Will God feed and clothe those who strive for his kingdom?

Posted on Feb.27, 2011. Filed in Matthew, 2 Corinthians. Average rating: 1.0 / 10 (Rate It).

In a famous passage in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we ought not to worry about food or clothing. But this doesn’t seem to be borne out by Paul’s experience.Jesus tells us that as God provides for the birds and the lilies, and we are much more important than they, he will therefore also provide for us:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clother like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [Matthew 6: 25-33, NRSV]

In closing, Jesus says clearly that if we strive for the kingdom of God then God will feed and clothe us.

The apostle Paul certainly seems to be someone who strived for the kingdom of God. In 2 Corinthians, he reluctantly compares himself with other Christian leaders, listing the sufferings that he has endured in labouring as a minister of Christ:

“Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman–I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters…” [2 Corinthians 11:23-26, NRSV]

What Paul endured in God’s service is certainly impressive. If that doesn’t count as striving for God’s kingdom, then it’s unclear what would. Yet Paul goes on to say that God did not feed and clothe him:

“… in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” [2 Corinthians 11:27, NRSV]

So although Jesus says that God will feed and clothe those who strive for his kingdom, Paul, who strived for God’s kingdom, says that he often went unfed and naked. Who was wrong, Jesus or Paul?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    One thing that cannot have escaped the notice of Jesus’ listeners is that sparrows routinely die of hunger and lilies routinely do not blossom (blight, frost, wind etc. nip them in the bud). Even in Jesus’ time, the sparrows and lilies suffered these failures at a much higher rate than men did.

    Notice also that one often can add to one’s life by taking care. To use a anachronistic example, looking both ways before you cross the street will extend your life. I’m sure that Jesus’ listeners would also have been able to come up with a thousand similar examples where ordinary caution extends life.

    Given this common knowledge, it seems obvious that Christ was not condemning garden-variety caution. Nor was He proclaiming a kind of Divine welfare program. If that were it, He would be making a ridiculous point that no one would take seriously (nor should they).

    Jesus’ point in this passage is show that we are not too small to merit God’s regard and care (as many people commonly think). This has both a positive side and a negative side. The negative side is that we are not too small for God to care what we do. Since we are all sinful, that’s bad news. But we are also not too small for God to love. We shouldn’t be anxious about the things that are in God’s control as if He were not paying attention to them.

    So what does “these things” refer to when Christ says “all these things will be added to you”? All the food and clothing we want? No, that’s the divine welfare program reading of the passage (the reading that no one would ever take seriously). If you look earlier in chapter 6, you see Christ emphasizing the importance of rewards and treasures in heaven. I see no reason not to read “these things” as referring to that: rewards and treasures in heaven from a God who is not too limited to care and provide for even the smallest of His creatures.

  2. 2

    God only gives enough provision to stop you renouncing his name. That means, someone like Paul who had a strong will and great faith, would probably go through more extremes then someone with less faith. This is not because God wants to test the Christian and see how far He can push them, but because the purpose is to grow as a person, in faith. If one is given all their needs, they won’t have a need for God.

    God has a way of providing enough at the last moment (notice Paul has survived all his troubles and is even boasting about it). This is so one learns to trust him who ‘will’ provide ‘enough’ but is not there for your comfort.

  3. 3

    Just an observation that Jesus himself was naked, hungry and thirsty on the cross. Luke 23:24. In both Jesus and Paul’s case they were hungry, thirsty and naked because they were being persecuted for righteousness sake. I don’t think Jesus’ point had to do so much with being clothed, well fed and hydrated 24/7 as it does to not letting our lives be consumed with worry regarding these things.

  4. 4

    In Romans 5:1-5 we read about some of the benefits of suffering.

    “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

    The point Jesus was making in Matthew 6 is that worrying about food or clothing equals not trusting God. God wants us to trust Him with our whole heart.

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