This sermon was delivered at Bethel Bible Church – Whitehouse on 7/24/2016 entitled “Fear and Faith (Part 3)”. The audio and manuscript are below.
This morning we will conclude our three week look at the topic of faith and fear. Over the past two weeks we have looked at Scriptures that link the concepts of faith and fear together like two sides of the same coin. We’ve learned that what we fear is, ultimately, what we worship, and, therefore, will run our lives. The first week we looked at Mark 4 and Jesus’ calming of the storm. That story showed us that fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God means for us to be fearful. It is when we fear things other than him that our faith begins to fail. And that’s what we looked at last week in Numbers 13 and 14; we saw that when God is not the object of our fear, our faith is easily misplaced in something other than God; it’s idolatry. Misplaced fear ultimately derails our faith, our worship, and our lives.
This morning, I would like to conclude our survey of this topic by looking at what happens when our fear and faith are rightly oriented in God: peace. The New Testament describes Christians as those who are at peace – those who are anxious for nothing, but if you’re anything like me, I don’t experience peace as often as I would like. So, I’d like to remind us what the Scriptures encourage us to do when we experience fear and offer a few suggestions on how we can keep our fear and our faith solely on the Lord Jesus regardless of what we may experience. There is a passage in Matthew chapter 6 that I hope you are familiar with and that is where I would like to teach from this morning.
So, if you’ll turn with me to Matthew chapter 6, we’ll begin in verse 25: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
This is one of the more well-known passages from Jesus’ most famous sermon: the Sermon on the Mount. It begins in Matthew chapter 5 and lasts all the way through Matthew 7 and this passage falls right in the middle. What is the sermon about? It’s about the Kingdom of God & what it’s like – especially in contrast to the kingdom of the world. He also describes what life is like as a citizen of God’s Kingdom – the way it should be and the way it will be under His administration. It’s really not all that different from what we’ve been watching this past week and throughout the past several months with our presidential candidates. Each of them stand up in front of a crowd of people and cast a vision for the way life should be and will be under their new administration. (It’s just that Jesus will actually do what he says.)
So Jesus begins the sermon by describing what is valuable in the Kingdom and then proceeds to correct a lot of misconceptions about what righteousness is and should look like. The Pharisees and scribes and other Jewish leaders – along with the rest of the pagan world – had been “campaigning” on their own agenda of what righteousness before God is, should be, and will be. So, he talks through anger, murder, adultery, vows, injustice, philanthropy, fasting, prayer, money, false teachers, and, of course, fear; he redefines and clarifies what those should look like in the Kingdom of God.
The biggest difference, of course, is that Jesus was not campaigning for office with this sermon. He was not trying to curry votes or persuade people that his opinions were best. He was proclaiming the truth and reality of the coming of the Kingdom of God as well as its availability to anyone who wanted access. It wasn’t a matter of opinion or popular vote; Jesus was making known life the way God intended for it to be lived. Only those who hear his words and put them into practice are able to gain citizenship in this Kingdom that Jesus has come to inaugurate.
By the time we get to chapter six, Jesus lists out several behaviors that hypocrites and Gentiles do that should not be characteristic of those who enjoy citizenship in the Kingdom of God. So, when we get to the end of this list in verse 25, Jesus says, “Therefore” meaning to tell us that whatever comes next is a conclusive remark on everything that has preceded it: “Do not worry.” In fact, he repeats the imperative three times in this brief section emphasizing that worry is not something that is characteristic of those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Anxiety is the currency of Gentiles, hypocrites, and control freaks; it is the primary reason why they cannot enjoy life the way God intended it to be lived; they cannot find peace. They are trying to control their circumstances with their behavior and when they realize that they cannot, they search desperately for another savior (as we discussed last week) and end up being consistently disappointed. The world handles anxiety in this vicious cycle of anxiety, some sort of coping mechanism, temporary relief, disappointment, and then more anxiety over and over again. All the world has been able to do is numb their anxiety; they have yet to find a cure.
So, when Jesus concludes the previous section by saying, “Therefore, do not be anxious,” he wants to “campaign” with the people and tell them that life doesn’t have to be that way. There is an alternative. In the Kingdom of God there is peace even when there is trouble; there is joy even in the midst of pain; there is hope even in sorrow. And that peace is possible – not because anyone deserves it, not because it can be earned, and certainly not because there is no trouble in life. They experience peace because they believe God will take care of them. That’s it.
I know that sounds too simple for a problem as big as anxiety, but just watch how Jesus makes this beautifully convincing argument:
He begins with his main point: “Do not be anxious about your life.” The word ‘anxious’ here can be translated as anxious, concerned, care, or worry. It’s a type of fear. He repeats the point three times in this section – but not as advice, it is an imperative; a command. In fact, the reasons that follow aren’t just meant to convince us to obey, but also to show us the absurdity of anxiety if we do not.
He proves his point by beginning with this overarching rhetorical question: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” We might say it this way, “If God has done all this just so that you can have life – why would he not also give you what you need for life?” If God has taken care of the greater, will he not also take care of the lesser? The answer is, “yes”.
