Inspired to Trust
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Identify some physical and spiritual treasures listed in today’s text.
2. Interpret what it means to receive the kingdom in light of his or her need to trust God.
3. Describe how he or she will trust God more fully for one of the items listed under Lesson Aim #1.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Jan. 21—Trust God (Psalm 31:1–5)
Tuesday, Jan. 22—Valuable to God (Luke 12:22–24)
Wednesday, Jan. 23—Worry Won’t Help! (Luke 12:25, 26)
Thursday, Jan. 24—Clothed by God (Luke 12:27, 28)
Friday, Jan. 25—God Knows Your Needs (Luke 12:29–31)
Saturday, Jan. 26—Receive the Kingdom (Luke 12:32–34)
Sunday, Jan. 27—Trust God, Not Princes (Psalm 146:1–7)
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Why Teach This Lesson?
At least some of your learners are burdened with worry. Yet worry is wrong because it is a form of unspiritual fear. When believers worry, they are not trusting God. Worry is a sin.
Yet Christians can learn to trust God. Even during times of spiritual storm and other extremely difficult situations, God can be trusted. God created sun, moon, stars, planets, and all living things by his mighty power. If he can do all this, is he not able to handle our problems? This lesson offers Jesus’ decisive thoughts on this issue.
A. Adornment or Burden?
Once upon a time there was a wealthy king. He sat in his palace on his throne of solid gold, dressed in the finest silk and furs, and wept. He wept because he didn’t have a crown. Oh, he had a plain little thing, of course. But it wasn’t the kind of crown befitting a king of his stature. And so he set off on a journey to find the most exquisite jewels in the world in order to transform his plain crown into the grandest ever seen.
First his journey took him to Burma for the purest rubies. Once there, he piled hundreds of rubies onto his plain crown. Then he set his camel toward Russia. There the king acquired the finest emeralds, also heaping them onto his crown. Finally, he turned toward South Africa to find the largest diamond in the world. The king’s camel eventually brought him to the jeweler who could provide that diamond. The king’s eyes lit up when he saw the enormous jewel. The end of his mission in sight, he balanced it on the very top of his bulging crown.
The king then proudly climbed onto his camel to set off for home, the king’s neck straining under the weight of the fantastic headpiece. But once atop the poor beast, there was a swooshing sound as camel, king, and crown disappeared into the desert sands, never to be seen again. The adornment had become a fatal burden!
A nice children’s fantasy, isn’t it? But when we think of all the people today who sink under the burden of many worldly “adornments”—including the burdens of debt and worry—it may not be such a fantasy after all!
B. Lesson Background
Our lesson text occurs within one of the major teaching sections in Luke’s Gospel, namely Luke 12:1–13:21. It is set during Jesus’ later Judean ministry. This particular teaching section follows a segment that notes increasing friction between Jewish leaders and Jesus.
Many Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees, scribes, etc.) had become very hostile toward Jesus. Just prior to today’s text, Luke presents Jesus’ teaching against some Pharisees (Luke 11:37–54). Jesus’ main criticism was that they were hypocritical, having evil intent on the inside while posturing godliness on the outside (examples: Luke 11:39, 44).
Hypocrisy presents us with two problems. First, it is simply dishonest since it involves pretending to be something that one is not. Second, and worse, it assumes that God looks only on the surface when evaluating a person’s activities. Thus after Jesus left the Pharisees (11:53), he warned his disciples to be wary of the yeast of the Pharisees, “which is hypocrisy” (12:1).
This transition is important to note because it is the basis of the theme throughout the section Luke 12:1–13:21. That is, Jesus’ primary point throughout is for his disciples to grasp the difference between the present world and the Father’s spiritual kingdom. If the disciples were capable of placing their values in the latter, then the temptations and “adornments” of the present world—which Jesus’ enemies loved so much—would not shake them from their future with the Father. Thus, the point is to not fear the threats or temptations of this world, because God has far greater power. In this way, Jesus prepared his disciples for the difficulties they would face as leaders of the church (Luke 12:11-12). The Parable of the Rich Fool (12:13–21) also deals with attachments to this world. Today’s lesson further develops this theme.
