Two Kinds of Ambition
Passage: Matthew 6:25–6:34
My name is Weyland Glenn, and I have the privilege of serving as Pastor of Discipleship. I have the honor of continuing our preaching through the Sermon on the Mount this morning.
As Afshin asked me to preach, of course, I was excited, and jumped at the moment, and then of course, the inner Paul Glenn in me (that's my father) -- cheesiness came out. I said, of course I'd preach, but I'm extremely anxious about preaching.
And so, with all seriousness, I'm grateful to be here opening God's word with you today. I've been praying eagerly that the Lord would speak in and through His word to us on this very challenging topic -- a topic that's challenging because it's close to home for all of us. We all struggle with anxiety. We all wrestle and battle with doubt. And it's an issue that often does not get the attention it deserves.
And for most of us, we have to endure. And there are typically three things we do, those of us who struggle with anxiety. We usually put into three different categories.
First, we marginalize it. We try to say that it's no big deal; we try to make light of it. For some of us, we ignore it. We do our best to sweep it under the rug; pretend that I'm not anxious, that it's not real.
And for others of us, we've just become so accustomed to it that we don't even recognize its existence any more. We're just anxious people.
And none of these are healthy responses, to be anxious. And I have to confess, as I was reading this text, and preparing for this morning, that I was reminded of how easy it is to approach familiar scripture passages with an apathetic mentality. We open our word, and we read, and we come and hear a sermon, and it's familiar, and we're like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard that." But what a great disservice to God's word, as we minimize the weightiness of the text.
And that's what we have today. We have a familiar text that has tremendous weight to it. And my prayer has been that our eyes and ears would be opened to see and hear God's word afresh and anew today. Because this is not an easy passage to handle. It's not for the faint of heart.
So let's jump in and read Matthew 6:25-34. You're welcome to follow along.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 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? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 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 you of little faith? 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 after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
This is the Word of the Lord.
And so, as you need to approach every passage of scripture as part of a whole, and not as an isolated incident, that's what we need to do here. The context, obviously, of this passage, is that it is part of a grander teaching by Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount. We've been walking through this for several months now. And last week we looked at a text about two kinds of treasure. And in that text, we answered the question about identity, and the source of your worth -- your value.
And so this week is very closely linked to that. We'll be identifying the object of our ambition. Last week we were identifying the source of our worth, or our value. And today we're going to be identifying the object of our ambition.
And as you read this text, there may seem to be a lot of moving parts and pieces, but when you boil it down and eliminate the analogies and Jesus' repetition, what you have is one central point that Jesus is trying to address. And that is that Jesus is challenging our unbelief. He's challenging our unbelief.
You may be thinking, how did we make the leap from an anxiety issue to one about unbelief? Well, unbelief is disguised in the form of subtle, everyday worry, fear, and doubt. Anxiety is an intense desire for something, accompanied by a fear of not receiving it.
We know this to be true because we're all worshipers. And there's only two objects of our worship. You may think, man, there's a lot of things I can be anxious about. There's a lot of things I can pursue, that I can worship. But it boils down to two: You can worship God or you can worship self; you can worship man. Your worship, your ambition, will be in pursuit of one of those two objects.
So we're going to see how verses 32 and 33 really shape this entire passage. So look back at verses 32 and 33. Again it says this:
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
The key word there in both verses is to "seek." He addresses both groups of people with the same word, seek. He says that the Gentiles seek after these things. Remember, the Gentiles represent those that do not know God. He says that they are seekers. And then he says, Christ-followers are seekers as well. And so as seekers, we are eagerly desiring something. And what you strongly desire, you worship. We saw this at the beginning of time, with Adam and Eve. They had intimacy with the Father and with one another. Yet they chose to worship self. And in doing so, it spread sin to all of us.
And so each of us, apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ in our life, are self-worshipers. Our ambition, our desire, our pursuits, are oftentimes worldly, and they are evidences of our unbelief in God. My hope today is to highlight two main points. Point one is in response to verse 32, what it looks like to seek after all these things, as the Gentiles do; and point two is from verse 33, what it means to seek after the kingdom of God. We've got a worldly ambition.
