28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 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—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:28-34 NLT
As a child, I developed a keen sense of importance around the things that were required of me by my parents. Above all things my father demanded honesty. My mother demanded application. There were other things that they required of me, but these two virtues were so exalted above everything else that my most serious forms of punishment were associated with transgressions in these areas. Over the years, I have recognized that in all my relationships, there is always a demand of me that is unique to the person with whom I am relating. Some relationships demand vulnerability. Other relationships demand loyalty. Yet others demand authenticity and transparency. I must be able to differentiate these unique needs and their singularity if I am to truly honor my connections and partnerships.
If you are familiar with Christ’s sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1 – 7:29), you will recognize the passage above as an interlude in his discourse between the sections where he is teaching in opposition to conventional thinking (Matthew 5:1 – 6:34) and where he imparts general words of wisdom (that are not specifically directed towards the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law, Matthew 7:1 - 29). Within the context of first century Palestine, his words would have made sense to the audience. This was a subsistence community in which worrying about food and clothes was a familiar concern. Within the context of our modern world and particularly within the framework of a developed world, worrying about the basic needs for human existence is not necessarily an overriding concern that the average person wrestles with. The average world salary falls below the US poverty line (US $18,000). On average, therefore, people in the developed world worry less about the basic physical needs than people in the developing world.
Eighty years ago, American Psychologist and humanist Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs in which he categorized three primary groups (of needs). They were:
- Basic needs – physiological (food, water, warmth, rest), safety (shelter, security)
- Psychological needs – belongingness and love, esteem (prestige, accomplishment)
- Self-fulfillment needs – self-actualization (achieving full potential, creativity)
Clearly, therefore, as modern individuals we are faced with the task of satisfying these needs. The more secure we are with lower order needs, the more driven we are to achieve those of a higher order. In my own life, I saw this pattern establish itself as an insatiable drive to accomplish and excel. When I investigated this pattern further, I recognized an assumed provision of lower order needs. It was the idea that human striving and the possession of an ardent work ethic is the only necessary driver for actualization…and that this process ensures the sustainability of lower order needs. There was no room within this mindset for a beneficent and gracious God. This is a humanistic and atheistic mindset.
It is this mindset that Christ attempts to expose in this passage (Matthew 6:28-34). He normalizes human striving while pointing out that other elements of nature (“flowers of the field”) progress without a need to accumulate and accomplish. He does not disparage or discourage human striving. Instead, he invites its subordination to an even higher order pursuit – that of God’s kingdom and righteousness. In fact, he goes further to suggest that if this is the believer’s single focus, then all other needs will be satisfied. The singularity of such an invitation is both beautiful and freeing. The individual is left with a choice – determine a mechanism for balancing the satisfaction of multiple, differentiated needs OR do this ONE thing – “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”.
In next week’s installment of this newsletter, we will interrogate his exhortation and determine what it means for the modern believer.