Increasing Faith by Martyn Lloyd Jones
“Therefore do not worry, saying. ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
HERE, in verses 31—33 above, our Lord presents us with the positive approach towards ‘little faith’. It is not sufficient that we should realize what it means; the great thing is to have a larger and a bigger faith. He introduces His teaching with His word ‘therefore’; it follows on immediately, it is a link in a chain. ‘Therefore’, He says, ‘in the light of all this’, ‘Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ That is a repetition of the fundamental injunction. There are those who would have us believe that the addition of the word ‘saying’ means that there is a slight alteration. In the first place, you remember, He said, ‘Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought’; here, they point out, He says, ‘Therefore take no thought, saying’.
I do not think that it is a material difference. There is no objection to the argument that there is a difference, that in the first instance our Lord was giving a general warning against the tendency to worry, but that here He goes a step further and says, in effect, ‘You must not even say these things; you may think them, but you must not say them.’ Whether that is so or not is immaterial because the point still remains the same. Our Lord, shows us here the positive way to increase our faith, and again He puts it in the form of an argument. Let us remind ourselves that His method is always very logical. He does not merely make statements and pronouncements; He reasons them out with us. What marvellous condescension!Look at that word ‘for’. ‘For after all these things. . .‘; ‘for your heavenly Father knoweth…’; and so on. All we have to do, therefore, is to follow His argument. At this point we observe that three main points are put for our consideration, three main principles which, if we grasp and understand them, will inevitably lead to a greater faith. The way in which our Lord handles this subject is truly remarkable.
His essential argument is that we, as Christians, are to be different from the Gentiles. That is how He starts. You notice that He puts this statement in brackets as it were: ‘For after all these things do the Gentiles seek.’ But what a powerful statement it is, and how important! Though negative in form, it leads to a very positive result. If you want to increase your faith, the first thing you have to realize is that to be worried and anxious about food, and drink, and clothing, and your life in this world is, in a sense, to be just like the Gentiles.
What does He mean by this? The word ‘Gentile’, of course, really means ‘heathen’. The Jews were God’s chosen people. It was they who had the oracles of God and the special knowledge of God; the others were described as heathen. So we must analyse this word and realize exactly what He means. The statement is that if I am guilty of being worried and anxious about these matters of food and drink and clothing, and about my life in this world, and certain things which I lack—if these dominate me and my life, then I am really living and behaving as a heathen. But let us try to discover the real significance of that.
The heathen were people who had no revelation from God, and who therefore had no knowledge of God. That is the great point made in the Old Testament, that is the thing that differentiated the children of Israel from all others. Paul says in his argument concerning this matter in Romans 3:2 that ‘unto them were committed the oracles of God’. God made a special revelation of Himself to the Jews not only in the call of Abraham and other individual instances, but supremely in the giving of the law and the great teaching of the prophets. The heathen knew nothing about that; they had not had this special revelation, nor did they have a knowledge of God. They did not have the Old Testament Scriptures and they were, therefore, without the means of knowing Him. That is the essential point about the heathen, they know nothing about God in a real sense, they are ‘without God in the world’.
We can, of course, go further in this connection and say that the heathen know nothing about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and know nothing about God’s way of salvation. They are entirely ignorant of the view of life which is taught in the Bible. They do not know that ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ They know nothing about the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’, or about the various pledges that God has given to His own people in this world. The heathen know nothing about that, and have not received it. They are in real darkness about life in this world and how it is to be lived and about their eternal destiny. Their view of life is entirely limited by their own thoughts, and they lack this light that is given from above.
We must not stay with this, but the heathen who hold this pagan view of life generally view the things that happen to us in one of two main ways. There are those amongst them who believe that everything in this life is accidental. That view is sometimes known as the ‘theory of contingency’ which teaches that things happen without rhyme or reason, and that you never know what is going to happen next. That, for instance, is the view of life in this world that is held, and is being taught and given considerable prominence at the present time by men like Dr. Julian Huxley, to whom everything is accidental and contingent. There is, they say, no purpose whatsoever in life. There is no design, order or arrangement; the whole thing is fortuitous. It is a very old view. There is nothing new about it, and there are no people in the world today who are more pathetic than those who imagine that to hold such a view is the hallmark of modernity. Half the heathen take that view of life and it is obviously going to affect in a profound sense their whole attitude towards everything that happens.
