[This sermon is one of a series entitled “Sermon on the Mount, Concentrating on the Beatitudes,” which is being preached on Sunday mornings by Pastor Tim Senter.]
The section of the Sermon on the Mount that we began to address from about verse 16 of chapter six even through this section, deals with our dependencies, our concerns, our attitudes in life. These ideas of dependence, concern and attitude are spoken of in a framework of two opposing forces. One is a worldly concern or anxiety about the things we see and experience around us. This concern sees the things of the world, depends upon them, plans within their limitations and can only see those things. The opposite view is one that focuses upon the heavenly. This view sees no limitations on Earth. There is nothing on Earth that can effect God’s eternity, His Heaven or His plans for either. Neither is there any limit to God’s power on Earth in a proper heavenly view. As a believer we are to have this same attitude; we do not permit the things of the world to influence our faith in God or our estimation of His ability. The Christian looks at the things of the world as simply a thing to be tolerated until permanent residence is established in Heaven. The believer sees all things here as tools to serve and glorify God. Ultimately, Jesus is telling us that a Christian walking in faith, living in faith and depending through faith on the Father has no concern for the world or the things of the world. The Christian certainly sees no possible limitation to God’s ability to bless His children.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not just making some blanket or unrealistic “get spiritual” statement in His sermon. Jesus is trying to get everyone to see just how real life happens in an operative faith. Jesus is saying you should apply your faith not just to salvation, but also to every aspect of your life on Earth. We could list many things from the moment we awake and talk to God thanking Him for another day to serve Him here, to the moments before we fall off to sleep as we talk to Him and look forward to another day to serve Him. Jesus is talking about everything in between these two times. When we eat, what we wear, who we meet, how we encourage others, what things we do, where we will sleep, what we might say, where we place our ambitions, the plans we make and how we think. These are all things associated with this passage of scripture. Either we submit in faith that God chooses to provide and orient our mind, body and soul to receive that blessing, or we can look at the world around us and say we have to do it, or we have to see it, or we have to understand it, and deny God the opportunity to bless. Our own pride limits our faith. When we lean on our own limited vision, knowledge and understanding we deny God’s ability to bless because “He resisteth the proud” (Js 4:6a). What a promise is behind this statement though. If we give up our pride and the thought that we know better than God, we can receive blessings and great grace, for “God giveth grace unto the humble” (Js 4:6b).
We could ask some questions though such as:
- Do we just spend all our life in prayer about something?
- Do we spend all our life reading scripture for a specific answer?
- Do we spend all our life fasting?
- Do we spend all our lives doing devotionals?
- Do we spend every waking minute of our life nurturing and cultivating our own spiritual lives?[i]
Folks, these things would make us monks or some such nonsense. Faith is to be lived out before the heathen in order to show them God’s glory.
Therefore, we live life before the world faithfully dependent upon God. That means there is work to do because we have to interact with the world. We have to deal with the limitations and rules of the world. We are bound by physical laws and material laws. We have to work within the economic construct where we live. This is not to say we deny the world’s power over some things we do materially; but it is to say that we do not permit our own perspective to limit our faith. Further, we recognize God can overrule the powers of the world (material, natural, biological, spiritual or otherwise) to effect His will. There is a somewhat crass and rather blasphemous retort that I have heard uttered by atheists when they are asked “What would make you believe in God?” that goes something like, “For a million dollars to suddenly appear in my bank account.” Sadly, many who claim Christ still operate this way. What we do not see is that this is exactly what we could and should expect if it is within God’s will. Unfortunately, most Christians do not have a relationship close enough to God that enables them to determine God’s complete will with something as large as a million dollars, or what those funds would be used for. Additionally, God does not normally make Himself known through such an immediate and extravagant gift. That kind of blessing comes over time in a variety of ways through a variety of sources.
Therefore once again, we open a discussion about our world, about our provision, about our faith and ultimately how these things cross paths. What is God incapable of doing? Nothing. What do we think He is capable of doing? Only things we can envision. That is sin.
