“So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.”
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.
The mentality of discipleship
The intrepid adventure traveler found herself high in the Canadian Rockies clinging to a rock pinnacle beside a gorge that dropped away for 1700 feet. Safety — if it existed at all there — was fifty feet across the gorge, over a rope bridge featuring wooden slats about two feet apart. The secret to crossing, she later said, was to ignore the gorge and the spaces between the slats and to focus only on placing her feet and hands carefully for every single step. After an eternity, she was across.
Following Jesus is not always safe. Are you up to the challenge?
It is important to remember that Jesus is teaching his disciples on a mountainside in rural Galilee, and a crowd of potential disciples is listening to what he said. The people Jesus is addressing are either part of his itinerant ministry or thinking about joining it. They are not wondering how they will eat and drink in the normal course of their previous lives; they are trying to figure out how they will live if they start or continue following Jesus. Jesus says, “Don’t be concerned about it!”
Those already committed to Jesus are saying, “What will we eat?” (6:31). Those contemplating discipleship ask, “What would we eat?” (6:31). But Jesus gives two reasons to set aside such practical questions: 1) God-fearing disciples should not face the future like Gentiles, and 2) the Father already knows what the disciples need (6:32).
The assurance that the Father knows what the disciples need is not merely a generic statement about God’s care. Jesus says the Father knows that you need them all (6:32, ESV), referring back to food, drink, clothing and other necessary things. The Father’s care for the disciples is not some half-hearted effort that figures two out of three is good enough!
Matthew 6:33 gives the top priority for Jesus’ disciples: “But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” No other English translation uses pursue in translating 6:33, for the simple reason that it does not work! We are to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, not chase them. On the other hand, the statement that Jesus’ disciples are to seek these things above all is outstanding.
This ringing command of 6:33 meant most to those listening to Jesus. The days when Jesus walked the earth were not like other days before or since. Jesus spoke of this special time using two metaphors that brought out its vibrant possibilities. In Matt. 9:14–15, Jesus likened his days with the disciples to those of attendants to a bridegroom at a wedding. In Luke 23:31, Jesus warned the daughters of Jerusalem that his death “when the wood is green” did not bode well for the dry season to come after. It was especially during this epoch-making time that the disciples had to cast aside ordinary lives to follow Jesus wherever he led. We too must make crucial choices!
Of course, the decision to follow Jesus meant that nothing in a disciple’s life would ever be predictable again. Where will Jesus take us? What will we eat? How will we live? It was in that psychological context that Jesus told them: “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (6:34).
To be clear, I am saying that Matt. 6:33–34 had a particular force for Jesus’ actual audience that we do not fully share. Only they could follow Jesus in a literal, physical way. We must also use his commands to guide our figurative walk as we too follow Jesus in our day and time.
Focused on the goal or the obstacles?
The path to which Jesus summons us does not always look safe. Will we focus on each step we must take or spend our time shuddering over the gorge below?
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matt. 6:33, NLT).
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.