And so, let's jump in to point one, a worldly ambition. According to this passage, there are some common characteristics that are shaped by people who are pursuing worldly ambition. The first is this: Those who are pursuing worldly ambitions, what it reveals is an unbelief in God's care for them; for us. Guys, when we are running after worldly ambition, it is communicating that we do not believe completely that God cares for us. We live in a day and age that's rocked with suffering and hardship. And I know that most of us in this room are doing our best to live good lives, to work hard, to lead our families well, to love unconditionally. But the belief that God cares can easily be clouded by your current circumstances, by your hardship, by your suffering.
If you feel that way, you're not alone. But it does not diminish the reality that God does care. And Jesus addresses this head-on. We're going to look at verses 26-30 where Jesus is unpacking this. Let me read this again:
26 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? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 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 you of little faith?
Jesus is using two examples to make a single point. He says, "Look at the birds. Consider the lilies." Why would He choose these two words, Look and Consider? You see, one of the main problems with anxiety is that it causes a life of unrest, a life of chaos. It causes a life full of distraction. We feel lost, out of control.
But the reality is that those of you who have put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation are sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace. But when you look at your life, you say, "My life doesn't look peaceful. Why not?" It's because our anxiety evidences our unbelief that God is who He says He is, and that God will do what He says He will do. Your anxiety is confessing something like this: "I'm not sure that God will take care of my needs.
You see, part of the problem with this is that we forget that needs and wants are not the same. What we will see is that God will supply all our needs. But when you start taking wants and defining them as needs, and you don't see those things coming to fruition, then you'll be quick to blame God and say, "You are not providing for my needs." That's not a God problem; that's a YOU problem. We're going to see over and over that God will supply for our needs.
So, men and women, we must remember that before we were called sons and daughters, scripture tells us hat we were children of wrath, and we were at enmity with God. But God, through Christ, restored peace in our lives. And so, you've entrusted yourself to God for the forgiveness of your sins, so therefore I tell you that you can trust Him with every detail of your life.
And so Jesus says, Look; consider. In modern terms, Jesus is saying, "Hey, wake up and smell the roses. Look around and you will see the evidences of God's care all throughout creation. Remember what Paul tells us in Romans 1:20? He says, "For His invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world."
But we must stop long enough and look around. And in so doing, we will be reminded that God does care. So not only does He tell us to stop and look, but that we must also recognize that God values us. In these two verses, He uses two objects to make His point. He talks about birds and he talks about lilies. And both of these are things that man would consider to be lesser in value. And He does so in order to show God's deep care for all of creation. He says that even the birds and the lilies are cared for by God. And so He poses this question: He says, "Are you not of more value than they?"
Listen to how Martin Luther describes this text. He says that “He is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the gospel, a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men.”
The point Jesus is making here is that God cares for all created things, and even those things that do not possess the ability to know God. So how much more, men and women, you and I, who have the ability to know God, does He care for us. He wants us to know Him and worship Him.
And so He concludes this section in verse 30 with a comment, that wasn't edifying, that we wouldn't have found very jovial. He says, "Oh, you of little faith." Did you know that anxiety is evidence of a deficiency of your faith? Your anxiety is evidence of a deficiency of your faith.
Now let me clarify what Jesus is not saying. He's not saying that it's an absence of faith. But He's saying that it's a deficiency in your faith. It's similar to what we saw in Mark 9 where the man pleads with Jesus to heal his son. And he says, "I believe; help my unbelief." Help my unbelief. So again, Jesus is not saying that it's a lack of faith entirely, but that your faith is deficient with regards to trusting God for all things. He's telling us that when your worldly pursuits, the anxieties of what you will eat, what you will drink, and what you will wear, supersede your kingdom ambitions, you're essentially failing to trust God. These are hard realities for us to face; these are hard truths for us to hear. Your faith, at this point, is no longer directed toward God, but instead it is turned inward on self. It's turned inward on self.
