Criswell Theological Review 6.1 (1992) 73-89
Copyright © 1992 by The
ON WEALTH AND WORRY:
CRAIG L. BLOMBERG
Is it really impossible to serve both God and money (Matt 6:24)? The
lifestyle of most American Christians suggests that they are not con-
vinced of the truth of this claim. May believers completely free them-
selves from worry about the basic provisions of life (v 25)? The
dramatic increase of neuroses and other psychological afflictions in
our churches makes Christians often indistinguishable from other
cross-sections of the country's population. Some disciples have sought
God's kingdom first (v 33), but how then can we account for the mil-
lions of Christians today and in the past who have starved to death?
The Sermon on the Mount is filled with puzzling and challenging say-
ings of Jesus; some of the most crucial of these come in Matt 6:19-34.
Of the numerous interpretive approaches to Jesus' great sermon,l
that which interprets it as promoting "inaugurated eschatology" is surely
the best.2 Matt 5:1-2 provides the context of Jesus' original audience; the
antecedent of au]tou<j ("them") in v 2 is oi[ maqhtai< ("the disciples") in v 1.
1 For a history of interpretation, see W. S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A
History of Interpretation and Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1975). For a de-
lineation of 36 discrete, influential perspectives, see C. Bauman, The Sermon on the
Mount: The Modern Quest for Its Meaning (Macon: Mercer, 1985).
2 For detailed defense and exposition, see R A Guelich, The Sermon on the
Mount (Waco: Word, 1982). For the same perspective but more briefly and popularly, cf.
J. R W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1918);
and D. A Carson, The Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978).
74 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Jesus is addressing primarily those already committed in some way to
following him; other interested "crowds'" are on the periphery. This ren-
ders less likely interpretations which see the sermon as "law'" (a call to
repentance and preparation for the gospel), as part of an offer of the
kingdom to the Jews which was rejected, or as a social mandate to im-
pose on secular or godless peoples. The fact that he does not distinguish
his ethic as applying only to a certain group of his followers precludes
interpretations which understand his more challenging demands as re-
quirements only for certain categories of Christians.3 And the observa-
tion that he is speaking to his disciples as a group, as part of their
itinerant community, suggests that he is giving instructions not only for
individual but also for corporate Christian living.4 The broader context
of Jesus' teaching on the kingdom strongly supports this "already-not
yet'" interpretation of his ethic. Jesus does not expect his followers to be
able fully to implement his commands in this age, but he holds them
forth as an ideal for which they must ever strive, through the help of
God's Spirit. In short, proper interpretation and application of the ser-
mon must avoid the twin errors of triumphalism and defeatism.5
The sermon falls into several fairly definable sections.6 Matt 5:3-16
forms the introduction, describing who will be the recipients of kingdom
blessings (vv 3-12) and calling those people to live out their counter-
cultural lives in society as preservative agents (vv 13-16). The thesis para-
graph is provided in 5:17-20--Jesus demands of his followers a greater
righteousness than that of the Jewish leaders of his day. Following this,
5:21-7:12 comprises the body of the sermon, which is subdivided as fol-
lows: 5:21-48 begins to unpack the theme of greater righteousness by
contrasting Jesus' commands with the OT Law; 6:1-18 treats the topic of
purer motives; 6:19-34 continues the motif of seeking divine rather than
earthly reward, which permeates the previous section (6:4,6, 18), consid-
ering specifically its application to material possessions;7 7:1-11 follows
3 For an elaboration of these views and a brief critique, cf. C. L Blomberg, Mat-
thew (Nashville: Broadman, 1992) 94-95. For commentary on 6:19-34, more generally, cf.
4 Cf. esp. R Lischer, “The Sermon on the Mount as Radical Pastoral Care,” Int 41
(1987) 157-69; C. L Blomberg, "How the Church Can Turn the Other Cheek and Still Be
Political," Southern Baptist Public Affairs 2.1 (1990) 10-12.
5 Cf. further R A. Guelich, "Interpreting the Sermon on the Mount" (117-30); J. D.
Kingsbury, “The Place, Structure and Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount within
Matthew” (131-43); and L S. Cahill, "The Ethical Implications of the Sermon on the
Mount" (144-56), all in Int 41 (1987).
6 The outline adopted here is greatly indebted to D. C. Allison, Jr., “The Structure
of the Sermon on the Mount,” JBL 106 (1987) 423-25.
7 There is also an important "catchword" connection between the uses of a]fani<zw
in 6:16 and 6:19-20. See A
Sand, Das Evangelium nach Matthaus (
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 75
somewhat more loosely, dealing with how to treat others, but is very sim-
ilarly structured as 6:19-34; 7:12 sums up both vv 1-11 and the entire body
of the sermon with the famous "Golden Rule." 7:13-27 brings Jesus'
words to a fitting conclusion by calling his audience to respond in obe-
dience rather than ignoring his manifesto.
