THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM

An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount

by Kent Young


© 2017

Chapter 6 - DO NOT BE ANXIOUS

MATTHEW 6:25-34

Because of the common translation of the first verse of this section, a simple fact is often overlooked. Every major English translation of which I am aware follows along with the traditional rendering of the twenty-fifth verse of Matthew 6 that goes something like this: “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious about your life...nor about your body...” The rendering of the Greek word “ψυχή” as “life” in this passage is not, in my opinion, the best option. This Greek word can just as well be translated using the word “soul,” and to me “soul” makes more sense in the context.

Both “life” and “soul” are reasonable English words to translate the Greek word ψυχή. Occasionally ψυχή is used simply to refer to the physical/biological life of a person (as in Acts 27:22), and in these instances, of course, “life” is the best English translation.

Most often, though, ψυχή is used to refer to an individual’s natural, immaterial self, or sometimes to any, all, or any combination of the various aspects of the individual’s natural, immaterial faculties (I say “natural” to distinguish from “spiritual” which involves the human “spirit” or “πνεῦμα” which is something entirely different. We will touch on this distinction shortly). In these instances the English word “soul” is the preferable translation. For example, “the soul” is said to experience emotion, such as tremendous sorrow in Matthew 26:38, as well as great joy in Luke 1:46. The soul also is described as being the domain of one’s intellect, as in Acts 15:24.

In certain texts “the soul” is placed in juxtaposition to “the body” for the purpose of contrasting the immaterial self from the material self. This is seen in Matthew 10:28 when Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.” Notice how soul and body are set in opposition to one another. Sadly, the common translation of Matthew 6:25 obscures the fact that this passage should also be seen as an example of this soul/body, immaterial/material contrast.[1]

Worry about Soul and Body

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your soul, what you eat and what you drink, nor about your body, what you wear. Is not the soul more than food and the body than clothing?”
Matthew 6:25

Jesus is not simply warning his disciples against the dangers of excessive worry. Anxiety is indeed understood by most to be a vice, and can even lead to psychological or even physiological health problems. Any competent moral teacher will warn about the dangers of excessive worry. Jesus goes much further.

It is not excessive worry that Jesus teaches against, rather it is all worry. Again Jesus is heightening the level of righteousness that he demands, proving more and more the impossibility of its accomplishment using strictly human ability.

Imagine, the disciples have just heard Jesus tell them that they were not to store up earthly treasure, not speaking just of material riches, but of basic necessities. Any reasonable person would know that obedience to this command is beyond his ability, but if anyone was able to delude himself into thinking he could live that way, imagine the worry that he would immediately be consumed by!

Jesus says, “Do not lay up treasure on earth.”

“Is he serious?” the disciple thinks. “How on earth will I survive? What if something happens? How will I feed and clothe myself?” The acquiescent disciple begins to worry and doubt his ability to obey. Does Jesus soften the teaching and make it more palatable?

“Plus, you are forbidden from worry!” is the next thing out of Jesus’ mouth. It is enough to be told to live day by day with no treasure stored up for the future. Imagine being further told that now you are not allowed to even worry about it! If the first command is extreme, surely the next one is absurd!

It may indeed seem extreme or even absurd at face value, but remember what Jesus told the disciples when instructing them about prayer. The disciples were not to live day to day wondering where their next meal was coming from. Rather they were to be asking, day by day, for their Father to provide their “daily bread.” The simple fact is that, to truly obey Jesus, a disciple must be able to really trust God.

Food and Drink

“Look at the birds of the heaven, that they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”
Matthew 5:26,27

Herein lies the answer to obedience to Jesus’ command against worrying: God will provide. The human soul (or life) has the basic requirements of food and water. Every human soul is alike in seeking for the supposed security in providing these basic needs for himself. From a worldly perspective, it is foolish to abstain from laying up treasures for the future, and downright silly to tell a person to go on that way without worrying about his natural provisions.

However, as Jesus points out, once almighty God is brought into the picture, everything changes. If the disciple will concede that he is indeed God’s child, then the ridiculous one is the one who worries about his provisions. “God takes care of the birds[2] , will he not take care of you?” Jesus asks. “Besides, what exactly are you accomplishing with all of your worrying?” Without God’s active involvement, Jesus’ teaching makes no sense. But with God’s involvement factored in, Jesus’ way is the only reasonable path to walk.

Clothing

“And about clothing: Why are you worried? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, not even Solomon, in all his glory, was arrayed like one of these. And if God so dresses the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more you, you of little faith?”
Matthew 6:28-30

As food and drink are for the sustaining of the soul, clothing serves to preserve the body. Clothing is perhaps the most basic necessity that a person may worry about. If a grown man were dropped off naked in a wilderness completely unknown to him, before searching for food, water, or shelter, probably the first item that he would fashion for himself is some form of garment for clothing.

