don’t worry. share.

“This is why I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”

How many sermons have been preached from this text which offered as its primary meaning that we shouldn’t worry — and then went on to list all the situations in which we, middle-class America, tend to worry?  I honestly don’t know what “we” worry about, but I bet at least half the list can be summed up like this:

  • Money to pay off our many debts, most of which came from making ourselves comfortable and ensuring we wear clothes, drive cars, and sleep in houses that are at the same level as those around us.
  • If not money to pay off debts, we worry about money to set aside for our futures, to guarantee we can always live at [at least] the same level we currently enjoy.

I’m sure there are some deeper matters with which we’re concerned, but it seems money usually both tops the list and contributes to much of what is on the list.

But I think we’ve misunderstood this passage… on several levels:

The “do not worry” text immediately follows Jesus’ words not to store up treasures on earth, but rather in heaven.  He’s just explained the impossible nature of serving two masters — God and money.  Only after this teaching does he offer these words:  “THIS is why I tell you, do not worry….”  Our passage about not worrying can only be properly understood in light of the passage about not storing up wealth and serving money as god. But we seem intent on using Jesus’ words “do not worry” to excuse our storing up of wealth — saying we simply shouldn’t be anxious about it, because God is going to take care of those things.  But Jesus isn’t promising in this text to send our kids to college, and he’s for sure not promising to help us pay off our expensive wardrobes and addictions to Starbucks.

Jesus is speaking here to the necessities of life:  whether or not we’ll have food to eat, water to drink, and clothes to wear.  First, I think he’s promising God will take care of the Christian’s most basic needs (and that God knows these needs better than we do).  And secondly, he’s saying it’s not our responsibility to store away in barns for our futures.  The point of the text is that we shouldn’t bank away wealth for our futures or be anxious about our fundamental needs.

When’s the last time your anxieties were about whether or not you’d starve?  What about whether or not you’d have to go naked?  We’re not talking about if you’d have the cash to eat at your favorite restaurant (mine… Conestoga in Dothan, AL) or whether your favorite jeans (mine… used Levi’s from the clothing market in Geita) would be clean in time to wear them to church on Wednesday night.

Here’s what I know for sure from this text:

I’m not supposed to store up wealth for my future.  And I’m not supposed to worry about my basic needs, because God will take care of them.

And this is what I’m not positive about, but am leaning towards:

Should those of us who are never hungry or thirsty be reading this text differently? As a part of the body of Christ who doesn’t worry about basic needs, should I be reading this text as someone called to meet these needs for others?  Instead of trying to understand this text as a call not to worry about my own life, should I be understanding it as an opportunity to allow God to keep his promises to others through me? Should I, as a member of God’s family, be making sure those who are seeking his kingdom and righteousness don’t have to be concerned about food and clothing?  Rather than stashing my money away in a bank or a barn, should I be using it to feed the hungry and clothe the naked?

I think that’s how middle-class America is supposed to read this text.


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11 Comments

Filed under giving and generosity, just thinking, musings on the Word

11 responses to “don’t worry. share.

  1. Yes I am agreed but it is not possible in today’s world to live without worry because it shows that how careless you are. I mean if you don’t have any worry it means you don’t have any responsibility.

  2. Good thoughts james. I have been guilty I know of just what you have written about. In 2005 I took the first step to change what I had been doing the way we had been living. I cut up all my credit cards. We have none. Nada. Zippo. We do without sometimes but we are getting by with what we have. I am within 4K of paying off the very last one with the whole idea of being able to help others more than just indulging my/our latest whim. As for retirement I have very very little. It would be enough to last me about 4 months probably. Ain’t no doubt God will have to come through (if we are still around). Good reminder here of priorities.

    • bill, i respect you a great deal having so little retirement. i’ve been struggling with this one for a long time. christie and i have very little also, and we put a line in our budget for a meager savings and retirement — but because we haven’t yet fulfilled some other line items in our budget, we haven’t started putting that money away. i don’t think i feel right doing so. but i’m scared all the same.

  3. JMF

    I need to learn how to retract my toes (like a turtle’s head) so that I can keep them from getting stomped on so much!! 🙂 You are hitting me in my soft spot, and it doesn’t feel very good!! 🙂

    It is never fun hearing the lesson that you need to hear. So in my mind, I’m still counteracting this verse with: “…be a good steward..”, etc.

    Or, “but yeah, i do need to make sure I have a year’s worth of money saved up…I do have kids, you know”…that sort of mindset.

    I honestly have no idea what to do with a verse like this. Part of me thinks that as long as I am feeling great inward struggle in this regard, then I am not allowing money to rule me. And the other part of me thinks that maybe I should take Jesus at His word and not try to explain a verse like this away.

