Yesterday, we asked whether Jesus was right in his assessment of wealth and possessions (vv. 19–24). The text before us presents us with one implication of believing that he was right. Simply put, if Jesus was right about money and possession, we will learn to lead a life free of overbearing anxiety.
Jesus is addressing, at this point in the sermon, hindrances to surpassing righteousness. A wrong theology of possessions is one such barrier, but so is undue anxiety about our physical needs. But Jesus does not simply tell his disciples not to worry; he gives them several reasons that anxiety is incompatible with surpassing righteousness.
First, anxiety is incompatible with surpassing righteousness because life is more than food and clothing. As we saw yesterday, food and clothing are the basic necessities of life, without which we cannot survive (1 Timothy 6:8). But there is more to life than these basic necessities. By implication, there is more to life that our other earthly possessions.
Jesus’ basic point is simple: If God is sovereign over life, surely he is sovereign over the basic necessities of life (v. 25). If we affirm that God is sovereign and that our very lives are in his hand, it seems incomprehensible to imagine that we must meet our own basic needs. When we are gripped by anxiety over our basic needs, it prevents us from seeking God’s kingdom as we should.
Second, anxiety is incompatible with surpassing righteousness because it fails to recognise how precious God’s children are to him. If God cares for the birds of the air (v. 26) and the flowers of the field (vv. 28–30), how foolish to think that he will not care and provide for us. If we are persuaded that God cares more for us than for birds and flowers, we will trust our needs to him and seek first his kingdom.
Third, anxiety is incompatible with surpassing righteousness because it leads to impractical living (v. 27). Rather than adding to our life span, anxiety frequently shortens it. To spend time worrying about things over which we have no control is impractical. It is far better to use our time actively pursuing God’s kingdom and righteousness than it is worrying about things we can’t change.
Of course, Jesus does not intend to communicate that we should live recklessly. The Bible commends things like bodily exercise and financial planning, but only when they are put in their proper place and subjected to God’s sovereignty. Unbelievers spend all their time in intricate planning, but God knows what his people need and is committed to meeting their needs (vv. 31–32).
Rather than obsessing over our material needs, we should “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v. 33). As we prioritise seeking God’s kingdom, we will learn to live free of overwhelming anxiety and trust God to keep us and sustain us through each day.
But what does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? From the context of the sermon, we can say at least two things.
First, seeking first God’s kingdom means pursuing obedience to God’s rules. The Sermon on the Mount is not a prescription for antinomianism—living in a way that ignores God’s commands. It is not a prescription for self-righteousness—obeying as a means to earn God’s favour. It is a prescription for recognising God’s commands—and the spirit behind them—and gladly obeying as a means to bring glory to God. Those who seek first God’s kingdom will do that.
Second, seeking first God’s kingdom means pursuing prioritising God’s agenda. It means that we will recognise those things that are important to God and make those same things important to us. As we saw yesterday, that’s what it means to lay up our treasures in heaven.
As you consider Jesus’ words on anxiety, commit to seeking first God’s kingdom and obeying his rules, and trust him to meet your daily needs.