Matthew 6:28. And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29. Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
Here you have another example and analogy; according to it, the little flowers in the field, which cattle trample and eat, are to become our theologians and masters and to embarrass us still further. Just look at them grow, all adorned with lovely colors! Yet not one of them is anxious or worried about how it should grow or what color it should have, but it leaves these anxieties to God. And without any care or effort on its part God dresses it up in such lovely and beautiful colors that, as Christ says, King Solomon in all his glory was not so beautiful as one of these—indeed, no empress with all her ladies-in-waiting, with all her gold, pearls, and jewels. No king He could name was so rich or so glorious or so beautifully adorned as was Solomon. But with all his magnificent pomp and splendor, the king is nothing when compared with a rose or a pink or a violet in the field. In this way our Lord God can adorn anyone whom He chooses to adorn. That is really an adornment, a color that no man can make or match, an adornment that no one could or would surpass. Though they were to be covered with pure gold and satin, they would still say: “I prefer the adornment of my Master up there in heaven, who adorns the little birds, to that of all the tailors and embroiderers on earth.”
Now, since He dresses and adorns so many flowers with such a variety of colors, and each has its own coat, more splendid than all the adornment in the world, why is it that we cannot have faith that He will dress us as well? What are the flowers and the grass in the field when compared with us? And what were they created for except to stand there for a day or two, to let themselves be looked at, and then to wither and turn into hay? Or as Christ says, they are “thrown into the oven” to be burned and to heat the oven. Yet our Lord God regards these tiny and transient things so highly that He lavishes His gifts upon them and adorns them more beautifully than any earthly king or other human being. Yet they do not need this adornment; indeed, it is wasted upon them, since, with the flower, it soon perishes. But we are His highest creatures, for whose sakes He made all things and to whom He gives everything. We matter so much to Him that this life is not to be the end of us, but after this life He intends to give us eternal life. Now, should we not trust Him to clothe us as He clothes the flowers of the field with so many colors and the birds of the air with their lovely feathers? He is speaking satirically, in order to describe how abominable our unbelief is and to make it look as ridiculous as possible. But it is the devil himself and the disastrous fall we committed that make it necessary for us to watch a whole world filled with birds and flowers opposed to us, denouncing our unbelief by their own example and appearance, and acting as our most sublime theologians. They sing and preach to us and smile at us so lovingly, just to have us believe. And yet we go right on letting them preach and sing, while we remain as greedy and selfish as ever. But to our eternal shame and disgrace each individual flower is a witness against us to condemn our unbelief before God and all the creatures until the Last Day. Now He closes this sermon for His Christians.
31. Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or, “What shall we drink?” or, “What shall we wear?” 32. For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Every day you see these illustrations before your very eyes, how God nourishes and feeds everything that lives and grows from the earth, clothes and adorns it so beautifully. Now let these illustrations persuade you to lay aside your anxiety and your unbelief and to remember that you are Christians and not heathen. Such anxiety and greed are appropriate to heathen, who do not know God or care about Him. It is really idolatry, as St. Paul says (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5) and as Christ said earlier, when He called it the service of Mammon. Baptized or not, therefore, no greedy belly can be a Christian; but he has certainly lost Christ and has become a heathen. The two are intolerable to each other—being greedy or anxious and being a believer—and one has to eliminate the other. Now, for Christians who hear and know the Word, nothing is more disgraceful before God and all the creatures than to be likened to heathen. They do not believe that God feeds them and gives them all things; and thus they fall away from God, deny the faith, and pay no attention either to His Word or to these obvious examples. This is a harsh judgment, one that certainly ought to alarm everyone. For the choice is clear: either a Christian must reflect and then forsake his greedy anxiety, or he must know that he is not a Christian but ten times as bad as a heathen.