Look at Matthew 6, where we will consider verses 26, 28-29, and 31. When we look at these scriptures we again think of food and clothing. However, there is something much deeper and more prevalent being taught here. This is about faith and worship. This is about our relationship with God through that faith and worship. Where verses 19 through 24 deal with worship specifically and special ways that we can develop our relationship with God, verses 25 through 34 deal with more basic and functional ways we can worship God in daily life. In many ways, this form of worship is more practical and functional. The practicality of this faith is intimately entwined in our livelihood.
We are very involved with our lives. Even when we are well to do, we are very involved with life and absorbed in it. Many times we utter the word, “can’t” when we should be saying, “if it will serve to glorify God, we will.” This is the singular focus that Jesus is talking about. We get distracted with life, with the things of life, with the limits of our abilities, with the limits placed upon us, with our own preconceived limitations. What we should be focused upon is His glory, His provision, His strength and His omnipotence.
Today we must answer one question: “If God gave you His only Son to provide you, personally, eternal life with Him simply for His own glory, why would He ever deny you something else that would equally glorify Him?” (Jn 13:32) When we look at things on Earth we often think we have the answer or solution and it must be something that honors God like the widow’s mite. We often fail to realize the opulence that God does provide on occasion. Further, we fail to see how we can be a part of that wondrous gift for His glory. God provides, Christians are to be faithfully dependent. Our problem stems from our sinful heart that wants to be comfortable and not be challenged. We try to talk our way out of things we know He wants for us. We tend to compartmentalize God’s abilities and make them dependent upon our decisions when we should let God decide, use us and glorify Himself through His choices. All of these faults are sinful because they deny God’s sovereignty, omnipotence and power as the creator of all.
God will give you and me everything we need to accomplish His will. Our life and this ministry must be lived in a dependence upon that faith. It is not our place to attempt to engineer any limitations in that way, but to be prepared to receive all that He can give. This really is a simple thing. We discussed some of the animal kingdom in our last discourse on this sermon by the Savior. If God feeds birds when they have no home and wander in the wild, it is because He loves them and had decided that is how they are to live. The questions are why do they need provision, who provides for them and how do the birds collect this provision? We too have the same issues to deal with daily, only we are far more complex than the birds.
I. Hunger for God’s Provision
First, why do birds need provision? The answer seems rather simple, but it goes much deeper than we might at first understand. Birds need provision because they are designed that way. Just like every animal in God’s creation, all ingest something in order to survive. What we consume gives us energy and provides for sustaining life. We need provision therefore because we are designed to be dependent upon that provision. We need because God made us with this need. Through sustenance, God’s creation grows and matures. Proper nutrients can develop a better creature than poor nutrients. Hunters often analyze the vegetation that an animal forages in to determine their trophy quality. If we feed on good food, we grow strong both mentally and physically. Denying our body essential vitamins and minerals is dangerous. Ingesting regular meals that introduce chemicals and other detrimental things to our systems can injure or kill us. Improper nourishment or a lack of it can cause physical deformity or a lack of development. Antlers do not grow thick and long with poor forage. Coats are not heavy and protective for winter weather when scrub brush is the only food available.
We too must realize we need provision. We too must recognize that without proper sustenance we would starve or suffer deformity. For man, this is not simply a physical understanding but spiritual as well. When you are not properly fed from the Word of God, your soul starves; it does not develop properly and it does not grow strong. The eye is the lamp of the body and if it takes in wickedness and feeds that darkness to the soul, your soul starves or is fed those damaging chemicals. We should realize that we need food; we need it in abundance and in great variety. The more ways we feed our soul from the good, nourishing words in the scriptures, the more our soul develops into a thriving and vibrant testimony for Christ.
What other forms of provision are there for the soul? Study, meditation, preaching, prayer, testing or trials, fasting and just choosing dependence. Besides the very basic things we all see and should experience daily, probably the most growth-encouraging, spiritual feeding takes place when we choose to depend upon God. When we choose to place ourselves in a trial. When we choose to submit to a trial or testing presented by God as a choice.
