The Sermon on the Mount
by E.H. Jack Sequeira
In this last section of Matthew 6, verses 25-34, Christ deals with a subject that immediately concerns each one of us. I dont think there is any person here who does not have anxiety over something. For various reasons, we are guilty of worrying over certain material things, about jobs, etc., and we yield to anxiety about our future security. This is increasing as we see the end approaching.
The first thing I would like to do is to read the passage that we are going to study. Then we will look at it in its context and we will see what Christ is trying to get across. Matthew 6:25-34:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Quite a passage, isnt it? Please remember how it begins: therefore. In other words, to understand this passage, we need to understand what Christ has said before. There are three things here that have been said before. In verses 19-21, He has told us that we are not to store up for ourselves treasure on this earth. That is the first thing He tells us. The second thing is in verses 22-23: Walk in the light and not in darkness. Notice the contrast. The third thing He says is in verse 24: You cannot serve two opposite masters. You cannot serve God and self (which is what money represents here) at the same time.
Please notice the contrast in these three things. It is the contrast between a believer and an unbeliever. An unbeliever gets his material security in his bank account, in what he stores up on this earth. A Christians security is not in the bank account but in heaven. Number two, a Christian walks in the light as Christ is in the light. An unbeliever walks in darkness. Number three, a Christian has God as his Lord and Master, whereas the unbeliever depends on self.
What Christ is saying is, if you apply these principles, then you will not worry. The King James Version says, take no thought.. That is not the best translation because Christ is not saying that you should not think about these things. What He is saying is that you should not worry about these things. Is worrying a sin? Yes. In fact, Sister [Ellen G.] White identifies it as sin because worrying is a denial of faith. But Jesus doesnt call it a denial of faith; He says, O you of little faith.
With this in mind, lets go and look at two things that this text is not saying. Ive already mentioned one: Christ is not saying, not forbidding that we should think about these things. In verse 26, He says:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns....
They are concerned about eating, but they do not worry.
The second thing we must be clear on is that Christ is not here denying forethought. We read in other passages of the Bible where He says (Proverbs 6:6-8):
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
What does the ant do? It stores up food for the winter. Remember that God is not saying that we should not think about these things or plan for the future. He is saying that we should not worry, that is the issue here. With this in mind, let us go to the passage itself and see what it says.
Number one, when you become a Christian, you turn from self-dependence to God-dependence. How much is God concerned about you? Is He only concerned about spiritual things or is He concerned about what we eat, drink, and what you wear? He is concerned about everything. Because of this, we should not worry about what we eat or drink even if we are without a job we need to remember that God sometimes allows this, that our faith may be developed.
Notice that the problem that He expresses is found in verse 30:
O you of little faith.
In other words, what Christ is saying in this passage is, Please, I want your faith to become strong through these trials and difficulties that you will face regarding material things, regarding a home, regarding clothing, regarding food.
Three problems are created by this passage that we must be aware of. Number one, faith in God is what Christ is requiring from the believer. That does not mean that we should not earn our own livelihood. It does not mean that we should sit down and God will open the windows of heaven and pour down food and clothing. I want to give you a passage where the New Testament is clear. The birds, for example, do they sit down and wait for the grain to be poured into their mouth? No. They have to scratch for it, look for it. Turn to 2 Thessalonians 3 and I want to show you where certain Christians had misused this kind of thinking and were doing nothing but waiting for God or others to supply their needs. We will begin with verse 6, through verse 10:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyones food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat.
So please remember (and this is a command coming from Jesus) that Jesus did not mean that faith simply sits down. You have to work; faith is not saying that you do not work. Faith is saying, Do not worry. Do not confuse working with worrying.
The number two problem is that faith in God does not mean that we have no responsibility to our brother. What do I mean by that? If you see somebody having a hard time financially, materially, you must not say, Well, God will take care of him, because God takes care of him through you. Let me give you a text James 1:27. In fact, you need to read the whole of James. Chapter 2 brings this out in a very interesting way. James talks about a person in need and you say to that person, I will pray for you and you do nothing about it, your prayers are meaningless. Now James 1:27:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Please notice to look after orphans and widows. What James is saying is that faith does not mean that, when we see others in trouble, that we say, God will take care of them. Remember that God helps others through us. We are the instruments of God. So we must not use this passage in the Sermon on the Mount and say God says He will take care of His people like He takes care of the birds.