“Since you are Christians,” He says, “you dare not doubt that your Father is well aware of your need for all this, of the fact that you have a belly that needs food and drink and a body that needs clothing. If He did not know it, you would have reason to be concerned and anxious about how to provide for yourselves. But since He does know it, He will not forsake you. He is faithful and willing to take special care of you Christians, because, as has been said, He cares for the birds of the air as well. So forget your anxieties, since you cannot accomplish anything by them. It does not depend upon your anxiety but upon His knowledge and concern.” If nothing grew in the field unless we were anxious about it, we would all have died in our cradles; and during the night, while we are lying asleep, nothing could grow. Indeed, even by worrying ourselves to death we could not make a single blade of grass grow in the field. We really ought to see and understand that God gives everything without any anxiety on our part, and yet we are such godless people that we refuse to give up our anxiety and our greed. Though it is up to Him to be concerned, as a father is concerned for his children, we refuse to leave it to Him.
33. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
As I have said, the Lord saw very well that among the outward and coarse vices there is none that opposes the Gospel and holds back the kingdom of God as terribly as does greed. As soon as a preacher makes it his aim to get rich, he stops performing his office the way he should. The concern about making a living traps his heart, the way a “snare” does, to use St. Paul’s designation (1 Tim. 6:9). He cannot teach or denounce in the right places or in the right manner. He is concerned about losing popularity and friendship among those from whom he can get it. Thus he lets himself be seduced into keeping quiet and into seducing other people as well, not through heresy but through his own belly, which is his idol. Whoever wants to do his duty as a preacher and perform his office faithfully must retain the freedom to tell the truth fearlessly, regardless of other people. He must denounce anyone that needs to be denounced—great or small, rich or poor or powerful, friend or foe. Greed refuses to do this, for it is afraid that if it offends the bigwigs36 or its good friends, it will be unable to find bread. So greed puts its whistle into its pocket and keeps quiet.
It is the same way with the common crowd. Though they are not preachers, they should listen to the Word of God and help to advance the kingdom of God, each individual in his own life and station. But they refuse to take any chances or to suffer any need for the sake of the Gospel. Above all, they see to it that they have plenty and that their belly is taken care of, regardless of whether there is enough for the Gospel or not. So they scrape and scratch, getting along as well as they can. They give the preachers nothing; in fact, they deprive them of what they do have. Thus the devil has his way, and no one wants to preach or to listen any more, with the result that both the doctrine and its fruit disappear from the hearts of the people and the kingdom of God collapses entirely. All this is done by no one else but that abominable and demonic Mammon.
That, you see, is the reason for this long sermon, in which Christ, the Lord, gives a faithful warning to those that are His. To provide a better preventive against this, He prescribes a good and potent medicine here, called “seeking the kingdom of God.” Taking this medicine makes anxiety unnecessary, but it makes it possible for us to have enough, in fact, a treasure greater and more excellent than the one that Mammon can give us or than anything we can ever get with our anxiety.
But it is important for the heart to realize what the kingdom of God is and what it grants. If we could be persuaded to give this some thought and if in our hearts we were to measure and weigh how much greater and more precious a treasure this is than Mammon or the kingdom of the world, that is, than everything on earth, then we would spit at Mammon. If you had the wealth and the might of the King of France and of the Turkish Emperor, what more would you have than a beggar at the door has with his crumbs? All that is really necessary is something to fill the belly every day. More than this no one can do, even if he has all the goods and all the glory in the world. The poorest beggar has as much of this as the mightiest emperor; and he may even get more enjoyment and benefit out of his crumbs than the emperor does out of a magnificent, royal repast. That is all there is to it, and no one gets any more out of it. It lasts only a brief and tiny while, and then we have to surrender it all. We cannot use it to extend our physical existence by a single hour when our hour comes. Hence it is a poor and miserable kingdom, indeed, a foul and stinking one.
