I recognize much of what I am about to say will be controversial to many, even within my own theological “tribe.” I expect those who are not in Christ to vehemently disagree with all that I am about to say, but particularly on the basis of who their true master is. For Christians though, I would like to take this time to plead with you. I have watched much of the reaction surrounding Coronavirus over the past few months, with an especially keen eye on Christians. While I recognize the limits of what I see are great—the overwhelming response of Christians that I have seen is fear. People are afraid of the “silent killer” they have had little choice but to be inundated with in every waking hour. They are afraid of what it might do to them or their loved ones, or perhaps even strangers they may meet along the way. Many are likewise afraid of what will come of the response, whether it be total economic collapse or the ripple effect that comes from such a thing. Others still are afraid of what might come from governmental authorities who have been showing their true colors in what can only be described as a power grab. Despite the common denominator supposedly being Christ, what unifies Christians of all convictions today is their abject fear of what may be.
All of this leads me to believe that many, even among those who profess an utterly sovereign Lord, have some lingering doubts on just how in control of all things He truly is. Of course, these things are all legitimate threats. The Coronavirus can kill you or someone you love. The response to the Coronavirus may in fact lead to seeing a disastrous economic collapse on a global scale. Likewise, the power-hungry politicians have stopped at nothing to take advantage of their own people during a time of national crisis. This is particularly what makes the rationalizations of why we have good reason to be afraid, or nervous, apprehensive, shrewd, calculating, cautious—whatever you wish to call it—as dangerous as it truly is. The reality is that we can wrap all sorts of things up under “wisdom” and “common sense” that are little more than a guise that shows how little we actually believe God is sovereign in all things. Surely, one might believe He is sovereign over this or that—but in the thing which tugs at your heart more than any other—you have good reason to be careful.
What I truly believe is at the heart of this sentiment though is not a desire to uphold wisdom and care of one’s neighbor—not for the majority of people expressing so. Rather, I believe that much in the same way that all men suffer from an idolatry problem, people’s idols are being exposed and threatened. Our comfort is being stripped away, though laughably, it is done as we remain in pajamas on our sofas, binging Netflix. Our money, investments, and storehouses are being slowly depleted and plundered before our eyes, though we took every precaution to store up more food than needed as we neglected to give thanks for even this day’s bread. Likewise, our freedom to go wherever we wish and to congregate with one another has been taken from us—though we still gather en masse at the hardware, grocery, and general stores which have been deemed “essential” by the government. In many ways, the things being stripped from us are still present for us, they are simply not being granted in the expressions we favor, which is particularly why I sense much of the current happenings in our country is simply that which makes us uncomfortable.
This is not persecution—yet it is undoubtedly, in one sense, a revelation of our collective cowardice and the object of our true affections. The reason I say this is simply that when we come to a text like Matt. 6:24-34, we rationalize away any and all of its actual substance when we highlight just how careful and shrewd we have been when we favor safety and comfort over stepping out in faith. Many cannot stomach the notion that we cannot have two masters. Surely, we can have Christ and money too; we will say we have no love of money—that it can all be swept away in an instant and we would still praise Christ, and yet the moment the stock market tumbles and people go without work for a short period of time, we show our affections are still not singularly focused upon Christ. Theirs is a fear of losing; yet for those who haven’t made money their master, theirs is a fear of losing too.
Interestingly, a loss of life, comfort, clothing, food, job, etc., all find their roots in a love of money. One would think that these different ends of the spectrum would bear differing masters, yet our Lord relegates them both, in their fears and worries, to Mammon. Is yours a fear of what may be as a result of disease, famine, or perhaps a man-made threat? Christ says, “You cannot have two Lords” and relegates your fears and worries to a love of money. The simple reason for this is that all such things are bound up in a fear of losing one’s life, despite the reality that our Lord has promised that, “…whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). In seeking to save your life, you lose it, but in losing your life—that is, in giving your life in whole to the King—you gain your life. In a manner that flips conventional wisdom on its head, Christ promises life to the one who does not seek to save his own life.
The question as to how is resolved in Christ’s answer: seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (listed in the preceding verses) will be added to you (Matt. 6:33). In light of this promise, that is, in light of the promise that if you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, food, shelter, and clothing will all be provided to you, He then commands us not to worry about what tomorrow may bring (Matt. 6:28-32). And yet I have seen almost nothing but Christians worrying about what tomorrow may bring, and very few indeed who have been focusing first on seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness. This is much to our shame before an ever-watching world, as they see on one hand Christians condemning immoral behavior, yet on the other, chasing after the same exact things those who do not know God chase after, all the while fretting and thinking they can add a single hour to their lives even when they’ve been explicitly denied such a thing (Matt. 6:26).
The plain nature of this passage from our Lord reveals very simply that worrying about what may come is not for us to have. It is for those who do not know God. It is all they have, as they have no firm hope in all the world. They are the ones who may fear joblessness, death, men, and the like—all because they happily serve a master who dangles such prizes before their eyes continuously. These are the things which bring them peace, comfort, joy, and all the rest they shall ever have. Yet for those in Christ, you are called to a higher and greater aim than they. What that very simply means is that your preoccupation—your singular focus—is to be much like Paul’s own, which is that you come to truly believe that your life is not your own, but Christ’s, and your death is a precious thing which unites you to Him in glory. Your peace, comfort, joy, and rest then should only be found in Christ and Christ alone.
If you find yourself in times of trouble worrying about what may or may not be, I am going to suggest to you, at the simplest level, you are trying to serve another master whilst serving Christ. These things cannot be. It is either one or the other. There is no room in your heart which Christ leaves for a fondness of any other master. You cannot love both God and Mammon, and therefore, you must treasure Christ. Yet do not stop here; remember His Word of promise to you: if you seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, all these things which the world frets over, will be added to you. He shall care for you, dear child. He shall not leave you nor forsake you. Shall you not likewise say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego against all things that, “…we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:16-20). Is not the principle of His providence and care enough for you to take great comfort in, and be rid of all fear? If it is not, might I simply suggest that you turn off the news and pick up your Bibles, and just highlight every occurrence of the word “fear” or its variants? For my theologically Reformed brethren who still find every reason to hold up fear as wisdom: will you not show people the richness of the theology you profess to hold?