Two Cautions and a Cure
Rest easy—God is caring for you.
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. … But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” — Matthew 6:24, 33, 34
If there is just one idea from this passage that we ought to burn into our present memories, it is this: “Rest easy—God is caring for you, so don’t worry.” Christ gives us here two cautions that go together, and a cure:
- A caution against covetousness
- A caution against worry
- A cure for care
A CAUTION AGAINST COVETOUSNESS
Christ warns us here plainly: You cannot serve two masters. You will serve one or the other, and there is no middle ground. Period. No excuse of ours can soften this warning.
Shortly before Christ warns his hearers warning to choose carefully what you treasure, because your heart must surely follow that treasure.
What? We choose where we set our affections? This can’t be. We live in the age of love at first sight. I don’t control my affections. I can’t help them. I just love to gamble. I just love fast cars. I just love ____. (You fill in the blank.)
But Christ tells us that is not so. We choose where we set our affections, and we must answer to God for these choices. Consider Proverbs 4:23, “Keep you heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Mount a watchful guard on your heart. Put a stout security man there who never sleeps, and let no carnal affections sneak in and set up housekeeping.
James warns us of the same thing. Your covetousness, he says, causes the strife among you and leaves your prayers unanswered. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:1-3)
How do we land in this state? James says that we did not guard our hearts in the first place, when that covetousness first crept into our hearts. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14-15)
Listen to James. You let some some fleshly desire creep into your heart and settle, and then it conceives—what? Sin, and sin brings forth death. This is exactly what Proverbs warns us about: Guard your heart diligently, for out of it are the issues of life—or death.
But what about our age, where riches are the universal idol? If there is one word that sums up our age, it is ambition. A “man has no ambition,” after all, is totally worthless. He doesn’t desire to get ahead. He doesn’t want power and wealth and status. He is worthless.
And here stands Christ telling us, “No man can serve two masters, period.” Whoever gives himself as a slave to riches, to his fleshly desires, must abandon God’s service and become the slave of the devil.
Who is Christ addressing? He does not mean those struggling Christians who fight with their flesh. Although they fall prey to it, they still render the flesh only a reluctant service. They remain dissatisfied with their failure and keep on struggling against their flesh. These God is pleased to accept. He covers the defeats of their warfare with the blood of Christ.
No, Christ is talking here to the proud hypocrite who flatters himself that his vices don’t really rise to the offense of serving another god. “Oh, I know that I work all the time, I know that all my effort goes to getting ahead, but I still love God. I can still serve him while I’m busy getting rich.” This attitude is not limited to those afflicted with covetousness. Adulterers say the same thing. Drunkards say the same thing. Christ warns us, you are lying to yourself. You cannot claim to serve God and never look to your soul, never look to heaven, never look to leading a godly life. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.
A CAUTION AGAINST WORRY
The first caution, the warning against covetousness, is connected to this second caution against worry, for covetousness leads to worry, and worry denies the providence of God.
Christ reproves here that excessive anxiety with which we torment ourselves about food and clothing. These two are a figure of speech here. It’s not as if Christ said, “Don’t worry about food and clothing, but it’s okay to worry about where you’ll get your next new car or how you’ll buy that house.” No, food and clothing are the part that represents the whole—all the means necessary to support our life.
Christ forbids us to be anxious, but not literalistically. We all know that we are born in a condition of having some care, and God uses that care to humbles us and binds us to him. We have a positive duty to exercise that care.
Rather, Christ condemns excessive care, and for two reasons. First, by worrying we vex ourselves to no purpose. We are carrying care farther than our duty demands. Our duty only demands that we do all things that are necessary and needful, and then leave the outcome to God. Our duty demands that we exercise prudent initiative and effort, trusting that God will bless our efforts because he promises to do just that.
Second, Christ condemns excessive care because it evidences that we are placing our trust in the wrong place, either in our selves or in things. You have all known “control freaks.” Since they rely only on themselves, they have to cover every single base, but of course, they can’t really cover every base. When we worry, we become control freaks, claiming more authority and power for ourselves than we ought. The result is that we depend wholly on ourselves, and neglect to call on God.