Matt 6:19-34 divides into two major sections: vv 19-24 (on wealth)
and 25-34 (on worry). These sections are united, however, by the com-
mon theme that believers must ruthlessly reject whatever distracts
from full devotion to God in Christ, because God will make necessary
provisions for those who above all seek the greater righteousness of his
kingdom.8 Verses 19-24 fall into three discrete units: vv 19-21 contrast
earthly and heavenly treasures, vv 22-23 contrast people of light with
those of darkness, and v 24 contrasts two masters--God and mammon.
Together these three units drive home Jesus' injunction to choose di-
vine rather than worldly priorities, because it is impossible to do both
simultaneously. Verses 25-34 are less clearly divisible, combining to
stress the single point that we need not (indeed, must not) worry about
physical provisions, because God cares enough for us to supply those
needs if our priorities are correct. Verse 25 gives the basic command in
three areas-provisions of food, drink and clothing. Verses 26-30 sup-
ply the rationale in each of these three areas by a fortiori logic--if God
nourishes and clothes lesser life forms, surely he will care all the more
for human beings. Verse 31 restates the thesis of the paragraph as a se-
ries of three rhetorical questions. Verses 32-33 give further rationale
for why we can trust God. Verse 34 restates the initial command once
more and appends one further reason for obedience.
Attempts to trace the tradition history of these various sayings
usually result in complex reconstructions of tradition and redaction,
authentic and inauthentic materials.9 Matt 6:19-24 is not paralleled in
anyone unified passage elsewhere in the Gospels, but vv 20b-21 reap-
pear in Luke 12:33b-34; parts of vv 22-23 in Luke 11:34-35; and v 24 in
Luke 16:13. When isolated logia "float" like this among disparate Syn-
optic contexts, it is virtually impossible to know if the evangelists are
transmitting independent sayings from discrete contexts in Jesus' min-
istryor variant oral traditions not attached to anyone context, or if they
are drawing on a common written source which they have variously
edited.10 Matt 6:25-34, on the other hand, is very closely paralleled in
8 Cf. B. M. Newman and P. C. Stine, A Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of
Matthew (New York: UBS, 1988) 186.
9 The most recent, detailed analysis is M. G. Steinhauser, "The Sayings on Anxi-
eties: Matt 6:25-34 and Luke 12:22-32," Forum 6.1 (1990) 67-79.
10 This is true particularly of double-tradition material found in connected form
in Matthew's sermons of Jesus but broken up into shorter, separate sayings scattered
throughout Luke's central section. See esp. C. L Blomberg, "Midrash, Chiasmus, and the
76 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
sequence and wording in Luke 12:22-32, with the important exception
of the final verse of each of these two passages, so that some kind of
Q-hypothesis remains quite probable in accounting for the origin of
this material. Here the unique interests or diction of Matthew are
occasionally discernible (the "heavenly" Father in v 32, paralleled by
the birds "of heaven" in v 26 and their partner, the flowers "of the
field" in v 28,11 and, even more significantly, the addition of "and its
righteousness" in v 3312). But for the most part Matthew and Luke fol-
low their sources very closely, thereby commending a view which sees
them as remaining faithful to the traditions they inherited13 The pos-
sibility of independent traditions behind vv 19-24, combined with this
fidelity to common traditions where they are demonstrable, suggests
that a canonical interpretation of Matt 6:19-34 is the best approach. We
will exegete this unit as it stands without postulating earlier, notice-
ably divergent forms of the material. The carefully knit structure
which emerges reinforces the validity of this method.
19 Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth
and rust14 destroy them, and where thieves dig through and steal. 20 But
keep on storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither
moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves neither dig through nor steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
Verses 19-20 set up the contrast between treasure on earth and
treasure in heaven in two clauses which demonstrate close anti-
thetical parallelism. Verse 21 closes this short paragraph with the rea-
son why one should seek heavenly rather than earthly treasures. The
two present tense commands with qhsauri<zete suggest but do not re-
quire the translation "stop storing up" and "keep on storing up." Given
the universal human propensity to run after material possessions,
Outline of Luke's Central Section," in Gospel Perspectives, ed. R T. France and D. Wen-
ham (6 vols.;
11 E.g., Matthew is the only NT writer to use the expression "kingdom of heaven,"
and he uses it 33 times.
12 On Matthew's distinctive interest in dikaiosu<nh, see esp. B. Przybylski, Righ-
teousness in Matthew and His World of Thought (Cambridge: University Press, 1980).
13 See esp. the reconstruction of the Q form of the second half of this passage by
J. Dillon, "Ravens, Lilies and the
CBQ 53 (1991) 605-27.
14 "Rust" is literally "eating," as perhaps in the corrosion of metal, but also in the
gnawing of clothing by vermin. R H. Mounce, Matthew (
1985) 56, states that the rendering "rust" was introduced into the English by William
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 77
these more nuanced translations seem appropriate. "Treasure" may be
seen most simply as anything treasured--that to which great value
and affection are ascribed, and hence that which is carefully pro-
tected.15 1n the context of vv 24-25, it is clear that material posses-
sions are primarily the treasure in view here.
