What, Me Worry?

Of all the commands given in Scripture, I do believe the command “do not worry” is the one most Christians have the most difficulty with. We worry about everything from finances to family to the frivolous. And we will do and say things like, “Surely, there are soemthings we need to worry about.” “I think God will see that it is OK if I worry about my kids.” And we justify and seek well-intentioned loopholes to our worry. However, the inescapable truth is that at the end of the day the command still stands: Do not worry. Other translations say “Do not be anxious.” Whatever way you want to say it, the command is clear and sober: A Christian is not allowed to worry…about anything!!

In Luke 12.22ff, our Lord gives us his rendition of the command. Notice v.22 says he spoke to his disciples. These are his followers, whether just the Twelve exclusively or a great mob of people who were seeking to follow him; either interpretation is adequate. But the words travel down the pathway of years to us today. Are we his disciple, his follower? Then these words ought to penetrate even our hearts.

Two Prohibitions

In verse 22-23, Jesus gives two prohibitions about worry: we are not to worry about food, nor are we to worry about clothes. This seems pretty simple. God will supply us with food to fill our stomachs and will ensure we have adequate garments for clothing. I suppose the question becomes “whose definition of adequate are we working with?” If it is God’s, we will be content with whatever little or plenty we have before us. If it is God’s, any clothing will benefit us and we will be grateful. But if it is our own, we will walk away from the meal discontent and even questioning God as to why the meager meal was not “adequate.”

We should define “worry” at this time so that no one mistakes what Jesus means by it. It is anxiety. It is earnest thinking over a thing. When a person is worried, they are weighed down and cumbered with many things. Worry is concern over some thing based upon apprehension of possible danger or misfortune. Are we getting the picture? It is translated “anxious,” “worry,” “care,” “concern(ed),” and “have…care.” The KJV translated this verse (v.22) “take no thought of your life.” These are the manifold ideas behind this little word “worry.” It is a stifling and choking word. It sucks the life out of our life. It is the heaviness upon our chest and the knots that form in our shoulders. It is the extra weight we carry with us. It makes life difficult, far more difficult than it should be. No wonder Jesus said to be free from it! In fact, the marginal reading for the NASB says “stop being anxious.” Jesus says, “Stop worrying!” Whether it is about your life, your food, your clothes, etc. Stop it! Why?

Two Principles

Jesus explains why worry is so useless. He begins first with birds, ravens in particular. These birds do not do anything to meet their own needs; God meets their needs for them. He supplies food. The grand thought is that in the God’s eyes, we are so much more valuable, so much more precious. He cares for even me. Jesus then continues as to why worry is so useless: worrying does not take time off the clock. In fact, the physical effects are devastating: high blood pressure, gray hair, “crows feet,” wrinkles, etc. If anything, worry only robs us of time from this short life. It does not good to worry, so why bother getting in that race in the first place. Jesus’ conclusion is that adding even an hour to the human life is easy (v.26). Of course, for God in the flesh this is easy, but you and I cannot do this one easy thing. How powerless we are worrying about the rest, about everything else in this life!

The second principle, gleaned from nature, are the plants. Jesus points us to the lilies in order to tackle our problem with worrying about clothing. And this is something many Americans worry about. We desire the designer brands and to be up with the trends. But what is it really about? What good does that do? In the end, does it really matter that you had the nicest clothes? In fact, though you have the Calvin Klein outfit, those threads pale in comparison to the lilies of the field. Not even a king such as Solomon can compare with the lilies. But notice, these plants fade, wither and die; alive one day and thrown into the flames the next. The assurance from Jesus is that God cares for us even more, though we lack the faith to trust him. He will clothe us even greater than these simple plants.

Jesus concludes about the birds and plants by summing up the matter: Don’t worry about it. Whether it is the food and drink or the clothes on your back, God has it covered – he has not forgotten the most precious jewel of all: you! Nations chase these things – people need food and clothing. God knows we need them, even on an individual basis. So what are we to do? Live a God-focused life. There are bigger things that concern us than food and clothes, as important as those things are. But if we starve to death spiritually because all we were concerned about was the physical…what good is that? Seek the reign and rule of God in your life first and God will make sure you get what you need. As someone has said, “He will supply your need, not your greed (i.e. want).”

