| Dear Friends, |
This week’s study passage was one of the very first passages I used when I first started speaking in the church. It has remained a favorite for now over sixty four years. And it continues to rebuke, coax, coach, and teach me to this day. I seldom read it but a new reminder comes to mind regarding God’s tender care for His people.
I first started writing this present series on the Sermon on the Mount some nine months ago. When I started writing, no one had ever heard of such a thing as “Corona Virus.” I must consider it far more than mere coincidence that, this week with all the news and life changing requirements imposed upon us by the virus, this lesson is the lesson of my writing. Thank the Lord for kind and always timely reminders of His devoted, caring goodness.
Of all the things we should remember during the isolation from loved ones in the faith and in our families, this reminder of the Lord’s goodness, His caring and active goodness for His people and their needs, should command our top priority. Along with this chief “Faith reminder,” we should remember our brothers and sisters in the faith. Pray for each other. Communicate with each other. You can use the phone, texting, or e-mail to stay in touch safely. Satan loves to isolate the Lord’s people. He is well equipped to take full advantage of the present situation. Do not give him that advantage. Reach out and stay in touch with each other. Pray for each other. And soon this season shall pass. Can you imagine the joy of that first Sunday morning we are able to meet and greet each other in person after the stay-at-home restriction ends? Wow! I can hardly wait.
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What is Really Important?
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. (Matthew 6:25-32 KJV 1900)
Sometimes the timing of things fascinates me. My normal schedule of writing is that I will write my weekly Gleanings early in the week, and go back to it for refining and “Cleaning it up” until I print and post it later in the week. I started writing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount some nine months ago, long before any of us had any thought of—or for that matter, had even heard the term—“Corona virus.” Could we focus on any more appropriate passage this week than the verses before us? Thank the Lord for kindness reserved and given when we most need it. When studying the Scriptures, especially those old familiar favorites, I try to look for things I’ve overlooked in past study. As I refresh my thoughts on this passage, the first word calls for my attention. “Therefore” always directs us to look back to the foundation or grounds for what follows. Leading up to this lesson, Jesus taught the disciples regarding prayer and fasting, as well as light and the impossibility of serving two masters. How do these lessons link to His words regarding “Take no thought”? First of all, it should underscore to us that He intended us to take His words in those lessons quite seriously. Prayer is not to be viewed as a memorized ritual, but as a real “Conversation” between the Lord and us. And we should pray, fully believing the Lord will hear and respond to those prayers, not as an arbitrary and indifferent force, but as our devoted and loving Father. When we sacrifice—what little we ever honestly do “Sacrifice” in service to Him—we should do so with joy for His glory, not with a selfish motive of gaining more for self. Jesus’ teaching throughout never allows the self-centered “I’m working to add more stars to my crown” attitude. And, above all, authentic faith never looks from the light of knowledge and direction the Lord gives us in Scripture to any alternate “Plan B.” If we hope to realize the peaceful joy of serving God in faith, we look to Him for His light alone, “Faith light” that He has given us in His Word, our New Testament. When we try to juggle God’s New Testament way with another way, any other way, Jesus warns us that we shall fall into darkness. “How great is that darkness!”
As complicated as life becomes trying to balance God’s way plus any other way, serving Him alone by His way as set forth in the New Testament is the simplest path you can imagine. “…take no thought” doesn’t teach us to walk blindly through life in a mindless meaningless wandering. It refers to anxious or worrisome thought. Jesus repeatedly walks us through our personal lives and just as repeatedly urges us to look to our faithful God and trust Him for our needs. Consider one simple point He makes. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
A cubit is the measure from one’s elbow to the tip of his fingers, roughly 18 inches. What did Jesus mean by this reference? Simple. How much worry, focus, concentration, manipulation, or planning can you invest to automatically grow yourself 18 inches taller than you are today? You can’t? Not one inch; not 18 inches. Really. Then why do you honestly think you can worry your way into any of the other issues that you obsess to accomplish, but are just as impotent to produce?
