22 May 2020

22 May 2020 |

A Commentary by John Stott

Matthew 6:25-34. 2. Problems relating to Christian faith (continued).

Secondly, *believers are not exempt from responsibility for others*. I say this in relation to the second problem, which is one of providence, rather than of science. If God promises to feed and clothe his children, how it is that many are ill-clad and under-nourished? It will not do, I think, to say rather glibly that God does look after his own children, and that the poor who lack adequate food and clothing are all unbelievers outside his family circle, for there are certainly Christian people in some drought and famine-stricken areas of the world in very severe need. It does not seem to me that there is a simple solution to this problem. But one important point should be made, namely that the most basic cause of hunger is not an inadequate divine provision, but an inequitable human distribution. The truth is that God has provided ample resources in earth and sea. The earth brings forth plants yielding seed and trees bearing fruit. The animals, birds and fish he has made are fruitful and multiply. But men hoard or spoil or waste these resources, and do not share them out. It seems significant that in the same gospel of Matthew the Jesus who here says that our heavenly Father feeds and clothes his children, later says that *we* must ourselves feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and will be judged accordingly. It is always important to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. The fact that God feeds and clothes his children does not exempt us from the responsibility of being the agents through whom he does it.

Thirdly, *believers are not exempt from experiencing trouble*. it is true that Jesus forbids his people to worry. But to be free from *worry* and to be free from *trouble* are not the same thing. Christ commands us not to be anxious, but does not promise that we shall be immune to all misfortune. On the contrary, there are many indications in his teaching that he knew all about calamity. Thus, although God *clothes the grass of the field*, it is still cut down and burnt. God protects even sparrows, which are so common and are of such minimal value that two are sold for a farthing and five for two farthings, one being thrown in for luck. ‘Not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will,’ Jesus said (Mt.10:29; cf.12:6). But sparrows do fall to the ground and get killed. His promise was not that they should not fall, but that this would not happen without God’s knowledge and consent. People fall too, and aeroplanes. Christ’s words cannot be taken as a promise that the law of gravity will be suspended on their behalf, but again that God knows about accidents and allows them. Further, it is significant that at the end of this paragraph the reason Jesus gives why we are not to be *anxious about tomorrow* is: *Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day* (34). So there will be ‘trouble’ (*kakia*, ‘evil’). A Christian’s freedom from anxiety is not due to some guaranteed freedom from trouble but to the folly of worry (to which we shall come later) and especially to the confidence that God is our Father, that even permitted suffering is within the orbit of his care (cf Jb. 2:10), and that ‘in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28).

This was the assurance which fortified Dr. Helmut Thieliche while he preach a course of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount in St.Mark’s Church, Stuttgart, during the terrible years (1946-1948) which immediately followed he second world war. He often alluded to the scream of the air-raid sirens, alerting people to yet more devastation and death from allied bombs. What could freedom from anxiety mean in such circumstances? ‘We know the sight and the sound of homes collapsing in flames … Our own eyes have seen the red blaze and our own ears have heard the sound of crashing, falling and shrieking.’ Against that background the command to look at the birds and lilies might well have sounded hollow. ‘Nevertheless,’ Dr Thieliche went on, ‘I think we must stop and listen when *this* man, whose life on earth was anything but birdlike and lilylike, points us to the carefreeness of the birds and lilies. Were not the sombre shadows of the Cross already looming over this hour of the Sermon on the Mount? In other words, it is reasonable to trust in our heavenly Father’s love, even in times of grievous trouble, because we have been privileged to see it revealed in Christ and his cross.

So then God’s children are promised freedom neither from work, nor from responsibility, nor from trouble, but only from worry. Worry is forbidden us: it is incompatible with Christian faith.

Tomorrow: Matthew 6:25-34. 2. Problems relating to Christian faith (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.