Two Promises

While we are upon the earth, we must seek to be a part of the “little flock” of our Lord, the Good Shpeherd. Down here we realize how great a salvation we enjoy since we are a part of the kingdom of God. Here is the first promise: that while on this earth, God’s pleasure is to give us the kingdom. God and Jesus promised the kingdom of God and they delivered it unto us (see Col 1.13-14).

The second promise has to do with our treasure yet unseen. Up there is where our hearts and desires are focused. The emphasis in v.33 is for the disciple to be free from the pull of the earthly wealth. Do not be possessed by your possessions! If you are, do what you must to get rid of those obstacles so that nothing hinders you from you treasure which is “in the heavens.” The treasure is that whing which value most. Our hearts are tied directly to that thing we value most. If what we value most is earthly, our heart will be set on this earth. But it our most valued thing is etheral, our heart’s desire will be heavenward, desiring (like Paul) to be with the Lord forever.

Money, Money, Money, Money

Will it ever stop? The constant pursuit of the almighty dollar. I suppose so long as there is coinage worth anything man will continue to seek and accrue as much of it as possible. As the Christmas season drags ever closer to its conclusion, I am all the more reminded of this. The hoarding of “stuff,” the purchasing of “things;” will we ever get past it? Can we ever stop it? It is this gross commercialization of Christmas that reminds why our Lord taught so much about money. His teachings were simple but always on point: nothing in this world is so important that it should blind us of spiritual truth, especially money. In Luke 12.13-21, our Lord runs across a man desperate to ensure he gets his cut of the family inheritance.

The Man with a Plan

It seems that in the Lord’s teaching (12.1-12) there was some sort of a pause or break. It was at this point that a man spoke up. Notice, the Lord has just laid down some heavy teaching about the Pharisees being hypocrites and the sin that cannot be forgiven. And then this man speaks up and more or less tattles on his brother. Discontent with what he gets (or got) when his father passes, he wants Jesus to give him more. The man’s selfish interests are clear from the start, he can’t hide it.

Let’s keep this in cultural context: chances are this man’s brother is the older brother. Under Jewish custom, the older brother got a double portion of the inheritance. So this man is unhappy that his brother got more. This man wants an even cut. So it is this point that he submits to Jesus. Why? Because think of what Jesus’s actions look like to this man. Jesus is going against the grain, going heads-up with trradition. And if he has done that thus far, why wouldn’t he help with the tradition of inheritance. It is quite the ingenius plan.

But it is all for naught. Jesus knowws what is in a man and he can see through this cleverly crafted ruse. So Jesus replies to this man’s request. He calls his “man;” there is a tinge of rebuke in this word. Almost as if Jesus is saying “You poor, ignorant man, you still don’t get it.” Jesus has not come to be “judge or arbiter” in this world; he has come for a higher purpose, and higher work. One commentator writes, “The utter selfish worldliness of the man, who, after hearing the solemn and impressive words just spoken [v.1-12], could intrude suuch a question, comes strongly into view” (emphasis theirs). This is the wrong question tot he wrong man. Jesus did not come to assist us in our pursuits of greed and wealth. Rather he came to warn of those things.

The Lord with a Plea

Jesus once more addresses the crowd and issues a warning: Watch out! And also guard yourself, keep away from all kinds of greed. So there you have it. Jesus answers this man’s plea and publically announces for all to hear. Jesus identifies what was in this man and speaks against it. And just as this man’s greed had swallowed him up in Jesus’ day, so have many been consumed by their intense desire to have more today. What makes a man? The suit he wears? The job he has? The car he drives? The size of his bank account? No! Jesus says, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  There is somethig deeper, something more infinite which ought to make up a man’s life.

The Teacher with a Parable

Jesus illustrates his teaching with a parable. Again, a parable is “an earthly story with a spiritual (divine) meaning.” It is a simply story: a rich man’s crops produce an abundant crop. What’s a guy to do? This rich man decides to build bigger barns to store up his wealth. Quite pretentious! But notice the attitude in v.17-19: “my” appears 4 times, and “I” shows up eight times in the Greek. This man is horrendously self-absorbed with himself and his money. It is about storing up that wealth, not using it wisely. There is not desire to serve God with his money nor to help other people; it is just gross selfishness and greed.

