If we are burdened with fears, it is time to consider where we’re placing our confidence and our priorities. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Luke by addressing words that Jesus spoke to quiet troubled hearts.
This morning we will continue with our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. I will be reading from Luke 12:22–34:
Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What a privilege it is this morning to hear from Jesus—to hear His teaching and to listen to His admonition. As His followers, we delight in hearing His Word, which you have just received. Please receive it with the full measure of Jesus’ authority that stands behind it. Let us pray.
Our Father and our God, as we consider this teaching from the lips of our Lord, help us to put our trust in Him to such a degree that fear and anxiety will be banished from our hearts. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Anxieties and Fears
Before I look at the text itself, there are a couple of things I would like to ask you to do. First, in your own mind, I would like you to answer this question: What are you afraid of, and what do you worry about on a daily basis? I want you to think about those two questions this week. Each night before you go to bed, ask yourself: “What am I afraid of? What do I worry about?” I want you to think about that this morning, but I do not want you to fixate on it during the sermon because I want you to be able to hear the sermon.
In this passage, Jesus addressed the problem of anxiety. The word anxiety is often confused in our culture with the word eager. Children will say, “I’m anxious for Christmas to get here.” When what they mean is: “I’m eager. I’m looking forward to it, I’m excited about it.” Anxiety or anxiousness is not a matter of being eager. Rather, the dictionary defines anxiety as uneasiness of mind, or a fearful concern. Eagerness is related to joy and anxiety is related to fear.
Two Kinds of Anxiety
All kinds of anxieties abound, and we must distinguish between what I call “specific” anxiety and “non-specific” anxiety.
Specific anxieties are those fears common to our life: fears of illness, fears of the loss of our money, our job, our security, and so on.
I am reminded of a story of two men in a foxhole during a battle in World War II. One was a Calvinist and the other was an Arminian. The Calvinist was exceedingly calm during the battle, while the Arminian was trembling in terror in the foxhole. He said to the Calvinist, “How can you be so calm in the midst of this battle?” The Calvinist said: “I look at it this way: there’s a bullet out there with my name on it. In the providence of God that bullet is either going to get me or it’s not going to get me, and my worrying about isn’t going to change anything.” The Arminian said, “I’m not so much worried about the bullet out there with my name on it as I am with all these bullets flying around that have written on them, ‘To whom it may concern.’”
The negative prohibition that Jesus gave more often than any other was not, “Don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery,” but was: “Fear not. Don’t be afraid.” He knew us in our human condition. He knew that all of us, in our fallenness, go through life on the edge of anxiety.
A study made a few years ago concerning married men in America revealed the startling conclusion that the number one thing married men in America worry about is money, specifically with respect to their ability to care for and provide for their families. Before those men went to the altar and said, “I do,” they felt responsible to take care of themselves. But once they entered the marriage contract, they felt the weight and burden of providing not only for themselves but for their wives and children.
The other startling thing about the survey was that when men gather and talk with each other, they talk about all kinds of things: politics, women, sports, business, and all the rest. The one thing they never talk about with each other is their insecurity about their ability to provide for their families. That is an anxiety, a fear that is specific but hidden.
In addition to specific fears or anxieties that we encounter in this world are non-specific forms of anxiety.
In the nineteenth century, a new philosophy was born called existentialism. I regularly get the question from people, “What is existentialism?” and I give them the brief and brilliant answer: “It is the philosophy of existence.” They say: “Thanks a lot. That really helps.”
Existentialism reached its acme in the West after World War II with the atheistic form of existential philosophy, made popular by men such as the Frenchmen Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. One of the most important voices of that movement came out of Germany through the writings of Martin Heidegger.
Heidegger said that one of the root problems every human being encounters is the sensation of dread. This dread, or care, or Besorgen that he spoke of is undefined, amorphous, and vague. It constantly eats away at us, but we cannot define why. We may go see a counselor and say, “I’m anxious and fearful.” He may say to us, “What are you afraid of?” The answer may be: “I don’t know. I’m just scared.”
Heidegger painted a grim picture. He said that every human being in the world experiences what he calls a sense of Geworfenheit, of having been hurled or thrown chaotically into life with no sense of purpose or destiny. That sense of being cast in a meaningless way into life eats away at the soul day in and day out.
Children go to school and their teacher tells them that the universe and human life came into being through macro-evolution. They are told that they are cosmic accidents, that they are grownup germs sitting on a wheel of a vast cosmic machine destined for annihilation. They are told they come from nothingness and that their future is nothingness, and that eats away at their own sense of significance. That is vague anxiety.
Fear Not, I Am with You
Jesus addressed the specific fears and anxieties we encounter when He said, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life.” I doubt there is any commandment of God I have broken more frequently in my life than this one. I am not happy unless I have something to worry about. If there is such a thing as a worrywart, that best describes me. That, of course, is a judgment on my confidence and faith in God.
