Matthew 6:24-34

Two birds alight on lilies.

 "Two birds alight on lilies." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Wenzel: This verse concludes the thesis which Christ started in verse 19.

The treasures there spoken of include all those things which disappear eventually because of rust, mildew, corrosion, etc. All earthly goods. This includes all people, both rich and poor and all those between the two. All human beings have a sinful tendency to treasure up for themselves treasures on the earth. The first commandment demands our total obedience. We are not to have any other gods than the true God.

Jesus begins with an axiom: "No one is able to be a slave to two masters."  To be a slave means to yield one's entire will and allegiance to its object. Lenski mentions that it is simply part of human nature to be a slave to someone or something. All human beings desire a god.

Note that the text uses the word "the other" twice. It means "of another kind." A child is obedient (or should be) to both of its parents. They are natural master of the  same  kind. Jesus is speaking about masters of  different  kinds. He is plainly speaking only about God and Mammon. The latter is the god of all things material, money, land, etc. God and Mammon are totally  different  kinds of gods. God is eternal. Mammon is corruptible.

Between the first and last statements in this verse we have two statements which are chiastically arranged. The first item in the first and the second item in the second are similar (hate and despise). Those in the center are also similar. There is very little difference in meaning between these two statements. It's like restatement in Hebrew parallelism.

"You cannot" is very strong. It denotes an impossibility.

Hendriksen points out that "God" here means the same as "your Heavenly Father" in verse 32.

Matthew 6:25 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?

"Therefore" points back immediately to verse 24.  "I tell you" always indicates the divine authority of Jesus.

Forms of "worry" occur nineteen times in the New Testament. It can be used in a good sense or in a bad sense. For an example of the good sense look at 1 Corinthians 12:25 where the members of the church are asked to be concerned about each other. That's in a good sense. In the majority of cases it denotes the bad sense as here in verse 25 and at Philippians 2:20. "Do not worry" can mean either "quit worrying" or "don't be spending your time worrying." In each case it says a lot to any and every reader.

"Life" means the physical life principle of a human being. It is dative of advantage. The indirect questions are deliberative subjunctive. That means that the speaker is not asking for information but is rather in doubt as to whether he will eat at all. The greater to lesser argument expects the answer "yes." A human's life principle is eternal. Food and clothing are not. 1 Corinthians 6:13.

Matthew 6:26 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?

"Look at," an intensive verb, means "look carefully at."  "Of the air" birds are free birds, wild birds. The three verbs which follow show that birds do far less to provide for themselves than do human beings. "Your Father, the heavenly One" implies that Jesus is speaking to believers in Christ.

Again, the question expects a "yes" as its answer. Note the emphatic "you." 

Now we have a lesser to greater argument. This verse is no inducement to laziness. Wild birds are anything but lazy. They work constantly to procure food for themselves and their young. People differ greatly from birds. People were created in the image of God and will live eternally. All Lutheran commentaries point out at this point that Luther called the little birds our preachers who speak to us of God's goodness, grace and mercy. We often observe them busily and cheerfully looking for food. But they never worry. They are irrational creatures, of course, and therefore do not have minds and souls. But that is beside the point here. They constantly teach us a lesson.

Matthew 6:27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

The answer to "who of you?" is "No one."  "By worrying" is a good example of a participle denoting means. The authorities are agreed that here "life" means "age, span of life."  "Single hour" is "a short space." 

Matthew 6:28 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.

People spend a lot of time worrying about clothing, not because they have none, but because they don't have enough, they think.  "See how" means "to learn carefully, to observe well."  "Lilies" covers a wide variety of wild flowers. We all have observed the exquisite beauty of such flowers in pastures or on mountainsides. The indirect question "how they grow" brings out the point that they grow with no effort on their part. Jesus explains: "They do not toil nor do they spin." The first denotes the hard labor in a field. The second the hard work of a woman making clothing.

Matthew 6:29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

"Yet I tell you" denotes the divine authority of Jesus. Solomon was proverbial in the ancient world for his earthly splendor. Read 1 Kings 10 and 11 and 2 Chronicles 9:13ff. "In all his splendor" is an interesting phrase. TEV renders it:  "As rich as he was." Another suggestion:  "Despite his great splendor." He did not dress himself as one of these flowers dresses itself. There is only one of Solomon. There are countless wild flowers. Each and every one of them with its beautiful petals is more beautiful than was Solomon. Solomon's beauty was an  acquired  beauty. Wild flowers have a  natural  beauty. The argument is very powerful.

Ylvisaker carries the argument even further:

But God's children, who are arrayed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and are chosen to stand before the throne of the Lamb in the long, white garments, should, assuredly, be incomparably more glorious and more important before God.

But this is not stated in the text.

Kretzmann: Nothing on earth can equal the rich blending of colors, the velvety texture of the petals of some of the commonest blossoms that are overlooked as weeds by the heedless.