What does God think of such a man? “Fool!” is the cry from heaven. How utterly, utterly foolish to be so self-focused and desirous of self-indulgence. Leon Morris in his comments of this passage says, “A man’s life is an uncertain thing at best and no-one has the assurance that he will live the years he would like.” The true folly within this rich man is his assumption that he has control of the future. In a roundabout way, he assumes the place of God concerning his life.

What is the point of the parable? Verse 21: “…but is not rich toward God.” Someone reading may think I am being critical of rich people or that I am saying having money (even wealth) is bad. This is simply not the case. In fact, no where in Scripture is having wealth condemned. Moreover, Scripture says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy men with catlle, gold, and silver. “What about ‘money is the root of all evil?'” My friend, read that passage again (1 Timothy 6.10): “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” There’s nothing wrong with money; but there is something wrong with our attitude toward money. And Jesus is attacking that problem, that improper attitude and trying to help us prioritize. What is truly important: chasing that almighty dollar or loving the Almighty God? Jesus says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” In other words, when you’ve gained the whole world but lost your soul (that immortal part of your very being) in the process, what will you give to get your soul back? Half the world? All of it? Then why even get in the rat race at all, if that is the case? To settle less than being rich toward God is foolish.

A Call to Courage

A common phrase people use is “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Apparently, many people smelled the smoke radiating from the blazing Pharisees and scribes following the burn Jesus just gave them in Luke 11.37ff. So Luke tells us that “many thousands” of people have gathered around Jesus. Literally, “myriads” of people have come to hear Jesus. So many are there (upwards of 10,000 perhaps, according to some) that some of the people are being trampled. Imagine the buzz of electricity running through the crowd. “If only I could hear his voice,” “if only I could touch him,” “If only…” Here is the attitude God’s people today must once again ignite within His church: a fiery passion to hear the word of the Lord proclaimed. May there never come a day when the people stop their ears or desire not to hear the word of the Lord. People in other countries walk great distances to hear one sermon from God’s word, memorizing key passages read and take it back to their villiage, many of whom have never seen the inside of a New Testament. What hunger, then and now!

An Evil to be Shunned

The rest of Luke 12.1 begins the lesson Jesus wishes to impart that day. But we must realize this is a lesson to many different people, the first of which is his disciples. He tells them to watch themselves or be alert for the “yeast of the Pharisees.” There should be no confusion as to what the “yeast” is – Jesus explains it for us: it is hypocrisy. That is to say watch out for their duplicity. The idea behind hypocrisy is that the person who is a hypocrite is an actor, merely putting on a show externally but internally they are a different person all togehter. They are merely a play actor. The disciple must never become like them. Instead, we are called to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4.15). Our motives are to be pure and our actions are to match what is within us.

Jesus explains why the disciple is not to be an actor – man can never really hide anything. Either everything will be shown for what it is eventually in this life or God will remove entirely the mask used to cover over our true motives. The deeds we do and the words we say in darkness will be revealed in the light of day light. Truly Jesus came into this world to expose the deeds of darkness inasmuch as he was “the Light of the World.” However strong man’s desire to keep hidden his wicked deeds, his duplicity, nothing is hidden from God (see Heb 4.12).

A Virtue to be Cultivated

If hypocrisy is the evil to be shunned then godly fear is the virtue a disciple is to have. So often, a Christian’s fear is of the wrong things. Too often I hear or see how deathly afraid (pun intended) Christians are of death. This is unwarranted. I suppose we might be afraid of the way we may die (like being eaten by sharks or drowning), but we should not fear death. And in light of what Jesus says in Luke 12.4, even the way we die should not be a factor so much. Do not fear men and what they can do to the body, rather fear God for he controls your eternal destiny. And this is the key to overcoming (shunning) the evil of hypocrisy. Fear of what men may say or do to us would cause us to become the play-actor God hates. The Pharisees were masters of planting seeds of doubt and manipulating people, cultivating the hypocrisy that they themselves contained. Jesus says don’t allow this to happen. Cultivate the right kinds of the seeds, namely, revential fear of God. Fear the only who has control over the eternal, not those who believe they have control over the physical. Plainly, fear God, not man.