What does Psalm 127:2 say about this kind of worry? “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so [God] giveth his beloved sleep.” The ungodly get up early and rush to work, they work all day and into the night—they eat the bread of sorrows—but to his beloved God gives sleep. His children work, and he gives them rest in him.
Or we may worry too much because we place our trust in things: boxes of food, gallons of honey and orange juice, bags of bread and freezers full of meat, strongboxes full of gold and silver. Yet all of that is utterly dead, and powerless to help us unless God blesses it. The very food you put into your mouth will bestow no more nutrition than sawdust unless God blesses it. Those who rely on things are condemned to perpetual uneasiness, because no matter how big the pile grows, it will never be big enough. Think about how many poor people you saw in this condition when they were preparing for Y2K.
So while Christ is not telling us that God’s children are free from all toil and anxiety, yet we can truthfully say they are not anxious because they rely on God’s providence, and thus they enjoy a calm repose.
Well, then, what is a proper care about food and clothes? To labour as our calling requires and God commands. To call on God according to our needs. This godly care lies between lazy carelessness and presumption on one hand, and the unnecessary torments that unbelievers kill themselves with on the other. Make no mistake: when God has given you means of supporting yourself, you cannot neglect those means and say, “Well, I’m just waiting on God to provide. If I just stand here long enough, he’ll send roast chickens flying into my mouth.” How many people pose as “Super-Christians” behind that mask of super-piety? It’s not piety, it is presumption, and God will not be manipulated.
THE CURE FOR CARE
What is the cause of all our anxiety? Distrust of God, which is unbelief.
What reasons does Christ give us not to worry? He argues from the lesser to the greater. “Look at the birds,” he says, “they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they don’t store in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. Look at the grass—not even Solomon was dressed as gloriously. If God so cares for these lesser creatures, will he not care for you, created in his very image?”
Then he argues from the greater to the lesser. “Hasn’t God given you the greater gift, life? If he gave you that greater thing, then won’t he give you whatever it takes to support life?”
We dishonour God when we doubt that he will provide for us. What does he promise? “Can I forget you? Can a mother forget her sucking child? Look, I have written your name on the palms of my hands so that you are always before me!” (Isaiah 49:15) “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, quoting Joshua 1:5)
Still there is more to curb our worry. While we ought to trust that God will give us what we need, we ought also trust that he will give us what is good for our souls at exactly the right time. We ought to satisfy ourselves knowing God has measured it out exactly to what we need and what we can stand.
Are you poor right now? God has given you exactly what is good for you. Are you rich? God has given you exactly what is good for you.
Both cases carry their own special lessons and temptations. Did you work overtime to earn an extra $100 and then your transmission dropped out and it’s going to cost $700 to fix, so now you are $600 worse off than you were and tired to boot? God sent that. It wasn’t just “bad luck.” He knew that right now, you needed transmission trouble. Your soul needed to be drawn to him in that need. God knows the temptations of poverty, and he knows the temptations of riches, and he knows just what you can stand. Look for his love for you, measured out exactly for you in what he provides. Nor is there any pettiness or spite or meanness with God. He orders your life after his bottomless love for you, to conform you to Christ’s image.
What then is the ground of all our hope in this life? The blessing of God. So Christ tells us in verse 33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these thing shall be added to you.”
What is the cure for anxiety?
- To take you eyes off yourself and place them on God.
- To take your hope off yourself and this world, and place it on God.
- To take all your ambitions for yourself and renounce them, and to place all your ambition and zeal on building God’s kingdom.
- To cease serving yourself, and start serving him, because he loves you.
If you are anxious, you are neglecting your soul, and your pursuit of the Christian life. Your priorities are all out of order. You’ve put the first last and the last first. Return to God’s promise: put the first first. Put me first, God says, and I will give you everything you need. This is the God who says to us in Psalm 81:10, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it with good things!” But first, I will fill your soul.
Are you anxious? Do you need something? Don’t drive to the store! Don’t work overtime! Don’t go into debt! Don’t pull out your MasterCard or Visa! “Trust in him at all times, ye people—Pour out your heart before him, God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)
Still today we serve the same God who said to Jeremiah (33:3), “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.”
Rest easy—God is caring for you.
Originally published February 2002