How can we know when we are inappropriately "treasuring" pos-
sessions? Verse 19b suggests one key answer--when we accumulate
that which is not being used and hence in danger of becoming moth-
eaten (as with garments) or corroded (as with precious metals). Gold,
silver, and costly clothing were common signs of wealth in antiquity
(cf. 1 Tim 2:9). Jesus' parable of the rich fool comes to mind here--those
who simply amass goods without taking thought of God and his priori-
ties will one day discover that they are not immortal. All will be lost,
both in this life and in the life to come (Luke 12:15-21).16 A second an-
swer emerges from v 21. Even when one does not amass unused sur-
plus, one's material possessions may be considered "earthly treasures"
if they gain one's steadfast allegiance.17 Any object which humans
value, regardless of its inherent worth, may become the target of
thieves. The imagery of digging through suggests the typical Palestin-
ian mud or adobe--like house walls, which would--be burglars might
find easier to penetrate than locked doors or windows (cf. Matt 24:43).
Instead, Jesus' followers must set their affections on and strive af-
ter spiritual treasures. Again, the term must be defined broadly to em-
brace all that persists beyond the grave--godly character, souls won
and nurtured for Christ, faithful exercise of spiritual gifts, and obedi-
ence to the whole counsel of God's word throughout every area of
life-in short what v 33 summarizes as "the
righteousness." Spiritual treasure neither requires nor precludes the
concept of unique degrees of reward in heaven; how one understands
Scripture's teaching elsewhere on that topic can be made to fit natu-
rally into this context.18 But the focus here centers primarily on what
one should be doing in this life, with a person's loyalties firmly
15 Cf. J. P. Louw and E. A Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
Based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1 (New York: UBS, 1988) 621: “that which is of excep-
tional value and kept safe.”
16 Cf. F. W. Beare, The Gospel according to Matthew (San -Francisco: Harper &
Row, 1981) 182: “The words assume that the treasures are hoarded; they are prized for
their own sake, not put to work to create jobs and produce goods.”
17 Cf. O. S. Brooks, The Sermon on the Mount: Authentic Human Values (Lanham:
UPA, 1985) 75: the "outward expression of a disciple's inner devotion.
18 On which, see esp. C. L Blomberg, "Are There Degrees of Reward in the King-
dom of Heaven?,” JETS 35 (1992) forthcoming; W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, Jr., A Crit-
ical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (2 vols.;
78 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
attached to goals and activities of eternal significance, immune from
the transience of worldly wealth. Verse 21 underlines the importance
of Jesus' words. One's entire life will become dominated by that
which one seeks and treasures.
22 The eye is the light of the body. So if your eye is undivided and gen-
erous, your whole body will be illuminated. 23 But if your eye is evil,
your whole body will be dark. If, therefore, the light which is in you is
darkness, how great that darkness!
Verses 22-23 closely parallel vv 19-20 in structure. Verses 22b-
23a again set up an antithetical parallelism, making the same point as
v 21, only by shifting the metaphor from treasure/heart to eye/body
(v 21a) and by substituting indicative for imperative verbs.19 Instead of
commanding people to seek heavenly rather than earthly treasures,
Jesus expands on the observation that the treasure affects the heart by
stating that what one does with one's eyes (a common vehicle by
which desires enter into one's life) colors one's entire self. Verse 23b
adds a concluding inference, lamenting how tragic it is if the eye and
body are bad rather than good (cf. the parallel sense of 5:13b). Use of
the "evil eye" was well known in ancient paganism as a magical device
to do bad and in Judaism as the equivalent of "niggardliness.”20
The language of Jesus' metaphor must not be pressed into the ser-
vice of scientific precision. Today we would not say that the eye is the
light of the body but an aperture to let light into the body.21 "If the light
which is in you is darkness. . ." also reflects a scientific impossibility.
But Jesus is employing irony to say, in essence, "If that which is sup-
posed to provide light for the body actually provides darkness. . . ," how
perverted things have become!22 Whether literally or mentally gazing,
Christians must focus on all that is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, well-
spoken of, virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8) rather than succumbing
to worldly "lust of the eyes" (1 John 2:16). The word a]plou?j in v 22 can
mean either "undivided" in attention or "generous"; quite likely both
concepts are in view here.23 Verse 24 proves that God requires whole-
hearted allegiance; the larger context of vv 19-34, on stewardship of
one's wealth, makes generosity equally apposite.
19 Cf. H. N. Ridderbos, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1987) 138.
20 S. T. Lachs, A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels of
Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1987) 127.
21 R G. Bratcher, A Translator's Guide to the Gospel of Matthew
1981) 65, offers as possible translations, "Your eyes provide/let in light for the body/
22 D. A Carson, "Matthew," in Expositor's Bible Commentary (ed. F. E. Gaebelein,
23 R T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 139.
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 79
24 No one can serve two lords. For either he will hate the one and love
the other, or he will remain loyal24 to the one and despise the other. You
cannot serve God and mammon.