I. Don’t Worry (Luke 12:22–26)
A. What Not to Worry About (v. 22)
22. Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.
Visual for Lesson 9
Point to this visual as you introduce the question on page 194.
The word therefore links our passage to the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13–21. But Jesus now shifts the focus away from the desire to amass wealth and toward the general concern of having sufficient material possessions. This problem is more widespread than the one faced by the rich fool; we may not be inappropriately attached to wealth as such, but we likely have a strong attachment to a “regular” comfortable life.
The challenge to not worry about your life is startling! Is Jesus speaking in an exaggerated way to achieve a shocking effect? Or does he mean precisely what he says? When our instinct is self-preservation, how can we not care for our own lives? The parallel verse at Matthew 6:25 is helpful. Whereas Luke has recorded the verse before us right after the Parable of the Rich Fool, Matthew has recorded it directly after the teaching that a person cannot serve two masters. This is summarized as, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). Obviously, Matthew and Luke see Jesus’ idea the same way. The rich fool of Luke 12:13–21 puts his material life above God. In Matthew 6:19–24, material well-being either rules in your life or God does; both cannot rule at the same time.
Thus in referring to one who does not worry about … life, Jesus has in mind the kind of person who should prefer Heaven over earth. This is the true disciple. The question now becomes this: How we can embrace Jesus’ command in a meaningful way? The challenge is to investigate our lives to figure out the nature of our attachments to this world. As we shall see, the issue is a matter of our salvation (compare John 12:25).
We may conclude that Jesus is not calling us to rid ourselves of earthly attachments altogether, but to rid ourselves of spiritually unhealthy ones. If we had “no attachments” to the material world in an absolute sense, we could not function! Thus, our challenge is to determine whether we are being spiritually honest in the way we approach our material possessions. (Such wrongheaded attachments not only involve stuff that we already own, but also things that we want to own.)
B. Why Not to Worry (vv. 23, 24)
23. “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.
When we focus on our material needs, we negate an important reality: the life of a true disciple extends beyond the physical to the eternal. The fact is, though, that we are a combination of both physical and spiritual. Thus Jesus does not say we should totally ignore food and clothes. These are important, but they deal only with the physical aspects of life. We are to see such things as physical means to spiritual ends. If we make them the point of life, then we subordinate our spiritual life to the physical (compare Philippians 3:19).
Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:23 that Christians must understand themselves to have chosen to relinquish “ownership” of their bodies. That is, with the blessing of salvation comes the sacrifice of our worldly interests. The body belongs to the Lord. To use the body to achieve worldly interests at the expense of spiritual ones is to reject Christ’s sacrificial purchase of body and spirit.
What Do You Think?
Why do some people obsess over things like fashion or cuisine? How can we help them see how foolish that is?
24. “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!
In the overall context of this teaching section, Jesus instructs the disciples how to live according to God’s interests while still being in this world. Because the world is hostile to God’s interests (see John 15:18-19), true disciples will experience a conflict of interests while living for him on this fallen planet. Thus Jesus arms the disciples with a way to understand God. The ability to fend off the anxiety that leads us to latch onto this world’s interests lies in appreciating how much God cares for us (see also Psalm 147:9).
C. Where Worry Doesn’t Lead (vv. 25, 26)
25. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
Living a healthy life in terms of diet and exercise may increase one’s life expectancy. But worry sure won’t! If worry leads to ulcers, just the opposite may be the case.
The King James Version translates this verse as “And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?” Whether it’s an issue of adding hours to life or inches to height, the point is the same: worry won’t do it.
We live in a time when many are trying to alter their shape. Some want to increase their shape, most want to reduce it. I have a friend who is beginning to lift weights so that he can “bulk up” and show off some real muscle when he wears T-shirts in the summer.
