Matthew 6:25-34 (NET)
How can we overcome worry and fear?
It has been said that the most repeated phrase in Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” Some variation of it is mentioned over 350 times. God said it to Gideon when calling him to lead Israel (Judges 6:23). God said it to Jeremiah when calling him to be a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:8). Christ said it to the women at his resurrection (Matt 28:10). Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”
When Adam sinned in the garden, a new word entered his vocabulary. He said, “I was ‘afraid.’” Now man continually lives with fear—fear of failure, fear of success, fear of death. Fear became the norm because there was an absence of love. John says, “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). People’s relationships with God and others are fractured. Therefore, people are constantly plagued by fears, which often inhibit their ability to love and receive love.
Here in Matthew 6:25-34, Christ commands his disciples to not worry about their needs—what they will eat, drink, or wear. Previously, in Matthew 6:19-24, Christ taught the disciples to not store up treasures on earth. Believers should not store up wealth like the rest of the world, but they also should not be consumed with worry about their needs, as God will provide for them.
Some might say, “Aren’t some forms of worry healthy?” Certainly, we should be concerned. Concern helps us to be diligent and prudent. In 2 Corinthians 11:28, Paul says, “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches.” He had a constant concern over the welfare of the churches. We should be concerned about our spiritual lives and that of others, and many other things. But we should not worry. Worry negatively affects us and is rooted in our lack of trust in God.
In this passage, Christ said the disciples had “little faith” (v. 30). They had faith to believe God for eternal salvation but not for his daily provision. A preacher once said:
Worry is sin because it denies the wisdom of God; it says that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. It denies the love of God; it says He does not care. And it denies the power of God; it says that He isn’t able to deliver me from whatever is causing me to worry.1
In this study, we will consider how to overcome worry.
Big Question: What principles does Christ give about overcoming worry in Matthew 6:25-34?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on Eternal Matters Instead of Temporary Ones“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?
Therefore” points back to verses 19-24, where Christ calls the disciples to store up treasures in heaven instead of on the earth. Then he describes how wealth can spiritually blind and master us. Essentially, Christ calls believers to focus on eternal matters—like riches in heaven—instead of focusing on temporary matters like wealth or our basic needs. In verse 25, he says, “Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?”
When believers live only for food, clothes, etc., they debase themselves to being like animals. Life becomes all about serving our physical body. Really that is what most advertising is about: “Eat this!” Wear this! Watch this!” It is all about making the body attractive, pleasant smelling, comfortable, and entertained. Christ later says the pagans worry about these things (v. 32). Their primary concerns are temporal matters—not eternal ones—and they live in a constant rat race to fulfill those desires. However, believers are citizens, not only of this earth, but of heaven. Therefore, we must be primarily concerned about the affairs of heaven, even as we abide on the earth. Christ emphasizes this in Matthew 6:33 when he says seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
To overcome worry, we must focus on eternal matters—like becoming holy, seeing others saved, growing, and building God’s kingdom. Colossians 3:1-4 says:
Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.
Often the way you conquer a passion is by focusing on a greater passion. To focus on earthly matters like riches and basic needs will always breed worry and anxiety. Focusing on eternal matters delivers us from those worries and brings God’s peace.
Application Question: What is the difference between concern and worry? What are the things that you commonly worry about? How is God calling you to focus more on eternal matters?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on Our Father’s Providential CareLook at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?... Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?
