18th November 2002
Two weeks ago, Nick spoke about Jesus' teaching that ``where your treasure is, there your heart will be''. That session got sidetracked into all sorts of very relevant areas to do with things like what kinds of jobs we should accept, and what sorts of companies we should work for.
These are valid and important subjects; But they're different valid and important subjects from the ones we wanted to talk about. So I'd like to spend ten or fifteen minutes just touching again on Jesus' attitude to money and generosity.
Then we'll move on to this week's main theme, which is ``do not worry''.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.- Matthew 6:19-21
The other week, a friend sent me a link to a what-team-do-you-support quiz on the web: it asked maybe twelve or fifteen multiple-choice questions about lifestyle and attitudes, then took a guess, based on your answers, what football team you support.
Here's what amazed me about that quiz. One of the questions was, how much money do you give to charity every year? Apart from the comedy answer - ``they should be glad I pay my taxes'' - the options were £5, £10, £20 and £50. I realised that we're living in a society that just doesn't have a mental model for giving away more than a pound a week.
What a contrast to God's attitude to us! 2 Corinthians 8:9 says of Jesus that ``though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.'' And Philippians 2:6-7 says though he was ``in very nature God, [he] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.''
So we face a stark choice: which attitude are we going to allow to rule us? God's attitude or the world's? We're back to Jesus' words a little earlier in the sermon on the mount: ``Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect'' (Matthew 5:48). And shortly before this, ``Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven'' (Matthew 5:45). If we are God's sons and daughters, then we want the family likeness to shine through.
Our problem is that the attitude of ``I earned it, it's mine'', ``I work hard for the money'' and even ``God helps those who help themselves'' (not in the book of Proverbs!) are totally prevalent in our society. ``No-one never gave me nuffin'. Everyfin' I ever 'ad, I earned m'self. I don't owe nobody nuffin'.'' (to be spoken in an East-end accent :-) It's taken as read that these are praiseworthy attitudes. But the bible says they are nonsense: ``We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it'' - 1 Timothy 6:7.
We have to break through the mindset that glorifies this kind of false independence. That's a part of what Paul's talking about in his letter to the Romans church:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (``Don't let the world squeeze you into its mould'' - J. B. Phillips), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.- Romans 12:2
The truth is that we have nothing that, in the end, God did not give us. With renewed minds, freed from the world's assumptions, let's recognise that and let it affect our attitude to our possessions.
Remember that our unofficial church slogan is ``We don't want your stinking money.'' We're truly not that bothered whether you give to North Central church; But we are bothered that you have a generous heart that loves to reflect the Father's generosity.
We want to be a church where people's security, and their sense of identity and worth is found in the God who loves them - not in money, or in pension schemes, or in being well insured. In the end, all of that will fail us (``moth and rust destroy; thieves break in and steal''). But treasure in heaven, which is what we store up when we live in a way the reflects the family likeness, has lasting value.
Listen to Paul's warning to Timothy - the argument that proceeds from the one-liner I quoted above:
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.- 1 Timothy 6:7-10
Don't let it happen to you.
Our main topic this morning follows on very naturally from the issue of money - in fact it's the very next thing that Jesus discusses in the sermon on the mount. A lot of our worries come from financial issues, so if we can get our attitude to money sorted out, we'll be half way there already.
Here's what Jesus says:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry, saying, ``What shall we eat?'' or ``What shall we drink?'' or ``What shall we wear?'' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.- Matthew 6:25-
Three separate times in this short passage, Jesus says ``do not worry'':
The phrasing of this ``do not'' is exactly the same as other ``do not''s in the sermon on the mount where Jesus tells his hearers, ``Do not murder'', ``Do not commit adultery'', ``Do not break your oath'', ``Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth'' and ``Do not judge''. It's not expressed in nice, pleasant, comforting terms - ``There there, you needn't worry'' - but as a direct, authoritative command.
Why is this? Because it's offensive to God if we worry about things that he has already taken care of.
Suppose I win Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and I decide with my winnings to pay off your mortgage. You no longer have to make the interest payments every month, and when your endowment matures, you'll get a nice, tidy lump sum of disposable cash. Now wouldn't it be offensive to me if you kept worrying about how you were going repay the building society?
Well, Jesus has died for us! Isn't it offensive for us to worry about dying? And Jesus promises that ``your heavenly Father knows that you need [food, drink and clothes]''. Isn't it offensive for us to worry about those things?
In the end, it comes down our trust in God, or lack of it. I don't say this to condemn, but ultimately all worrying comes from failure to trust God - we think either that he is not powerful enough to look after us, or that he can't or won't recognise our need. But the prophet Isaiah says, ``Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear." (Isaiah 59:1)
So if we worry, we betray our lack of faith that God both cares about us and is able to provide for us; and Paul says that ``Everything that does not come from faith is sin'' - Romans 14:23. So the first thing to do with worry is repent of it! Yes! I'm serious. It may feel to us that we have no choice in the matter of whether or not to worry. But ultimately, we do; and if our choice has been to put out trust in something else rather than God, then the first thing to do is tell him we're sorry.
So ``do not worry'' is a command. That's the truth; but it's not the whole of the truth. ``Do not worry'' is also an encouragement. When Jesus tells us not to worry, his command carries with it reassurance that there really is, fundamentally, no reason for us to worry.
So Jesus does not merely load us down with a command not to worry; he also gives us strength, guidance and insight to throw off the burden of worry. We're back to the John Bunyan quote that I misquoted the other week, and wrongly attributed to John Donne :-)
``Run, John, run!'', the law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Better news the gospel brings:
It bids me fly and gives me wings!- John Bunyan
That's why, later in Matthew's gospel, Jesus himself invites his hearers, ``Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."'' (Matthew 11:28-30). Doesn't ``rest for your souls'' sound good?
And in his first letter, Peter writes, ``Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you'' (1 Peter 5:7) The ``because'' part of this is crucial: it's because he cares for us that we can cast our anxiety on him. If he didn't care, he wouldn't want anything to do with our anxieties; and if he wasn't powerful, then a trouble shared with him would be a trouble doubled. But he does care (his ear is not too dull to hear), and he is powerful (his arm is not too short to save)!
If you suffer with worry, then now is the time to throw it off. I'm not saying you'll never worry again, but now is an opportunity to break the back of the affliction - like a smoker who maybe still pops out the back for a quick fag from time to time, but whose addiction is essentially broken. There is plenty of room for growth from that point, but a power can be broken today. If you're a born worrier, don't let the opportunity pass you by.
We're going to do this in three steps.
If you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/worry.html.