A Commentary by John Stott

Matthew 6:25-34. 2. Problems relating to Christian faith.

I need at this point to allow myself a digression in order to comment on three problems related to the child-like Christian faith which Jesus asks of us. All three are big problems and can only be touched on here, but because they arise in our minds from the Lord’s basic promise that our heavenly Father can be trusted to feed and clothe us, it would be wrong to evade them. I will state them negatively in terms of the three liberties which faith does *not* take in the light of God’s promise, or of the three immunities which his promise does *not* give us.

First, *believers are not exempt from earning their own living*. We cannot sit back in an armchair, twiddle our thumbs, mutter ‘my heavenly Father will provide’ and do nothing. We have to work. As Paul put it later: ‘If anyone will not work, let him not eat’ (2 Thes.3:10). With characteristic earthiness Luther writes: ‘God … wants nothing to do with the lazy, gluttonous bellies who are neither concerned nor busy; they act as if they just had to sit and wait for him to drop a roasted goose into their mouths’.

Jesus used birds and flowers as evidence of God’s ability to feed and clothe us, as we have seen. But how does God feed the birds? One answer would be that he does not, for they feed themselves! Jesus was an acute observer. He knew perfectly well about birds’ feeding habits, that some are seed eaters, others carrion-eaters or fish-eaters, while yet others are insectivores, predators or scavengers. God feeds them all right. But the way in which he does so is not by stretching out to them a divine hand filled with food, but by providing in nature the wherewithal to feed themselves. One could say something similar about plants. ‘The plants perform neither men’s work in the field (“toil”), nor women’s work at home (”spin”)’, yet God clothes them. How? Not miraculously, but by a complex process he has arranged in which they draw their sustenance from the sun and the soil.

It is the same then with human beings. God provides, but we still have to co-operate. Hudson Taylor learnt this lesson on his first voyage to China in 1853. When a violent storm off the Welsh coast threatened disaster, he felt it would be dishonouring to God to wear a life-belt. So he gave his away. Later, however, he saw his mistake: ‘The use of means ought not to lessen our faith in God, and our faith in God ought not to hinder our using whatever means he has given us for the accomplishment of his own purposes’.

Similarly God does not cast all his children in the role of the prophet Elijah and supply our food miraculously through angels or ravens, but rather through the more normal means of farmers, millers, market gardeners , fishermen, butchers, grocers and the rest. Jesus urges upon us the necessity of a simple trust in our heavenly Father, but his understanding of faith was neither naive (ignorant of second causes) nor archaic (incompatible with modern science).
Tomorrow: Matthew 6:25-34. 2). Problems related to Christian faith (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.