On the other hand, I met a man recently who said that two years ago he weighed 538 pounds. After weight reduction surgery, he lost over 300 pounds. Diet fads are big business, and the public spends billions of dollars every year to try to lose weight.
While we may try to put on or lose weight, nothing practical can be done to increase one’s height. Better nutrition over the last century has apparently increased average heights, but a person cannot “think” or even “work” himself or herself into a taller stature. So the question bears repeating: Why should we worry about anything that’s beyond our control? —J. B. N.
26. “Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
This very little thing refers to extending our lives by one hour in verse 25. The phrase the rest is probably a reference to “other concerns of this world.” With these phrases, Jesus concludes the point from the previous verse: since anxiety does not work in terms of the issues of verses 24 and 25, why worry about anything else? How much better it is to focus on our eternal lives through service in the kingdom of God! Thus Jesus continues to teach his disciples how to think of the eternal while living in the physical world.
II. Trust God (Luke 12:27–31)
A. Simple Example (v. 27)
27. “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
Jesus continues to make his same point. The splendor of Solomon is noted in 1 Kings 10:14–29 and the parallel account 2 Chronicles 9:13–28. The glory of what he created for himself does not compare with the glory that God creates in simple lilies, however. The importance of this fact is demonstrated in the next verse.
B. Gracious God (v. 28)
28. “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
Anxiety is fruitless because it fails to grasp who God is and what we mean to him. True disciples, therefore, are not anxious since they trust God to care for them.
Jesus simply says that we need only to consider God’s ability to sustain the world around us to confirm God’s ability to sustain us. Since he does sustain the world, and we are worth more than plants, then to be anxious is to forget God’s love for us. The problem is that of having little faith. At its heart, this is an unwillingness to let go of this world and cling to God.
What Do You Think?
Why do you think some Christians worry, despite Jesus’ promise that God will take care of us? How can we help lift one another out of his or her worries?
C. What the Pagans Do (vv. 29, 30)
29. “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.
This verse summarizes the previous section, restating that we ought not to focus on things that give rise to anxiety. Jesus’ statement here prepares the disciples to consider what they should concern themselves with (v. 31, below). We cannot allow ourselves to worry about even the small things of our physical lives, since this reveals a lack of trust in God.
30. “For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Jesus likens anxiety about daily needs to the things done by those who don’t know God (the pagan world). He then contrasts that mind-set to reality: God does know what you need in order to live. We can trust that since God does know what we need, he is able to provide.
D. What You Should Do (v. 31)
31. “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Up until now, Jesus has been telling us what to avoid doing. Now he reveals what we should do. This verse can be taken several ways, especially if read out of context. In context, the command to seek his kingdom is contrasted with the things that Jesus has been warning us about: material benefit and blessing.
If we busy our lives exclusively with physical concerns, we shift our attention away from that which is most important. In so doing, we risk our relationship with God. The point, though, is not about whether or not we get material needs, but on where we look for our values. When we look at the effort we put into life, is it spent securing spiritual blessings or material blessings?
We should also caution that Jesus is not teaching that true disciples will always have a guarantee of food and water. Faithful Christians die of starvation and thirst. This has been so since Jesus’ time. Yet if God wants us to continue to live on this earth and serve his kingdom, then he will enable us to do so through his provision of life’s necessities.
Kingdom-seeking is profoundly more important than worrying about material needs in any case. A lifestyle focused on God’s kingdom does not place much value in the world’s material concerns. This is an extremely difficult concept for those who live in materialistic, consumer-driven cultures. But this doesn’t change what Jesus is saying; it just throws things into sharper contrast.
What Do You Think?
How do you recognize those who seek the kingdom of God? How will others recognize you as someone who is seeking the kingdom of God?
III. Don’t Fear (Luke 12:32–34)
A. God’s Pleasure (v. 32)
32. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
The hope of the future is brought to bear upon the concerns of the present. If we focus on God’s promises for the future, then we are able to deal with problems in the present—problems that can prevent us from reaching that future reality. To live in anxiety is to fail to grasp who God is and how much we matter to him.