Number three, faith in God does not mean exemption from trouble. A Christian will face material problems. A Christian will face all kinds of problems financial, physical, social. Look at Paul. Was he in prison? Yes. Was he shipwrecked? Yes. Did he have physical problems to face? Yes. But he put his faith in God. Why does God allow these things to happen? How can your faith increase unless it is tried? The same James said, The trying of your faith develops endurance. James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Please remember that, when you are going through hardships and God doesnt seem to answer your prayers, there are two things you will feel like doing. You will feel like saying, God doesnt love me. God is not taking care of me. I had better turn from God dependence to myself. That is the last thing you should do. Why? Because Gods love for you is everlasting. He will never let you down.
The second thing that can happen is that no matter what happens I will hold on. I know that God will never let me down. The best example I can give you is Jesus Christ. Did Jesus feel forsaken of God on the cross? Yes. But by faith He was victorious. When you face hardships, remember it is not because God doesnt see and provide for your needs; it is because He wants your faith to develop. You are going to face a crisis one of these days, when God will hand over His people to Satan. He will remove all the protection and He has to produce a people whose faith is unshakeable.
In this context, I would like now to turn to Matthew 10:29-31. This is Jesus talking:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.
This may not mean anything to you, but in the Middle East they use sparrows sometimes for eating. They make soup out of them or they may use them for sacrifice. A farthing was the price tag in those days. Continuing with verse 30:
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So dont be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
So please remember that your faith must not dwindle. That is why Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, All things work together for good:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
God allows everything to happen to you not because He wants to see you suffer but He wants to develop faith in a people who will one day reach the goal.
With this in mind, go back to Matthew 6:31-32. Now he gives the application. First He gives the counsel not to worry about what we eat, drink, and wear (verse 31), then He gives examples. The first example is the birds of the air. I would like to give you an illustration that I gave to a Coptic priest in Ethiopia. We were facing a famine. You are familiar with the famine in Ethiopia not too long ago. And the people were starving.
One day I was discussing the gospel with a Coptic priest and I said to him, Why is it that people are starving in Ethiopia? Doesnt God take care of them? He said to me, I have often wondered why God is allowing our people to starve. And I replied, Look at the birds (there were some sparrows and pigeons feeding on the ground and they were looking fat and healthy); how come they are not starving? He said, Because God takes care of them. And He is not taking care of you? I asked. He said, That is bugging me. Then I took him to this passage and I took him to Matthew 10 and I said to him: Could it be two things? One is lack of faith on our part and two, could it be that God is trying to develop a people?
Birds are not like us. God takes care of them because they do not have the power of either faith or unbelief. But us? God wants our response to Him to be from the will. He doesnt want us to become automatic robots. He created human beings with the power of choice. I want to take you to a very important incident to help you realize what the application is all about. Christ said in Matthew 6:31:
So do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear?
Please turn to Genesis. I want to show you where this all began. God created man, Adam and Eve, and God did something for man in Genesis 2:8. What did God do for our first parents?
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
Who planted the garden? God. For whom? Adam and Eve. God said to Adam and Eve, I will take care of you. I will supply your needs. Between that text and the next text, which is Genesis 3:19, something happened. We call it the fall. In verse 19, the same God says to Adam and Eve:
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
What happened? What is sin really? Sin is turning your back to God. Sin is becoming self-dependent. Before Adam sinned, he was God-dependent. God supplied all his needs. When he sinned, he became self-dependent. That is why every human ideology is based on self. Whether it is Marxism, which has failed miserably, whether it is humanism, that is sweeping this country, it is all based on self. A Christian has turned from self-dependence to God-dependence. In other words, it is no longer your headache; you have to work, but it is not our problem to worry. The man who is self-dependent has to worry.
