In the previous section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), we saw that Jesus addressed six popular teachings that were contrary to the actual message of the Old Testament after committing verbally to remaining faithful to the Old Testament Scriptures. The major way in which the Old Testament was misused, according to Jesus’ sermon, was in support of religious legalism. We even saw how the popular teaching of the day exceeded what was written. Jesus brought the people back to what the Scriptures stated in context. In the present section of His sermon to His disciples and in view of the large group of people (6:1-7:6), we see Jesus address not only the legalistic teaching but also the legalistic tendencies of the religious community. After teaching from the Old Testament that faith was a gift and a condition of the heart and after exposing how the Law was being mistaught, Jesus begins to expose the absurdity of majority human worldview.
As we continue through this section of Jesus’ sermon, we will see the way in which Jesus evaluates our religion and our participation in church (or the equivalent thereof). Right practice (orthopraxis) follows right teaching (orthodoxy). Spiritually healthy people or groups don’t merely have one or the other but strive for both. In the context of this sermon, Jesus didn’t compare Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, the Imperial Cult, and Eastern Religion- saying one was right and the others were wrong. Jesus got at real things and at the human heart. Let’s take a moment and not defend our own beliefs, churches, associations, denominations, or religions. Let us evaluate what is taught and what is practiced in our lives and in our churches the same way that Jesus does in this section of His sermon.
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Why we are not to be worried (v. 25)
We will often miss the first part of this passage. Yes, Jesus’ instruction is for His people not to worry. Jesus is teaching a truth that is more basic. He is not simply instructing His disciples not to worry but is basing this instruction on the previous parts of His sermon on the mount. This instruction is not isolated. This is why Jesus begins by saying, “For this reason…” The application He is about to make follows from what He has already been teaching. Here is what we have seen leading up to this point:
- 4:17- Jesus preaches the kingdom of God. The application is that people should repent in response to God’s kingdom coming.
- 4:23-5:12- We see that Jesus’ sermon is addressed to only His disciples (those who have repented and are a part of the kingdom of Heaven). This is for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
- 5:13-20- Jesus confirmed His own commitment to Scripture Alone and instructed His disciples to also be committed to Scripture Alone.
- 5:21-48- Jesus taught about the ways Scripture was being manipulated in order to teach people how to be righteous. In contrast, He taught that the Law was meant to reveal a person’s unrighteousness and draw him or her into repentance.
- 6:1-24- Jesus instructed His disciples not to practice their acts of righteousness in front of people, but to seek only to please the Father.
There is a singular reason, not multiple reasons. As Jesus teaches, His teaching is more like a sniper than scatter-shot. This is the example we follow as we teach. This is more evidence that Jesus’ sermon on the mount is not as disconnected as it is usually presented in Bible studies or sermons. It is a single unit of teaching meant to share a single message and apply a single theological truth in a number of ways. This theological truth has become clear throughout Jesus’ sermon- God is the only righteous one. The same application is made throughout- Seek God’s righteousness, not your own.
For this reason, “God is righteous, seek His righteousness alone,” Christ’s disciples are not to be worried about their lives. This has to do explicitly with necessities like food, water, and clothing. There is something about seeking God’s righteousness rather than our own that causes us not to worry about the things of this world- even those things that we see as necessary for our survival. This verse helps us to understand what Jesus has taught in verses 19-24. It is impossible for anyone to serve two masters. It is impossible for anyone to store up for themselves treasures on this earth and in heaven. We cannot both seek God’s kingdom and also build our own. This has been Jesus’ consistent message through the sermon on the mount, beginning with our repentance. So, we see that repentance is more than merely apologizing for our sins and trying to turn from them. Repentance is a forsaking of our own pursuit of our own righteousness and a giving of ourselves wholly to the pursuit of God’s kingdom and His righteousness. We can talk about the logical order of salvation when we get to a text that deals with that. What we know from this verse is that those who are in Christ’s kingdom are giving themselves over wholly to the active pursuit of God’s kingdom and His righteousness and are forsaking the building of their own kingdoms and their own righteousness. This is happening in a way that is not legalistic. Jesus is contending against legalism or works-righteousness throughout this sermon.
God’s providence (v. 26-30)
Not only is God the only righteous one, but Jesus takes the time to provide words of comfort for His disciples. In His providence, God cares for all of His creation. In verse 30, Jesus calls His disciples “You of little faith” after describing the Father’s providential work. We simply see this truth- God provides for His people in a way that is greater than the way He provides for His other creatures. Not only do we place too much attention on ourselves when we worry about matters of provision, but we also prove that we have little faith.
Notice the wording of the text. Jesus does not say that people need to simply have more faith so that they don’t worry so much. Instead, He instructs His disciples not to worry and then points out the fact that their discontentment is a sign of their small faith. I find this to be very interesting and it is consistent with what we see in the other parts of Jesus’ sermon. He is always pointing His disciples back to this truth that God is the righteous one. As we see our insufficiencies, we respond with repentance and not with some perceived self-righteousness. The truth is that we all have a tendency to worry not only about the necessities but also about things that are so much less than necessary. Whether we worry or not, God’s providence is the same.
What we seek first (v. 31-34)
So, we strive not to worry in response to God’s saving grace and as we grow to understand His providence more deeply. The more we understand God’s providence the more content we will be. God knows what we need. We don’t have to worry like unbelievers.
In contrast to worrying, we are instructed to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first. It is promised that all of these things will be added according to God’s providence. Notice that this isn’t an “if, then” statement. We are seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness “and” these things are being added- not as a result of works but by God’s providence alone as we are being sanctified from our unbelief and lack of faith.
I want to take the time to ask a couple questions. First, why do we do the things that we do? Why do we complain about the things that we complain about? Why do we defend the things that we defend? Why do we choose to attend one church over another? Why do we choose to spend our money on the things that we spend it on? Okay, that is more than a couple questions. Really, they are all the same. The way we answer this question reveals much about who we believe God to be and whether or not we are pursuing His kingdom and righteousness. If we go to a certain church, spend money on a certain thing, or spend our time doing certain things for any reason less than seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, then Jesus states that we are behaving like unbelievers. Jesus doesn’t condemn us for doing this- for choosing a church based on music or personalities or the kindness of people or the friendships we have there rather than on the church’s Christ-centeredness and faithfulness to the Bible. This is meant to cause us to notice how little our faith actually is and how unrighteous we are. It is meant to bring us to repentance again. It is meant for our sanctification. It is meant to draw us into deeper fellowship with Christ and a fuller pursuit of His kingdom and righteousness.
The second question I want to ask is, why do local churches do the things that they do, spend money the way that they do, or spend time doing the things that they do? Since local churches are made up of Christians, the application is the same. The way that we answer these questions reveals much about who we believe God to be and whether or not we are pursuing His kingdom and righteousness.
I will close by reminding us of two things that Jesus has already said explicitly in this famous sermon. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21), and “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (v. 24). Let us examine our own hearts and come again to repentance.
Old Testament use
Jesus is still expositing and applying the Old Testament message we have observed over the last two weeks in Jeremiah 17:5-11. Jesus alluded to this passage in Matthew 6:1-4 and will continue to make specific applications through the end of this section of His sermon to His disciples.