The other view, commonly called ‘fatalism’, is the extreme opposite of that. It teaches that what is to be will be. It does not matter what you may do or say, it is going to happen. ‘What is to be will be.’ Therefore it is utter folly to strive or make any effort. You just go on and trust that things will not go too badly with you, and that somehow or another you will have a fairly easy passage through this world. Fatalism teaches that you can do nothing about life, that there are powers and factors controlling you inexorably, and holding you in the grip of a rigid determinism. So there is no purpose in thought, still less in worry. But fatalism leads to worry all the same, because such people are always worrying as to what is going to happen next. ‘Contingency’ and ‘fatalism’, then, are the two main expressions of the heathen view of life.
It is important for us to bear those two views in mind because Christian people often hold one or other of them unconsciously. The Christian view, on the other hand, the one taught in the Bible, and especially at this particular point in the Sermon on the Mount, is what can be described as the doctrine of ‘certainty’. Life, it says, is not controlled by blind necessity, but certain things are certain because we are in the hands of the living God. So, if you are a Christian, you put that doctrine of certainty over against the theories of contingency and fatalism. There is a great difference between these views—the Christian view and the pagan; and what our Lord is saying is that, if you are living a life full of anxiety and worry, you are virtually spiritually dead and taking the pagan view of life.
It follows of necessity that if that is our fundamental view of life in this world, it is going to determine our way of living, and to control our whole behaviour. ‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’ You can always tell what a man’s philosophy of life is by the way in which he lives and by the way he reacts to the things that are happening round about him. That is why a time of crisis always sifts people. We always betray exactly where we stand by what we say. You remember our Lord said on one occasion that we shall be judged by every idle word we utter (see Matthew 12:36). We proclaim a great deal about ourselves as Christians by our ordinary remarks and by our ordinary comments about life. Our view of life comes out in our every expression.
Moreover, if a man has a pagan view of life in this world, he will also have a pagan view of life in the next world. The pagan view of that life is that it is a realm of shadows. You will find that in Greek and other pagan mythologies. Everything is uncertain. If a man, therefore, has that view, this world is going to be everything to him and he is going to make the best of this life because it is the only life about which he has any knowledge. Furthermore, he is either trying to anticipate contingency, or else he is trying somehow to elude this fatalism that is gripping him. What he does is this. He says, Here I am at this moment; I am going to get the most out of this because I do not know what is going to happen next. Therefore his philosophy is ‘Let us eat, drink, and be merry’: let us live for the hour. I have this hour, let me extract out of it everything that I can.
That is what we are seeing all around us; that is the way in which the majority of people seem to be living today. They argue that, since you do not know what is going to happen next month or next year, the essence of wisdom is to say, ‘Well; let’s spend all we have; let’s get the maximum pleasure out of life now.’ Thus they are quite negligent of consequences and quite heedless about their eternal destiny. Our Lord sums it all up by putting it like this, ‘For after all these things do the Gentiles (the heathen, the pagans) seek.’ And this word ‘seek’ is a very strong one. It means that they seek earnestly, that they are continually seeking these things, that they really live for them. Let us say this about them. They are perfectly consistent; if that is their view of life, then they are doing the right thing. They live for these things, they seek them earnestly and continually.
From all this, however, arises the vital and important question. Are we like that? If these things are first in our lives, says our Lord, and if they monopolize our lives and our thinking, then we are nothing better than the heathen, we are worldlings with worldly minds. This word comes to us with terrible power and significance. There are so many people who can be described as spiritual worldlings. If you talk to them about salvation they have the correct view; but if you talk to them about life in general they are worldlings. When it is a matter of the salvation of the soul they have the correct answer; but if you listen to their ordinary conversation about life in this world you will discover a heathen philosophy. They are worried about food and drink; they are always talking about wealth and position and their various possessions. These things really control them. They are made happy or unhappy by them; they are put out by them or pleased by them; and they are always thinking and talking about them. That is to be like the heathen, says Christ; for the Christian should not be controlled by these things. Whatever may be his position with respect to them, he is not finally to be controlled by them. He should really not be made unhappy or happy by these things, because that is the typical condition of the heathen, who is dominated by them in his whole outlook upon life and in his living in this world.