Let me put it another way. The fundamental issue all through the history of the Bible is over this issue of self-dependence versus God-dependence. Bring it down on the spiritual level and it is salvation by works versus salvation by faith. These two have been in conflict all through the ages. The first evidence of the conflict was between Cain and Abel. Both of them offered sacrifice. Cain was depending on his sacrifice for salvation and Abel offered a sacrifice of faith. He offered a lamb, depending on Christ. What did Cain do to Abel? Killed him. And it seems that all through history that salvation by works (or legalism) has won the battle.
Why did the Jews crucify Christ? Because His works were better than theirs. He was telling them that they could not save themselves. He told Nicodemus, You have to be born again. So they crucified Him. This conflict reveals itself in many ways. I believe that, in the last days, the show-down will take place. The conflict over self-dependence and God-dependence will take place over the issue of Sunday and the Sabbath. We must not make the issue over days. We must make the issue over what the days represent.
Sunday will symbolize self-dependence. And if you will look at the philosophy of these two days the principles you will notice they are opposite. Man first works and then he rests. And he rests, not because his work is finished, not because his work is perfect, but because he wants a break. His work is never perfect and it is never finished. Sunday will symbolize salvation by self-dependence. In the Sabbath issue, Adam did not begin by working. The first day in Adams life was Gods Sabbath. Adam began by resting. As long as Adam rested in God, God supplied all his needs. And this will be the fundamental issue in the last days.
The issue is not between Sunday-keeping Christians and Sabbath-keeping Christians; that is not the issue. In the end of time, the issue will be clearly settled that the Sabbath will represent all of those who are resting in God by faith. And Sunday will symbolize all those who are resting in their own dependence or salvation by works. That is why it is important that we understand what Christ is saying here. Therefore meaning if you are depending upon God. Now verse 31 (of Matthew 6):
So do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear?
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
Remember that the word pagans (Gentiles in some translations) has two meanings in the New Testament. The word pagans can mean a non-Jew that is one definition. The second definition of the word is an unbeliever, those who do not believe in Christ. It is in this context that He is using the word pagans. In other words, the unbeliever worries about what he shall wear, what he shall eat, what will happen for tomorrow. Why does he worry? Because he is depending on himself and he cannot provide. He is not sure of his future, he is not sure the banks will take care.
I learned this the hard way. We were on furlough in 1975 and a dear brother (he must have been listening to Charles Wheeling) came up to me (he was a GC leader) and he said, You know, Jack, by the time you come back on the next furlough the banks in America will have collapsed. The evidence is very clear. And my advice for you is not to leave any of your money in the bank it will be of no value. Invest your money in some land. At that time, Andrews University was trying to get Adventists to buy land around it.
So we took his advice and we bought a piece of land and we put all of our life savings in that land. The General Conference [World SDA HQ] allows you to keep a certain amount of money for when you come back from overseas. And one year before we were coming back, the firm that was buying the land went bankrupt. The County sent a notice to all landowners that you have to claim your land within three months they gave a deadline. They sent my notice by sea mail; it took four months. The deadline was over when I got the letter. I learned the hard way that I was depending on the wisdom I was given and I lost everything. The man who went bankrupt felt very guilty and he said he was trying his very best to get it back for me. He is still working on it.
I have learned a lesson: I must not worry. You may make wrong decisions, you may make right decisions; God is not saying here that you must not invest or try the best thing. I did what I thought was the right thing, but I learned that it is very hard not to worry. It is human to do that and my faith was tested. I took counsel from a sincere person and he meant well. Sometimes it seems that you cant help but worry but we must not allow that worry to overrule and destroy our faith. Therefore Christ is saying in verse 32, It is the unbelievers privilege to worry about these things, but your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.
What then should we seek? The pagan seeks his security, his personal security. What should the believer seek? Here in verse 33 is the contrast:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
And when I take that I have to take all the counsel that He gave in the previous verses. To seek the kingdom of God means to put your treasure in heaven and not on earth. To seek the kingdom of God means walking in the Light. To seek the kingdom of God is to serve God and not self to be God-dependent. We must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. What does it mean to seek Gods righteousness? It is righteousness by faith. What is mans righteousness? Let me give you a text that will show this. Turn to Romans 9:30-31, where Paul talks about two righteousnesses:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.