Be wise. Jesus in no way taught the disciples or us to ignore common sense or life’s reality and run blindly into the whirlwind. He didn’t teach us to consciously choose not to plan for our present and future needs. But He did, emphatically so, teach us not to worry and obsess over those things when we, in fact, can’t at all control them. We need a powerful reminder of this truth in our present distressing world. All too often naïve believers will describe a very sincere belief they hold, but one not at all taught or promised in Scripture, followed by “I have faith the Lord will provide it.” Consider our present virus epidemic. “I have faith that I can go shopping and not worry that I’ll catch the virus. I believe the Lord will protect me.” So when your doctor gives you the news that you have the virus, where will your faith be then? God created us with intelligence and a measure of reason which He expects, if not commands, us to use. Nowhere does Scripture promise the Lord’s protection if we choose to ignore simple reality and hide our willful ignorance by a pretense of faith. The same God-given, God-preserved Bible that teaches us to live our lives by authentic Bible faith also teaches us, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Consider this example. In my youth, I knew a preacher who would occasionally visit the church my parents and I attended. On at least six occasions, when this man visited our church, and the pastor asked him to share pulpit time, the man would begin his sermon with a list of reasons he hadn’t really studied his Bible as he should have that week, so his solution was always the same. He would simply allow his Bible to fall open, and the first verse he saw on the open page would be his text for that day. Question; is there a single verse in the whole Bible that promises the Lord’s blessings on a negligent preacher for not doing what the Lord in Scripture commands him to do? (2 Timothy 2:7; and later in the same chapter, 2 Timothy 2:15) As I recall, the man actually quoted Matthew 10:18-20, never mentioning that Jesus in this context specifically framed the promise to the twelve original disciples. In this context, He also forbade them preaching to Gentiles or Samaritans. Today we preach almost exclusively to Gentiles, so this promise does not apply to us at all. Wrong time, wrong audience. He told them to go with no regard for money. Are you prepared to get in your car with no money and no credit card, to drive further than a tank of gas will take you, to preach? No? Then this lesson doesn’t apply to you, does it? He also told them, as they went, to heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils. Are you prepared to do this? No? Then you should not claim His “…take no thought how or what ye shall speak.” Claiming faith that the Lord will bless you when you fail, if not outright refuse, to do what He teaches you to do is not a valid use of faith, and the Lord will not—ever—bless you against His will or His faith teachings. In the case of the negligent preacher, on all those six plus occasions in my youth, I heard this man make the same confession, profess the same false faith, let his Bible drop open, and preach (??) from the first verse his eyes saw. And every occasion, no exception (He was consistent, though consistently empty), his Bible strangely fell open to exactly the same place, and his eyes fixed on exactly the same verse, and he preached exactly the same sermon, though I must observe, his time in the pulpit could hardly be described as preaching. If we act in faith, we will learn and obey Scripture, not act on our personal imagination, and expect the Lord to reward our unbelief.
In our study passage, Jesus mentions the basic needs of daily life, food, clothing, etc. He then directs us to the lilies of the field. How hard do lilies work to grow? How much time do they worry and lose sleep to bloom? Yet the Lord provides, and they grow and bloom. How much we need to ponder Jesus’ words. “Are ye not much better than they?”Does the Lord love you more than He loves His lilies? Did Jesus die on the cross for lilies? He died for you, didn’t He?
There is a form of reasoning that this lesson urges us to ponder, the lesser to the greater. If God provides this lesser protection and blessing on lilies, how much more shall He provide the needs of His children!
I must confess to seasons of fret and worry. Yes, I know well the Lord has promised His loving care, but my unbelief occasionally gets in the way. Is it so with you as well? And I must also confess that, on occasion over the years, Sandra has quietly nudged me, “Joe, don’t you think it is time for you to preach that ‘Consider the lilies’ sermon to yourself?” And she was oh so right! I needed to apply the sermons I’d preached from this lesson to myself. Few things in life hold as much promise as a serious reflection on past blessings. You may become discouraged and cloud your memory, but look back carefully, honestly. Whatever your trials in the past, look in the mirror. You are here! You survived! Scripture does not promise that the Lord shall deliver us from all our troubles, but it does promise that He shall deliver us through them. That you are alive and reading this writing is your witness to His fulfilled promise. Do not ignore the difference between the Lord’s true promise to deliver us through our trials and our false idea that He shall deliver us from them. Consider an event which I observed as a child. I was born in 1941. Sometime around 1947, over two years after World War II ended, I recall my father and his sister talking. She had two sons, both of whom served in the war. Neither son was wounded in battle. They both came home safely and enjoyed good lives. At the time of this conversation, they were both safely home. Yet my aunt was angry with God for “Sending” her sons to war. She gave no consideration to the reality that human choices for war sent her sons to the army, not God. And she gave utterly no regard to the reality that her sons were both spared and came home safely to her. She was still mad at God! Dad tried to reason with her, but emotion doesn’t listen to reason. She lived in her bitterness, and it eventually destroyed her peaceful life.
Jesus taught the disciples, “Consider the lilies of the field.”He did not tell them that God would irresistibly program or “Decree” them to do so. “Consider” this word “Consider.” In English the verb is active voice and imperative mood. It identifies action to be taken by the person addressed. It is not passive voice, indicating something that another will do in or for them. Imperative mood defines a directive or command, not a promise of irresistible manipulation. In New Testament Greek language, the word is in the Aorist tense, a Greek tense that describes action regardless of time. You could say it is a timeless tense. Time is irrelevant. The word is also active voice in New Testament Greek, same as our English, a command for us to do something, not expect God to do it while we sit passively by. And the word in New Testament Greek is also imperative mood, a command or directive for us to do something.
This lesson of the lilies richly teaches us, and it also richly commands our action, not our passivity. Today, given the present world wide fear of a dangerous virus, is a very good time for us to remember Jesus and His lesson of the lilies. Be wise. Use the intelligence and good judgment the Lord gave you. But also trust Him for the many things over which you have no control. He is faithful. “Consider the lilies of the field.”
Little Zion Primitive Baptist Church16434 WoodruffBellflower, California Worship service each Sunday 10:30 A. M.
Joseph R. Holder Pastor