Since the fall, all men have had an innate knowledge of their own nakedness. Man is unique among all of God’s creatures in needing a covering for his body. All other animals have something, a coat, hide, feathers, etc. protecting them from the surrounding elements. As the typology in the Genesis account demonstrates, sin created a spiritual nakedness in man that is only rectified by the covering that comes by the shed blood of Christ. Man’s natural shame and exposure when physically unclothed provides a constant reminder for him of his spiritual need for the covering that comes from the sacrificial death of another.

Continuing with his message about God’s provision for the most basic of human needs, Jesus explains that, just as God provided the covering for Adam and Eve in the garden, which pictures his providing of the spiritual covering for man’s sin by the death of his Son, so will God provide for the disciple’s physical need of clothing for his body. The disciple is able to obey Jesus’ teaching against the laying up of treasure, and is able to do so without worry in his heart, because he knows that God will provide for him.

Now, it must be pointed out here that the provision of God that Jesus is promising his disciples is rightly understood as provision as God sees fit, not as man sees fit. Sadly, very often Christians worry about clothing even beyond as provision for the body’s natural need for a covering. Clothing is often a display of man’s glory. It is used to show off wealth, power, or privilege. Jesus is of course not saying that God will provide clothing for these or any other self-motivated reasons. Naturally God will not give to his children that which will entice them into greed, lust, pride, or even simple worldliness.

Nor does Jesus say that his disciples will never experience things like nakedness or exposure. A small glimpse into the lives of the apostles and even that of Jesus himself will prove that, at times, God will indeed allow his servants to suffer these things. Jesus does not say that his disciples will at all times have their physical needs met, but he is saying is that God understands their needs. God is in control, and as a general principle, he takes care of his own. No shame, suffering, pain, or nakedness will ever come into your life that God has not allowed and in which God is not at work for your greater and eternal good. So relax, Christian! Cease with the futile worrying!

Now, if Jesus forbids the worrying about clothing even as a basic need, how much more unbecoming must it be for his disciples to concern themselves with clothing as a display of extravagance! The proper attitude of a disciple is reflected in the words of the apostle Paul, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Multiple places in the New Testament there is warning against the use of clothing as a display of one’s personal glory (see 1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3). The apostles taught the believers instead to “clothe (them)selves with humility” (1 Peter 5:5), focusing on the inward, spiritual adornment of righteousness (1 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 3:4). In so teaching, they were of course simply echoing the command of their Master.

Spiritual Concern: The Kingdom and Righteousness

“Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek for these. For your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these will be added to you.”
Matthew 6:31-33

Like his apostles after him, Jesus does not leave the command against earthly worry as simply a negative prohibition. In addition to forbidding the worrying about the external, Jesus also gives a positive command, telling his disciples with what their desire instead ought to be occupied. We should not be surprised, based on the primary subject of the sermon, that the first matter with which Jesus tells his disciples to be occupied is the matter of “the kingdom.”

Until the current section, Jesus had spent the entire sermon explaining to his disciples the criteria for inheriting the coming kingdom. In this section he has begun to address a potential hindrance for the disciples in their pursuit of that goal, namely the worries and cares of the world. This is the same point made in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9), when Jesus warns about the seed being sown among the thorns. When giving the proper interpretation of the parable, Jesus explains that the thorns represent “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” Remember that the “seed” in the parable represents “the word of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:19). Jesus explains that the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word so that it bears no fruit (Matthew 13:18-23). These “thorns” are exactly what Jesus is warning about in these passages in Matthew 6:25-33. Throughout the first chapter and a half of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been giving his disciples “the word of the kingdom,” explaining how they might be able to be found worthy to enter into the joy of their master’s future rule. In this section he warns them about the potential impediment of worldly anxiety.

As we have seen, the two faculties of man to which Jesus refers are the “soul” (Greek: ψυχή) and the “body” (Greek: σῶμα). Jesus expressly forbids anxiety related to either of these two faculties. Allow me to briefly point out that the soul and the body, combine to form what elsewhere in scripture is called the “flesh.” The flesh (Greek: σάρξ) refers to the natural, human nature that all of mankind has inherited from Adam. This fallen, human nature touches both the material and immaterial aspects of each person. Notice that while listing the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21 Paul does not only mention the obvious bodily lusts (immorality, impurity, sensuality, drunkenness, orgies, etc.), but he also includes the “soul-ish” sins like jealousy, anger, and division. In fact, sometimes Paul refers to a person living by the dictates of this human nature as the “natural man” (1 Corinthians 2:14; 15:44,46). The word normally translated “natural” in these verses is actually just the adjective form of the same Greek word translated as soul (ψυχή: “soul”; ψυχικός: “natural” or “soul-ish”). The word soul is used interchangeably in the gospels with the word “self” (compare Matthew 16:26 with Luke 9:25). In short, a person consumed with the worries or pleasures of his soul or his body is a person who cares for himself. Paul warns, just as Jesus does in these passages, that those who live in this manner “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).