Gentiles here means non-Jew, but they are believers.
Now what is the law of righteousness? How does one attain to the law of righteousness? What does the law say to you? Those who do it shall live. Look at Romans 10:5, where Paul explains the two righteousnesses:
Moses [he represents the Law] describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: The man who does these things will live by them.
How many of you here have kept the Law perfectly? (No one is implied.) Then you have failed. Now Paul is not talking here about the Law as a standard of Christian living. We must never confuse the two. He is talking of attaining to righteousness by your works. Now look back up at verse 4 because it tells of righteousness by faith:
Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
In Christ we have the righteousness of God. Let me give you another example. Turn to Philippians 3:9 and Paul describes the same kind of thing:
...And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Paul is teaching the same thing that Christ is teaching in Matthew: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. How do we seek the righteousness of God? By faith. And all these things will be given to you as well. Righteousness by faith does not simply mean spiritual things. It means that we no longer worry about material things. We no longer worry about the future because righteousness by faith puts our lives in the hands of God. This is what Christ said in the beginning: Is not your life more important than these things? Your life is now in the hands of God and if He says, I want you to be hungry, accept it. If God says, I want you to die as a martyr, accept it, because you have put yourself in His hands. Now to verse 34:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We dont have to worry about the future. God is not saying that we shouldnt plan for the future, but dont worry about the future. I get mail every day from some company that is promising me that, if I invest in their program, they will take care of my future. Even if you invest your money in gold, it will be valueless in the time of trouble. Christ wants the believers [remember, the Sermon on the Mount is for believers] to be totally dependent upon God through hard times or easy times. Our faith must be resting in God not only for righteousness in terms of our vertical relationship but in terms of our horizontal needs.
It is my prayer that the cure for anxiety is righteousness by faith. Righteousness by faith gives me peace with God and it gives me peace in terms of my future and in terms of material needs and that is the joy of the gospel. That is the kind of people that God wants. I want to conclude by our experience in Uganda.
I was deported from Uganda in 1972 by Iddi Amin. He closed our bank account. He closed all bank accounts; you could not touch your own account. You could not go to the bank and draw out money from your own account because it was illegal now according to his law. You could not take your property out of the country. We had to leave everything behind. We were missionaries and we didnt have too much to lose. But there were 80,000 people who were also deported. Some of them were millionaires. One of the men who sat next to me on the plane lost 25 million English pounds. All you were allowed take was your bed clothing and the women were allowed to wear one pair of earrings and three bracelets.
The man in front of me had two daughters and he made huge, heavy gold earrings for his daughters. It was very painful for them. So the little girl, she must have been 7 or 8, took off the earring after she was in the plane and was holding it. It was a little smaller than a golf ball and it was heavy. It was hurting her and she took it off and was holding it in her hand and one of them dropped and rolled. She got down to find it and someone picked it up and she got frantic because her father got mad at her. He went on his knees actually pleading, Wwill you please give me back my livelihood? And nobody looked at him; they ignored him.
The thing that impressed me was the lady sitting behind me. Jean and I were talking; we were enjoying the flight. Excuse me, this lady said, why are you smiling? Havent you lost anything? I said, A Christian loses nothing.
Here is what I did when I left Uganda. I told the missionary who was not deported to please give our goods, our clothing, furniture, and utensils to the poor. If you are going to lose everything, you might as well give it to the believers who need it. When we left, we never expected to get anything back. But he did not have the heart to give our property away. So he put it in a huge crate 10 feet high, 12 feet long, and 8 feet wide. Our furniture, utensils, my wifes shell collection, my books, everything. And then he went to the government. They were all Muslim officers because Iddi Amin was of the Islamic belief. He told them he would like to send the crate to Ethiopia (that is where I was sent) and the man said, Whose are these? And the missionary said, These are the personal effects of our pastor who left for Ethiopia. He asked one question, Was he deported? And the missionary said, Yes. Do you know that it is illegal for him to take anything out of the country? asked the officer. And the missionary responded, Yes, I know.
