Criswell Theological Review 6.1 (1992) 73-89

                          Copyright © 1992 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission.    




                        ON WEALTH AND WORRY:

                      MATTHEW 6:19-34--MEANING

                                AND SIGNIFICANCE




                                                    CRAIG L. BLOMBERG

                                                          Denver Seminary

                                                             Denver, CO



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.


1. Context

            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).




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.

pp. 122-27.

            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 (Regensburg: Pustet,

1986) 19-21.


                 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



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.


2. Exegesis


            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.; Sheffield: JSOT, 1983) 3.217-61.

            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

R J. Dillon, "Ravens, Lilies and the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:25-33/Luke 12:22-31),"

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 (San Francisco: Harper & Row,

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 kingdom of God and its

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.;

Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988) 1.632-34.



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 (New York: UBS,

1981) 65, offers as possible translations, "Your eyes provide/let in light for the body/

whole person."

            22 D. A Carson, "Matthew," in Expositor's Bible Commentary (ed. F. E. Gaebelein,

12 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 8.178.

            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,

            aren't they?29


            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 homoioteleutonfa<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.



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-

main secure.


            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.



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 Israel's history most fabled for his splendor and earthly

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

            these things.


            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


            33 But seek first the kingdom of God44 and its righteousness, and all these

            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 kingdom of God. Then our physical needs will be

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."



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.


3. Application

            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.

            50 Carson, Sermon, 93, thinks that the exceptions to v 33 should thus be due to

"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 (Edinburgh: T & T

Clark, 1907) 65.

            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 (Berlin: de

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

ministry of Lakewood, Colorado's Bear Valley Baptist Church, with its

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. Carson, Mat-

thew," 481).

            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 (Downers Grove, IL:

InterVarsity Press, 1983.  C. R Padilla, Mission Between the Times: Essays on the King-

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).



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

spiritually needy.

            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 Pro-Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity

Press, 1987).



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

(1990) 13-34.

            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 (Grand Rapids: Eerd-

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 Time (Philadelphia:

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

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1.982) 388. Cf. Ridderbos, Matthew, 358: "The man of course

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:

The Criswell College; 

4010 Gaston Ave. 

Dallas, TX   75246


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