The Life and the Body

There are two categories we are not to be anxious over – the life and the body: “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?” (Matt 6:25).

When we examine the meanings of these words the relevance of the passage comes out clearer. “Life,” (Gk: psuche) carries the idea of “the breath of life; the vital force which animates the body; the seat of feelings, desires or affections.” We are not to be anxious over the vital force that animates our body, nor where this force is derived from. On a surface level, we are energised by food and drink – the things we consume and the things that refresh the soul; strengthening and nourishing it. We are protected from the elements by the clothing we wear. Yet while this is true to a degree, we need to remember where our life really is held. What is the source of our life, sustenance, and protection? It is in God: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28)

Our lives are held in God’s hand, as it is recorded in Psalm 104:27-30: “These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: And thou renewest the face of the earth.”

It is no different for us: although we perceive things differently, God provides all things, so why are we over-anxious about them? Christ illustrates this concept for us: “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? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matt 6:26-27)

The birds do not scatter seed to grow a harvest which they can reap and collect into barns. The word for “barns” indicates a place where things are laid up; a store house or granary. We think we exist by accumulating wealth, yet the birds do none of this and our heavenly Father preserves them. Christ challenges us, “Are ye not better than them?” We are far more distinguished and important to God than birds, argues our Lord. And since we are more important than the birds, why are we anxious? Do we not think God can provide for us too?

The challenge of Christ was not a new anomaly; Israel was put to the same challenge under the law.

“Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety. And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.” (Lev 25:18-22)

In the seventh year, the Israelites were not to sow or gather into barns. God would feed them from His bounty provided in the sixth year, just as He provided for the birds of the field. God would command His “blessing” upon Israel. The Hebrew word berakah carries the idea of prosperity and fruitfulness. It comes from barak meaning “to kneel; to receive a blessing.” Kneeling to God’s commands brings a blessing that will pull us through the difficult years.

The concept of putting our trust in God, putting Him first, and believing that He will provide is a difficult one to put into action. Israel was required to have complete faith when they made their sojourn up to Jerusalem or Shiloh three times per year. In Exodus 34:23-24, God promised them that if they went to appear before God three times a year, “I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year.”

This sounds fine when considered academically, but think of the ramifications if you were an Israelite living on the border with a young family, a pregnant wife who could not accompany you, and the Philistines were living over the hill. God tells you that the nations who were just over the horizon would not “desire” or covet or take pleasure in your land; and by extension, your wife and little family. The nations surrounding Israel practiced the buying and selling of slaves. Yet the Israelite on the border had to trust that the providence of God would control the circumstances surrounding their little family farm.

So, what about us? Do we worry about leaving the family business to go to Bible school? Are we worried about our ‘stuff ’ if our houses sit empty for a week or so? Are we so attached to our plot of ground and our business that we do not have the faith to “go up” to our Lord during the year? Our circumstances pale in comparison to the risk the Israelites took. However, this was no risk to those who put their trust in God.

The example of Israel in the wilderness further illustrates this: “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God” (Psa 78:5-8).

We too are to “set” or fix our hope and our confidence in our God. We are not to “forget” and cease to care about His works. In conjunction with this we are to “keep” His commands. The Hebrew word natsar means “to guard; watch; preserve from danger, or guard with fidelity.”

Instead of being anxious over the cares of this life we need to put our confidence in God and be anxious over keeping His commands. If we forget Him, we will be like Israel in the wilderness: stubborn, obstinate and “rebellious” (the Hebrew carries the idea of being contentious and disobedient). We might not think that being anxious over the cares of this life and forgetting where they come from is a form of stubbornness and disobedience. However, the point is illustrated by an adamant little three-year-old who insists, ‘I can do it myself ’, only to proceed to ignore their parents and hurt themselves. God is asking for our trust, but in our own stubborn rebellion we think we can do things in our own strength. Not much has changed since Israel wandered in the wilderness.

Instead, God asks us to “set” our hearts aright. This means that we need to establish, fix and secure our hearts before Him. We need to ensure our spirit is “steadfast” with God; a word that carries the idea of “the pillars supporting the door; something reliable, firm, stable; confirming.” We need to have our spirit supported by God so that we rest our confidence in Him, directing our hearts aright.