The Sermon on the Mount—“Stop Being Anxious”
AFTER giving counsel about shunning materialism, Jesus admonished his audience to avoid undue worry about obtaining the necessities of life: “On this account I say to you: Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body than clothing?”—Matt. 6:25.a
“On this account,” that is, because one “cannot slave for God and for Riches,” Jesus’ disciples should avoid excessive worry even about obtaining daily needs. (Matt. 6:24) The Son of God did not mean to discourage people from having proper concern and working diligently for food and clothing. (Eccl. 2:24; Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10-12) But there is no need for ‘anxiety’ over getting such essentials. The ‘soul and body’ (here representing a person as a whole) are more important than food and clothing. Since God granted physical life to humankind, certainly he can see to it that his worshipers obtain necessary sustenance.
Jesus sharpened this point by an illustration: “Observe intently the birds of heaven, because they do not sow seed or reap or gather into storehouses; still your heavenly Father feeds them.”—Matt. 6:26a.
“The birds of heaven” that fly freely overhead do not perform agricultural labors. Yet God sees to it that they obtain sufficient food. (Compare Job 38:41; Psalm 147:9.) This was something to “observe intently,” to make a matter of serious meditation. The Jews who made up the audience of Jesus could speak of God as their “heavenly Father,” especially since the Israelites had been “chosen” as God’s covenant people. (Deut. 7:6) Contrasting them with the birds of heaven, Jesus asked: “Are you not worth more than they are?” (Matt. 6:26b) If God provides for the flying creatures, how much more will he do so for his worshipers!
Showing the futility of undue worry over acquiring life’s necessities, Jesus continued: “Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life-span?” (Matt. 6:27) The Scriptures frequently liken the life-span of humans to a journey, using expressions such as “the way of sinners” and “the path of uprightness.” (Ps. 1:1; 27:11) Anxiety about daily needs cannot extend one’s life even by a fraction, “one cubit,” so to speak. Rather than benefiting people, undue worry can damage health and even shorten life.
Jesus then introduced a second illustration, saying: “Also, on the matter of clothing, why are you anxious? Take a lesson from the lilies of the field, how they are growing; they do not toil, nor do they spin; but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.”—Matt. 6:28, 29.
“The lilies of the field” likely include several brightly colored flowers that appear in the countryside of Galilee. Hastings’ A Dictionary of the Bible states:
“All these grow among the grain, often overtopping it, and illuminating the broad fields with their various shades of pinkish purple to deep violet-purple and blue, truly royal colours. Any one who has stood among the wheat fields of Galilee, and seen the beautiful racemes [clusters] of these flowers, peering up in every direction above the standing corn, will see at once the appropriateness of our Saviour’s allusion. . . . If, however, we understand by ‘lilies of the field’ simply wild lilies, these would also be included in the expression. Our Saviour’s comparison would then be like a ‘composite photograph,’ a reference to all the splendid colours and beautiful shapes of the numerous wild plants comprehended under the name lily.”
When a person observes “how” these flowers “are growing,” he notices that they do so without any of the ‘toiling’ or ‘spinning’ that humans must perform to produce clothes. Yet the lilies of the field are “arrayed” with beauty that no human attire, even of one as noted for finery as King Solomon, could match.—2 Chron. 9:15-21.
As to the “lesson” in this illustration, Jesus stated: “If, now, God thus clothes the vegetation of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much rather clothe you, you with little faith?”—Matt. 6:30.
“The vegetation of the field” includes the flowers to which Jesus referred. During the hot summers of Palestine, that vegetation withers in as little as two days. The dried flower stalks and grass were collected as fuel for baking ovens. Since God beautifully “clothes” vegetation that dries up so quickly, Jesus’ question is a good one: “Will he not much rather clothe you, you with little faith?” God’s servants are far more important than flowers. Excessive worry about obtaining needed clothing would be an indication of “little faith.”b
“So never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’” continued Jesus, “for all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things.”—Matt. 6:31, 32.
This is the third time in his sermon that Jesus made comparison with “the nations,” or non-Jews. (See Matthew 5:47; 6:7.) They had no relationship with God, and centered their lives around material things and fleshly pleasures. So, if God’s servants doubted his ability and willingness to provide the necessities of life for them, they would be like people of the nations who were “without God in the world.”—Eph. 2:11, 12.
Since the Most High ‘knows the needs’ of his people, Jesus’ hearers would do well to heed his further advice: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—Matt. 6:33.
The disciples of Jesus had accepted him as the Messiah, which put them in line to become part of God’s heavenly Messianic government, or “kingdom.” (Luke 22:28-30; John 14:1-4; Dan. 7:13, 14, 18, 22, 27) But they must ‘keep on seeking’ this “first,” continually making it the matter of chief concern in their lives. They must also seek “his [that is, God’s] righteousness” by exercising faith in God’s Messiah and practicing conduct that conforms to God’s other commandments. Of course, this should never be done with the legalistic viewpoint that performing religious precepts and meritorious deeds obligates God to bless one. The righteousness that counts with God must spring from hearts full of love and appreciation for what he has done in behalf of mankind. (See Romans 10:3; 1 John 4:19.) Persons who truly put God’s worship first in their lives can be confident that “all” their daily needs “will be added” to them by the benevolent God whom they worship.
“So, never be anxious about the next day,” continued Jesus, “for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.” (Matt. 6:34) Each day has its own hardships that cause a measure of frustration. Often daily difficulties arise unexpectedly and are due to causes beyond human control. (Note Ecclesiastes 9:11.) God’s servants should view such predicaments as “sufficient for each day” and face them a day at a time. Rather than improving matters, anxiety over the next day shows lack of faith in God and makes it more difficult to cope with the “badness” of the present day.
a The counsel of Jesus treated in this article (Matt. 6:25-34) appears with slight variations also at Luke 12:22-31. The context in Luke has its setting about a year after the Galilean sermon on the Mount, during Jesus’ later ministry in Judea. Evidently Jesus saw fit to repeat the admonition.
b Jesus used the expression “of little faith” only with regard to his disciples. It appears also at Matthew 8:26; 14:31; 16:8 and Luke 12:28. The phrase is found in rabbinical writings, indicating that it was well known. For example, the Babylonian Talmud relates: “R[abbi] Eliezer the Great declares: Whoever has a piece of bread in his basket and says, ‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ belongs only to them who are little in faith.”