Verse 24 rounds out vv 19-24 with yet a third antithetical paral-
lelism. This time the point is made twice and the opposite options are
presented within each independent clause. There is also a small chi-
asmus (A-B-B1-A1) with "hate-Iove-loyal-despise," placing greater
weight on the desirable option in the central position of B-B1. Verse
24a and d bracket this chiasmus with the main proposition of the
verse; vv band c supply the rationale. Today, of course, many people
do serve several masters, but ku<rioj; is used here in its absolute sense
of a lord who owns his slaves or servants. "Love" and "hate" reflect the
Semitic idiom of "choose" and "not choose" (or "accept" and "reject")
and imply that one master will inevitably be favored over the other.25
Mammon includes all manner of material possessions and resources.
In and of itself, it is neutral--not necessarily bad and potentially put
to good use for God (Luke 16:9).26 But all too easily it seduces those
who possess it and becomes a powerfully destructive tool.27
25 For this reason I say to you, stop being anxious for your life--what you
will eat or what you will drink,28 nor even with what you will clothe your
body. Life is more than nourishment and the body more than clothing,
Verse 25 introduces the second major section of this passage
(vv 25-34). The inferential connective dia> tou?to demonstrates that
here begin the logical implications of serving God rather than mam-
mon (v 24). The command which forms the central thrust of the entire
paragraph comes right at the outset--do not worry over basic provi-
sions for life, such as food, drink and clothing. The reason is because
24 In Greek, a]nte<xomai can mean "to join with," "maintain loyalty," and "adhere to"
(Louw and Nida, Lexicon, vol. 1, 449).
25 E. Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew (Richmond: Knox, 1975)
163-64. D. Hill, The Gospel of Matthew (London: Oliphants, 1972) 143, adds that "to
hate" means "to be indifferent to, or unconcerned for."
26 Newman and Stine, Matthew, 191.
27 See esp. J. Ellul, Money and Power (Downers Grove, IL InterVarsity Press, 1984).
28 Numerous manuscripts have "and" instead of "or," but the meaning is little
changed. Several important early witnesses omit "or what you will drink," but the
clause has probably dropped out by homoioteleuton—fa<ghte ("you will eat") and pi<hte
("you will drink") end identically. The parallelism with v 31 further suggests that the
clause originally stood in the text Cf. further B. M Metzger, A Textual Commentary on
the Greek New Testament (New York: UBS, 1971) 17.
29 The Greek ou]xi< with the interrogative suggests that an emphatically affirmative
answer is required.
80 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
true (spiritual) life far transcends these bodily needs. The contrast be-
tween earthly and heavenly treasures continues. The command not to
wony is again appropriately understood as a command to stop an ac-
tion in progress. The KJV translation "take no thought" is inaccurate
and misleading. As the example of the birds (v 26) will highlight,
Jesus is not precluding planning or working to provide for oneself.30
The basic meaning of merimna<w is "to have an anxious concern, based
on apprehension about possible danger or misfortune."31 If we really
trust God, we will not worry. The most we can lose is our physical
lives, but our eternal lives, which make all the suffering or depriva-
tion of this present age pale into insignificance (Rom 8:18), will re-
26 Consider the birds of heaven: they neither sow nor harvest nor gather
into barns, and your heavenly father nourishes them. You matter more
than they, don't you?32 27 Moreover, which of you by being anxious33 can
add the smallest amount to one's age? 28 And why are you anxious con-
cerning clothing? Learn from the flowers of the field, how they grow:
they neither labor nor spin.34 29 Yet I say to you that not even Solomon
in all his glory was being clothed as one of these. 30 Now if God so
clothes the grass of the field, even though it exists35 today and tomorrow
is thrown into the oven,36 how much more you of little faith?
Jesus now further explains why his people can dare to be so free
from worry. Conceptually, he gives four reasons: worry is unnecessary
(v 26), it is useless (v 27), it is blind (vv 28-29), and it demonstrates a
lack of faith (v 30).37 Grammatically, however, these verses comprise
three illustrations--one about birds (v 26), one about human life-span
(v 27) and one about plants (vv 28-30a). Verses 26b and 30b spell out
30 France, Matthew, 140.
31 Louw and Nida, Lexicon, 1, 313.
32 Again the interrogative is negated by ou](x), implying an affirmative answer,
though without the emphasis present in v 25.
33 Merimnw?n is best taken as an instrumental participle.
34 Among a nest of textual variants, the only other widely attested option is to
change "labor" and "spin" from plural to singular verbs, inasmuch as neuter plural sub-
jects (kri<na) often take singular verbs. Other options perhaps reflect a loss of an original
Aramaic word play between "labor" (‘amal) and "spin" (‘azal)--Hill, Matthew, 144. Cf.
further Metzger, Textual Commentary, 18.
35 @Onta is not naturally taken as an adjectival participle (as implied by the NIV-
"which is here"), because it is anarthrous, while xo<rton ("grass"), which it would modify,
is articular. Better therefore to take it as adverbial; more specifically, I would suggest, as
36 "Oven" is better than NIV "fire." People often picked plants and used them as
fuel for the ovens in which they baked bread (Bratcher, Matthew, 68).
37 M. Green, Matthew for Today (Dallas: Word, 1989) 35-36. Mounce, Matthew,
58, refers to worry as "practical atheism and an affront to God."