Jesus said, “Fear not, because I am with you.” If I knew with full assurance every second of my life that Jesus was right next to me, what would I be afraid of? Why would I be afraid of anything? How could you be afraid of anything if you knew the Lord was standing right beside you?
The Psalmist said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” What was the reason he gave? Because he was not afraid of death? No. Because he was happy in the shadows? No: “I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.”
To live the Christian life means to focus on the Word of God so that we become more and more aware of the presence of Christ with us. He said: “Lo, I am with you always. I’m with you on the battlefield. I’m with you in the hospital. I’m with you in the ambulance. I’m with you at the cemetery. I’m with you when the bank notice comes about a foreclosure. Lo, I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth.”
Do Not Worry About Life
Jesus said, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” I must confess something to you this morning. I, personally, have a hard time preaching on this text.
This was my father’s favorite text in the whole Bible. I watched him die over a period of three years with fourth strokes, and the fourth one killed him. For most of that time, he was confined to a chair with a magnifying glass that he used to read his Bible.
My father had much to be anxious about. He was not earning any money. He was not able to care for his family. He did not know whether his kids were going to go to college. He did not know if he was going to survive another week. He would murmur to me with gnarled speech and a sagging jaw, “Be anxious for nothing, what you should eat, what you should drink, what you should put on.” I would hear him say that and I was amazed, because he was not anxious, and I was. He clung to this text to the very end of his life.
Consider the Ravens and the Lilies
Jesus said, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap.” Have you ever seen a raven go into a field with a plow or use his beak to furrow the fields, then watched him the next day with a mouth full of seed, dropping it here and there in the furrows? Then, when he is done, do you see him cover it up with his wings and fly up to the nearest tree to wait for the rain to come and the seed to germinate so he can provide food for himself? Do you see him come after the rain to reap the harvest and take the fruit of the harvest to a barn to fill it up for future contingencies? Of course not. Jesus said: “Think about the raven. He doesn’t sow. He doesn’t reap. He doesn’t have a storehouse or a barn—but God feeds him. Of how much more value are you than the birds?”
“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Worry all you want; you will not add an hour to your life. Worry all you want; you will not add an inch to your height. Those things are beyond our control. “If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?”
“Think about the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil. They don’t spin.” Have you ever seen a lily go to a factory and punch his timecard? Have you ever gone out in the garden and seen the lilies working at a loom with the shuttle flying in and out between the yarn to produce a beautiful garment with which to be clothed? No.
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?”
Work without Fear
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.”
Jesus was not saying, as the rich fool had said: “Be at ease. Eat, drink, and be merry, tomorrow you die. Don’t worry about being productive. Don’t worry or be concerned about providing for your households. Don’t be concerned about any of these things, just lay back, take it easy and God will take care of you.” This was not some giant welfare program that God was offering through the lips of His Son. We are supposed to work and be productive, but the productivity to which we are called is not to be carried out amidst paralyzing fear and anxiety. That is the point Jesus was making.
The Main Business of the Christian Life
“For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” At this point, Jesus was summarizing some of the things He taught elsewhere, including in the Sermon on the Mount. He was talking about priorities. Elsewhere He said, “Seek first,” protos, first in the order of importance, “the kingdom of God.” Everything else is secondary.
I have heard people say cynically, “Money isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” I have heard them say, “Money isn’t everything, but it’s way ahead of whatever is in second place.” In first place in the value system of God is seeking His kingdom. Unbelievers do not seek after God. They do not seek His kingdom. Seeking the kingdom of God is the activity of the converted person.
When you were converted, it was not because you were seeking after God but because God found you and turned your life inside out. From that moment, the rest of your life should be busily engaged in seeking more of the things of God. That is the work of discipleship. That is sanctification.
As Edwards said, seeking after the kingdom of God is the main business of the Christian life. Jesus said here, “Seek the kingdom of God, and all the rest of this will be added unto you.”
Do Not Fear, Little Flock
How tenderly Jesus speaks when He says, “Do not fear, little flock.” Do you know who the little flock is? You and me—we are His lambs, we are His little flock. He was not yelling at us in this text. He was not rebuking us. He was comforting us.
Jesus said: “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. That’s My legacy for you. That’s your inheritance. He is not just giving Me the kingdom. What pleases my Father is to give you the kingdom.”
“Sell what you have and give alms.” This was not a universal mandate for everybody to divest themselves of all worldly goods. That was not Jesus’ point. He was saying: “Give alms with gusto, freely, without anxiety. See where your security is and provide money bags that do not grow old.” What kinds of bags are those? They are heavenly bags.
“A treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Is it not natural for us to put our hearts where we have most heavily invested in this world? If your number one investment is the kingdom of God, that is where your heart will be. If your number one investment is the accumulation of riches, that is where your heart will be. Put your heart and your treasure with the kingdom of God. When we do that, we will have nothing to fear.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.