This is a very good way, therefore, of increasing our faith and of introducing ourselves to the biblical conception of the life of faith. God’s people, God’s children in this world, are meant to live the life of faith; they are meant to live in the light of that faith which they profess. I suggest, therefore, that there are certain questions which we should always be putting to ourselves. Here are some of them. Do I face the things that happen to me in this world as the Gentiles do? When these things happen to me, when there seem to be difficulties about food, or drink, or clothing, or difficulties in some relationship in life, how do I face them? How do I react? Is my reaction just that of the heathen, and of people who do not pretend to be Christian? How do I react during a war? How do I react to illness and pestilence and loss? It is a very good question to ask.
But let us go further. Does my Christian faith affect my view of life and control it in all matters? I claim to be Christian, and hold the Christian faith; the question I now ask myself is, Does that Christian faith of mine affect my whole detailed view of life? Is it always determining my reaction and my response to the particular things that happen? Or, we can put it like this. Is it clear and obvious to myself and to everybody else that my whole approach to life, my essential view of life in general and in particular, is altogether different from that of the non-Christian? It should be. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. They describe people who are altogether different from all others, as different as light from darkness, as different as salt from putrefaction. If, then, we are different essentially, we must be different in our view of, and in our reaction to, everything. I know of no better question that a man can ask himself in every circumstance in life than that. When something happens to upset you, do you ask, ‘Is my reaction essentially different from what it would be if I were not a Christian?’ Let us remind ourselves of the teaching we have already considered at the end of the fifth chapter of this Gospel. You remember that our Lord put it like this: ‘If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?’ That is it. The Christian is a man who does ‘more than others’. He is a man who is absolutely different. And if in every detail of his life this Christianity of his does not come in, he is a very poor Christian, he is a man ‘of little faith’.
Or, let us put it in a final question like this: Do I always place everything in my life, and everything that happens to me, in the context of my Christian faith, and then look at it in the light of that context? The heathen cannot do that. The heathen has not got the Christian faith. He does not believe in God, or know anything about Him; he has not this revelation of God as his Father and himself as His child. He does not know anything about God’s gracious purposes so, poor man, he turns in upon himself and reacts automatically and instinctively to what happens. But what really proves that we are Christians is that, when these things come to us, or happen to us, we do not see them just as they are; as Christians we take them and put them immediately into the context of the whole of our faith and then look at them again.
We ended the last chapter by describing faith as being essentially active. Our Lord asked His disciples, ‘Where is your faith? Why are you not applying it?’ This time we can put it the other way round. Something happens to us that tend to upset us. The heathen in the natural man makes him lose his temper, or become hurt and sensitive. But the Christian stops and says, ‘Wait a minute. I am going to take this thing and put it into the context of everything I know and believe about God and my relationship to Him’. Then he looks at it again. Then he begins to understand what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews means when he says, ‘whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth’. Because the Christian knows that, he is able to enjoy it, in a sense, even while it is happening, because he puts it into the context of his faith. He is the only man who can do that; the heathen cannot do it, he is incapable of it. So we ask that general question. Is it evident to me and to everybody else that I am not a heathen? Is my conduct and my behaviour in life such that it shows I am a Christian? Do I show plainly and dearly that I belong to a higher realm, and that I can raise everything about me to that realm? ‘After all these things do the Gentiles seek,’ says our Lord. But you are not Gentiles. Realize what you are; remember who you are and live accordingly. Rise to the level of your faith; be worthy of your high calling in Christ Jesus. Christian people, watch your lips, watch your tongues. We betray ourselves in our conversation, in the things we say, in the things that come out in our unguarded moments. Such behaviour is typical of the heathen; the Christian exercises discipline and control because he sees everything in the context of God and of eternity.