Matthew 6:30 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?

In this verse we have a fact condition. If the "if" clause (protasis) is true, the apodosis naturally follows. The apodosis here is elliptical: "How much more will He not dress you." The grass of the field is  "wild grass" which is a general term and includes the "wild flowers" of the previous verse. The grass is here today (a beautiful flower) and tomorrow is thrown into the oven (to be used a fuel for warmth or baking). It is very temporary compared to you who are eternal.

Meditate on the argument in this verse. The wild grass is very beautiful but very temporary. You are less beautiful but eternal. If He cares that much for this temporary fuel, how much more won't He give you the clothing you need? It's an argument from the lesser to the greater.

"Little faith" is found five times in Matthew and Luke. It always both compliments and criticizes. It grants that the person has faith but chides the person for littleness of faith. The preacher need never worry about using this term on his hearers. They are  always  like this. The question in the verse expects an affirmative answer.

Matthew 6:31 So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" 

"So" is "therefore," and sums up everything since verse 25. "Don't start worrying."  "By saying," shows that the worry comes out in the words. Then follow three direct questions, all deliberative subjunctive, not asking for information but denoting the confused condition caused by needless anxiety.

Matthew 6:32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

This verse gives us two reasons why we should not worry. Each reason is introduced by an explanatory "for." 

The first reason: "You see, the Gentiles nations set their heart on all these things." Note that the object is placed first for emphasis.  "All these things" are of course all that Mammon covers, all earthly, temporal, corruptible goods, including fame and glory from other human beings. The first reason is addressed to God's believing children (here Jews) not to be like the pagans of society.

The second reason is:  "You see, your heavenly Father knows that you are in need of all these things." It's inherent knowledge, not acquired knowledge. This is just another way of saying: "He cares much for you." See 1 Peter 5:17.

Wenzel: One finds that even Socrates and Diogenes were very much interested in themselves. The Apology of Socrates is nauseating, full of vain glory, a bid for earthly honor and glory. The same is true of Diogenes. Pliny's and Cicero's letters are filled with money matters. Cicero bewailed the loss of his fortune when he was banished. . . . The Stoics had much to say about the vanity of eating and drinking and clothes, but the very fact that they so often and so vehemently denounced earthly good (as for example in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius) shows where their heart and that of others was. . . . The real seat of their trouble was that none believed in the resurrection of the body. The body had to receive its dues in this life. The Epicurean philosophy was the most pessimistic and gloomiest of ancient times, far gloomier than that of the Stoics. Seeking earthly things is a most comfortless and gloomy outlook on life, for a Gentile, but never for a Christian.

What he says about the resurrection of the body is very significant. Why do Christians have the right view? Because they believe in the resurrection of the body and life eternal. Look at 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Corinthians 6:12-14 and 2 Corinthians 4:18. These truths are implied in the second half of verse 32.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Note that in verse 32 we have "run after" of the pagans but here only "seek" of Christians. The former is an intensive form which denotes the feverish greed of the world. The latter denotes the quiet, sensible seeking of the Christian. The imperative is present tense denoting constant seeking. "First" does not imply that there is a "second." It means that, no matter what we are doing, no matter what the circumstance, the Kingdom and His righteousness are always most important.

The best commentary on this is Romans 14:17. The Kingdom of God here means the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation. Luther was of the opinion that "kingdom" here is limited to the righteousness of life, sanctification. We do not deny that. But we are suggesting that "and" is epexegetical. If that is so it means: "God's Gospel, namely His righteousness," meaning the imputed righteousness of Christ, which, of course, of necessity leads to sanctification.

What quells my worries? The peace of God in Christ. Look at John 16:22. "All these things" refers back to all earthly needs. Set your heart on God's Kingdom and He will give you all needed good. With reference to Colossians 3:1-11 Kretzmann says:

In the right use of the earthly things entrusted to us, we really mind and seek heavenly things.

Beautiful! Earthly things and wealth are not sinful and wrong in themselves. Christians are to enjoy "all these things" as God grants them to them.

Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

"Therefore" sums up the arguments begun in verse 25. But this time (as opposed to verse 24) we have a negative with the aorist subjunctive: "Don't ever begin to worry." 

The author of these   Notes   once saw this sign at a store: "No loan today. For a loan come back tomorrow." The point is that the "tomorrow" never comes. That is the intent of the "for" clause here. There's a play here on the word "worry." It is perhaps quasi-comical.  "Tomorrow," though inanimate, is personified. Inanimate things cannot be concerned or worry.

The final clause contains some somber thoughts. Evil is ever present with us. There's plenty of it every day. Deal with it each day at a time. Deal with it as God directs in these verses, not like the pagans, but like the believers.

What a wonderful text!


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 46-48. Used with permission.

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