Listen to how this New Testament scholar, Michael Green, addresses anxiety. He says it very bluntly. Think about what he's saying. He says, "Worry is practical atheism, and an affront to God." Worry is practical atheism. That seems really strong! Worry is practical atheism, and an affront to God. Our anxiety says that we are struggling at best to believe that God cares for me and that He will meet all my needs. That's what our worry is communicating. Just because you worry -- we all struggle with worry -- just because you worry does not mean that you don't believe in God. But it does communicate that you don't believe in the full promises of God.
And this leads us to our second point: That worldly ambition reveals our lack of trust in God's purposes. Jump up now to verse 25, where this section starts:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Jesus' question, "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" is a question about eternal purpose and perspective. It's a rhetorical question that should cause us to stop and consider; to think beyond our present circumstances. Guys, our present circumstances so easily cloud our ability to see reality. And sometimes we need to be jolted out of that by a very direct question that causes us maybe to feel attacked -- to get our attention, and to consider.
And so that's what Jesus' question is doing here. He's saying, Did you forget what you were created for? Most of us often do forget what we were created for. Genesis 1 tells us that we were created in the image of God -- we were image-bearers. That is a HUGE blessing. Ephesians 2 tells us that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works -- good works which God prepared for us in advance. 1 Corinthians 6 tells us that our life is not our own; it has been bought with a price. And Galatians 2 tells us that we have been crucified with Christ; therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
But how often do you stop and consider these truths of your existence? This is not some kind of hot yoga exercise I'm asking you to partake in, of becoming one with your inner self. No, this is a call to meditate on the truths of God -- what has He called you to? How does He define your existence? For what purposes has He created you?
You are of tremendous value to God. We can't make light of that. Often we want to sulk in our sin and be reminded that Woe is me, and I wish I was better at this or that, or spent more time praying, or I wish I was willing to stand up more at work. We have all these negative views of ourselves.
But what we need to remember is that God values us. He has created us for a purpose. He has created us to know Him. Do you know the Father? Do you serve the Father? We are all called to a righteous call of kingdom ambition. But what is easily lost in translation is that a worldly ambition flies in the face of these truths. Instead of living my life for the glory of God, I live my life in a manner that is worried about my self-interests. You know what that's called? That's called idolatry. None of us want to be idolaters. But that's what it is when we live life for ourselves, when we're consumed about our worries and wants. That's self-worship; that's idolatry. And Jesus says, For the Gentiles seek after all these things.
Did you know that the primary cause of anxiety is pride? You may be thinking, That's not true, Weyland. You're quick to say, I'm not prideful. I don't even want to be anxious. But Jesus says in verse 27, which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? This notion of control, being able to add or take away from life, is rooted in pride. This is the same lie that Satan fed Adam and Eve as he undercut the authority of God's goodness by saying, Hey, God is withholding from you; there's more that you could have; this is how you get it. And the thought of being able to have control over your life is arrogant and prideful.
Peter hits on this similar topic in a very familiar section, 1 Peter 5:6-7:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."
Peter is addressing men and women who love Jesus, who have been scattered by persecution all across the region. And these men and women are living among pagans who despise Yaweh, their God. They are strangers and exiles in foreign lands. Yet in the midst of their hardship, in the midst of their suffering, he reminds them, be humble. Too, he reminds them to unshackle themselves from prideful worry. Why? Because God cares for them, and because God will exalt them in His timing. Worry is a form of pride because it involves taking concerns upon oneself instead of entrusting them to God.
How many concerns and worries do you carry around each and every day that are not yours to be carried? Peter is saying, Hey, humble yourself. Think less of yourself and more of God. Everybody knows the story of Mary and Martha. Luke 10 has an account. Both of these women had a tremendous opportunity to dine with Christ. And each of them handled the opportunity completely differently. So let me just paraphrase Luke 10:
But Mary recognized the opportunity she had, and took full advantage of it. As Jesus came into their home, she sat at His feet and listened. Martha, on the other hand, distracted herself with busy work. Things of value? Yes, but not things of most value.