Matthew 6:26, 28-30
Next, Christ gives three examples of God’s providential care in order to encourage believers to not worry but to instead trust God. He says look at the “birds in the sky,” how God feeds them (v. 26). Look at the “flowers of the field,” how they grow. Their clothes are better than that of Solomon (v 28-29). We can discern this with the naked eye as we consider their rich colors and designs; however, if one looked through a microscope, the rich complexity of color and texture would be even more apparent. God also provides for the grass, even though its lifespan is short (v. 30). When Christ says the grass is thrown into the fire “to heat the oven,” he probably refers to how the ancients would grab nearby grass and flowers and use them for fuel to further heat up their clay ovens.2
Interestingly, Christ talks about how God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers and grass and yet we know these happen by “natural” processes. This reflects the doctrine of God’s providence. This means God is not like a watchmaker who creates a watch, with the mechanisms inside, and simply allows it to run all on its own—apart from the makers intervention. God is intricately involved in every aspect of his creation. Scripture says Christ sustains all things by his word (Heb 1:3). Everything is totally dependent upon God. He gives man life, breath, and everything else (Acts 17:25). Even our moment by moment breaths cannot happen apart from God’s grace. Therefore, though birds gather their food, God is involved in their hunt for it. God is involved in the intricate processes of flowers blooming and grass gaining its color. Nothing happens apart from God in this world. It all happens in such a way that one could say, “God did it” (Job 1:21, Amos 3:6, Isaiah 45:6).
The action of the birds to feed themselves reminds us that we are still responsible to work in order to provide for ourselves and others. Paul said that a person that doesn’t work shouldn’t eat (2 Thess 3:10). Christ’s command to not worry should not create laziness or complacency in us. We should work, and work hard, as unto the Lord (Col 3:23). However, Christ’s teaching should create trust, as we understand God’s sovereign care for us.
Certainly, this is one of the reasons we often struggle with fear. We think God has left us, and we have to survive on our own. We may not actually think that most times, but our thoughts and actions imply that, when we live and act out of fear and worry. If we are going to overcome worry, we must focus on God’s providential care for us.
Application Question: How do you reconcile God’s providence with the actions of created beings? Does this comfort you? Why or why not?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Recognize Our Great Value to GodLook at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?
Interpretation Question: In what ways are humans (and specifically believers) more valuable than other parts of creation?
It must be noticed that Christ doesn’t say the “bird’s Father.” He says the disciples’ Father feeds them. Christ then says, “Aren’t you more valuable than they are?” Birds are not made in the image of God, nor being recreated in his image (2 Cor 3:18). They are not sons and daughters of God—co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). God made man his chief in creation. In the recreation, which happens at the new birth, he makes us one with Christ and indwells us. We are certainly more valuable than birds, flowers, and grass. How much more will God make sure that we have all our needs? He doesn’t promise us our wants. Sometimes we worry because we lack our wants. God promises to provide our needs (Phil 4:19).
Therefore, a great amount of our worry happens because we don’t understand our immense value to God. Romans 8:31-32 says,
What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?
If God gave his best for us—his Son—how will he not also provide everything else we need? We are of supreme value. God gave it all for us.
Application Question: How can we grow in understanding our value?
1. We must constantly study Scripture to know our value.We must learn everything that God says about us and everything that he promises to us. We must internalize these truths. The more we do this, the more we’ll overcome worry. Constantly studying God’s Word is especially important because the world always tells us something different: We are an accident of evolution with no purpose. We need degrees, position, money, and beauty to have value. But, God says, “You are my everything—the apple of my eye! I gave it all for you.” We must constantly hear and accept his voice to overcome worry.
2. We must constantly pray to understand our value.In Ephesians 1:18 (NIV), Paul prays, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” He petitions for the Ephesians to know [experientially] the riches of God’s inheritance in his people. He doesn’t pray for them to know their inheritance in God, but believers as God’s inheritance. To God we are his reward—we are his joy and passion. We are special to him. Since Paul prays for the Ephesians to know this, it means that they didn’t know it as they should, and prayer was a means to grow in this knowledge. Therefore, we must constantly pray to know it as well.
Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (ESV). Our God enjoys us so much he sings over us and wants to quiet our fears with his love. We must continue to grow in understanding this reality to overcome our fear. No doubt, this is the reason that Satan constantly attacks God’s character. He wanted Eve and Job to think God was untrustworthy and evil and, therefore, curse God to his face. If Satan can get us to doubt God’s character and our value to him, he can consume us with doubt, suspicion, fear, and depression—all to our own detriment. Do you know your great value to God? You’re his beloved child.
Application Question: What are some of the lies the world system teaches believers (and people in general) about our identity? How have these lies/societal expectations affected you negatively? In what ways has God been revealing to you your supreme value to him? How has this affected you?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Recognize How Unproductive It Is_ And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?