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 81
the point of the first and third of these illustrations; the logic is from
the lesser to the greater. If God cares this much for birds and plants,
how much more will he not care for his own people? In fact, vv 26
and 28-30 parallel each other closely. Each begins with a command to
consider an example from the world of nature, comments on the rela-
tive powerlessness of the plant and animal world, reminds us never-
theless of God's concern for them, and concludes with a rhetorical
question underlining the greater value of human life. Verse 26 makes
the point concerning nourishment (combining the concerns of what to
eat and drink); vv 28-30, concerning clothing.
The examples of birds and vegetation parallel each other, too, be-
cause each is wild.38 Domestic animals and cultivated plants do not
need to rely as directly on God as do their counterparts in the wild.
The contrast with humans is thus heightened; God takes care even of
those forms of life whose existence is most fragile and tenuous.39
Birds differ from plants, however, in that they do work industriously
to find food, build nests, and provide for themselves, even if they can-
not entirely imitate human agricultural practices. As noted above,
Jesus is not enjoining a lackadaisical, lazy or carefree attitude toward
provisions. Still, wild fowl depend considerably on the vagaries of na-
ture, over which God rules, reminding Christians that they dare not
try to secure their lives against every conceivable calamity.40 Such
foolproof security does not exist in this life; those who nevertheless
pursue it will be consumed in the process and unable to serve God.
Verse 27 gives a slightly different kind of reason for not being
anxious. Not only does worry fail to recognize God's great love for us,
it simply does not work. At best it accomplishes nothing; at worst it
actually shortens our lives, as modem medicine recognizes. The
phrase e]pi> th>n h[li<an au]tou? ph?xun e!na is somewhat ambiguous.
Ph?xuj normally means a "cubit" (about 18 inches), while h[liki<a can
mean either a length of time or unit of size. The more natural render-
ing of the Greek would be "one cubit to one's height." But to add this
amount would scarcely be the trifling quantity apparently demanded
by the context.41 Although the terms are less commonly used this way,
38 Bratcher, Matthew, 67, takes the expression "birds of heaven" to indicate that
they are wild birds. Kpiva (NIV "lilies") is more likely a generic term for wild flowers
(France, Matthew, 14-41).
39 Schweizer, Matthew, 164.
40 Cf. esp. Dillon, "Ravens," 625-26: "'Seeking the kingdom' is the way of life in
which the compulsion to 'manage' the future for oneself and others has been replaced
by a self-sacrificial trust in the saving plan of God, of which we can know only that it is
advanced by any and all faithful following of Christ."
41 Ridderbos, Matthew, 140.
82 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the better translation remains "the smallest amount to one's age" (cf.
NIV--"a single hour to his life").42
Verses 28-30 are substantially longer than their parallel in v 26
because of Jesus' additional reference to Solomon. Instead of a simple
comparison between plants and humans, Jesus sets up a three-stage ar-
gument. First, he points out God's care for the wild flowers or grasses,
despite their relative impotence and evanescence. But instead of mov-
ing immediately to God's greater concern for humans, he next marvels
at the beauty of these flowers, which he believes surpasses that of the
one king in
glories. So if the flowers are that much more wonderfully "clothed"
than even Solomon, and if we are that much more cared for than the
flowers, then God loves those in Christ in certain ways inestimably
more than even the greatest of OT believers. This is a recurrent theme
in Matthew (cf. esp. 11:11) and drives home the point about our ability
and need to entrust our anxieties to God that much more forcefully.
31 Therefore do hot be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What
shall we drink?" or "With what shall we be clothed?" 32 For the pagans
seek all these things. And your heavenly father knows that you need all
Jesus now repeats the original command of v 25 with a simple
aorist imperative, envisioning again the same three concerns, this
time by means of hypothetical direct quotations-three deliberative
questions people might ask themselves. Again he supplies a rationale
for his command by appealing to an a fortiori argument. This time the
comparison is not between humans and other life forms but between
God's people and the pagans. Ta> e@qnh in Matthew, as in the NT more
generally, normally means "Gentiles" or "nations" (people groups), but
here it must refer to those who are neither Jews nor Jesus' disciples-
those who do not have a direct personal knowledge of God through
his special revelation. Anxiety for basic provisions of life often char-
acterized ancient pagan religions, not least in the Greco-Roman em-
pire, and hence necessitated regular rituals to placate whimsical
deities in charge of nature.43 Surely those who know the one true liv-
ing God ought to act far differently. They will know that God is aware
of their needs and intends to take care of them.
42 Davies and Allison, 1.652. Entirely unconvincing is the suggested emendation of
a reconstructed Aramaic original, which would result in a length equivalent to the
small joint of a knuckle, by G. Schwarz, "Prosqei?nai e]pi> th>n h[liki<an au[tou>j ph?xun e!na,"
ZNW 71 (1980) 244-47.
43 An excellent introduction to the pagan religions of the biblical world is J. Fine-
gan, Myth and Mystery (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989).
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 83
But seek first the
things will be added to you.