By way of comparison, what is the kingdom of God or of Christ, the Lord? Figure it out for yourself, and tell me what the creature is in comparison with its Creator, and the world in comparison with God. If heaven and earth were completely mine, what would I have in comparison with God? Not as much as a drop of water or a grain of dust in comparison with the whole ocean! In addition, this is the kind of treasure that cannot vanish or diminish or shrink. No human heart or understanding can measure or grasp how great it is or how long it endures. And for the sake of this filthy and mortal kingdom of the belly I am supposed to be shameful enough to discard and surrender God and His kingdom, which is divine and imperishable and which gives me eternal life, righteousness, peace, joy, and salvation? In it I shall have for eternity everything that I am seeking and desiring here for a time, and it will all be infinitely more glorious and abundant than what I can get here on earth, even with great sorrow, anxiety, and labor. But before I can get it and take possession of it, I have to go away and surrender everything. What great folly and shameful blindness for us not to see this! What stubborn wickedness, that the world, possessed by the devil, refuses to be told or to pay attention when this is being preached!
By these words, therefore, Christ would like to wake us up and say: “If you want to have the right sort of anxiety and concern about always having plenty, then seek for the treasure called ‘the kingdom of God.’ Do not be anxious about the temporal and perishable treasure which moth and rust consume (as He said earlier). You have a much different treasure in heaven, which I am pointing out to you. If you are anxious about that and seek it and if you keep in mind what you have in it, you will soon forget about the other one. This is the kind of treasure that will sustain you forever, and it cannot perish or be taken away. Because the treasure you cling to is an enduring one, you will endure, too, even though you may not have a single heller from the world.”
What file kingdom of God is has often been stated. To put it most briefly, it does not mean outward things like eating and drinking (Rom. 14:17) nor other works that we can do. Rather, it means believing in Jesus Christ. In this kingdom He is the Head and the only King, in whom and through whom we have everything; whoever abides in it cannot be harmed by any sin, death, or misfortune, but has eternal life, joy, and salvation. Here he begins in this faith, but on the Last Day all will be revealed, and he will be eternally perfected in it.
Now, what does it mean to “seek” this kingdom? What is the method of reaching it, and what way or path leads to it? Here one points in one direction, another in another direction. This is what the pope teaches: “Run to Rome and get an indulgence, confess and do penance, read or hear Mass, put on a cowl, and discipline yourself with long services and a strict, ascetic life.” We used to run in every direction we were told to run, like crazy and foolish people. We all wanted to seek the kingdom of God, but all we found was the kingdom of the devil. For there are many ways, but they are all departures from that one way of believing in Christ and practicing and applying the Gospel, to which faith clings. This involves growing and being strengthened at heart through preaching, listening, reading, singing, meditating, and every other possible way. And it involves blossoming out in fruits, to advance it and to lead many other people to it. Thank God, that is what we are doing now; and there are many others as well, both preachers and other Christians, who are zealous in practicing this. For this they are willing to risk everything they have, and they would be ready to lose it rather than to surrender the Word.
Though they boast that they are the servants of God and the brides of Christ, none of the monks, nuns, or priests either do or understand this. They all miss the one right way, and they neglect the Gospel. They do not know God or Christ and His kingdom. If you want to know it and find it, you must not seek for it on the basis of your own ideas. You must hear His Word, as the foundation and cornerstone, and see where He directs you and how He interprets it. Now, this is His Word about His kingdom (Mark 16:16): “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Word was not spun out of our own heads, nor did it grow out of any human heart. It fell from heaven and was manifested by the mouth of God, to give us certainty and to keep us from missing the right path. Now when both the preachers and the hearers proceed as they should in the diligent use of Word and Sacrament, when they consistently apply this in their lives to make it known among the people, and when they bring in the young people and teach them, then they are really seeking and promoting the kingdom of God and taking it seriously.
