How to Set Priorities

Our passage for today is Matthew 6:25-34 – the commands are DO NOT BE ANXIOUS (Matthew 6:25, Luke 12:22), LOOK (Matthew 6:26), OBSERVE (Matthew 6:28), SEEK (Matthew 6:33, Luke 12:31), CONSIDER (Luke 12:27, 29), DO NOT SEEK, DO NOT KEEP WORRYING (Luke 12:29), DO NOT BE AFRAID (Luke 12:32). Worry distracts from the Word (Matthew 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14, 10:41). See also Philippians 4:6, 2:20, 1 Peter 5:7, 1 Corinthians 7:32, 33, 34, 12:25, 2 Corinthians 11:28).

Group Questions:

1. What would you do with the money if you won $1 million in a lump sum, or $50,000 per year for 20 years?

2. What does your answer reveal about your priorities? (Matthew 6:21)

3. Do you think that long-term savings, retirement plans, insurance policies, and real estate holdings reduce our sense of dependence on God? Do they give us missed placed security? (Matthew 6:19-20)

4. How does the issue of stockpiling things (Matthew 6:19-24 relate to our command passage on worry? (Matthew 6:25-34)

5. What is the root meaning of the word anxious? (Matthew 6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34)

6. What three aspects of life to people worry about more than anything else? (Matthew 6:25, 27)

7. Why are we commanded to look at the birds? (Matthew 6:26, Job 38:41a, Psalm 147:9b)

8. What did Jesus say in Matthew 6:27 that were he was in capable of accomplishing?

9. Why are we commanded to observe help the lilies of the field grow? (Matthew 6:28, 29, 30)

10. What phrase did Jesus frequently used to describe his disciples when they were filled with anxiety or fear? (Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, Luke 12:28)

11. What characteristic of God should eliminate any need for anxiety on our part? (Matthew 6:31, 32, Luke 12:30b)

12. What does God want us to do when we are anxious about something? (Philippians 4:6, 1 Peter 5:7)

13. Who are the Gentiles? Why do they seek after the necessities of life? (Matthew 6:32a, Luke 12:30a)

14: how should we prioritize our lives if we want God to tend to our private concerns? (Matthew 6:33, Luke 12:31)

15. Why is it wrong to worry about tomorrow? (Matthew 6:33)

How to Set Priorities and Overcome Anxiety:

1. Invest in your eternal portfolio for the future (Matthew 6:19-24)

Our response to these two commands will determine our focus (Matthew 6:22-23) The lamp or lens of the body is the eye, it is our only means of vision. It’s through the eye that the body finds its way. If our vision is clear, which means the single, undivided, then the entire person has direction. When Jesus refers to the eye being bad, he’s probably using the Jewish colloquialism that means grudging or stingy. (Deuteronomy 15:9, hostile, Proverbs 23:6, selfish) hey man with an evil eye is one who chases after wealth (Proverbs 28:22).

Our response to these two commands will determine our service (Matthew 6:24). John Calvin said, “when riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority.” The orders of the two masters are diametrically opposed and cannot coexist.

2. Take time to get an eternal perspective (Matthew 6:25-32)

The words “for this reason” look back to the previous verses (Matthew 6:19-24) that warned against stockpiling material things, which would ultimately monopolize our focus and become our master. When we become a slave to material things, we don’t own our possessions, they own us. Material things become a distraction to ministry. It appears that Jesus’ disciples were anxious about their future and these basic provisions.

The word “worry” literally means, “to divide, part, rip or tear apart.” The Greek word is generic and can be used in a positive way or a negative way. This God-given emotion when used in a positive way is the best translated “concern” or “care” and it describes an emotional energy that is available to tear apart the problems that we are facing today. You cannot turn this emotion on or off but you can turn it around or redirect it. Here are a few examples of this emotion directed in a positive way (2 Corinthians 11:28, Philippians 2:19-21, 1 Corinthians 12:25).

When you are concerned, that concern begins to mobilize the energies in your body. The adrenaline surges through your bloodstream. You find your muscles begin to tighten, you begin to get ready to do things, and you are prepared for action. But if you’re concerned is directed toward the future, tomorrow rather than today, all that emotional energy that is designed to tear up the problems now begins to tear you up. This is why people that worry get stomach ulcers. All sorts of chemicals begin sloshing around inside of their stomachs. Those chemicals begin to eat at the lining of the stomach walls.