Just to reiterate, to “not inherit the kingdom of God” does not necessarily mean that the person is unsaved. A person can have genuinely been born again and thus be the recipient of eternal life, yet neglect these warnings against being “fleshly” or concerned only for himself. The Corinthian believers, for example, are called “sanctified in Christ Jesus” in 1 Corinthians 1:2, yet in 1 Corinthians 3:1 they are said to be “carnal” (Greek: σάρκινος - “fleshly”). It is indeed possible for people to be positionally righteous by virtue of their new-birth through faith in Christ, yet still be experientially carnal by walking by the flesh and seeking only their own desires. It is the positional righteousness that secures one’s eternal salvation from the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15), but it is the experiential righteousness that secures one’s position in the coming kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9,10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5).

Now, getting back to the passage before us, if anxiety about one’s soul and body is forbidden, what should the disciple of Jesus be concerned about? Although he does not mention the word specifically, Jesus can be summarized as saying that, rather than worrying about the needs of one’s soul or body, his disciple ought to be concerned with the things of the spirit. In telling his disciples to seek the kingdom and righteousness of God, he was telling them to do something that, according to their natural make-up, was actually impossible. Man’s soul and body are powerless in achieving the kind of righteousness that is of God or that would merit the reward of rulership in God’s kingdom (Romans 8:7,8). This is why, as disciples of Jesus, we required a “new birth;” a birth of the spirit (John 3:5).[3]

It is the “spirit” (Greek: πνεῦμα), the third faculty of man (1 Thessalonians 5:23), alive only in believers, that is the region of God’s interaction with man. Obedience to this highest ever standard of righteousness is only possible because God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, dwells within and strengthens the disciple of Jesus, giving him the power to live the life of God. As Paul says in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit,” and again in Philippians 2:13, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

My paraphrase of what Jesus is saying in this passage goes like this: “Do not worry about the matters of the flesh (body and soul), but worry instead about the matters of the spirit. The temporal, fleshly things will be taken care of as God sees fit. It is the spiritual, eternal matters of God’s righteousness being lived out in you that ought to occupy all your concern and energy. This indeed is your only means of attaining to the position of co-rulership with me in the coming kingdom.”

Conclusion

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Matthew 6:34

Every wise teacher will tell you to “plan for your future.” You cannot interview for a job without the interviewer asking you about your “five-year plan,” and to be frank, if you reply by saying that you intend to “let tomorrow care for itself” then you are not likely to get the position. From the perspective of a person looking to succeed in this life only, a person looking for some good ethical guidelines to help them find happiness and fulfilment, Jesus’ teachings make absolutely no sense. As Paul said with regard to the future resurrection from the dead, if the things that Jesus says about the future kingdom and God’s rewarding of those who are faithful to him turn out to be false, then we who seek to obey Jesus’ teaching today are “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Just as was the case for the “turn the other cheek” passage in chapter five, we see here again that for Jesus’ teaching to be truly received and obeyed there is required a daily and even moment by moment interaction of the disciple with God himself. If God’s provision, just as with his protection, cannot be counted on, then Jesus’ words are foolishness. But if Jesus is right, and there is a kingdom yet to come, and if Jesus will really share the rulership of that kingdom with those servants of his who are faithful and righteous in this age, then it will turn out that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.



Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] While I concede that the concept of the preservation of natural life is clearly present in this section and thus there is good reason to choose the word “life” as the translation for ψυχή, I still take “soul” to be the better translation because it maintains the body/soul contrast that I believe Jesus intended. The fact that in this passage ψυχή clearly carries with it both the “soul” and “life” concepts demonstrates that there is more overlap between these two ideas than is commonly understood. The Recovery Version translators interestingly will sometimes use the combined term “soul-life” to translate ψυχή, though they go along with the traditional “life” here in Matthew 6:25.

[2] Jesus’ referring to the birds as examples of having the needs of “the soul” provided is not out of place. Animals are referred to as living “souls” the same as humans are. Revelation 16:3 uses the same Greek word ψυχή to describe animal life that is used in this passage. The same is true in the LXX of Genesis 1:20. It is the presence of the human spirit, not of the soul, that separates man from beast.

[3] In this passage we have both concepts; the irrevocable gift of eternal life, and the conditional reward of entrance into the kingdom. The gift of new birth is the first necessary criteria for attaining to the reward of the kingdom.