I know missionaries who have stepped out purely on faith. They prayed specifically for a certain provision. They told no one about the need at all, but left it to God to provide. They asked that God would glorify Himself in the effort. Not necessarily to their astonishment, more to their utter joy and the awesome glory of God they received specifically what they requested. The check for thousands of dollars answered their prayer.
Do you rely on God or do you try to reason through your own mind first? Have you been leaning upon God’s provision and promises to provide? Alternatively, do you think your way out of depending upon Him? If God cares for the birds of the air with such simplicity, and adorns His creation with great splendor, how much more will He care for you in the full complexity and totality of His creation? The more we depend upon Him for our lives and our ministry, the more we glory in Him and the more He is glorified. The birds cannot worship Him as we can; therefore, we should worship Him in the multiple ways in which we can see His provision. Do you look specifically for God’s provision such that when it comes, you snatch up all that you can from it? Above all, when God opens a door to testing, do you run through it and eat heartily from the selection with great joy (Jas 1:2), or do you shy away from it out of insecurity (evidence of worldly dependence)?
Not only is God’s provision and our ability to ingest it important, we also have to understand how this operates. How does God work to feed His creation?
II. Understanding God’s Creation
For whatever reason, all the animals in creation have no problem knowing how to collect food. They even learn to hunt or scavenge better as time goes on. The bird knows that when it rains, worms will blanket the ground and be plentiful. When the day is gloomy, other bugs will come out of hiding to scurry around for more food, providing the birds, rodents and other creatures more opportunity. Many animals know where to go collect an abundance of food on special occasions. I remember fishing in Michigan with Mr. Paul Little. He took me out in his little boat fishing on occasion. This one time the mayflies were hatching and the water was blanketed with them. I was too young to cast for fish, so I had to sit over the side with a bobber and worm. I did not catch a single fish. Mr. Little caught 58 fish ranging from big bright sunfish and crappie to some nice perch. He had a blast. I was completely dejected as a 7 year old. The point? Fish were not biting worms because they knew the mayfly hatch was more plentiful; therefore they concentrated on it. These creatures knew when it was a special feeding time and they took advantage of the table set by God. If fish know special feeding when they see it, we should too.
Once again, human kind is different. We have in us the ability to choose. It is given to us in our ability to reason. Where the animals know what they will eat (spiders eat flies, sage chickens eat sage, etc) mankind never really knows what he should eat. As a person gets older, they can eventually choose from a wider variety of fare. We should teach our children the difference between good and bad food. Adults should teach children to eat healthy food and not junk food. Where animals are endowed with certain abilities to hunt for their respective prey, man has to be taught not just how, but in fact that he must forage for food. Some animals have inherent senses coded into their DNA such that they automatically know how to survive. Some other animals do not. Every human needs to be instructed in spiritual life – there is no exception. Ironically, with higher levels of intellectual and cognitive ability in each animal, comes a loss of inherently normal survival ability. The smarter any of God’s creation is, the more they have to be taught how to survive. A spiritual relationship with God is on the highest plane of existence in God’s creation. This means almost all of the spiritual aptitudes, attitudes and spiritual life-sustaining skills and food choices must be taught. They are not inherent. The only inherent spiritual attribute is that every man knows there is a God; they just do not know anything about Him. This is equal to every human being knowing they need to feed themselves and be clothed to survive; but they do not inherently know how to do these things.
Man must be told about God. Man must be told where to read about God. Man must be told to read about God. Man must be told about prayer and how to pray. Man has to be preached to. Man has to be instructed in testing or trials to understand how they strengthen him. Man is so foolish that he believes he can just do anything when he knows you cannot run a marathon without practice. Man still has to be told to exercise and prepare his spirit regularly to make and keep it strong and prepare for the test. Some training comes through fasting and submitting to tests, placing ones self in circumstances to depend upon God in trials and tribulation. Unlike the animal world, we are capable of reason and we often reason ourselves out of a trial or testing that we should actually submit ourselves too for spiritual sustenance that would nourish our souls.
Do you really know how God’s creation works? The saddest thing about man is that even when he knows, he is still without knowledge. Natural man repeatedly espouses knowledge he does not have. People claim spirituality in life, yet never exercise most of the spiritually sustaining activities. This is probably most apparent in the person who claims they get closer to God in the wilderness than anywhere else, yet they take no scriptures with them, they do not pray to Him while there, and they give Him no reverence in their excursions. Therefore, they never really feed their soul. They are liars. This unfed soul shrivels up and becomes hard and dark like a dead carcass in the desert. Since only worldly things are fed into this deprived soul, it suffers decay like the carcass as bugs and other vermin chew away at the rotting flesh of the dead soul. How is your soul? Do you feed it good nourishing things, or are you depriving it of essential nutrients regularly? When God makes a special time for you to gather in great gobs of life sustaining nourishment, do you shy from it, or do you take in every bit of it you can? Do you listen to natural man concerning the proper food and clothing for your soul? Conversely, are you seeking counsel from good sources for your spiritual sustenance and adornment? Do you look to the world for your answers to how you should address study, meditation, preaching, prayer, testing or trials, fasting and just choosing dependence for your spiritual life? Seek God and His people for your spiritual livelihood.
The next verse really ties all these things together. We know we need to eat and we know where that food comes from and how it works, but do we really believe it?
III. Depending on God’s faithfulness
Third, who provides for the bird’s sustenance and the flower’s clothing? That answer, too, seems rather simple. However, this subject is much deeper and intertwined with our sin nature than we realize. In the case of animals, we see a complete dependence upon the environment – on other aspects of God’s creation. Since God controls His creation, the animals are dependent upon Him. Will there be a disastrously deep snowfall that causes many animals to perish? Will there be a drought that eliminates all plant life for some years? Once again, the decisions God makes about His creation affect these creatures and may affect their growth as the scraps of food they collect might not be the most nutritious. Equally, this animal kingdom does not get into an uproar concerning God’s choices for them. When that life threatening snowfall or devastating drought comes, animals do what God has taught them to do; they find different grounds for foraging. If there are challenges, animals simply move to a better place to feed. This is the animal kingdom. They submit simply out of their own inherent God-built survival mechanism.
Building on these three things we see first one must acquire a hunger for God’s provision. Then we must understand how His creation operates to be a part of that spiritually. Now we see where everything comes from – the originator of sustenance and comfort.
We are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, the Savior of the whole world (Eph 2:8). This scripture tells us clearly that God first shows Himself to us (grace), then when we believe and place our faith in Jesus, the gift of God – we are saved. This is the operation mentioned above where the individual must first be shown that sustenance is needed. Then one must be told where to find it and how to feed from it. Think about it this way. When we eat fruit we normally throw away the seeds. One has to be taught that it is the seeds in pomegranates that you actually eat. There is no real meat in the fruit itself. This is much the same with the spiritual life. One must be instructed on how to feed, when to feed, and what to feed upon. Regardless, grace is the one element all of us first receive.
Grace is where God divinely shows Himself to us. Grace shows us we need our souls fed. Grace provides for the food that feeds the soul. Grace permits a trial or testing to come that exercises the soul’s digestive muscles. Grace shows us the way out of the testing or trial. Grace presents us with opportunities to feed our souls.
When your soul properly digests good spiritual food, the muscles are energized to take in more, better and more complex foods such as testing. When our soul, the Christian’s body or environment is tested, their response depends upon how well nourished the soul is. Sometimes testing tells us we need to be ingesting better spiritual fare. Other times testing shows us we have not properly fed even when good food is provided. Yet other times testing shows us we have partaken well of God’s sumptuous table to feed our souls. The glorious times are when we have been fed, and we have partaken well such that we can glorify God in testing.
There is also another aspect of the hungry soul that thirsts for righteousness. It looks for and rejoices in testing. It seeks opportunities to glorify God in trials. The soul of the Christian is looking for ways to better glorify God and if trials come about, that testimony is sweeter than the sweetest honey a bee could ever make.
Ask yourself, do you see this world or the things in it as something you have to control? Conversely, do you see this world as something you can just let go by? Both of these extremes are unhealthy and turn off opportunities to feed on God’s spiritual life sustaining foods. There is a smorgasbord of tasty treats out there and trials should be the most succulent of all of them (Col 1:24). Trials should be desserts of the mature Christian’s spiritual fare (Heb 10:34). When faced with a disappointing moment on Earth, or some other terribly distressing thing, the believer seeks to glorify God (1 Pet 4:13). The believer sees God’s trials as communication to them (Deut 5:24). The believer then determines to announce these glorious things about God to the whole world (1 Chron 16:23-24; Ps 29:9). God wants to glorify Himself through us (Rom 9:23). All we have to do is submit to His salvation and will for His glory (Eph 1:11).
What will you do then folks? Will you look for all your feeding here on Earth? Will you look every day to be fed from the things of the world? Will you seek to control your circumstances such that you never have to depend upon God? My dear Christian, I pray you can let go of your pride, let go of your thoughts, let go of your fears, let go of your anxiety and no longer be distracted or redirected from faith by these ungodly emotions.
We pray, dear Christian, that you seek ways to find good food for your soul to feast upon. You should seek to study, meditate, receive preaching, pray, be tested or undergo trials, fast and just choose to be dependent upon God.
In all of this, one might ask why have we not considered clothing more indepth. Most of our discussion has been with life sustaining nourishment. The passage deals with both food and clothing. What does clothing have to do with faith for provision? Simply put, if – as the scriptures say in verse 29 – that even Solomon could not clothe himself in all his golden splendor as God did one of the lilies, then you too will be well cared for; but nothing man ever does will match the great glory God can bestow upon himself. The opportunity for the faithful believer looking for God’s provision is to seek the great splendor of His will, His beauty, His glory and His adornment. We seek these things both in our heavenly treasures that we store up (vv19-24) and in the things on Earth that we build as He blesses to build.
I know many people who believe they should limit what they ask from God. This is not the attitude that lends itself to submission for God to glorify Himself. God clothes His possessions with great splendor; He clothes them as He chooses. No single flower ever decided for itself how it would be adorned, what its petals would look like or how it would open and when. No single flower determines its own individual beauty. God designs, God directs, God paints, God builds and God decides all of these things. We have only one power in this world, to deny God and His greatness. That way leads only to destruction. Either we both look at His greatness, His glory and His omnipotence and believe in Him, or we do not. The Christian needs to hunger for God to work wonderful things and open their hearts to that opportunity. The Christian needs to understand His creation and how God can and does operate in it with great power and delicate intimacy, then believe that God does the providing. The Christian needs to be faithfully dependent upon God to glorify Himself through them. In this way, the Christian gives up all preconceived notions and depends upon God to fulfill His own glory through them.
Do you hunger and thirst for your soul’s feeding unto righteousness? Do you hunger for God to glorify Himself in your pure dependence upon Him in sustenance and comfort? Do you know the depravity of your spirit and its great need for purification in faith for provision? Do you mourn that you fail to see or take advantage of opportunities to feed sumptuously at the spiritual table or permit Him to adorn you with for His great glory? God loves you and He continues to provide food for you and clothe you. Some food prepares you for other food, and some clothing is for weather that is more difficult. Both can save you from life threatening circumstances – a soul lost to the world and at enmity with God.
Study, meditation, preaching, praying and fasting all prepare you for testing, trials and exercising faith in dependence. Have you truly absorbed the first nourishment (study) such that you can partake of the last (dependence)? Have you submitted to God’s adornment and comfort for you? Without proper preparation, your soul will rebel against spiritual challenges and ignore spiritual opportunities. Are you prepared to live in faith that God will provide for you for His glory?
[i] Lloyd-Jones, D Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, One-volume edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 378.