Jesus teaching his disciples, James Tissot, c. 1890

Man worryingAfter instructing his followers to “store treasures in heaven”, Jesus told his disciples,

“Do not worry about what you will eat and drink or about what you will wear. Life is more than food and water and your body is more than just clothes. Look at the birds in the sky. They do not plant food and store it away in barns and yet, God feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than a bird? Can worry add one single hour to your life?

Why do you worry about clothes? See the flowers in the field – they do not labor or spin. But even Solomon’s splendid clothes did not match their beauty. If that is how God dresses the grass in the field, which is here today and tomorrow plucked and thrown into the fire as fuel, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?

So do not worry about what you will eat, what you will drink, or what you will wear. Pagans run after all of these things but God knows that you need them. First seek his kingdom and all these things will be given to you as well.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

What the story means to us today

A collection of history’s most well-known quotes are still applicable today

Some of Jesus’ most well-known quotes came from this single lesson. Phrases such as “Oh you of little faith”, “Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself”, and “Can worrying add one single minute to your life” are not only poetic, but are especially applicable to modern-day man living in a hectic and oft-troubled world.

Worrying is like paying a debt you do not owe

A Christian should be characterized by his righteous actions, not by an attitude of worry, fretting about what may happen tomorrow. You should not allow anxious and distracting thoughts which effectively, show distrust in God.

Worry is waste of valuable time (see “fight or flight” exceptions below). Mark Twain once said, “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe”. Worry should not be a focus in our life and instead, we should set our minds only in a direction that benefits God.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Is Jesus saying we should not work to satisfy our basic needs?

Jesus’ instruction to not worry followed Jesus’ previous comments regarding “the love of money”, storing treasures in heaven, and the “darkened eye” that results from an easy-to-slip-into focus on material success (from the delusional belief that wealth banishes all anxiety). Jesus’ comments on the accumulation of wealth leads to the obvious question, “But how do we find the courage to abandon our quest for riches and focus on righteousness instead?” The answer is simple: by focusing on being a better Christian and trusting God will take care of our needs and desires.

Hard work to support our well-being, lack of effort, and leading idle lives were clearly *not* the point of Jesus’ lesson. Jesus did not say the birds did not work to get their food. He stated that they did not direct their entire focus to accumulating food in a barn for future use but rather, survived by God’s good grace. In all of the examples he presented, he pointed out that worry and concern about the future are futile and serve no beneficial purpose in our lives.

What’s wrong with worrying?

In addition to health concerns (see the science behind the story below), worry pulls us in different directions. Worry undermines our productivity, concentration, and emotional state and causes us to misplace our priorities. In fact, the original Greek word translated to “worry” literally means “take no thought” or “to be drawn in different directions”. If we are distracted by worry and concern, we not only lose our Christian focus, but we may be led to make bad decisions. Thus, we cannot allow worry to distract our hearts from God’s true objective for us.

King Solomon. The Imperial Crown Western Germany 2nd half of the 10th century The cross is an addition from the early 11th century; the arch dates from the reign of Emperor Conrad II (ruled 1024-1039); the red velvet cap is from the 18th century.Flowers more pompous than Solomon’s clothing

At the time, Jews considered Solomon to be the epitome of humanity, the “highest representative of human glory”. In the Jewish mind, Solomon was a great hero to the people. Thus, Jesus’ comparison of the beauty of flowers to Solomon’s clothes prompted a stronger reaction from the listeners than it does today.

The science and history behind the story

Science proves Jesus’ was right – the physical and mental effects of worrying

God’s message to us (through Jesus) regarding worry and stress was delivered long before humans knew the unhealthy impact of excessive worry. At one time thought of as normal (and occasionally required) part of life, the fast pace (and lack of long-term vision) so common in modern-day society has increased Man’s stress to unnatural levels, far beyond what is needed for a quick fight-or-flight response. Science has proven that stress, caused by worry, is extremely unhealthy.

  • Worry impacts the hippocampus, the area of your brain where memories are stored. In ancient times, this might have served a purpose for forgetting the cause of short-term spikes in stress levels (e.g. I’d like to forget the time I was out hunting and stumbled across that sleeping tiger) but in today’s environment, where massive amounts of information must be processed and retained under high levels of stress, it can severely impact a person’s wellbeing which of course, can lead to more undue levels of stress.
  • Worry impacts the hormones released by your thyroid glands which in turn, impairs your body’s digestive system. These same hormones boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides that are stored as fat which can lead to unhealthy weight gain.
  • Worry causes the levels of androgens in your body to spike and remain at higher-than-normal levels for a prolonged period of time. This is why some people break out (e.g. acne) when they are under stress (which of course, increases your chances of skin infections).
  • Worry causes a rise in heart rate and blood pressure which in turn allows the body to pump a higher level of hormones into the body. While good for a short-term fight-or-flight response, in the long term it causes muscles to contract leading to sore backs, necks, and other “tense” body parts.
  • Finally, worry can cause nervous ticks, hair loss, premature coronary artery disease, heart attack, suppression of the immune system, and a host of detrimental effects on our bodies. In short, it is best to consider worry a “bad habit” and seek to shirk that habit as quickly as possible.

Flowers as combustion in a fire

Jesus mentions the temporariness of flowers that are beautiful today but thrown into the fire tomorrow. In ancient times, almost every kind of combustible material was used for fuel to heat homes and cooking ovens – herbs, grass, wood, charcoal, shrubs, thorn bushes, weeds, vines, tree trimmings, animal and human dung, and even the bloodstained clothing of fallen warriors. All of these are mentioned in the Bible as sources of fuel.

Notes on Biblical translation

Add an hour, day, or inch to your life

Most scholars interpret the verse to say “can worrying add a single hour to your life?” Others however, may interpret the timespan mentioned (i.e. hour) to equate to a 24-hour day. Still others (occasionally) interpret the measure given as a cubit, inch, or foot causing the verse to read “can worrying add a single inch to your height?” With this type of interpretation, something akin to “can worrying extend your life’s journey by even an inch?” or “can worrying even add an inch to your life?” would be more suitable.

To further complicate the discussion, the subject also offers two interpretations. Some have suggested that the duration of life is not the subject but rather the nature of the body. Both translations are valid but the context greatly favors “duration of life”.  Obviously, regardless of the translation, the analogies are the same and the point, that worrying adds nothing to your life span, is equally taken.

See the “flowers” in the field – poppy, gladiolus, or daisy?

Yellow and red Lilly flowerThe original translation mentions a specific species of flower. Since that specific flower type cannot be accurately interpreted by a written word alone, the generic “flowers” is often used in the translation. Flower species proposed to fill this verse include lilies, anemone, poppy, gladiolus, and a type of native daisy flower.

Lilies are mentioned several times throughout the Bible and often used as the word for “flowers”. In the promise land, the lily was described as being a robust purple or bright yellow flower with a three-foot stem “and of a dark red color, the flower forming a crown which is surmounted by a tuft of leaves”.

“Thought” or “worry”?

Many older translations use “thought” for “worry” which may seem unusual to modern readers. Thought had quite a different meaning in ancient times. In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote “the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” and Henry VII died “with thought and anguish”.  The word today has entirely lost its original meaning which at one time, portrayed anxiety and solicitude. Still, even today we may hear “don’t give it a thought” to mean “don’t worry”.

Bible Text

NIV

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The Message

25–26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

27–29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

30–33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Man worryingPeterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

The NET Bible

6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 6:26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 6:27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 6:28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 6:29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 6:30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 6:31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 6:32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 6:33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 6:34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

King James Version

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database