Anxiety may will be the most common psychiatric disorder in the United States. Some 65% of all new prescriptions that physicians write are for anxiety. As many as 4% of the population suffers from anxiety disorder, with 2% experiencing panic attacks.

A. There are two ways this emotion is used negatively. The first way this emotions can be used in a sinful way is when it focuses on temporal values or things of lesser importance. This worry is a dividing care, distracting the heart from the true objective of life (Matthew 13:22, Luke 10:38-42).

Noticed that “the many things” over which Martha is worried is contrasted with the “one thing” that is necessary. Even in our daily responsibilities there is a priority list of concerns. Our value system normally controls our choices.

What one thing is necessary for you to do today? If you could only do one thing what would it be? Martha appears to be driven by her anxious spirit over many things related to entertaining her Lord, but Mary had learned how to choose what was most important. Mary understood that the master wanted to feed them spiritually but Martha was worried about feeding the master.

B. The second way that this emotion can be used in a sinful way is when we become anxious about tomorrow or the future. It is sinful because it distracts us from the responsibilities of today and focuses our attention on something that we can do nothing about and that we cannot even be sure about. The New Testament instructs us to take these kinds of worries to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the disciples anxiety about three things:

FOOD (Matthew 6:25-26) – in our society people determine how secure they are by how much they have stored up, which is a little crazy because who knows how much is enough. One person has $10,000 in the bank and feels a day away from destruction while another has $100,000 and he’s paranoid. Then there is a little, trusting, child of God who has $100 in the bank and feels secure for the rest of his life.

If your security is in that what you have in the bank, you don’t have security at all because recession, inflation, depression, war, health problems, and your security disappears.

Jesus is simply saying that humans are more important than birds. What is got done for the birds? He created them and he sustains them. What has God done for humans? He’s made them in his image, sent his son to die on their behalf. Do you see the point? If God created and sustains the birds, what will he do for those he has saved and adopted into his family?

FUTURE (Matthew 6:27) – worry could be related to longevity. We shouldn’t worry about our life expectancy either. Our culture is obsessed with trying to lengthen life. We exercise, we carefully, supplement our diet with vitamins and minerals, get regular check ups, and countless other things in the hopes of adding a few more years to life. Yet God has an appointment for man to die, you don’t die early or late (Hebrews 9:27).

FASHION (Matthew 6:28-30) – Jesus wants us to “observe” because he wants us to study their growth process and the way God clothes these beautiful flowers. The Lily was the wildflower the graces the hillside and fields of Galilee. Those beautiful decorations of nature make no effort to grow and have no part in designing or coloring themselves. Despite their beauty, flowers are not eternal. These verses say that they are here today and tomorrow they’re gone.

Worry is not a trivial little issue because it questions God’s love and faithfulness, or it declares our heavenly father to be untrustworthy in his word and promises. This is why on four other occasions Jesus rebuked his disciples with the phrase, “you of little faith” (Matthew 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, Luke 12:28).

Worry is something that is characteristic of the heathen, not the child of God. The heathen should worry. They don’t have the heavenly father. The gods of the gentiles were man-made gods, inspired by Satan. They were gods of fear, dread, and appeasement who demanded much, promised little, and provided nothing. Our Heavenly Father provides everything that we need.

The word “knows” the note a full knowledge. It is in the perfect tense. God knows your need now, he has known them in the past. God has never said “oh no, one of my children has a need down there, I almost forgot about him.” That never would happen because God knows your needs intimately.

3. Seek his rule and character in your life (Matthew 6:33)

The command in this verse is to continually be seeking (present tense) God’s rule (kingdom) and character (righteousness) in our lives and ministries. This is to be our first priority. A priority is a value that has surfaced to the top. Since we have so many competing values in our lives, it is important to be very intentional about setting this as our top priority.

We are commanded to seek his kingdom and righteousness. This means to “seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after.” It also means to try “to obtain, desire to possess.”

Jesus makes a conditional promise in the spurs to take care of our basic needs, but it’s contingent on whether we are advancing his kingdom as our first priority.

4. Give attention to the priorities of today (Matthew 6:34)

Worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles. Worry is like rocking in a rocking chair. It does a lot of work, but you don’t get anywhere. When we focus on tomorrow, we were robbed of the emotional energy that we need to tear up today’s concerns, which then makes our troubles of tomorrow compounded.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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