He substantiates his point with two illustrations that both illustrate the same idea: look how well God has taken care of the lesser, why would he not also take care of the greater?
First, he begins by mentioning the birds of the air in verses 26 and 27. He is not suggesting that we shouldn’t work at all or that God will provide food for us out of nowhere. He’s saying that we shouldn’t worry about where the food will come from. Birds work all day to get the food they need just for that day. They never store up food just in case. They live from paycheck to paycheck, so to speak, each and every day of their lives. And you know what? I can’t recall ever seeing a sparrow ever having an anxiety attack about it. So, if the sparrows (the lesser) don’t worry about the basics of life, why would we as humans (the greater) worry that God can’t provide for us in an even greater way?
The illustration of the birds of the air demonstrates that God can provide for all of His creation – even down the the smallest and most insignificant. He orchestrates everything in the world so that even the smallest bird has what it needs for life. It’s a demonstration of God’s power, his providence, to provide everything that is necessary for life the way He intended it to be lived. And if he is able to provide it for the lesser, how much more can he provide for the greater?
So, the example of the birds demonstrates that God can.
The second illustration is about the flowers of the field in verses 28 and 29. It illustrates the same logical point: that if God has cared for the lesser, why would he not also care for the greater? But clothing is different than food. It’s necessary, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate or ornate. God could have just created one type of flower with just one color, but instead He’s created thousands of flowers with thousands of colors, shapes, and sizes. If His objective was to merely clothe, then why make the clothes so elaborate? Ornate and handcrafted design communicates time, value, love. And if God has so elaborately clothed flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow; how much more does he care to clothe us?
So, this illustration goes a bit further than the first. The birds of the air demonstrate that God can provide. But the example of the flowers suggests not just that he can, but that He cares to.
You see, many of us rarely, if ever, doubt that God can. Can God provide for our family financially? Sure. No problem. But our faith gets shaky when we ask ourselves whether or not we think God cares. These two illustrations combine to argue that God can feed the birds of the air AND that he cares enough to ornately clothe the flowers of the field. If God can and God cares enough to do that for the lesser things in his creations like birds and flowers, how much more can we believe God can and God cares to provide for us? Given this evidence, it would be absurd to believe otherwise.
Isn’t that a beautiful argument? Pretty convincing, isn’t it?
This is a great definition of faith for us (that I’ve borrowed from my friend, Chris Sherrod) – especially when we encounter anxiety: Faith is believing that God can and God cares.
In fact, that’s the basic conclusion he reaches in verse 30: “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” It’s pretty simple: the presence of anxiety in our lives reveals an absence of belief that God can and God cares. If we did believe that He can and He cares, why would we worry? Anxiety in our hearts is an indication that we believe we are on our own, that no one cares, that no one can. . . and that just engenders more fear and more anxiety. And, as we learned last week, misplaced fear leads to misplaced faith which leads to misplaced worship which leads to a wrecked life. We are all trying to cope with our anxiety, our neuroses, our fears, but only those who believe in God are able to find peace that surpasses all understanding.
Remember last week we described fear as the emotional response to situations that we don’t think we can control that will do us harm? Anxiety is the same way; it is the emotional response we have when we try to control the uncontrollable. The Gentiles and hypocrites that Jesus has been describing try to control their circumstances (and their gods) by all sorts of pious and manipulative behavior. Why? Because they are not sure, they are not positive that their god can or cares to act in their favor (or at all).
Anxiety is the gap between what we expect things to be like and the way things are. The wider the gap, the greater the anxiety; and the greater the anxiety, the harder and more desperately we will search for a savior from it – disbelieving that God can or God cares to Himself. So, we pick up all of these other idols that don’t really solve the problem; they just numb the fear. And that’s as good as it gets. When we don’t take God at his Word there is no true cure for anxiety – there are only distractions, delusions, and drugs; a bag of tricks that helps us sleep at night.
The bottom line here is that full blown anxiety is practical atheism. Our unwillingness to believe that God can and God cares causes us to behave as if God doesn’t exist at all – or if he does, we need to convince/bribe him to pay attention and help us because otherwise he would be unwilling or we would go unnoticed. That may be the way of the Gentiles,hypocrites, and control freaks, but it should not be characteristic of those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God.
So, Jesus repeats the command a second time, presenting the people with a new alternative: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
The most effective way I’ve heard this explained is the story of the prodigal sons. Do you remember how the story goes? The younger brother wants his share of his father’s inheritance before the father dies. The father is gracious to give it (because he can and he cares, right?) and the younger son goes off and squanders everything in reckless living. He comes to his senses, repents of what he has done, and returns to his father – who, of course, is overjoyed to see him; He throws a party to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older brother, who has stayed behind dutifully, is enraged by the fact that his dad allowed his brother to return and that he has thrown a party for him. He says to his dad, “You haven’t given me so much as a goat to celebrate with my friends.” And it is the father’s amazing response that really helps us understand verse 33. The father says, “You have always been with me and all that is mine is yours.”
