggesting a lower priority for material needs; He’s saying they shouldn’t be a priority. Don’t seek them, and do not worry about them. This word for “worry” is only used this one time in the New Testament, and one commentator has defined it as “Hovering between hope and fear, between heaven and earth.” If the object of our faith is solid and reliable, then our faith will be solid and reliable, so if we hover between hope and fear, then we need to re-examine the object of our faith. Do we have faith in an all-powerful, faithful God, or do we just have faith in faith. This is where that “just have faith,” statement fails. It’s not our believing that determines reality, but the reality of God that determines what we believe. God is not faithful because we believe in Him. We believe in Him because He is faithful. And because He is faithful, we have cause to not worry. Something we need to ask ourselves is, do we base God’s goodness and faithfulness on what we read in the Bible, or on how well our material needs are being met. It’s a dangerous game we play when we base our theology on experience. When we do this we hold a measuring rod up to God as if it’s our place to judge how well He lives up to the standard He claims. The primary revelation of God’s character and faithfulness is Scripture, not our experience. There may be times when our experience seems to conflict with what we read in Scripture, but the conflict is always with us, not with God.
V. The next verse explains why we should not seek after material needs. Verse 30 says For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. When Israel demanded a king, their sin was not desiring a king, but desiring to be like the other nations, to be like those without God. This is why I asked the question about the two children. The child with parents can represent Israel, and the orphan can represent all the other nations. Israel rejected God and behaved like those without God, so in a general sense there was nothing for the other nations to see that would make them desire God. Why would they? If everyone, including Christians, anxiously seeks after meeting their material needs, it doesn’t look like anybody’s got a clue. I’ve had this passage thrown in my face as evidence against the truth of Christianity. The guy who did it said that since Christians still struggle to make ends meet and have financially worries, he concluded there was nothing to Christ but wishful thinking, so he rejected Christianity.
This is a difficult thought pattern to remove ourselves from because of how materialistic our culture is. In a post-modern society where everyone’s truth is their own and absolute moral standards are discarded as irrelevant, old-fashioned nonsense, the only thing we all have in common is our material possessions: where we live, what we eat, what we wear and what car we drive. It’s so much easier to follow suit and orient our lives around our material needs, but when we revolve our lives around material needs we allow the materialism of society to dictate how we obey God. We let a materialistic society control our obedience to God when God’s Word should determine how we deal with material things.
Rabbi Eleazer once said, “Whoever has bread in his basket and asks, ‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ is none other than those of little faith.” We are not orphans. We do not need to worry about material needs. We have been adopted into the family of God, and we have an all-powerful and faithful heavenly Father who knows our every need. When my daughter has told me four or five times that she’s hungry, even after I’ve begun to make her food, one of the things I can tell her that helps her calm down and realize that food is on its way is just, “I know. I know you’re hungry. I haven’t forgotten.” There is a peace and a security in knowing that God, who spoke the universe into being, knows about the tuition; He knows about the rent check that’s a week late; He knows about next month’s utility bill that you don’t have money for. He knows these things, but as much reassurance and peace comes from God’s knowledge of our needs, there is still a greater reason to not be anxious in seeking these things, which we’ll get to in the last section. All along Jesus has been incrementally giving us better and better reasons to not be anxious over our needs, but He’s saved the best and greatest reason for last.
VI. We’ve seen what not to do and why, and now we’ll see what we should do instead, and why. And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink...But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Seek His kingdom,” doesn’t mean to look for it. It means to be actively participating in it in our daily lives, and by “His Kingdom,” He means Christ’s increasing rule over our lives and our world, and by seeking it we are working with God in trying to make this place look as much like heaven as possible. This means rather than going to work to earn a paycheck, we go to work to represent Christ in the workplace and to do His will on earth. Instead of going to school to earn an education, we go to school to serve Christ and represent Him in the classroom.
