There are a lot of details to life. What to eat. What to wear. Which way to drive to work. Should I change jobs? Should I take the next promotion? Will I get off work in time for the kids soccer game? How can I cut my expenses and save more?
The list of things that concern me goes on and on. The Greek word here is μεριμνάω (merimnaó). It means that I am over-anxious, I am anxious, I am distracted or I care for something.
Life is more than those things. Jesus is showing me how in His Manifesto (Matthew 5 – 7). It is a pity that this passage seeking first the Kingdom of God is often read on its own in church, isolated from what has gone before. Then the significance of the introductory “Therefore I tell you” is missed. Jesus has just said in the verse before that
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
So, I must begin by relating this ‘therefore’, this conclusion of Jesus, to the teaching which has led up to it. He calls us to give thought before he calls us to action. Jesus invites us to look clearly and coolly at the alternatives and to weigh them up carefully.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God 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.
Here are some questions we need to have answers to:
- Do I want to accumulate treasure?
- Then which of the two possibilities Jesus lays out is the more durable?
- Do I wish to be free and purposeful in my movements?
- What must my eyes be like to facilitate this?
- I wish to serve the best master? Is that Jesus? Will I be His slave?
We must consider which is the more worthy of our devotion. Only when we have grasped with our minds the comparative durability of the two treasures (corruptible and incorruptible), the comparative usefulness of the two eye conditions (light and darkness) and the comparative worth of the two masters (God and mammon), are we ready to make our choice.
And only when we have made our choice —for heavenly treasure, for light, for God —are we right with God: “therefore I tell you this is how you must go on to behave: do not be anxious about your life … nor about your body … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (25, 33).
Our basic choice of which of two masters we intend to serve will radically affect our attitude to both. I will not be anxious about the one (for I have rejected it), but concentrate my mind and energy on the other (for I have chosen Him); I will refuse to become engrossed in my concerns, but instead seek first the concerns of God.
The Messiah’s language of search introduces us to the subject of ambition. Jesus took it for granted that all human beings are ‘seekers’. It is not natural for people to drift aimlessly through life like plankton. We need something to live for, something to give meaning to our existence, something to ‘seek’, something on which to set our ‘hearts’ and our ‘minds’. Let’s call it what it is. It is ‘ambition’.
Can ‘ambition’ can equally refer to other strong desires — unselfish rather than selfish, Godly rather than worldly? It is possible to be ‘ambitious for God’. Ambition concerns our goals in life and our incentives for pursuing them. My ambition is what makes me ‘tick’; it uncovers the mainspring of my actions, my secret inner motivation. This, then, is what Jesus was talking about when he defined what in the disciples world is counter-culture. I am to ‘seek first’ after Jesus.
Once again, our Master simplifies the issue for us is reducing the alternative possible life-goals to only two. He puts them over against each other in this section, urging his followers not to be preoccupied with their own security (food, drink and clothing), for that is the obsession of ‘the Gentiles’ who do not know him, but rather with God’s rule and God’s righteousness, and with their spread and triumph in the world.
Now that is some good news!