See, my bet is, and I'm just projecting myself because this is me, but my bet is that many of us in this room are Marthas. Our natural inclination is to pursue good things. And we're serving, and we're caring, and we're doing good things. But oftentimes, good things distract us from the better things. And that's what Martha was doing. She was doing many good things; but Mary chose that which was necessary: To sit at the feet of her Lord Jesus, and listen. Mary had a kingdom ambition. And this is what Jesus is calling all His sons and daughters to do.
Let's turn our attention to our second point of kingdom ambition, in verse 33. It says,
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
The first thing we see about a kingdom ambition is that it prioritizes the kingdom of God above everything else. And this kingdom language may not really resonate with you or me because it's been a really long time since we've sat in a lecture on world history, or watched the great movie, Braveheart. But for the audience that Jesus was addressing, this kingdom language was very common to them.
I won't bore you today with an exposition on biblical or worldly kingdoms, but for our purpose today I want you to think of kingdom in two categories. The first is a kingdom of God's general sovereignty. This is a kingdom in which God rules and reigns over all created things, and all history -- past, present, and future. This is a kingdom that recognizes that before God there was nothing, and there will be nothing apart from God. This is His sovereign rule over all things.
The second kingdom category is a specific reign. And it's the specific reign of Jesus Christ over His people -- kingdom people. And His people are composed of those people who have humbled themselves before God, who have repented of their sins, who believe that Christ alone is the one that has, and can, pay for the punishment of their sins, and have submitted their lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ. This kingdom is the kingdom that Jesus is talking about in verse 33. It is a kingdom that is ruled by Christ. And when Jesus tells us to seek first this kingdom, He's calling us to desire as of first importance the spread of His lordship. It's a calling to expand the kingdom of God through the proclamation of the gospel.
At the conclusion of this book, Matthew, He says, "Go and make disciples."
How do you make followers of Christ? By telling them about Christ. By proclaiming the Good News. This is kingdom work. And as participants in God's kingdom, we have all been called to this work. It is our responsibility to proclaim the name of Jesus, near and far.
So a kingdom ambition is one that longs to see those that are lost and far away from God, chasing after the things of this world, being brought near to God, through the proclamation of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Many of you in this room may be thinking, "Man, that's not me. I've never really felt passionate about that."
Or you may be thinking, "Man, I would love to do that, BUT . . ." Guys, you're not alone. All of us struggle to have a kingdom ambition. We all do. But if that's you in that category of, I just don't care, or I'm fearful, how do you become more kingdom ambitious? It starts with you. It's not until every area of your life, your home, your marriage, your work, your kids, your money, your self-image, your relationships -- it's not until all those things are joyfully and cheerfully submissive to Christ that you will begin to care about the needs of others, and especially the eternal condition of the lost.
Many of us do good things. But are they the best things? Many of us convince ourselves that I should care, and serve and love other people. But when push comes to shove, if it's your comfort that's at stake, you're gonna choose your comfort. That's worldly ambition. And it's not until you lay down all of yourself that you are genuinely and truly going to care about others. And most importantly, care about the salvation of the lost.
Secondly, a kingdom ambition seeks first His righteousness. Let's pause for minute here and recognize that the word "righteousness" can mean many things. But righteousness in the Bible has at least three aspects: A Legal, Moral, and Social.
Legal righteousness has to do with justification, or a right standing before God. And as followers of Christ, we have all been declared righteous. We all have right standing with God through the work of Christ.
A moral righteousness has to do with our character and conduct that's pleasing to God. And both of these apply to Christian communities, to followers of Christ.
But the third righteousness is a social righteousness. And because God is himself righteous, He desires righteousness in every human community, not just in Christian communities. And that means that those who have a kingdom ambition will uphold those things that are pleasing to God. We will uphold righteousness over unrighteousness. We will uphold justice over injustice. We will uphold freedom over oppression; love over hate, and peace over war.
