“Don’t worry?! But my investments have tanked, my sister has lost her job, and my house isn’t worth what I paid for it!” Yes, we are facing significant financial challenges, but how great it is to have the always timely Word of God to go to when we are troubled. In this four-part series, let David Powlison walk you through this passage in Luke 12 on worry. Being reminded of Jesus’ words and how they apply in any and every century brings comfort and reminds you how to live a gospel-centered life in turbulent times.
Jesus said to his disciples,
“For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom or barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you?, you men of little faith!
And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.
Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22–34)
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Let’s set the scene. Jesus is talking to a huge crowd of people—so many that they were even stepping on each other. They’re out in the open air, up on a hillside overlooking the lake, the Sea of Galilee. It’s a lovely scene: the lake spreading out below, sparkling, tucked between the dry hills, fishermen out fishing in their small boats. Around them, wheat is growing in small plots of land, in between patches of rough or fallow ground. The crowd is mostly simple people: dirt farmers, fishermen, peasant women. Here’s how the conversation gets going. Jesus has been talking to them about two things: who they’re most afraid of—God or other people—and what their attitude is towards him.
Some guy had just interrupted him: “Jesus, Master, tell my brother to give me half of the inheritance! I want my share. I want what’s fair” (Luke 12:13). Jesus cuts the man off at the knees—this is not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” He basically says, “Look, man, I’m not going there. I’m not going to divide inheritances for you. I’ve got a different game plan. There’s something else I’m about.” But the man’s interruption has turned the topic of conversation to money and possessions: “I want mine! I want my share of what’s fair.” So Jesus turns to the whole crowd and says, “Look out for every form of greed. What you are is not what you own.” Money is as good an issue as any to get at what people most fear and at how they view Jesus.
Then Jesus tells a story about a man who had lots of money (12:16–21). He lived a comfortable life. He could sit back and relax. No worries, he thinks. But God will say to that man, “You fool! You’re going to die tonight. Who’s going to have what you worked for your whole life? You have nothing. Your life is an utter waste.”
Jesus weaves a warning through the whole story: “Keep your life from every form of greed.” That theme runs through this earlier section (vv.13–21) right to where we come in at verse 22: “Keep your life free from every form of greed, from every form of ‘I want mine,’ and even from ‘Because I have mine, I can sit back and coast.’”
Then Jesus pushes the topic forward another step. He has been talking to the crowd, and now he starts talking directly to the people in the front row seats. That’s where our passage begins. He talks straight to the disciples—his friends, the people who love and know him.
“For this reason I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you are going to eat.” He refers back to something he just said but changes the application. In other words, he had said that if you don’t have something, then don’t get greedy. And even if you do have a lot, it’s not your life, so don’t rely on it. Now Jesus applies the same principle to a different problem. Even if you don’t have a lot of money, or as much as you think you need, money is still not your life. So don’t get anxious. Money can’t make or break you. “Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or your body, what you’re going to put on. Your life is more than food and the body more than clothing.”
We have to remember that Jesus is talking in a subsistence culture: scratch-plow farmers, poor fishermen, people selling a few items in the marketplace. Think third-world village. Most of us here pretty much take food and clothing for granted—but we worry about money, too. Jesus goes right to the basics: food, clothing, shelter. Are you going to live or starve tomorrow? Although our situations are different, the same issues, attitudes, and temptations play out. “Your life is more than food. You life is more than money.” That’s how Jesus starts.
Then he lists reason after reason after reason why you should not be in the grip of fear and worry. He first says, “Consider the ravens.” Remember, Jesus is talking outside. He’s not utilizing a literary device or a sermon illustration he thought up in his study! He’s out in the open in Palestine. They have crows there, just like here in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Their kind of crow happens to be the gray-hooded crow. Those crows are flying around overhead cawing or hopping around on the ground squabbling. “Take a look at those crows! Think about them. They neither sow nor reap. They don’t have storerooms or barns. They make no preparations and have no storage. Yet God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds?”
He adds a second reason: “Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan? If you can’t do the littlest thing like this, why do you worry about the rest?”