Here is the central positive command of vv 25-34. If we are not to
worry, what are we to do? Jesus' answer is to pursue the righteous and
just priorities of the
looked after.45 The problem of course is that countless Christians, past
and present, have not had this promise fulfilled in their experiences in
this life. Not surprisingly, many commentators therefore treat this
promise as entirely eschatological and relegate it to the "not yet" of the
"already-not yet" equation.46 But a promise limited to heavenly recom-
pense would not necessarily serve as a very effective motivator to es-
chew worry in the present.
Interestingly, the only major Lukan deviation from "Q" in this pas-
sage is Luke 12:33, separated by only one verse from the Lukan parallel
(v 31) to our text here. In it, Jesus goes on to command his disciples to
sell their goods and give alms. Mark 10:29-30 records presumably the
oldest form of a dialogue between Peter and Jesus, in which the latter
specifically declares that those who give up family or property for the
Lord will receive in return a hundredfold in both categories, not only
in the life to come but also in this age. Inasmuch as the hundredfold ad-
dition of family must refer to the larger community of disciples, the ex-
tra houses or fields must also be those which belong to fellow believers.
Combining Luke 12:33 and Mark 10:29-30 suggests that the correct in-
terpretation of Matt 6:33 is that Christians should be able to expect to
have their physical needs cared for, when their spiritual priorities are
correct, because Jesus calls all his followers to share their possessions
with other Christians in need.47 But he is not first of all addressing in-
dividual believers but the disciples as a community. If Christian con-
gregations do seek God's kingdom above all else, then by definition they
44 A variety of important manuscripts omit "of God" but the omission is not likely
original. Of 54 total appearances of "kingdom" in Matthew, in no other instance does
the term appear without either some qualifying word or some word which "kingdom"
itself is qualifying. See further Metzger, Textual Commentary, 18.
45 Cf. France, Matthew, 142: "This positive climax makes it clear that vv. 25ff. are
not prescribing an irresponsible, happy-go-lucky optimism, or a fatalistic acceptance of
the status quo, nor are they decrying the body and its concerns as sordid and unworthy
of our attention. They call the disciple to an undistracted pursuit of his true goal, to
which lesser (though legitimate) concerns must give way; and they assure him that if he
will put first things first, God will take care of the rest."
46 E.g., T. E. Schmidt, "Burden, Barrier, Blasphemy: Wealth in Matt 6:33, Luke
14:33, and Luke 16:15," TrinJ n.s. 9 (1988) 173.
47 Cf. Guelich, Sermon, 373: "Part of the presence of the Kingdom is indeed mate-
rial blessings. Therefore, we can hardly live under God's reign, receive his blessings,
and not use them to help alleviate the evil of hunger and need elsewhere."
84 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
will care for the poor within their midst.48 As G. Getz puts it bluntly,
"Situations occur where people's needs are not met because followers
of Christ have not been obedient in applying the principles that God
has outlined in His Word."49
34 So then do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious
for itself. Sufficient for today is its evil.
The command with which this paragraph began, and which was
repeated in its center, occurs one last time. The second two clauses of
the verse guard against idealizing v 33. That which is bad (h[ kaki<a) will
continue to characterize this age. But Christians ought not to exacer-
bate the evil of the fallen world by failing to give generously to those
in need.50 There is also a "one day at a time" mentality here which re-
calls the petition of the Lord's prayer, "Give us today our daily bread"
(6:11).51 God promises to satisfy our needs, not our greeds.
The key question of contemporary significance which arises out
of this passage deals with what Christians should do with their
money and other material possessions. Save for the most destitute,
almost all North American Christians have certain funds or physical
objects which they prize highly.52 A major barometer of spiritual ma-
turity and obedience involves one's financial priorities. Careful scru-
tiny of a person's checkbook ledger may be more telling than various
outward forms of piety, if one is trying to determine who is truly com-
mitted to Christ. Verse 24 suggests that materialism may be one of the
greatest competitors with God for human allegiance. A. Kodjak elabo-
rates persuasively: mammon "is the most direct channel for self-
assertion, the establishment of security, the acquisition of a sense of
superiority over other mortals, and thus the presumed removal of the
curse of mortality." Second, it has a lasting power outliving the one
who accumulated it and thus functions as a "surrogate immortality."53
48 Cf. esp. D. M May, "Leaving and Receiving: A Social-Scientific Exegesis of
Mark 10:29-31," PRS 17 (1990) 141-54.
49 G. A Getz, A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions (Chicago: Moody, 1990) 92.
"suffering for righteousness' sake" (5:11-12).
51 Cf. the similar sentiments in b. Sanh. 10Gb, discussed in W. C. Allen, A Critical
and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew (
52 But the more one has, the more one may fall prey to the anxiety of trying to
protect it Cf. esp. G. Strecker, The Sermon on the Mount: An Exegetical Commentary
(Nashville: Abingdon, 1988) 137.
53 A Kodjak,
A Structural Analysis of the Sermon on
the Mount (
Gruyter, 1986) 126-27.