So a disciple who is kingdom-focused is one who will proclaim the Good News of Jesus, and one who will care about upholding a righteousness that is pleasing to God -- knowing full well that if you are doing this, that you will separate yourself from the world. You will become the minority. And some of you will even be persecuted for righteousness' sake. The one promise I can leave you with, and it is a glorious promise, is this: The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Isn't this what we desire above all things anyway, to experience a deep-seated peace that's untouchable by life circumstances? What would you trade in for that? And this is the promise for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. And it is the lie for those who walk in worldly ambitions. Guys, the worldly ambitions that we so easily become engrossed in will never satisfy the longings of our souls. We will always be at a place of unrest.
And this is the case with all sin. It will always leave you wanting. Only a kingdom ambition can fulfill the deepest desires of your soul.
And so he closes. He says, Those who seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. God is continually reminding us that He is sovereign over all creation; that He is love; and that He cares tirelessly for us. That He knows our needs and will ultimately provide everything that we need. Our time of doubting God MUST cease. DO NOT be anxious, but delight yourself in the Lord. And He will give you the desires of your heart. Delight yourself in the Lord.
When you align yourself under the lordship of Christ, He will impute His desires into your heart. His desires become your desires. It's not that He's saying, "Hey, if you delight in Me, I'll fulfill your desires." No, He's saying, I will give you the better desires. Align yourself under the lordship of Christ, and His desires will become your desires. No longer will you be consumed with worldly ambition, but instead you will be consumed with a kingdom ambition.
A kingdom ambition is unlike any other kind of ambition. It's unlike any other pursuit. It is one that calls us to a higher standing and creates for us separation between us and the world. Therefore we cannot dabble in both kingdoms. We cannot pursue both worldly and kingdom ambitions. We must set our hearts on the things above, and run after them with abandon. Listen to what Paul tells the Philippians and tells Timothy. He says, "Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. And then he says, I fought the good fight; I've finished the race; I've kept the faith.
This is not a man who limps across the finish line. This is not a man who lives his life in pursuit of worldly ambition, and then towards the end of his life gives some lip service to kingdom ambitions. You know, Paul is one who's tasted the goodness of God, and has laid down all selfish ambitions, in order that he could have a singular focus -- a focus on the One who created, sustains, and provides all things.
If you were to give an honest assessment of yourself today, what camp do you most often find yourself in? Are you pursuing worldly ambitions, marked by worry and fear and control? Or are you pursuing kingdom ambitions marked by proclamation of God's word, the expansion of God's word, and upholding righteousness? There's only two camps; there's only two objects that you can worship. And you can't live in both.
And so first, to those who are struggling with the worldly ambitions: If this is you; if you are struggling to believe, then I plead with you to confess your unbelief to the Lord, and to another brother or sister in Christ. Confess your unbelief and ask God to help you with your unbelief. And ask your brother or sister to walk with you in your unbelief.
And if you are one that's running after the kingdom of God, I would commend you to continually fight the good fight, and to never let your guard down. Because we have an enemy that is after us. We have an enemy that despises those who are kingdom ambitious. And he wants nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy.
There is a great hope in scripture. For we are sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace. And my prayer is that I would walk daily in a sense of peace that's untouchable by life circumstances, and that's my prayer for you as well. Let's pray.
Gracious God, we love You, and we thank You for allowing us, sinful man, to experience Your grace and Your peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding, Father. For most times in life, it's very confusing. It's hard for us to recognize what You're doing and why You're doing it. But Lord God, You do not promise us answers; You promise us peace. And I pray, Lord God, that Your peace would come heavy upon us, and that in Your peace we would experience tremendous rest, and freedom from anxiety. God, You are trustworthy. And Lord God, I confess for myself and for others in this room that we struggle with unbelief. Lord God, help me believe. It is in and through Christ alone that we have access to the Father, in whose Name we pray, Amen.