The older brother was working to receive what he already had. His father didn’t give him a goat because the goat was already his – not because he hadn’t squandered his inheritance or worked so hard – but because he was the father’s son.
Faith works the same way. Many of us are control freaks and are working desperately hard to achieve what God has already given us in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. The problem is, when we don’t believe God Can and God Cares, we begin to act like the older brother – like the Gentiles and the hypocrites – and use God for what He has that we want / instead of trusting him to provide what we need as he promised.
So, Jesus concludes by repeating the command a third time in verse 31: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
When we believe that God can and God cares – even in the midst of injustice, pain, hatred, loss, or any other kind of trouble – we don’t have to be overwhelmed with anxiety; we can actually experience peace. And that peace is possible – not because anyone deserves it, not because it can be earned, and certainly not because there is no trouble in life. We can experience peace simply because we believe God will take care of us, somehow, someway. That’s it.
That’s the Kingdom of God that Jesus has come (and is coming) to inaugurate as the Prince of Peace.
So, given these truths, I think there are two principles that will help us remember these truths whenever anxiety comes knocking at our door:
1. Faith in Jesus is never blind, but it isn’t always visible.
2. Peace is a reality to be enjoyed, not a feeling that we need to fabricate.
Let’s talk about each of these for a moment:
1. Faith in Jesus is never blind, but it isn’t always visible.
Lots of people have a hard time with faith because they think that it means it has to be “blind faith”. But a Christian’s faith – especially in the face of anxiety – is never blind.
Look at what Jesus says to the people when he talks to them about fear: he tells them to think, to consider the facts, to remember what God has done. This is the pattern of the prophets, poets, and the leaders of the Nation of Israel all throughout the Hebrew Bible. They are always reminding the Nation of what God did and how mighty He was on their behalf. If He has done great things for them in the past, why would He not also do great things for them in the future? It is reasonable for them to believe what they cannot see.
Our faith that God can and God cares is not baseless; it is not blind. The most obvious proof is that God sent us his only Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atonement for our sins – while we were still yet his enemies! If God was willing to give us the greater while we were still the lesser, why would we think that He would not take care of the lesser now that has made us greater!? Because God has done the greater, we have reason to believe he will take care of the lesser.
Our faith has reason to be confident that God can and God cares – even when what we see and feel gives us reason not to think that way. And this is really the key this morning: will we trust in what God says over what we see? Will we trust in what God has promised over what we feel?
If we say yes, especially in the midst of a situation that looks like God can’t and God doesn’t care, that’s what the world calls blind faith. But we know better. Our faith isn’t blind; we just don’t need sight when we are believing God’s promise. Like an airline pilot who has to land a plane in a thick fog who only has his instruments to be able to see the runway: we know how to walk by faith and not by sight – but it doesn’t mean we’re walking blind.
2. Peace is a reality to be enjoyed, not a feeling that we need to fabricate.
It is precisely because our faith isn’t blind that we can enjoy a peace that is not fabricated. The Gentiles, hypocrites, and control freaks may find ways to fabricate peace, but it never lasts. They always find themselves riddled with anxiety over and over again. Permanent peace is not something that humans know how to achieve, create, or maintain because we aren’t the Creator.
But when we believe that the Creator can and that the Creator cares, then we can experience the kind of peace that Paul describes in Philippians 4:4-7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul understands Matthew 6!
The ‘peace’ Paul describes here is NOT some sort of mystic barometer for discerning God’s will. Instead, the peace of God is an pre-existing reality that calms our hearts when we are faced with anxiety. It does not guide our hearts; it guards our hearts. What do our hearts need to be guarded from? Anxiety. When we believe that God can and God cares, we are reminded of the reality of this peace – that already belongs to us because we belong to Him – and we walk into it and it calms our hearts; it allows us to make kingdom-minded decisions instead of fear-based ones.
What is the peace of God? The warmth of knowing that since God has done the greater thing of giving us His Son Jesus, that He will also take care of the lesser things; they will be added unto us as well. How incomprehensible! How wonderful! When we believe that God can and that God cares it gives us the perspective we need on life to be able to live peacefully in His provision – whatever it may be.
Peace is knowing your Father cares and provides for you. It sets you free to walk into any circumstance and know that you are loved and protected. That’s why we can rejoice in him always – not because our lives are perfect, but because He cares for us because we belong to Him. We can ask Him for anything we need and trust that He knows what is best for us and will give it to us at just the right time. We don’t have to get His attention, we don’t have to bribe Him, we don’t have to convince Him that we are worthy of Him answering our prayers. We can simply walk through life in perfect peace because we believe that He is who He claims to be and will do as He promised.
When our fear and our faith is rightly oriented in our Creator rather than anything in His creation, we will trust that His way is better than our way. As Tim Keller has said, “Abraham didn’t want to give up Isaac. Moses didn’t want to go to Pharaoh. Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross, but God’s will is wise, and right, and good, and the people who submit to it will spend the next billion years thanking him that he had it, that he gave it to them.”
I can’t wait to tell Him that, too.