Worried? The “Bible Verse of the Year 2021” Will Help. (Thinking Through Matthew 6:33)

Are you worried? Stressed? Anxious? Who isn’t these days?!

For the past few years we have looked at the “verse of the year,” “the verse shared, bookmarked, and highlighted most often throughout the year” by those who use the YouVersion Bible app, which is a lot of people.

This year’s verse of the year is a great one for anyone who is worried. What is it?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

When we first read this verse on its own, we may become even more worried. We might jump to the conclusion that Jesus is making a promise, namely, that if we are righteous according to God’s standards, then life will be perfect. We may think Jesus is speaking of a transaction, namely his blessings for our obedience. And so in addition to everything else we worry about, we may worry that we are not keeping our end of the transaction, living up to God’s standards. More stress.

We may also worry that we might not have found the correct standards. Are we to be striving for God’s standards according to Baptists, Roman Catholics, or those in United churches? These, and many more, present some different standards of what “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” look like. More stress.

Yet when we read this verse along with what Jesus said before and after, we will be worrying less, not more:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)

Jesus’ main point is, do not worry. Look at the birds, Consider the flowers. Life happens. Life keeps happening. There is a lot of beauty as life happens and keeps happening. God’s got this, for this is God’s world. God’s got you. Therefore, we can stop trying so hard to get and secure all the things we think we need. God’s got that covered, so rather than allow all that stuff to overwhelm and consume our minds, we are to “seek first” the Kingdom of God. To seek first the kingdom of God is to give our minds first to the reality of God’s kingdom and our part in it, rather than the things we are worried about.

We seek first, God’s kingdom. This world is God’s kingdom. This is God’s world. There are bullies and tyrants here and there, not just people, but diseases and viruses, but what are they compared to God? This is God’s world, and while there is ugliness in the evil around us and in us, there is much that is beautiful. Yes, we pray “thy kingdom come,” but yes, this already is God’s world, God’s kingdom. To seek first the kingdom of God is to consider what God’s kingdom is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God takes care of it.

We seek first, God’s righteousness. We might assume that this means we are to strive to be righteous as God is righteous. That is a good thing to do, yes, but part of the point Jesus is making here is that we are to fill our minds with the fact that God does the right thing, God does the good thing. This is God’s world and God takes care of it. Consider the birds of the air, and the lilies. God takes care of them. To seek first God’s righteousness is to consider what God is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God cares.

When Jesus says to us “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” he is not making a promise that life will be perfect if we are, nor is he saying that we should not show appropriate concern for the troubles we face, or make proper preparations for situations ahead. This verse is not a promise to be claimed in every specific situation, but is more like a proverb, a general truth that with God caring for us, it will all be alright. If it is a promise, it is a promise that God loves us. Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies. Consider Jesus, his teaching, life, death, and resurrection. Consider the reconciliation we have because of the cross. God takes care of us.

When I hop on a motorcycle, I still wear a helmet. Something bad could still happen while I ride a motorcycle. If it did, it would not be proof that I had not sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Nor would it be proof that God does not care about me. God cares, is involved, and because God is involved, it will ultimately be alright.

When we put God’s Kingdom and His righteousness uppermost in our minds we are overwhelmed with the goodness and love of God. Given that life happens, beauty happens, this world is God’s kingdom, God does the right thing, the good thing, and that God loves us, we can know it will all be okay.

There will be things to worry about in 2022. But let’s be overwhelmed by the love of God, and not those worries. The best way to not let anxiety and concern overwhelm our hearts and minds is to allow God to overwhelm our hearts and minds first.

God’s Got This? When There is a Pandemic and Jesus Says “Do Not Worry.”

Is anyone worried yet? If you are not, are you living under a rock? The COVID-19 virus is a big deal, and while cases were once reported in someone else’s backyard, they are now being reported in ours.

So along comes Jesus and says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). We might want to ask;
“Jesus, are you living under a rock?”

Those who first heard Jesus may have asked that also. Many of them would have been living day to day in a society where you were paid daily. Some may have been living meal to meal. Just plain survival was a big deal for many people. Along comes Jesus who says “do not worry . . . ”

We have been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, realizing that Jesus was not giving news rules for us to follow slavishly, but rather was teaching us what kind of people we should become. This line of thinking continues here:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

We are to be the kind of people who know that God is a good Father. We are to be the kind of people who seek His goodness in our lives. We are to be the kind of people who know, without doubt, that God loves us. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Don’t worry, God’s got it.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we should never have a concern in the world? The very first Christ followers who were aware they should not worry about food and clothing did not quit working! The apostle Paul did not live as someone who expected money to miraculously fall from the sky. He continued his work as a tentmaker. He encouraged people to work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. There was never the idea that since God loves us, and since we need not worry, that we need not have concern for the things of life and take initiative. Yes, God loves us, so therefore we should not worry, but we still need to take initiative, to show proper concern.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we will never face trouble? Jesus went on to say,

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Do not worry, but know there will still be trouble! Being a Christian does not make us immune from trouble. God loves us. That is the way things are. But we will face trouble. That is the way things work.

There is a difference between the way things are and the way things work. The way things are: we live in relationship with a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. The way things work: we live in a broken world where we need to take initiative and where bad things happen. We need, therefore, to make wise decisions, to take proper initiative for the sake of our health and the health of society.

Theologians study the way things are. Scientists study how things work. Theologians and scientists can sometimes say too much about matters in each other’s area of expertise. A theologian can study history, especially with regard to Jesus and point to the reality of God’s love. God has spoken into our world, as we learn in the Old Testament, but ultimately has revealed Himself in Jesus, revealing His love at the cross. Theologians can help us understand that. However, if a religious leader says don’t worry about COVID-19, that God will give you immunity if you just trust Him enough, change the channel. That’s not how things work. Listen to the scientist, who learns through observation how things work. However, if a scientist says there is no God, change the channel. That is not the way things are, and the scientist, with all his or her observation, cannot know that. They cannot observe everything.

We walk by faith and with wisdom. It is not an either/or thing. To show wisdom is not to show a lack of faith. To show faith is not to show a lack of wisdom. It would be foolish to say that God will take care of us, so therefore we do not need to concern ourselves with the evidence with regard to COVID-19. It would also be foolish to say we have evidence on how to deal with the virus, so we don’t need to think of God.

I didn’t plan on this being the week we would land on “don’t worry” in our sermon series. I also didn’t realize how appropriate my one-minute Easter message would be on the radio. It begins,

This is a special time of year for many of us. It is time to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Being a Baptist pastor, I have often been asked if I feel close to God while riding my motorcycle. That sometimes depends on who is pulling out in front of me. Sometimes I have felt a little too close to God.

In life there are many reminders of our mortality. Whether it’s an accident, or the threat of a pandemic, there are many reminders that “dust we are, and to dust we will return.”

That is how things work in this broken world. That is the focus of Lent, a time we remember our mortality. Bad things happen; cars cut in front of motorcycles, people get addicted, a plane falls out of the sky, cancer strikes, infections spread, an innocent man is arrested, beaten and crucified. That is Lent, that is the recognition that death is part of the way things work. But after Lent comes Easter Sunday!

Death is a result of our separation from God. God has dealt with that separation through His grace, His love, His mercy. He is a good and heavenly Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be reconciled to His children. That is the way things are.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

So a pandemic looms ominously. Don’t worry, God’s got this? Actually, our Heavenly Father has us. But we’ve got this. We can see how this virus works, we can take appropriate steps. We do not worry, knowing that come what may, God loves us and someday we will stand before Him in glory. He’s got us. We do not worry. We do take care, however, and we will want to take care of each other through this difficult time.

(For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)