A while ago I was reading Matthew 6:25-34 with my wife and we were discussing the passage while wrapping up our night. As my wife has been growing in her experience with walking through a passage, tracing an argument and noticing important components, she made a some good observations that ended up in some light bulbs going on for both of us. Here are some observations that came out of our discussion:
1. The “therefore” points back to 6:19-23, which discusses money. In 6:19-21 Jesus warns his audience against pursuing earthly treasure and admonishes them to pursue heavenly treasure (in other words, chase righteousness instead of riches). In 6:22-23 Jesus warns his audience about the dangers of covetousness, and in 6:24 Jesus drops the hammer on his audience and informs them that people who live for money cannot live for God; it’s one or the other.
So, when Jesus says “therefore I tell you…”, the instruction that follows is not occurring in a vacuum. Jesus talks about two contrary ways of living involving money, and now he continues on along that same track with a different topic.
2. Matthew 6:25-34 starts with “do not be anxious about your life”, which is a command. It’s so easy to pretend that a command is a recommendation or an “in an ideal world you should…” kind of statement, but a command is something that must be done. Also, the command assumes that people are not doing something that they should. It’s not a club for the obedient to use against the disobedient, but it is something that is not open to negotiation.
3. The passage isn’t talking about having any clothes at all; it’s rather talking about pursuing clothes for the sake of beautiful adornment. Notice the contrast between the lilies of the field and King Solomon “in all his glory”? The thrust there isn’t just daily provision (though that was certainly a larger part of the application for the original audience than it is for us), but it’s also one of beauty/fashion. I’d dare suggest that Christ isn’t issuing a warning to people to refrain from getting anxious over the possibility of some sort of poverty-induced-nudity. The idea seems to be something a little higher than that; chasing after clothes as an means to an end (i.e. pursuing fashion in order to gain specific social benefits). Also, the idea of “seek first the kingdom”, when contrasted with the idea of seeking clothes, gives the impression of an orientation of lifestyle.
4. Likewise, the passage isn’t talking just about having enough food to eat (although it does include that); it’s also talking about pursuing food in the form of wealth/security. Notice how the contrast is between birds of the air and the one who sows, reaps and stores thinking that he can “add a single hour to his span of life”. The idea of sowing and reaping and having barns isn’t one of struggling to get your next meal, is it? Not at all. The person who stores up their food in barns does to to use or sell it in the future. I’d dare suggest that I’ve generally thought of this passage as talking about some sort of “city under siege” sort of starvation due to extreme circumstances. In other words, “don’t worry about where your food will come from when you seem to have none; God will take care of you”. After studying it a little more and thinking about it, I don’t think that’s what Jesus was getting at. It’s not that God doesn’t promise to provide needs in time of want, but I’m just not convinced that this passage is addressing that issue.
I’d suggest it’s more about an orientation of life that places one’s security in health rather than an imperative regarding extreme circumstances.
5. Notice how in vs. 32, the contrast is between the Gentiles and Christ’s audience. Jesus says “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” I’d dare suggest that Jesus isn’t saying “don’t be like the pagans who labor and toil to eat and be clothed; refrain from laboring and toiling for those things and let God provide those things!” It may also seem obvious, but Jesus also isn’t saying that the way to properly attain the things of the world is by some sort of “kingdom mindedness”, as if once you stop pursuing food and fashion then God will finally give them to you. That idea has crept into the church all over the place; the secret to getting what you want is by tricking God into thinking you don’t actually want it so that God knows he can trust you with it. People aren’t that crass about the idea, but I’ve encountered a much more subtle version of that concept many times.
Rather than those two ideas, Jesus is warning his audience about the dangers of seeking after food and fashion in the same manner as the Gentiles. The Gentiles are consumed by them and live like attaining those things are the goal of successful life. Their lives are oriented around them. They place their personal value in their beauty and their security in their health/riches, but all those things will disappear given sufficient time. Again, I’d suggest this is talking more about an orientation of life than extreme circumstances.
6. This passage is far more applicable to us than we realize.
For example, the passage attacks the Christian phenomenon of culinary gnosticism.
What is “culinary gnosticism?”
Well, culinary gnosticism is an umbrella term I’ve coined that describes the mentality behind all the health & diet fads that penetrate and divide the church.
Culinary Gnosticism is when a Christian thinks they’ve uncovered some secret knowledge regarding health or diet, shares it with their believing friends, and then divides their believing friends into spiritual categories based on their response. For example, if someone somehow discovers a secret “miracle diet” in the Bible and then shares that diet with everyone at church but end up associating with proponents of that diet while condemning critics with some sort of attitude or label reflecting spiritual immaturity or impoverishment, they’re a culinary gnostic.
Our society is consumed with health, dieting, and extending our lifespans by a decade or two (or three at best). In evangelical churches, dietary fads and food-worship is equally as bad as it is outside the church. Some of most heated discussions I’ve ever had in church have been with people I know regarding issues of health or diet. Christians, just like non-Christians, are suckers for pesudo-science and far too many hop on every single nonsense or barking mad health–fad bandwagon that rolls through town.
I’m not talking about buying whatever gym Chuck Norris endorses or living a disciplined life that involves diet and exercise. It’s one thing to simply be healthy and live an active lifestyle, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about believers who look down on other believers because of what they eat or don’t eat. I’ve been mocked and had received rather negative spiritual judgments, as have many folks I know, simply because we don’t follow someone’s personal revelation regarding the food pyramid.
The more I reflect on Matthew 6, the more I am becoming convicted that many of us have completely missed the contemporary application of the passage. Too many attitudes of professing believers towards food and clothing (and all the other trivial things that we pursue in life) are indistinguishable from the attitudes of the world. Too many of us eat and dress as if this world is all there is and treat those who disagree as if they’ve missed out on the secret knowledge handed down from the Lord himself.
Too many believers treat people who hate kale as if they hate Christ.
The very attitudes that many attempt to enforce with judgement and shame are the attitudes that Christ will condemn as “disobedience”. The very idea that anyone in the Church uses a standard of food or fashion to judge the spirituality of their brothers and sisters is shameful. That wicked standard will be the standard used to condemn many when they stand before the Lord.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:17.
Now anticipating a common objection, some folks out there will start talking about 1 Corinthians 6:19 and pull out the whole “your body is a temple” line with any number of silly logical arguments like “if you wouldn’t smash the windows in church, why would you smash your immune system with (insert “bad” food)?”.
1 Cor. 6:19 is set in the context of 6:12-20, and that’s talking specifically and exclusively about sexual immorality. Exegetical points established on analogies forced outside their context reveals bad exegesis. Stable theology is built from passages that directly address the question at hand, not stretched illustrations.
Folks, remember that (like it or not) as a believer, you are intimately connected to the other believers in your life:
– “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” – Romans 12:4-5
Pursue unity with one another and love your fellow believers, even when they don’t follow your food pyramid.
Beyond that, if we had kingdom-oriented priorities, our food pyramids might look a tad different: