In our last essay we studied 12:1-21. The last segment in that section was the Parable of the Rich Fool. In that parable o Jesus warned against excessive desire for possessions. Verses 22-34, which we are studying in this lesson, take the teaching a step further. Jesus now tells the disciples that they must not be anxious even about the basics of food and clothing. And he gives three reasons, two of which are seen in verses 22-24. The first reason is that there is more to life than food and clothing (v. 23). Indeed Jesus made that point to the devil when the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness. When the devil suggested that Jesus turn some stones into bread, Jesus replied, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone’” (Deut. 8:3) (Luke 4:4).
The second reason Jesus gives is that God will provide what is needed without any special striving on our part, as he does with the birds like the ravens (verse 24). If God takes care of birds, which certainly do not worry about their provision, he will take care of the disciples, because they are of more value to God than birds. It is significant to notice the connections in this part of Jesus’ words with the earlier parable of the Rich Fool. Sowing, reaping, storehouses and barns all were part of that parable.
In verses 25-26 we see a third reason for refraining from anxiety as Jesus continues talking about anxiety and God’s provision. Anxiety is ineffective. No matter how hard we try, we cannot add a single hour to our span of life. Indeed we have learned through science that worry tends to shorten our lifespan. So Jesus asks the obvious question, “If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?”
This instruction from Jesus is one of those easier said than done instructions. We understand the words; but at the emotional level, it is extremely hard not to worry when we are uncertain where our next meal is coming from.
In verses 27-28 Jesus illustrates God’s provision of clothing with the analogy of the flowers of the field. Though lilies and other flowers have a brief lifespan, God clothes them more elegantly than Solomon. The point is that if God does that for the flowers, how much more will he do it for the disciples, who are of more value to God than flowers. Then Jesus accuses the disciples of having little faith. I suppose that stung a little, but it was true. And it is true of many present-day Christians. We testify, “I believe,” but we pray, “Lord help my unbelief.”
Jesus drives home his point in verses 29-31. “Do not keep striving . . . do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after these things.” The NRSV translation of “nations” is not the best. The NIV translation as “pagan world” is better. The Greek word literally means either “nations or “Gentiles.” And here it is “Gentiles,” in the sense of non-believers. The Gentiles strive for possessions, because they do not have the security of faith in God. But we believers are able to trust God. Jesus makes it clear that God knows our needs, and will provide for them. We can trust him to do that. Therefore Jesus reminds us that we must strive (NIV “seek”) for the kingdom of God, rather than for possessions; and all necessary possessions will be provided. Discussion?
“To seek the kingdom of God” basically means seek the rule of God over our lives. In this context, it also means to seek God’s spiritual blessings rather than material benefits.
Verse 32 is not present in Matthew’s parallel. And I’m glad that Luke chose to include it. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is a wonderful word of assurance. I believe the NRSV use of the word “strive” in “strive for his kingdom” in verse 31 is too strong. It suggests that we must work hard to find the kingdom. The NIV translation as “seek” is better, because the kingdom is not something we gain by working hard to enter it. It is something God gladly gives us when we seek it.
In verses 33-34 Jesus gave his disciples two commands, the first of which is a bit threatening, if we apply it literally to our own lives. First, he commanded them to sell their possessions and give the money away as alms. Frederic Godet, a French commentator, reminds us that Jesus may have intended to direst this command specifically to the disciples to whom he was speaking, rather than as a command for all future Christians.
At that time the kingdom was associated entirely with Jesus and the group of disciples that surrounded him, and to enter it was to leave everything and literally follow Jesus around Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. For us the kingdom is a spiritual fellowship that does not require being physically present with Jesus. You remember the specific case of the Rich Young Ruler whose wealth was too important to him. Therefore he literally had to give it away to be free to join the kingdom, and he could not bring himself to do it.
The second command, in verse 33, was to make purses that do not wear out. He meant by that spiritual purses that contain spiritual treasures in heaven. These do not wear out; they are not vulnerable to theft; indeed they are indestructible. Of course there is the implied contrast with earthy treasures, which are susceptible to all of those problems. Then Jesus concludes the discourse with the saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
To summarize this lesson, Jesus taught his disciples, which includes us, not to worry. For example, we are not to worry about food and clothing. And he gives three reasons. First, there is more to life than food and clothing (v. 23). Second, God will provide without any special striving on our part, just as he provides for the birds and flowers (vv. 24-28). And third, anxiety is ineffective. It does nothing to help us deal with our needs (vv. 25-26).
We must come to realize that our security is in God, not in possessions (vv. 29-30). Unbelievers (Gentiles) strive for possessions, because they do not have the security of faith in God. But we believers are able to trust God. Therefore we are to seek God’s kingdom, rather than possessions (v. 31). God wants us to be part of it, and he gladly will give it to us if we seek it.
Therefore we are not to fear or worry (v. 32). Indeed we are to sell our possessions and give the money away. And we are to make spiritual purses for ourselves that contain spiritual, heavenly treasurers. Those purses do not wear out (v. 33).
Jesus’ concluding statement in verse 34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” sums up the entire section, including the Parable of the Rich Fool in verses 13-21. The rich fool provided a classic example of one who puts his security in possessions. We must not do that. Indeed we must not even worry about basic needs. We can trust God to provide what we need as we seek the kingdom of God and build treasurers in heaven.