Jesus’ teaching on worry in the sermon on the mount is based on his knowledge of God as Creator and as Father – two aspects of God that make all the difference to faith and life.
Jesus knew that God’s relationship with his creation did not stop at Genesis 1. God certainly was the author of life and the maker of all things, but he did not set things going and then sit back to watch. We learn from Genesis 1 that creation was a gradual process. (We don’t have to worry about the timescale, as if 24-hour days existed before the sun came into being, nor about the exact order of events; the whole point is that creation was orderly and was caused by God.) We learn from the rest of the Bible that God continues to be involved in his creation. History has not yet reached its goal, but God is moving it in that direction: one day all will be as it should be and this temporary state of affairs will give way to perfection. Jesus, however, adds to our understanding a whole lot more: within this temporary world it is God who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers. But what exactly did he mean?
We know far more about plant growth and bird behaviour than Jesus’ contemporaries did. Yet their knowledge was not simplistic – they knew that God did not give birds a handout, and that they had to go looking for food and starved if they failed to find it. They knew that flowers and their beauty grew naturally. What Jesus is saying is that there is a much bigger picture than we can see, even with the glories of modern science. Behind natural processes, behind random events, God is at work. The creator of the universe is its sustainer, and this is true not only of the big picture but of all the small events that go to make up the big picture. Thus Proverbs 16:33 can say, ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.’ And Jesus not only teaches us that God feeds the birds, but teaches us to ask him for our daily bread – knowing full well the processes by which we obtain our food.
Jesus has more to say. The God who is involved with every detail of his creation is our heavenly Father. If he provides for birds, and gives each flower its beauty, how much more does he care about each one of us? We are far more important to God than birds. Even the tiniest details of our lives matter to our heavenly Father. And if that is so, then the important things in our lives matter much more. God wants us to have the things we need – and is well able to provide them.
How should we respond? Not by sitting back and doing nothing – the birds and the flowers don’t do that. We get on with life. But we do so in faith, trusting God to look after us, and in faith we put first things first. God’s kingdom and his righteousness are more important than life and health. If we look after ourselves, God will leave us to it. But if we look after God’s business, he’ll look after us and ours.
1) What difference does Jesus’ teaching make in practice?
2) What are the most important things in our lives?