Christ says worry will not make us live longer. In fact, it might help us die early. MacArthur shares:
You can worry yourself to death, but not to life. Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famous Mayo Clinic, wrote, “Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands and the whole nervous system. I have never met a man or known a man to die of overwork, but I have known a lot who died of worry.”3
Worry does not benefit us physically, mentally, or spiritually. Proverbs says anxiety in the heart of a man brings depression (Prov 12:25). Typically, we start to worry about something, and it affects our entire mood (and often that of others). Next, we find ourselves down and discouraged. Worry also negatively affects us spiritually. In Matthew 13:22 (NIV), in the Parable of the Sowers, Christ describes the seed sown upon thorny ground as “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” When we are constantly worrying, it hinders our ability to receive God’s Word and apply it to our lives. No doubt, there are many in the church who listen to their favorite pastor’s podcasts every week, read all the new latest Christian books, and yet their labor profits them nothing. Worry stunts their spiritual growth.
This makes perfect sense. If the Bible is God’s words for us, as it contains his teachings about our value to him, his providence over our lives, and promises to us, and yet we still live in worry, then essentially, we are calling God a liar. How can God’s Word profit us if we don’t believe him? How can anybody’s words profit us if we don’t trust what they are saying. If every word is received with suspicion, then we won’t make plans based on what they are saying. In the same way, to worry is to say that God and his Word are untrustworthy, and therefore, Scripture will not profit us.
It should be noted that “life” can also be translated “height” or “stature” (c.f. Zacchaeus was little in stature, Lk 19:3).4 Since the word for “hour” is a unit of measurement, some versions translate this, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (as in the KJV). Worrying won’t increase your life or your height. It is illogical, unproductive, and harmful!
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced the harm of worry—physically, mentally, and spiritually?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Pursue God’s PromisesSo then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Some have counted over 3,000 promises in Scripture, and Matthew 6:33 is one of the greatest. Christ promises the disciples that if they made God’s kingdom and his righteousness their chief priority, all their needs would be met. The word “pursue” is a present imperative meaning that this must be one’s unceasing quest, not an occasional endeavor.5 When God’s kingdom and righteousness are our priority, God meets our needs, which ultimately delivers us from fear and worry.
Interpretation Question: What does God’s kingdom and righteousness refer to?
There is considerable overlap with both of these concepts, so we shouldn’t be too dogmatic about the specifics. With that said, the kingdom is the place of God’s reign. Therefore, every time a person comes to know Christ—they become part of the kingdom. Christians must make evangelism their primary endeavor whether at work, church, home, or abroad. They must constantly pray for people to know Christ and take advantage of opportunities to witness and invite others to church. They must make their life attractive by being righteous and not living a compromised life, which just pushes people away from God. When Christians live like the world, the world doesn’t understand why they need to follow Christ.
Seeking first God’s righteousness also includes the conquering of sin in our lives and replacing it with righteous acts and attitudes. We must pursue the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, mercy, etc. We must pursue righteousness by serving and discipling other believers. But it also includes social justice—pursuing God’s righteousness outside the walls of the church. Believers should feed the poor, fight for the rights of the unborn, the trafficked, and neglected. Believers must pursue righteous ethics in education, government, and our communities. As this happens, others are drawn into the kingdom.
When we pursue God’s kingdom and his righteousness, God meets our needs, which implies the opposite of this promise is also true. When we don’t pursue his kingdom, but instead neglect God and enjoy the world and sin, we will often lack. As in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God often allows his wayward children to go away from him, enjoy sin, and reap the consequences of it. He allows them to experience lack until they come to their senses and return home (Lk 15). With Israel in the Old Testament, when they neglected tithing, practicing the Sabbath, caring for the poor, etc., God allowed famine and other calamities to turn them back to their priority—God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
How often does that happen to us individually, corporately as a church, and nationally as a nation? This is part of the reason we must pursue God’s kingdom. As believers are consumed with the greatest concerns, God blesses them—delivering them from lesser worries.
