In Matthew 6 our Lord expresses his much recited and much neglected promise. Laying out, as it were, the foundational principles of the life to which He calls those who would follow Him, He says:
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
…Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Some people, for whatever reason, treat this passage more like a command than a promise. When they do so, the tone changes, the meaning of the passage, though not the content. A barrier is created between the disciple and Christ, because the disciple’s attention is directed to himself instead of to the words of his Lord. Something inside us always wants to take on the burden, but the whole point of this passage is to put it down.
It is instructive that Matthew 6 is part of the sermon on the mount and that the sermon on the mount follows Matthew 4, in which we read of Christ’s temptation.
“Command these stones to become bread…All these things I will give you…”
Christ knows what it is to be tempted. In fact, the temptations He endured make a joke of the ones we confront. He knows how to deal with temptation.
In each case, He appeals to the word of God. But notice something else. In each case, we can see that He is looking in a different direction. He isn’t seeking bread. He isn’t seeking “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He isn’t even seeking to prove Himself or His God.
He is seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, so He is not worried about these other things. He knows that His Father knows His needs, so He is content to say that “Man shall live… by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Jesus was tempted at the beginning of His task because He is the second Adam. Look back to Genesis 3 for a moment and compare what happens there in the light of Matthew 4 and Matthew 6.
God the maker has created an all-good creation and placed the man in a garden, which he is to tend. The only restriction He gives him is that he must practice the tiniest of fasts: don’t eat from this one tree.
Mind you, this was one spectacular tree. When Eve looked at it, she saw that it was good for food, but it was also pleasant to the eyes and could make one wise.
But they were to fast from this one fruit. They were to believe that man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. They were to seek first God’s righteousness and to trust that the other things would be given.
Perhaps that is why our Lord fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before He was tempted.
They listened to the tempter.
Now here is something that seems worth noting: our Lord told us in Matthew 6 not to worry about what to wear. It seems to me that most of us, when we read that, take these words rather literally, which we should. In other words, we take Him to be talking about being anxious about having clothes to protect us from the cold.
But take a look at Genesis 3. Do you notice the role of clothes in that context? Why do Adam and Eve cover themselves?
Because they feel shame.
No wonder. This goodly frame the earth had come to seem a sterile promontory, this brave o-erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, had come to appear no other thing than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.
And worse, The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals, noble in reason and infinite in faculty, has become the quintessence of dust.
Adam could say, Man, that is, I, delight not me. No, nor woman neither.
We who are born with shame and practice hiding it in some dark corner of our soul from the day our mothers greet us with their tears, we cannot imagine what it must have felt like to feel shame for the first time.
Oh what a noble mind is here o-erthrown.
The primary purpose of clothing has never been to keep us warm, but to keep us invisible, undiscovered – covered.
Clothes are the means by which we hide our shame.
It seems to me, therefore, that our Lord’s words in Matthew 6 go deeper than we might have thought. The greatest fear we have in following Christ is that we’ll end up ashamed. People won’t respect us. But worse, it might not pay off. We might fail. He might fail.
We would never say it that way; we only make decisions as though it might happen.
This fear of shame drives the conventional school and compels us to grunt and sweat under a weary life, to bear the whips and scorns of time, and all for what?
For words. For nothing.
For air that spills from others’ mouths and evaporates into the air, forgotten.
If we want to see the coming of the kingdom of heaven, then we must abandon the kingdoms of this world and all they offer. We must turn from bread and clothes as the way to validate ourselves, and we must seek Him.
Or maybe it would be more fitting to say, we can seek Him. He calls us to it. He promises to attend to the things we worry about most: hunger and shame.