Stressed about your social standing? (Matthew 6:25-34)

Feel like your worth comes from how people see you? This will help you break free.

Open Matthew 6:25-34.

Our heavenly Father values us more than the birds and flowers, and he will provide for us. These are some of our favourite verses, especially when we face hard times. Without taking anything away from those sentiments, what Jesus said meant so much more.

What we hear is limited by two differences between our culture and his. Firstly, we make these verses about me individually, in my personal struggles. It’s okay to apply it that way, but the “you” in these verses is consistently plural. Jesus is primarily talking about us in community. The kingdom of God is a corporate thing.

Secondly, we hear these verses as if they were about my own personal anxiety. Will I have any food to eat? Will I have any clothes to wear? Will I have the basic necessities? Once again, it’s okay to apply them that way, for our heavenly Father certainly does know our needs and provide for us. That’s a given. But Jesus was talking about us in community — our place in society. How will people view me based on what I eat and what I drink? Am I wearing the right labels to gain the social recognition I desire?

Jesus lived in an honour / shame culture. Their primary concern was not how they coped as individuals but how others viewed them. That’s why Jesus refers to “Solomon in all his glory.” Solomon was the most highly esteemed person in all of Israel’s stories, but even he did not manage to dress himself as gloriously as God dresses the wildflowers. The text isn’t primarily about basic necessities; it’s about social honour.

Yes, God provides basic necessities. But Jesus is saying more: that our heavenly sovereign is the one who decides who is honoured in his kingdom. If that’s true, you’re wasting your efforts trying to gain popular recognition. Break free of that stress. Fly free like the birds. Enjoy the moment like the wildflowers. Instead of fighting for your status, trust the God of the kingdom who raises up those he wishes to elevate.

Crucially, that’s what Jesus himself was doing.  It’s true that he and his disciples weren’t planting and harvesting and gathering into barns, but it’s much more than that. Just as God gave the kingdom to the son of David (Solomon), Jesus believed that God would give the kingdom to him. He didn’t need to eat or drink or dress like a king. His followers struggled to trust God for their social status (“ye of little faith”) but Jesus taught out of his own life experience — his faith that God would make him king.

Jesus made it his goal to seek the kingdom of God, not the approval of people. Discover how liberating this lifestyle is.

It’s not sitting back passively, waiting for God to act. It’s the freedom to spend your life seeking God’s kingship instead of seeking people’s approval. Free as a bird! The serendipity of discovering what we were created to be.

Matthew 6:25-34 (my translation, expanded)

25 What I’m saying is, don’t be stressed about your lives — what you should eat or what you should drink. Don’t be stressed about your bodies — what you should put on. Doesn’t life mean more than its food? Doesn’t the body mean more than its clothes?

26 Observe the birds of the heavens. Look how free they are! They don’t plant seeds and harvest and gather grain into barns. Your Father in heaven provides for them. Don’t you mean more to him than they do?

27 Which of you can, with all your stress, raise your social status by one cubit?

28 About your clothes — why are you stressed what people think? Go learn how the wildflowers grow in esteem. They don’t struggle; they don’t weave cloth. 29 I’m telling you that even the most honoured person, King Solomon, was never as splendid as one of these.

30 If that’s how God dresses up the wild grass that exists for a day and tomorrow is oven fodder, won’t he do much more for you who trust him so little for your honour?

31 So, don’t be stressed, saying, “What should we eat? What should we drink? What should we put on to impress people? 32 That’s what people from other nations live for. You have a heavenly Father who knows you need all these things.

33 Live first for God’s kingdom, for his reign that sets everything right. Everything will be provided to you.

34 So don’t be stressed about tomorrow. Tomorrow will be stressed about itself. Each day has enough bad stuff in it.

What others are saying

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: SPCK, 2004), 65–66:

As we read a passage like this, we should see that it flows straight out of Jesus’ own experience of life. He had watched the birds wheeling around, high up on the currents of air in the Galilean hills, simply enjoying being alive. He had figured out that they never seemed to do the sort of work that humans did, and yet they mostly stayed alive and well. He had watched a thousand different kinds of flowers growing in the fertile Galilee soil — the word translated ‘lily’ here includes several different plants, such as the autumn crocus, the anemone and the gladiolus—and had held his breath at their fragile beauty. One sweep of a scythe, one passing donkey, and this wonderful object, worth putting in an art gallery, is gone. Where did its beauty come from? It didn’t spend hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up. It didn’t go shopping in the market for fine clothes. It was just itself: glorious, God-given, beautiful.

Jesus … seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention totally to the present task, celebrating the goodness of God here and now. If that’s not a recipe for happiness, I don’t know what is.

… The point was again priorities. Put the world first, and you’ll find it gets moth-eaten in your hands. Put God first, and you’ll get the world thrown in.

[previous: The focus of your life]

[next: What is seeking the kingdom?]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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