With that said, there are many other promises given in Scripture that help us overcome worry.
Interpretation Question: What are some other promises that help us overcome worry?
Philippians 4:6-7 says,
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
If we pray in every situation, if we bring our petitions (requests) before God in every situation, and if we give thanks in every situation, God will give us his peace. Worry often overwhelms us because we are not people of prayer—people who constantly pray in every situation. We pray only when things are bad and not when they are good. Or we pray when things are good and get mad at God when they are bad. Or we don’t pray at all. This type of person will lack peace. Sometimes we lack peace because we fail to bring our petitions before the Lord. We don’t ask for peace; we don’t ask for reconciliation in a difficult relationship. In addition, we don’t give thanks in all things. Instead we complain, worry, and get angry. We can’t receive God’s promise of peace in those situations.
Another promise in Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” If we are going to have peace when life is bad, we must make it our aim to keep our minds on God. Get rid of ungodly TV shows, ungodly magazine articles, ungodly music, and ungodly conversations. If we put nothing but God in our hearts and minds through worship, prayer, fellowship, and serving, we’ll find our worries dissipate.
Are you pursuing God’s promises? This is how we conquer worry!
Application Question: How have you seen yourself, your community, or your nation experience lack because God’s kingdom and righteousness were not prioritized? What types of social justice issues is God calling you to get involved in and how? How have you experienced God’s peace when taking advantage of his promises?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on God’s Grace for TodaySo then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.
It must be noted that Christ says today will have “trouble.” The fact that Christ calls us not to worry is not based on the fact that believers are exempt from hardship. We have no such promise. In this world, we will have “trouble and suffering” (John 16:33). We live in a sin-filled world—we will hurt people and they will hurt us. Because of man’s sin, God’s curse is on creation—we experience earthquakes, flooding, drought, and other natural disasters. The curse affects our work—there is pain and toil in our daily labor, and it’s often unfruitful. We get a failing grade on a paper, though we worked our hardest to complete it. Our work projects give us mental stress and at times fall apart. Through pain and toil, we will provide for ourselves on this earth (Gen 3:17-18). There will always be some trouble in the day, and some days will have more than others.
However, amidst the troubles, God promises to give us grace for the day. Lamentations 3:22-23(NIV) says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” As we wake up in the morning and seek his face, grace is distributed. As Israel in the wilderness only received enough bread for the day, God often does the same with us. He often gives grace for the step that we are on, but not the next step—only grace for the day.
Interpretation Question: Why does God only provide grace for the day and not for tomorrow or next year?
The reason is because God desires us to be dependent on him, instead of independent of him. If he provided grace for the week, we would neglect God till next week. If he provided grace for the year, we would neglect him until next year—all to our own detriment.
God will always provide grace for the day. It is when we bear the burden of the next day, it is too much for us. George Macdonald said: “No man ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow’s burden is added to the burden of today, that the weight is more than a man can bear.”6Kent Hughes adds:
Worrying does not enable you to escape evil. It makes you unfit to cope with it. The truth is, we always have the strength to bear the trouble when it comes. But we do not have the strength to bear worrying about it. If you add today’s troubles to tomorrow’s troubles, you give yourself an impossible burden.7
So how should we overcome our worries? Live in the day! Take advantage of the grace God gives you to be faithful today. You’ve got a trial in your family? Do your best to love them today! Don’t worry about how you will love them tomorrow. You’ve got a difficult boss that you can’t stand? Honor and serve him today! Tomorrow God’s mercies are new. Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Thank you, Lord! Amen!
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s grace for today and not the next day? How has God kept you dependent as you waited on his direction or provisions? Why does he often only provide grace and mercy for the day and not the next?
ConclusionHow can we overcome worry?
- To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on Eternal Matters Instead of Temporary Ones
- To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on Our Father’s Providential Care
- To Overcome Worry, We Must Recognize Our Great Value to God
- To Overcome Worry, We Must Recognize How Unproductive It Is
- To Overcome Worry, We Must Pursue God’s Promises
- To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on God’s Grace for Today