I am convinced that God does not care where we work or how much money we earn nearly as much as He cares about our motive for having that job and our conduct while at work. If we go to work simply to earn a paycheck we are essentially working to do something that’s already been provided for. God provides the job, and we do our job as Christ would. God doesn’t provide us with a job for the sole purpose of earning an income. He really doesn’t. He provides us with a job to serve Him, and the income which meets our financial needs is thrown in for good measure. That’s what “added to you,” means. Seek the Kingdom in every part of life, and the basic necessities of life are thrown in for good measure. And we can know this absolutely for certain because of what follows in the next verse.
VII. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. In Matthew 7:8 Jesus says, “Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” And before that in 5:6, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Don’t be anxious and seek after material needs, but hunger and thirst for righteousness; seek God’s kingdom and it will be given to you, and in fact, as He says here in verse 32, He has already given it to us. The Kingdom is already ours.
There is a fear associated with lack of control, and I think Jesus is anticipating that by saying “do not be afraid.” He’s saying, “don’t seek after what you need for day-to-day living, but allow God to provide what you need, and don’t worry because if God has already given you the Kingdom, what material thing of any consequence will He withhold from you?” Now, given the broader context of this passage of preparation for the Kingdom by preparing for coming persecution, the “do not fear” statement I think implies that because God has given His people eternal life and the Kingdom and all the associated blessings, we have been freed from worry and anxiety of all kinds, not just over daily needs, but over everything. If we are forgiven for our sins, raised to life in Christ, and our lives are hidden in Him where He is seated at the right hand of the Father where we will remain for eternity, what do we possibly have to be worried about?
I’d like to challenge all of us to ask ourselves just what it is that we believe about God as far as Him providing for our needs. Do we believe He cares? Do we believe He is able? What about able and willing?
I know a lot of people at this school are struggling financially, and my heart especially goes out to you aviation students in your first or second year, not knowing where you’re going to get $100,000. I don’t have the answer to that question, but I’ll just say this, if a thousand years is like one day to God, then isn’t $100,000 like $1 to God? For God, the difference between those two numbers is just zeroes. The numbers are no matter to God, only to our puny human minds.
Before he left a couple weeks ago, one of our professors, Dr. Hayes, was talking about the call to pastoral ministry, and he said, “If the call to ministry is there, there will always be a place for you to do ministry.” If you are following God’s leading in your life and you are seeking His kingdom, He will provide. He will. If you’re not being provided for, then maybe it’s time you did some self-evaluation to see where your treasure is. I promise you, if you’re not being provided for, the problem is not with God.
Here are three questions to help determine what the problem could be. 1) Are you seeking His kingdom? This may sound too simplistic, but if Jesus says to do it, then sometimes we don’t. Are you really revolving every moment of your life around Christ’s life being lived out in your body? If it’s not, then you’re priorities probably need adjusted. This leads to the second question. 2) Are you trying to prioritize your life? You’ve got to let that go. Life is not ours to adjust to be how we want. If our life is Christ’s and we are hidden in Him, then it’s His priorities that our life should reflect, not our own. We’ve got to let go and allow Scripture to prioritize our lives. 3) Is this a testing period? Another reason we can be compared with the lilies is that although God provides what the flowers need to survive, the flowers still endure storms and droughts, and so do we. Sometimes we need God to lead us into a financial drought or storm, but in the midst of it we have to continue seeking the Kingdom, and He will meet our needs. This has happened to my wife and I on numerous occasions. Most recently, God brought us into a bit of a financial drought because we needed to learn how to handle money more responsibly. We finally had to realize that if God was calling us into ministry, then part of our job would be teaching others to be godly stewards of money, but before we could do that we had to learn to do it ourselves and stop spending irresponsibly. And so, God withheld financially from us until we put 100% of our trust in Him and quit worrying about where our next dollar was coming from. We knew where God had called us, and we knew that if He had called us then the resources to do what He called us to do would be there. And I will proudly say that some of the faculty here at Moody were part of that provision, we are thankful they were obedient in giving to us when we were in need.
I don’t want anyone to leave here and not think differently about God’s provision. If you are a follower of Christ, there is never another reason for you to worry about what, if or when God will provide. If our lives are centered on Christ, our needs will always be met.