But the proper kind of fear we are to have is coupled with reassurance for the disciple. The sparrows are not forgotten by God; neither is the disciple. In fact, so intimately does God love and care for us, that he has the very hairs on our head numbered. What a profound thought that the infinite God of this universe still loves and cares for me in such an intimate manner. Stand in awesome fear of God, not in absurd fright of this life.

A Lord to Acknowledge

Jesus now gives us some very sober words concerning our attitude toward Him and how important that. For if we fail to “confess” (NASB) Jesus while on this earth, he will not “confess” us before the angels of God. Our understanding of confession is key. In the Greek, the word is homologese from the root homologeo. You may recognize homo which mean “same” and logo which means “word.” Hence, to confess means simply to “say the same word” about a person or thing. In this case, we speak the same word about Christ as the Son of God as God speaks. And we speak this word before or in front of men. This could be a call to evangelism or it may simpl be the “good confession” before a body of believers. I think the importance is that we recognize our Lord as the Christ. The promise is that if we do this, He will speak the same word as the Father about us. That is, our Father calls us “son” (Gal 3.26-27) and Jesus recognizes that, even affirming that fact to the angels of heaven.

However, the danger is in failing to speak the same word about Jesus. That is, we deny his divinity as the Christ. In this, there is a refusal to agree that Jesus is the Christ. Here is the precise definition of one who “antichrist” as given by the apostle John (1 John 2.22). This man is a liar and there is no affirmation before the angels in heaven. Only a sad condemnation.

In v.10, Jesus explains the unforgivable sin. Much can be said about this passage and for a more  thorough discussion of it click here to connect to my discussion site.

A Promise to Keep

The final words of this section deal (Luke 12.11-12) deal with the disciples on trial. There is coming a time in the ministry of the Twelve when they will be dragged into court and questioned about their preaching (see Acts 3, 4). What is a disciple to do? Jesus tells them not to worry (a key teaching of Jesus in his ministry). Rather, understand that the disciple is covered for the Holy Spirit will speak on their behalf, giving them the words they need to say at that time.

Do we still have this miraculous empowering today? I don’t think so. But we do have the Spirit’s words contained in the sum of Scripture (Eph 6.17). Hence, we must pour over God’s word, commit it to memory so that if we ever are called upon to give a defense for the hope within us (1 Peter 3.15), we are ready with a reasoned response of the things we believe. We are still taught through the Word of God, the Spirit’s words, what we are to say to anyone who asks us to defend ourselves.

The Beginning of the End

It was only a matter of time before something Jesus said would lead to this point. Indeed, he has been driving toward it his entire life. It was for this purpose that he came into the world. He had to die. But not just any kind of death; Jesus had to die a vicarious death, that is, he died in our place. So in Luke 11.37ff, we find Jesus now pressing the envelope, saying things that are bound to upset some people, doing things that offend people. It is driving to v.53-54 of Luke 11: “the scribes and the Pharisees began…plotting against Him.” Jesus has resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem (9.51, click here for commentary), and it is in this text that we find the beginning of the end of the life of Jesus. What was it that triggered the improper response of the Pharisees and the scribes?

The Schooling about True Cleansing

This account picks up where we last left Jesus: he has just finished speaking the things in 11.29-36 (click here for commentary). No sooner does he finish speaking, than a Pharisee asks him to eat (literally, eat lunch) with him. Jesus accepts, goes into the man’s house, and reclines (that is, like on a sofa). But something is not right – the Pharisee notes and is surprised that Jesus has not “washed” (lit. “baptized) before the meal. The NASB says Jesus had not “ceremonially washed,” perhaps helping capture the idea a little better. Leon Morris says this was a custom that is described in detail in the Misnah (Yadaim 1.11f). Another commentator says that the outward cleansing of the body was to the Jew an expression of washing away the outward filth that came with contact with the Gentile in the market place. Jesus points out the error of this: God made both the outside and the inside of a man. How could a man clean the outside without consideration of what is on the inside? Surely the inside demanded cleaning too. The outside filth may be gone, but the inward filth is still present, sloshing around within a man. Jesus says their inside is full of “robbery and wickedness.” Therefore, they are fools for their behavior. Rather, they are to be full of love, giving away what is “within,” that is what is your attitude when engaging in charity? It should not be compulsory nor begrudgingly; rather it should flow from a cleansed inside.

