December 17, 2017
In this issue: Looking Ahead by Morris Fraser
We are taught to plan for the future – study for your schoolwork, put aside some money for retirement, set the coffee brewer to turn on just before we awake. Indeed, if we don’t plan for those secular things, our lives could well become chaotic.
The Bible has a different take on planning.
Matthew 6:25 tells us, “Do not be anxious for your life, [as to] what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, [as to] what you shall put on.”
If God is telling us not to consider even the basics of what will happen in the future, how can we plan the next week’s meals, or lay out our clothes for school, and still follow scriptural precepts?
Look more closely at Matthew 6, and you will find the answer. Jesus, speaking here in his Sermon on the Mount, says, “Do not be anxious about your life (New American Standard Bible).” That means do not worry, and Jesus gives specifics of what we should not worry about: what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear, what our body looks like.
In the remainder of chapter 6, we read more specifically what Jesus means. He tells of the birds, who do not plant grains nor do they reap in preparation for cooking (verse 26). He tells of flowers that do not create their leaves or their blooms (verses 28-29). He asks his listeners, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span (verse 27)?”
He sums up his point at the start of this section: “Do not be anxious for your life.” He is asking them to consider that their physical existence is not as important as something else. He is not saying that people should not eat, or dress appropriately, or take care of their body. He is saying there is something more than our physical lives.
He hints at the answer in verse 24, when he tells his listeners, “No one can serve two masters.” And he strengthens that thought when he adds, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
“Mammon” is a Syriac word meaning “gain.” Its meaning generally expands to include anything earthly, anything with the primary goal of becoming wealthy. Some scholars translate it as “the world,” indicating the carnal lusts that man must face.
Jesus is saying here that we can’t have allegiance to God and at the same time devote most of our energies to growing our physical wealth and well-being.
He is more straightforward in verse 19: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Instead, he gives the proper alternative in verse 20: "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.”
Ah, now we can see where Jesus is leading us: We should focus on the spiritual aspects both of our lives on earth and the hope of eternal life which is ahead of us.
If we keep all our attention on physical matters – what we eat, the clothes we wear, the technology we are surrounded by, the pain of physical illnesses or the losses of loved ones, the adoration of celebrities, we eventually will lose those.
If we like certain rich foods or even alcoholic drinks, almost certainly we will be unable to eat or drink them because of poor health or the inability of our aging bodies to digest them properly. If we spend a lot of money on the latest styles of fashion which we “must have,” at some point they go out of fashion and we must spend more money – and more money – to keep up with the latest trends. If we glory in our physical body, as we get older that body simply will not be the same as when we were young.
The latest celebrities we emulate will be replaced by newer celebrities with different standards, or your favorite celebrity could be caught up in scandal and disappear from view. Your favorite sports team may be enjoying a long run of success, but there will come a time when others overtake it.
But if we direct our looking-ahead to spiritual matters, we will benefit. Treasures of a spiritual nature do not go out of style. They do not corrode; they are not consumed by moths or termites. They are not susceptible to theft. As for celebrities, who can be a better role model than one who is known throughout the world and throughout history and still lives forever?
Jesus makes his strongest point when he says (Matthew 6:33), “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” He doesn’t have to make any additional arguments for that.
But he does add something to allay the fears of those who envision a life of abject poverty while waiting for the promised eternal life. He says, “…and all these things shall be added to you.”
He shows he understands that we need food and drink and clothing. Verse 32 says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” No, he is not saying you can continue to lust after the rich food, the finest clothes, the adoration of human celebrities. He is saying that what you need, he will provide.
Matthew 6:34 expands on this topic: “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.”
James 4:14 adds, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.”
Not only are we not to worry about our food and clothing, we are not to worry about tomorrow. Jesus explains that tomorrow will take care of itself.
James gives a more practical explanation: We may think of it this way: You may make plans for tomorrow, look forward to that day, enjoy the hope therein. But something may happen that skews your plans. Your vacation may be stalled by bad weather that forces cancellation of your airplane flight, or you may be called back into work because of an emergency, or your child takes ill on the day he is supposed to star in a school play.
Reading that, now think again of what James said: “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.”
How do you want to face tomorrow? ~