Jesus gives you another reason. He keeps piling it on. “Consider the lilies.” He’s not talking here about fancy flowers. He’s talking about the kind of tough wildflower that grows in a vacant lot or on roadsides, among the weeds. Remember, these are poor people. They don’t have flower gardens. Jesus is pointing out the kind of flower that grows in a weed patch, a bright splash of color. “Look at those flowers over there, how they’re growing. They neither toil nor spin.” They make no effort to look pretty. “But I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass of the field” (here today, gone tomorrow), “which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace” (gathered on the brush pile to be burned), “how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith?”
Lest we should doubt (“Is he really going to give something better?”), Jesus piles it on in his next reason. He says, “Don’t be afraid, little flock.” That’s a vivid picture: “little flock.” It’s the only place in the Bible where that phrase is used. It gives the sense of a flock of sheep small enough that the Shepherd knows all their names; he knows what each one faces. He knows their personalities. He knows what they are like. And Jesus makes sure we know that nobody twists God’s arm. He’s not reluctant to love you. “Your Father has gladly chosen to give you the kingdom.”
Jesus has piled up reasons not to get hung up on money, even when survival is at stake. This leads to radical implications for your lifestyle. “Sell your possessions, give to charity.” Instead of every form of greed—”What’s in it for me? I want my share! I’ve got a lot, so I can sit comfortably! What if I don’t have enough? Maybe I won’t get something I need!”—instead of get, got, get more, hold on to what you got, want to get, worry you won’t get—instead of all that, you can give because you have been given to. Here’s the logic. Your Father who loves you gives you a life that you can give away and not lose. “Make yourselves money belts that don’t wear out, that unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”
So far, the Word of God, with a little amplification!
1. You’ve got plenty of good reasons to worry!
Let me jump in this way. Point number one. When you think about it, you have good reasons to worry. I’m not going to say there is no reason to worry. For example, the people Jesus is talking to are poor people. They have primitive sanitation, no healthcare, and their lives immediately depend on whether it rains or not. When drought comes here in Glenside, it’s just an inconvenience. Your lawn gets brown. But when drought comes there, they die.
There are things to worry about. In fact, here’s one of the things that makes talking about a passage like this a pleasure. This is one of those topics where I know the shoe fits you! I know something about you: you worry. You happen to know something about me: the exact same thing. We all put our own spin on the temptation to worry. This is one of those universals.
We all get obsessed about the wrong things. If you are six years old, perhaps here’s the level at which this comes in: “My older brother makes three bucks more on his allowance. If only I had that extra three bucks. Why, if I only had a little bit more…” Then if you’re the ten-year-old brother: “My sister is sixteen. She’s so lucky, because she has a job. If only I had a job, wouldn’t that be great!” Then you get a job—and you get bills to pay. You think having a job is going to solve all your worries, but now you’ve got bills to worry about, and everything you want or need costs more.
So now you’ve got an after-school job and can put some spending money in your pocket. You still worry, “Am I going to get into college? How will we pay for college? What kind of a part-time job or student loan will I need?” If you’re in college or just graduating, “Am I going to get a job? What if there’s no work? My parents have jobs, so they’re set. But there’s not much out there for me.” You worry about getting a job. Then when you get that real job: “Will I ever have enough money for a house? How are we going to afford kids? Will they be able to go to school?” Even with a job, you find lots more good reasons to worry. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had this experience too often: even when we have enough money to pay all the bills, I leave that bill-paying session with a vague, underground anxiety. A half hour ago, I had a comfortable amount of money, but now, after I’ve paid everything, there’s not much left, and low-grade worry sneaks in. Perhaps you can identify with this one. In our budget, it’s always the dentist or the auto mechanic. Somehow I just never figure in that $300 brake job or $900 for a major reconstructive root canal on the right lower molar. It never gets into the budget, but it easily gets onto the worry list.
Then you get old like me and start doing financial planning for retirement—which you should have been thinking about twenty years before (another worry). The planners show you diagrams of your projected assets. The amount goes up for a little while, and then takes a nosedive at about age seventy-five. You better die before you’re eighty-two—or you’ll be in the poorhouse or dependent on your kids to take care of you. Then there’s your 401(k); the stock market crashes.…
There’s always something to worry about.
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This article was originally published under the title “Don’t Worry” in the Journal of Biblical Counseling 21:2.