The second argument is really a repetition of that which our Lord has already pressed upon us several times. He does not rush these things. He says, ‘For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things’. He has already been telling us this in the argument about the birds and the lilies of the field. But He knows us; He knows how prone we are to forget things. So He says it again: ‘Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things’. We can put it in this form. The second principle by which you can increase and enlarge your faith is that, as a Christian, you should have implicit faith in and reliance upon God as your heavenly Father. We have already considered it, so we need only summarize it here. It means something like this. Nothing can happen to us apart from God. He knows all about us. If it is true to say that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, then we must remember that we are never in any position or situation outside God’s knowledge or care. He knows it much better than we do ourselves. This is the argument of our blessed Lord Himself: ‘Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.’ There is no more blessed statement in the whole of Scripture than that. You will never be anywhere but that He sees you; there will never be anything in the depths of your heart, in the innermost recesses of your being but that He knows all about it. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews puts this same truth in a different connection: ‘All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do’ (4:13). He is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. He says that in order to warn those Hebrew Christians. We must remember that we are not only to live in the fear of the Lord, but we are to live in the comfort and the knowledge of God. He not only sees what is happening to you when you are taken ill. He not only knows when you are suffering bereavement and sorrow, He knows every pang of the heart. He knows every heartache. He knows everything; there is nothing outside His omniscience. He knows all about us in every respect and He therefore knows our every need. From that our Lord draws this deduction. You need never be anxious, you must never be worried. God is with you in this state, you are not alone, and He is your Father. Even an earthly father does this in a measure. He is with his child, protecting, doing everything he can for him. Multiply that by infinity, and that is what God is doing with respect to you, whatever your circumstance.
If we were but to grasp this, it would surely cause worry and strain and anxiety to be banished once and for ever. Never allow yourself for a moment to think that you are left to yourself. You are not. You and I must learn to say what our Lord Himself said under the very shadow of the cross; ‘The hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered. . . and shall leave me alone:
and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.’ And that is His promise to us also: ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’. But above all else rely upon this, that He knows everything about us, every circumstance, every need, every wound; and therefore we can rest quietly and confidently in that blessed and most glorious assurance.
That, in turn, brings us to die third argument, which is that we are to concentrate upon perfecting our relationship to God as our heavenly Father. We, unlike the heathen, are to rely implicitly upon our knowledge of Him as our heavenly Father, and we are to concentrate upon perfecting this knowledge and our relationship to Him. ‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’ I wonder whether I dare suggest that there is an element of humour introduced at this point. It seems to me, in effect, that our Lord is saying this: He has said twice over, and then has repeated in various forms: Do not worry about food and drink and clothing; do not worry about your life in this world; do not worry as to whether God is trying you or not. And then, as it were, He says: If you want to worry, I will tell you what to worry about. Worry about your relationship to the Father! That is the thing to concentrate on. The Gentiles are seeking these other things, and so are many of you, but ‘Seek ye rather’. That is the thing to seek.
Again we should remember that ‘seek’ carries the meaning of seeking earnestly, seeking intensely, living for it. And He even enforces it by adding another word, ‘first’. ‘Seek ye first.’ That means, generally, principally, above everything else; give that priority. Once more we find our Lord repeating Himself. He says: You are concerned about these other things, and you are putting them first. But you must not. What you have to put first is the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He has already said that in the model prayer which He taught these people to pray. You remember the teaching. You come to God. Of course you are interested in life and in this world; but you do not start by saying, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. You start like this: ‘Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’ And then, and only then, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. ‘Seek ye first’—not ‘your daily bread’, but, ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness’. In other words, you must bring yourself to that position in mind and heart and desires. It must take absolute priority over everything else.
What does our Lord mean by saying: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God’? Obviously He is not telling His hearers how to make themselves Christian; but He is telling them how to behave because they are Christian. They are in the kingdom of God, and because they are in it they are to seek it more and more. They are, as Peter puts it, to ‘make their calling and election sure’. In practice it means that, as children of our heavenly Father, we should be seeking to know Him better. Now the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews puts that perfectly when he says in 11:6, ‘He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’ Put your emphasis on the ‘diligently’. Many Christian people miss so many blessings in this life because they do not seek God diligently. They do not spend much time in seeking His face. In His courts they drop on their knees to pray, but that is not of necessity seeking the Lord. The Christian is meant to be seeking the face of the Lord daily, constantly. He takes and makes time to do so.