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 85
The Christian antidote to this delusion must be to answer the ques-
tion of what to do with material possessions by means of a clarion call
to serve God with all of them. The mentality which promises God a cer-
tain percentage and then assumes one is free to do whatever one wants
with the rest is seriously misguided. We need to recover a sense of
“whole-life stewardship.”54 Scripture never mandates a tithe (or any
other percentage of giving) for the NT age (i.e., after Jesus' death and res-
urrection),55 but it does call believers to give generously and sacrificially,
which for most everyone in the middle-class or above surely ought to
suggest ten percent as a bare minimum. Most should seriously consider
giving far more either to churches or to other Christian organizations
and individuals. The concept of a graduated tithe seems to fit well with
Paul's understanding of believers' responsibilities in 1 Cor 16:2 and
2 Cor 8:12-13. In other words, the more money one makes, the higher
percentage one would give away.56
But it is not enough simply to give in funds or in kind to Christian
ministry, unless that ministry is holistic--in meeting both physical and
spiritual needs of people, locally and globally. Unless our giving helps
provide food, drink and clothing for believers who lack the basic ne-
cessities of life, and some estimate as many as 200,000,000 Christians
worldwide (to say nothing of other people) living below any reason-
able poverty line, then we have failed to obey Jesus' teaching.57 If that
is all our giving accomplishes, then we risk the tragedy of Mark 8:36-
"For what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit
one's soul?" Numerous helpful models exist for such holistic ministry.
For global implementation, one thinks, for example, of World Vision
or Compassion International, Tear Fund or Food for the Hungry. For
local, urban American settings, the "Heart for the City" philosophy of
specific target groups and networking of inner city ministries of out-
reach, health care, education, counseling, job training, and so on, has
inspired many around the country and the world.58
Literally hundreds of other good organizations and churches
could be mentioned, but sadly they do not comprise anything close to
54 T. Sine, Wild Hope (Dallas: Word, 1991) 272-74.
55 Matt 23:23 refers to
God's will under the Mosaic covenant (cf.
56 As an example, see the helpful suggestions throughout R J. Sider, Rich Chris-
tians in an Age of Hunger (Dallas: Word, 1990).
57 See esp. A. Kirk, The Good News of the Kingdom Coming (
C. R Padilla,
dom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985); O. E. Costas, Liberating News: A Theology of Con-
textual Evangelization (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).
58 See F. Tillapaugh, The Church Unleashed (Ventura: Regal, 1982).
86 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
a majority of the evangelical Christian ministries and fellowships
which are centered in affluent, American settings. More typical is the
model of a church which gives a negligible sum of its own budget to
missions, a tiny fraction (if any) of that to helping the physically
needy, and yet continues to outlay massive investments on physical
plants, expensive mortgages, and even the building of bigger facilities,
all while the numbers of poor and needy right in their own commu-
nity have greatly increased in the last dozen years or so. Possibilities
of church planting, mission congregations, mergers with dying
churches to better use dormant facilities, additional services and con-
gregations, creative places for meeting (e.g., renovated portions of
abandoned shopping centers) all need to be explored with far greater
frequency than they are, when churches outgrow present facilities.
Then one needs to move beyond what one gives away to consider
how one spends what one keeps. T. Sine provocatively suggests that
churches set up accounts from which first-time home owners in their
congregation could borrow money at a zero-percent interest rate, in
return for which they might contract to work in various ministries for
the church or donate the surplus they would have spent on mortgage
payments to the kind of holistic ministry Jesus envisions.59 An indi-
vidual or family who could thus pay $50,000 cash for a home would
save approximately $150,000 over thirty years in mortgage payments.
Imagine how that money could be reinvested for kingdom priorities!
Short of anything this radical (and the idea is not so much radical as
simply not practiced), there are innumerable modest lifestyle changes
that individuals and churches can make to free up substantial por-
tions of their earnings for giving to minister to the physically and
The list of ideas is almost endless: living in smaller homes, buy-
ing less expensive cars, eating less, eating out less, buying fewer
clothes, utilizing garage sales, especially for children's toys and
clothes, car pooling, water conservation, recycling, watching videos
rather than going to movies, avoiding cable television, buying in bulk
or wholesale, traveling less by car when bicycling is possible, travel-
ing less by jet when driving is possible, sharing household items,
tools, and equipment among families on the same block or in the
same housing complex, when they are needed only occasionally, set-
ting up babysitting cooperatives, gardening for food, spending less
money on pets, energy conservation in our homes and buildings,
planning more modest weddings and funerals, giving donations to
59 Sine, Wild Hope, 274-76, who notes other possibilities in alternative housing as
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 87
Christian ministries in individuals' names as birthday or Christmas
presents, using a diaper service or washing one's own diapers, regu-
larly giving away unused clothes, books, toys and other possessions,
and on and on.60
But little if any of this will happen unless we plan, budget, re-
view, practice and insist on a counter-cultural mentality, which unfor-
tunately is counter-cultural even among many Christians. One of the
greatest ironies of, American conservative Christian culture is its equa-
tion of issues of the environment and the poor with liberalism. Evan-
gelicals in most other countries of the world cannot fathom this
alignment. Important spokespersons in this country, too, have recog-
nized the inconsistency and called, for example, for a consistently pro-
life stance--which fights against abortion and against poverty and nu-
clear arms, both of which threaten the quality of life of those already
born.61 One of the greatest ironies of American liberal Christian cul-
ture is its preoccupation with issues of peace and justice at the fre-
quent expense of ensuring that individuals are prepared for an
eternity which will far outweigh any conditions of marginalization or
oppression in this life. These Christians need to learn what it is to be
consistently pro-choice--including the opportunity for all humans, in-
cluding the unborn, to choose life, both physical and spiritual. Chris-
tians in both camps will have to wrestle increasingly with the
growing debacle of families, even in middle-class suburbia, unable to
afford health insurance, of the astronomical costs of health care, with
the ethical issues surrounding the use of expensive medical equip-
ment and procedures, when only certain individuals in society can
have access to them, and surrounding the artificial prolongation of life,
often involving heroic measures of intervention, again at strangling
costs to consumers, insurance companies, and medical personnel.
