“Don’t worry,” my husband says. At that moment, a hundred scenarios enter my mind as I worry about the reason he felt the need to tell me not to worry. The same thing has happened when I’ve read those words, quoted from Luke 12, on coffee mugs, t-shirts, and wall decorations.
If you’re going to tell someone not to be anxious in a world plagued by sin, you need to have a good reason. Thankfully, God does.
The Story Before the Verse
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on (Luke 12:22).
Jesus’s famous words about worry followed a parable, which Jesus says illustrates his statement. The ESV’s title for this section is “the parable of the rich fool.”
From Luke 12:16-21 we read the account of a rich man whose harvest is so huge he decides to build bigger barns to store up his abundance. The man has it made, and he knows it. But that night, he will die.
God says to the man, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).
What a stark story demonstrating how unproductive worry is. There isn’t a happy ending. It seems that despite the man’s worries and solutions to his concerns, he is a fool.
The Point We Might Miss
To summarize the point of the parable, Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Was the man’s foolishness simply that the man didn’t give away enough of his abundance? Did he neglect his tithes as he worried about himself? Would he have been counted wise if he’d prepared a will before slipping into his pajamas?
At a glance, it seems the man’s problem was greed, not worry. But the source of his worry is what he treasures, and that’s a point we often miss. The man’s solution to his worries didn’t show a love for the Lord, or a trust in him. The man’s only answer to his anxieties was his own wisdom.
We Can Worry with Our Hands Full
The man in the parable wasn’t a poor farmer overreacting to his first great harvest. He was rich. His concern wasn’t “where will my next meal come from?” but “where do I store all this abundance?” His hands were full, and he still found a reason to fuss.
Gaining more doesn’t give us a reason not to worry, it just changes what we worry about. Sometimes it gives us more to worry about. As long as we’re trying to ensure our hands are full of what we believe is important in life, we’re going to have cause for worry. The treasures of this world are elusive, and they will never be enough. When we hope in even the best this world offers, we will have endless reasons for anxiety.
Jesus brings that point home, saying “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23).
The Treasure We Don’t Need to Secure
Life is about far more than the things we tend to worry about. It certainly turned out to be so for the rich man who thought life was finally good and problem-free once he accrued ample riches, only to be faced with death.
This truth that “life is more” is the surprising reason God’s word says not to worry.
Jesus illustrates what “more” life really consists of in the rest of the passage.
Life is Depending on God
Speaking about the ravens, Jesus points out that they are fed by God though they don’t work for their food. Then he says, “Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Luke 12:24-25).
We don’t need to worry about our ability to provide for ourselves. A life of faith involves growing in cheerful dependence on God. That doesn’t mean we don’t work for our food (we’re not ravens), but that we don’t regard our “stuff” as less than a good gift from God. We see needs differently when we see God as the provider.
Life is Glorifying God
Next, Jesus talks about how splendidly the lilies are arrayed even though they’re not longing for this world. Their simple existence points to God’s glory. He will transform us to his glory, so we don’t need to worry about accruing stuff to make us worthy.
“For all the nations of the world seek after these things,” Jesus says, highlighting the perspective of those who don’t know that “life is more.” Seek God’s kingdom, he continues, “and these things will be added to you.” Glorify God in whatever you do, whatever you have or do not have. That’s the point. He’ll give you the means, surprising as they may sometimes be (Luke 12:30-31).
Life is Treasuring God
Back at the end of the parable of the rich fool, Jesus mentions being rich toward God. This is the joy and privilege of the Christian. We are not problem-free, but we trust in God’s promises and realize everything we have is God’s in the first place. He delights in sharing what he owns with his children because “it is [our] Father’s good pleasure to give [us] the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
This magnificent truth warrants our response: Jesus calls us to give things away and build into eternity. In the parable, the rich man had nowhere secure to store his stuff. When we treasure God as the point and purpose of life, what matters most—our hearts—are secured where worry wields no power: in heaven with Jesus. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33).