    • part of me feels the same way, jon. that as long as i’m really struggling with this, money has no power. but an ever-growing part of me is telling me to just be obedient and trust God. i like that idea, but like i told bill, i’m scared.

  4. steve ker

    I have been struggling with this issue for years. When I “give to God” I never really feel like I am sacrificing. We have never gone without a meal, a place to live, or clothes to wear. In fact our closets are full, we worry more about our weight than where our next meal will come from, and twice as many people could live comfortably in our home as there are now.
    Talk to a financial planner, Christian or otherwise, and they tell you you need to have thousands or millions saved, all kinds of insurance, and other stuff to protect you of all the “what ifs”.
    I’m reading The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. It has really opened my eyes to how we have been entrusted with so much, and are expected and really obligated to share with others less fortunate. So many sick, starving, homeless, and lost people could be given a better life if we would only share.
    I will do more to help them.

    • “we worry more about our weight than where our next meal will come from.”

      i like that line. it sums up well where most of us are. what is the stearns book about exactly? is it something i ought to order and have sent to tanzania — that good, i mean?

      and, steve, thanks for the resolve with which you make that last statement. it encourages me a great deal.

  5. steve ker

    Brett, its a great book. Richard tells of being the CEO of a major US corporation to being asked to lead World Vision. Basically, we give, we preach and teach, but if we are really to be God’s representitives here on Earth, we need to meet the physical needs of those in need.
    If all humans are created in God’s image, then all are important and have a purpose for their lives. If so many, billions , are starving, lacking medical care, shelter, mistreated, then they are not able to fulfill their purpose. Christ helped everyone who came to him, and now we must too.
    I am involved in an exercise program, and the instructor often says “Do your best and forget the rest”. As Christians, I would change it to “Do your best and pray about the rest”. We have all been given Time, Talent, and Treasure. Some have much and some have little, but we can all use what we have to help others.
    Anyway, the book is now out in paperback on Amazon for about $10, and it seems like I have seen a free download version, but not sure where it was.
    Well worth reading.
    Keep helping the aliens and strangers, even as Christ did.

  6. Linda Mew

    Hi James Brett,

    I think that this topic of what we should have for assets and how much should we be giving to others is difficult .

    If we look at Bible examples. Abraham gave a tenth to Melchisideck. The children of Israel gave a tenth to the Levites. The Levites gave a tenth to the Priests of the Lord. The Pharisees tithed a tenth of absolutely everything they got right down to a tenth of a teaspoon of spices. 🙂

    Paul encourages giving but not at the expense of going without the necessitites ourselves. Offerings and alms are encouraged in the Bible because many times we have enough for ourselves and some left over. That’s how we buy the ‘extras’ in life that are not essential needs.

    Jesus and his disciples made a point of giving to the poor, but I don’t think they gave everything they had in the money purse. Some women were ministering to Jesus’ needs and I have heard people say the women were likely providing money at times as well. It’s not good stewardship to take this money from the women and then turn around right away and give it out.

    We are not to be greedy. We are to be ready to distribute the Bible says if we have wealth or are well off. But I don’t think the writer means to say that we are to give all of our wealth away. I think Jesus asked this of some persons because they were putting their trust in that wealth.

    I’m not planning to give everything I have away. I have a modest amount of money in the bank. I have a 1/2 duplex house that is three quarters paid for. I have a modest amount of retirement assets as well.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to save. There are scriptures that speak of ‘providing an inheritance for our children’. I think it’s wrong to hoard money and wealth.
    My own conclusion right now ( and I certainly wouldn’t say that what I think is correct) is that if a real need is before me I will be prepared to give up to 50% of my extra income.

    This is the example that Zacheus gave in the Bible. He said I will give 50% of what I have and if I have defrauded anyone I will pay back (sevenfold?) (fourfold?). Jesus said that salvation had come to Zacheus’ house that day.

    I think giving is perhaps a personal decision between God and an individual although I believe an example has been set forth in the Bible for a tenth of our income/ harvest to be brought to the house of the Lord.

  7. linda, thanks for your thoughts. i think 50% is a substantial willingness to step out in faith. i have great respect for you and what God is obviously doing in you.

    i also don’t think saving money is wrong in itself. the problem i have with it — or rather i should say the reason i’m questioning it so — is that we seem to save in order to be dependent on ourselves. i just wonder how much we’re exhibiting a lack of faith in God to take care of us. but i’m not against all saving. i guess just saving that is out of a lack of trust, or a feeling of self-preservation.

    i think what’s most important is that we’re giving out of our “extra” to take care of others.

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