Furthermore, it means that we must think more about the kingdom and our relationship to God, and especially about our eternal future. It was because he did this that Paul was able to say to the Corinthians, ‘Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18). Notice that ‘while’. The apostle only rejoices in spite of these things—‘while’, ‘as long as’. He puts it as a positive exhortation and injunction to the Colossians when he says, ‘Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth’. That is the meaning of seeking the kingdom of God.
But He says, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness’. Why the addition of this ‘righteousness’? Again, this is a very important addition. This means holiness, the life of righteousness. You are not only to seek the kingdom of God in the sense that you set your affections on things above; you must also positively seek holiness and righteousness. Once more we get the repetition of ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.’ Yes, that is it. The Christian is seeking righteousness, seeking to be like Christ, seeking positive holiness and to be more and more holy, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. This is the way to increase your faith. It works like this. The more holy we are, the nearer we shall be to God. The more holy we are, the greater will be our faith. The more sanctified and holy we are, the greater will be our assurance and therefore our claims and our reliance upon God. This is experience, is it not? Have you not known this many times? Suddenly something goes wrong in your life and you turn to God in prayer; and the moment you do so you are reminded of your slackness in the past weeks or months. Something says within you, ‘Surely you are behaving just like a cad? How many days and weeks and months have passed when you have not sought the face of God? You have said your prayers mechanically; but now you are seeking God, you are making time to look for Him. But you have not done that regularly.’ You feel condemned, and you have lost confidence in your prayers. There are absolute rules in this spiritual life, and it is the man who seeks the kingdom of God and His righteousness who has the greatest confidence in Him. The nearer we live to God the less we are aware of the things of this life and this world, and the greater our sense of assurance about Him. The more holy we are, the better we shall know God. We shall know Him as our Father, and then nothing that happens to us will upset our equanimity, because our relationship to Him is so close.
We can paraphrase our Lord’s words thus: If you want to seek anything, if you want to be anxious about anything, be anxious about your spiritual condition, your nearness to God and your relationship to Him. If you put that first, worry will go; that is the result. This great concern about your relationship to God will drive out every lesser concern about food and clothing.
The man who knows himself to be a child of God and an heir of eternity has a very different view of things in this life and world. This is true of necessity, and the greater that faith and knowledge, the smaller will these other things become. Moreover he has a definite specific promise. Let us lay hold on this promise and grasp it firmly. The promise is that, if we do truly seek these things first and foremost, and almost exclusively, these other things shall be added unto us, they will be ‘thrown into the bargain’. The heathen does nothing but think about these things. There are spiritual worldlings also who are praying about these things and nothing else, but they never find satisfaction. The man of God prays about and seeks the kingdom of God, and these other things are added unto him. It is a specific promise of God.
You have a perfect illustration of this in the story about Solomon. Solomon did not pray for riches and length of days; he prayed for wisdom. And God said in effect: Because you have not prayed for these other things I will give you wisdom; and I will give you these other things as well. I will give you riches and length of days into the bargain (see 1 Kings 3). God always does that. It is not an accident that the Puritans of the seventeenth century, especially the Quakers, became wealthy people. It was not because they hoarded wealth, it was not because they worshipped mammon. It was just that they were living for God and His righteousness, and the result was that they did not throw away their money on worthless things. In a sense, therefore, they could not help becoming wealthy. They held on to the promises of God and incidentally became rich.
Put God, His glory and the coming of His kingdom, and your relationship to Him, your nearness to Him and your holiness in the central position, and you have the pledged word of God Himself through the lips of His Son, that all these other things, as they are necessary for your well-being in this life and world, shall be added unto you. That is the way to increase your faith. Be unlike the heathen; remember that God knows all about you as your Father, and is watching over you. Therefore seek to be more like Him and to live your life nearer to Him. (451-461)