None of this is optional. The nation's and the world's poor are in-
creasing in number and in the severity of their plight. 1 John 3:17
speaks more plainly than most evangelistic tracts or sermons about
how to determine who is a Christian: "Now whoever has the goods of
the world and beholds his brother (or sister) having a need and has no
pity on him/her, how does the love of God remain in that one?" James
proves even blunter: "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lack-
ing in daily food, and one of you says to him, 'Go in peace, be warm
and well fed,' but you do not give him the necessities for the body,
60 Numerous practical suggestions appear in works like D. J. Longacre, Living
More with Less (Scottdale: Herald, 1980); and R J. Sider, ed., Living More Simply: Bibli-
cal Principles and Practical Models (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980).
61 Most notably R J. Sider, Completely
88 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
what does it profit?" (Jas 2:15-16). This illustration appears in the con-
text of a rhetorical question (implying the answer "no"), which asks if
anyone professing to have faith and behaving in this way can truly be
saved! This is not to charge James with teaching works-righteousness,
as he often has been accused, but simply to stress that true salvation
involves making God in Christ one's Lord or master (as in Matt 6:24;
cf. Rom 10:9-10; Acts 16:31), which will by definition result over time
in a changed lifestyle that produces good works.62 These are not
quantifiable, lest we return to legalism, but sooner or later, in percep-
tible ways, when the Spirit of Christ truly indwells a person, one's
heart will be changed so as to affect how one spends one's money.
Giving will increase, including giving to the physically needy, and
particularly to needy fellow Christians. If none of this ever happens,
professions of faith in Christ remain vacuous.63
Others with more sensitive consciences may fear that Christians
who heed Jesus' words may get carried away and give up too much.
This of course has rarely happened in church history and, given hu-
man nature, is not often a realistic danger!64 2 Cor 8:13-15 suggests
that few are ever called to give up more than half of their income.65
The Zacchaeus episode, coming in the middle of a Lukan triad of pas-
sages on what to do with one's wealth (Luke 18:18-30, 19:1-10, 19:11-
27), may be viewed as a "golden mean" which teaches a similar
truth.66 More obviously, each of the three accounts partially relativ-
izes the others. God clearly calls different believers to different kinds
of stewardship. In the earlier Markan version of the first of these sto-
ries, it is plain that Jesus' command to the rich young ruler to sell all
is based on what stands in the way of this specific man's ability to be-
come a disciple (Mark 10:21b).67 But one should be wary of breathing
a sigh of relief too quickly. As R. Gundry explains, "That Jesus did not
62 See esp. J. F. MacArthur, Jr., "Faith According to the Apostle James," JETS 33
63 Cf. U. Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989) 399:
"Worship of God as well as worship of mammon become visible in deeds involving
64 Cf. Schmidt, "Burden," 188: "To stand still because the end is so far away is to
miss the point of discipleship as a journey. Most of us could travel a considerable dis-
tance on that road before anyone suspected us of extreme obedience."
65 C. Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
mans, 1987) 157: "It is worth noting that it is from the abundance or surplus of those
who are better-off that Paul expects the needs of those who are worse-off to be met. He
does not advocate that those who are better-off reduce themselves to poverty also."
66 W. E. Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1981) 129-34.
67 D. O. Via, Jr., The Ethics of Mark's Gospel-in the Middle of
Fortress, 1985) 137, charts a good middle ground between over-absolutizing and over-
relativizing this text.
Craig Blomberg: ON WEALTH AND WORRY 89
command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort
only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command"!68
In the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns
against professing Christians who claim to know him as Lord, but to
whom Christ will one day say, "I never knew you; depart from
me ..." (7:23). Tragically, these will include persons in ministry (v 22).
How can we recognize such people? "By their fruits you shall know
them" (v 20). But apparently their powerful words and deeds are not
necessarily the telltale fruit (v 22). What then is determinative?
Doubtless Jesus' answer would be the "greater righteousness" which
permeates his commandments. Matt 6:19-34 reminds us that a central
element in that righteous living is appropriate stewardship of all our
resources, in ways which demonstrate that anxiety for physical provi-
sion does not outweigh our claims to serve God rather than mammon.
68 R H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art
did not think that his riches were more than eternal life, but he must have told himself
that he did not really have to give up his wealth to gain it."
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
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