Now, what does He mean by adding “and His righteousness”? This kingdom has a righteousness of its own, but a righteousness different from that in the world, since it is a different kingdom. Thus it refers to the righteousness that comes from a faith that is-busy and active in good works. It means that I take the Gospel seriously, that I listen to it or use it diligently, and that then I actually live in accordance with it instead of being an idle fellow or a hypocrite, who lets it come in through one ear and out through the other. The Kingdom proves its presence in deed and in power, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 4:20): “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” That is what we call the Gospel with its fruits—doing good works, fulfilling your station or office diligently and faithfully, and undergoing all sorts of suffering for the Gospel. He uses “righteousness” here in a general sense for the whole life of a Christian in relation to God and man, including both the tree and its fruit, not in the sense that it is completely perfect. It is continually progressing, as He shows here by telling His disciples to keep on seeking it, since they have not yet obtained it (Phil. 3:12) or learned it or lived it perfectly. For our condition in the kingdom of Christ is half sin and half holiness. What there is in us that belongs to faith and to Christ is completely pure and perfect, since it is not our own but Christ’s, who is ours through faith and who lives and works in us. But what is still our own is completely sinful. Yet under Christ and in Him it is concealed and blotted out through the forgiveness of sins; and daily it is put to death through the same grace of the Spirit, until we have died to this life altogether.
You see, it is a quality of the righteousness of this kingdom to act sincerely, without any hypocrisy. For it is set in opposition to those who know how to talk and boast about the Gospel but do not live according to it. Preaching the Word of God, doing good to everyone, and suffering all sorts of misfortune is a difficult business; but that is why it is called “the righteousness of God.” The world cannot stand doing good only to suffer evil for it. This does not belong to the world’s realm, where it is wrong for the man who does right to be punished or to suffer violence; such a person should be rewarded with gratitude and good things. But our reward is laid away for us not on earth but in heaven (Luke 6:23), and that is where we shall find it. Anyone who knows this and wants to act accordingly will have enough to do, without having to look for other ways; and he can forget about the greed and the anxiety of Mammon, too. He will become so soured on the world that his life and his temporal possessions will not mean much to him any more, and he will become so tired that every hour he will be looking forward to death and hoping for it.
So much for the admonition by which He directs our attention away from temporal possessions to the eternal treasure, and tells us that these possessions are not worth our attention in comparison with the ones we have in heaven. To this admonition He now adds a promise and a consolation, to keep us from thinking that since we have to suffer so much from a world that denies and begrudges us everything and since every hour we are expecting to have it all taken away from us, He wants to give us nothing at all on earth and to let us starve. We should know that here, too, we shall have what we require for the necessities of this life. That is why He says: “If you just seek the kingdom of God first, then all these things shall be yours as well.” That is, you shall receive food and drink and clothing as a bonus, without any anxiety of your own. In fact, it will come by the very fact that you are not anxious about such things and that you risk everything for the sake of the kingdom of God, and in such a way that you will not know where it came from, as our experience teaches us every day. God has enough in the world to feed those that are His. For He feeds all the birds and worms, and He clothes the lilies of the field, as we have heard; in fact, He gives generously even to scoundrels and lets things grow for them. Reluctantly, the world has to let us eat and drink with it.
Now, if we realize this, if we have the Word of God and use it, and if each individual does what he should, what more do we want? We have plenty to eat and to drink and to wear, and we get as much to fill our stomach as even a king or an emperor does. Of course, in keeping with his rank, he has to have more, and his must be grander. But that does not mean that he enjoys it any more. My bread feeds me as well as his royal repast, and my clothes cover and warm me as well as his gold and silver garments. How would it be possible for a person to starve to death who serves God with fidelity and furthers His kingdom? After all, He gives the whole world more than enough. The earth would have to run out of bread or the heavens would have to run out of rain before a Christian would die of starvation; indeed, God Himself would have to starve to death first. Now, since He has created and given so superabundantly and given such a sure promise that He will give enough and will do so before we look around or become aware of it, why plague yourself with this terrible anxiety and greed? Everywhere, but especially in the Psalter, Scripture is full of statements like these (Ps. 33:19): “He feeds the pious in time of famine”; and (Ps. 37:19, 25): “I have never seen a pious man beg for bread.” He will not let your situation make a liar out of Him. Just believe! If the present world of noblemen, peasants, and city people refuses to do this, He can find other people or other means through which to give, and to give more than they can ever take away from you.
34. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
“Let this be your concern,” He says, “how to retain the kingdom of God. And get rid of the other concerns so completely that you are not even concerned about tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, it will bring its own concerns along.” As we say, “Do not cross your bridges until you come to them.”37 Our concern accomplishes nothing anyway, even though we are concerned for only one day at a time. Experience shows that two or three days often pass by faster than today. If God is kindly disposed to a man and gives him success, he can often accomplish more in one hour without care and anxiety than another man in four whole days with great care and anxiety. Whereas the one has dragged on with his anxiety and made it tedious for himself, the other has disposed of it in an hour. Thus no one can accomplish anything except when the hour comes that God gives as a free gift without our anxiety. It is vain for you to try to anticipate and with your concern to work out what you think are great schemes.
Our Lord God knows the art of secretly shortening and lengthening times and hours for us, to make one hour become two weeks for someone, and vice versa. Thus with long labor and sorrow one person accomplishes no more than another person with short and easy work. This is evident every day. There are many people who work steadily and hard but barely make ends meet, while there are others who have arranged and ordered their affairs so well that without any particular effort everything goes along smoothly, and they prosper. God works it all this way to keep us from supposing that our anxiety necessarily brings His blessing. But we refuse to wait for God to add these good things to us. Instead we insist on finding them for ourselves before God gives them.
Look at what happens amid the busy digging and hunting in the mines. Often it develops that where there are the greatest prospects for ore and where it seems that everything will turn to gold, there nothing is found, or it is suddenly cut off and vanishes from your grasp. On the other hand, in places that seem to be a total loss and that are neglected, quite by surprise there will often be a rich find. One man has invested everything he has, and he gets nothing; another man begins as a beggar, and he becomes a lord. Later on, those who have accumulated many thousands of guldens may become beggars before ten years are up. Only seldom do such great fortunes last until the third heir.38 In other words, the formula for good fortune and blessings should be: “Not by my seeking, but by His generosity; not by finding, but by chance.” We would like to make things come out the way we planned them, but it does not work out that way. For this is what He thinks: “You will not get it that way; at least you will not hold on to it and enjoy it very long.” I myself have known many people whose pockets bulged with guldens and who could not be bothered with groschens, but eventually they would have been glad to find that many hellers.
Now, since you see that it is pointless and that your anxiety is useless, why not give it up and think instead about how to get the kingdom of God? He wants to be generous to you, but not on account of your being concerned or even on account of your working. It is not such concern that gains and accomplishes anything, but rather the concern that is part of your office. The kingdom of God requires you to do what you are commanded to do, to preach and to promote the Word of God, to serve your neighbor according to your calling,39 and to take whatever God gives you. The best possessions are not the ones that come from our planning, but the ones that come by chance and from His generosity. The things that we have acquired or planned to keep by being anxious will probably be the first to collapse and be ruined. This is what often happens to the rich bellies; by their great anxiety they often ruin their grain and other supplies. It is a great gift of grace that God does not make it our concern how the grain is growing in the field, but gives it to us while we are lying asleep. Otherwise we would ruin it with our anxiety, and we would get nothing.
Therefore He says now: “Why be concerned about more than the present day and take on the troubles of two days? Be content with the trouble that the present day lays upon you. Tomorrow will bring you another one.” He calls it a “trouble” or a plague laid upon us that we have to make a living in the sweat of our face (Gen. 3:19) and endure all sorts of other accidents, worries, misfortunes, and dangers every day, Daily in this life we must see and expect such trouble, when something is stolen from you or you suffer some other damage or when you get sick or when your servants do. Suffer such sorrow, anguish, and trouble, and receive it with joy. Be content with that, for it is enough for you to bear. Forget about your anxiety, which only increases and aggravates the trouble. From these examples you can see that God never used anyone’s anxiety to make him rich; in fact, many people have the deepest kind of anxiety, and still they have nothing. What He does is this: when He sees someone fulfilling his office diligently and faithfully, being concerned to do so in a God-pleasing way, and leaving the concern over its success to God, He is generous in His gifts to such a person. It is written (Prov. 10:4): “The hand of the diligent makes rich.” He 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 mouth. He commands you to get an honest grip on your work, and then He will be present with His blessing and give you plenty. Let this be enough regarding this sermon.
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:199). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.