The Sorrow for the Pharisees

In verse 42, Jesus begins his announcement of woes (six altogether) upon the Pharisees and the Lawyers. Jesus begins with the Pharisees. “Woe” means “how dreadful” or “terrible.” It is an expression of regret and means that someone or something has been found lacking or wanting. Both the Pharisees and the lawyers are guilty of being found lacking in the justice department. The Pharisees tithe but they overlook the weightier matters of the law (cf. Matt 23.23): justice and the love of God. Jesus does not say the tithing is bad; in fact, he affirms that it should be done in addition to the showing love and justice. Jesus continues with the second woe: they are found lacking because they love the preeminency. They love attention, being tops, the most important. They are found wanting because of their love for the respect of men rather than being right with God. Third, they are found wanting because they are “concealed” or indistinct or unseen tombs which men walk over. What’s so bad about this? Well, if someone walked over a grave, they were deemed ceremonially unclean. If you happened to walk over an unmarked grave (i.e. concealed), you unknowingly became unclean. And so the people who followed the teachings of the Pharisees became themselves morally unclean, and that unbeknownst to them. They are absolutely blind guides contaminating an entire nation of people!

The Sorrow for the Lawyers

About this time, a lawyer (who may very well have been a Pharisee) speaks up and says that the teaching of Jesus is insulting (lit. outrageous or an affront) to “us” (lawyers or scribes). These were the experts of the law. How could Jesus say they missed the mark also? Well, in the first place, they tie heavy burdens on the people which they would not touch with their little finger. So heavy is the burden of the trivial commands upon the people that they are crushed under the load. And yet the scribes do nothing to help by either removing the burden or helping to shoulder the load. Talk about not lifitng a finger to help. Also, they may build tombs (lit. monuments) for the prophets, but it is their fathers who supply the bodies for those tombs. Their building simply showed they were in agreement with the killers of the prophets. They approve of this activity (the deeds of their fathers). Here is the scary thing: in accordance with the wisdom of God, God sent them prophets in order to hold them accountable for the blood of all prophets for all time.

Is Jesus quoting from the OT when he speaks of the wisdom of God? Scholars say no. Nowhere in the OT does this phrase come up. Nor is in any non-canonical (non-biblical) books either. I would lean toward the understanding that Jesus, being God in the flesh, is making a statement inspired by the Holy Spirit concerning the purposes of God in eternity. And since the Jews persecute the prophets (those sent to dictate the will and word of God), thereby rejecting them (and God), God will require the blood of all prophets from Abel to Zechariah (or from A-Z). This is the order of the martyrs in the Hebrew scriptures (Gen 4.8 a nd 2 Chron 24.21f). Why is Abel named a prophet? Not sure. Perhaps it has to do with his sacrifice and the message it carries (see Heb 11.4 about how Abel speaks still though dead and 12.24 and how Abel’s sacrifice speaks a word, albeit Jesus’s sacrifice speaks a better word). These men, even the very generation they live in, will he held accountable for the blood of the prophets in accordance with the wisdom of God.

Third, woe to the scribes for shielding the Scripture’s knowledge from the eyes of the people and from themselves. The knowledge of God is contained in Scripture and the meaning of Scripture was distorted by the scribes so badly that the people could not understand and even the scribes could not understand. They are found wanting for they block their own entrance and the entrance of others. How disappointing that God’s people could not understand God’s message because of the terribly teaching of the “experts.”

You can’t say the things Jesus said without making a few people mad. Well, mad may not be the best word; furious, angry, hostile. And so the Pharisees and the scribes are watching Jesus. They will be watching to catch something in his words that they might twist (even as they twisted the Scriptures) and use against him so that he might be killed. Hey, they had done it before. What’s one more prophet in the body count.