The officer said, You have put me into a problem. If I say no, and he is a pastor of God, God may put His curse on me. (Muslims are very strong on retribution from God.) So he stamped the papers. We had no communication because there was none between Uganda and Ethiopia. But one day I received a call from the railway station, Please come and collect your box. What box? I asked. I dont know, he said, there is a box here for you. I wondered to Jean what box that could be. I expected a little box. But the man took me to the shed and showed me this huge crate and I asked if he was sure it was mine. I had to bring my passport and he looked and said it was the same name as on the passport.
I had to hire a truck to get it. We opened it and we had got everything back; we lost nothing. And later, when I was at Andrews, the man who we lost everything to, said, I have good news for you; you are getting your land back! We put our faith in Who? God. Yes, there was times we worried, but I kept reminding myself, We need not worry; God is in control. Now He may not give you everything back, but Ill tell you that I have learned that the best thing that a Christian can do is to put his trust in God. Do not worry.
It is my prayer that we will be like the disciples Christ wanted us to be. May God bless us that we will not have any worries. When that lady (on the plane) saw that we were not anxious about what we lost, she said, I wish I had faith like you. She was a Hindu. I pray that we by our lives and deportment will reveal that we are true Christians. When a Christian reveals that he is worrying, he is being a poor witness. And Christ will say to you, O you of little faith.
I was speaking to somebody after I moved to Washington State and they said, You were a fool to come to Walla Walla. I asked why. Havent you heard the news? Hanford [a nuclear plant] is going to explode. I said, Brother, I am already dead! My life is hid in Christ. If a nuclear plant explodes and kills us; dont worry, folks. Heaven is ours in Christ. Where shall we run to? There is no place that is secure in this world. No place except in Christ.
The Bible is saying God will take care of you. How He takes care of you is His business. He may not take care of you the way you want. The key to this is that God is preparing a people who will have to face a time of trouble that has never been experienced. He knows you cant handle that straight away, so He has to develop that in you. There are times that He will let you wait to the very end, almost to salvation. That is why all through the New Testament one of the characteristics of a mature Christian is they have endurance endurance in terms of faith. Their faith endures to the end.
Lets look at the example of the disciples. They were cast in prison. They were flogged. They went through so many crises that it could seem to them that God was not taking care of them. And yet they believed that God was in control. It is easy to believe in God when everything goes well. Can you still believe in God when things are terrible? When there is no food in your pantry, and there is no money to pay your rent, do you still believe that God is in control and that He is taking care of you? That is the condition we have to reach and that is why God is preparing a people.
It is easy for us to lose faith in a country where materialism is so rampant. At a General Conference Session in Indianapolis, there were two ministers who thought they lost their suitcases. Their plane was from Uganda through Europe to New York. Then they had to take a local flight from New York to Indianapolis. They did not have the correct ticket. They knew nothing, did not even know how to read the tickets. They arrived in New York and there was no flight for them. But their luggage was booked right up to Indianapolis. Others traveling had booked their luggage to New York; they pitched their luggage onto the bus and drove to Indianapolis. But these two thought they would never see their luggage again.
When they arrived they were smiling and I said, Why arent you worried? One was the headmaster of our college in Uganda. He said this was not the first time, that he had lost things before. Some of the other men had helped these two out with some clothes.
I have learned to do without things, he said. I told him that I didnt think he had lost the luggage. I looked at his ticket and said, You booked your luggage right up to here in Indianapolis. All you have to do is call the airline. And he did and the last day of the General Conference he finally got his suitcase. But he wasnt worried, because he had learned to put his confidence in God.
This is the kind of condition we have to reach here. Even in this materialistic world, we have to reach that condition. God doesnt say, I will give you all the luxuries of life. What He says is, But seek first My kingdom and My righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. What does He mean by all these things? Look at verse 25: what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. Three things that will be given to you. The issue is, do you believe Gods Word?