If, however, we do grasp who God is and how much he loves us, then he is sure to give to us the kingdom. If we can embrace the truth of Jesus’ teaching here, then we have all we need to make the leap from a life governed by material concern to a life governed by our eternal membership in the kingdom of God. In doing so, we make sure of our salvation and participation in kingdom blessings.
B. Our Responsibility (v. 33)
33. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
Jesus clarifies the underlying exhortation from the previous verses. We can summarize the verse in contemporary language: “Let go of this temporary world and grab hold of the eternal.”
The idea of selling what we have is consistent with what Jesus teaches elsewhere (compare Luke 18:22). Jesus’ ministry exhibits a concern for the material needs of the poor, and today it may be through our hands that their needs are met as we give to the poor (compare 1 John 3:17). This leads us to conclude that material needs are understood by Jesus to be basic to life. Continual effective living for God does require that basic needs be met.
What Do You Think?
How would you respond if someone at church suddenly sold everything she owned and gave the money to the poor? Why would you respond that way?
The problems of modern urban living are hard to escape. In a city where I once lived, our home was burglarized twice. Several items of value were stolen, as well as personal items of little worth but of great nostalgic significance. I was very irritated that people had done this to us. I wished for a return to the olden days of trust and security, when a person’s belongings were safe—days when people would never lock their houses.
But then I realized that perhaps those golden-olden days were not always so safe. Crime has always been a problem. This has been true whether in the year 1900, 1800, 1500, or earlier. In the days of the Roman Empire, many places simply were not safe—either for life or property. That’s why Jesus could easily call attention to the issue.
But crime is not a problem in Heaven since there is no sin there. Neither are there any moth-eaten bags that fail to safeguard what they’re intended to protect. If we know all this to be true, then why are we still so fascinated with our earthly possessions? —J. B. N.
C. End Result (v. 34)
34. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Here it is helpful to consider the comments made to the rich young ruler later in Luke 18:18–22. The man seems to be good disciple-material since he claims to have kept the law. He asks how to have eternal life. Jesus replies that adherence to the external requirements of discipleship must be accompanied by releasing his attachment to material things. Ultimately, the man fails to have salvation because of an unspiritual attachment to earthly possessions.
Many today make the same error. What gives value to our behavior is the intention of our hearts. Being a “good” person, going to church, and praying do not count as acts of discipleship if they are products of a heart that is attached to the material world. Thus Jesus challenges the young man: Are you a true disciple?
A disciple’s inner life is oriented toward the interests of God’s kingdom rather than material concerns. Our lesson concludes with this basic principle. Jesus stresses that attachment to the material world is not a small choice, but a matter of our own salvation. Both those who are and those who are not able to let go of material concerns know where their hearts lie. We should keep this in mind the next time we begin to fret over our pension plans, Social Security, IRAs, and 401(k)s!
What Do You Think?
When you look at your own life, what tells you where your heart and your treasure are truly located?
One of the dangers we face when we discuss material issues is to think that Jesus’ cautions apply only to the superwealthy, such as Donald Trump. Biblically, though, “rich” includes a certain mind-set. The “rich man” in the Bible is the one who relies on wealth more than on God. The modern Christian who lives in a prosperous Western democracy is certainly not immune from this danger!
We know that our lives shouldn’t revolve around acquiring the latest car and the finest clothing. But how should we, as Christians, approach material interests? In a way, it would be easier to live in a hut and wear an old sack than to figure out how to have a three-bedroom home, two cars, and a closet full of nice clothes while not actually caring much for those possessions.
However, Jesus doesn’t require us to run away from our lives, but to make choices daily that honor him. We are faced with the challenge of working to provide for our daily needs (2 Thessalonians 3:10) without placing too much value on those things for which we work so hard.
So—how can we be members of an affluent culture without being wrapped up in our material possessions? Is it possible to see a house as a spiritual thing? Perhaps, if one fills it regularly with those who need a roof or a meal. Is it possible to “sell all” and live in a cave yet still be attached to the world? Perhaps, if you do so in order to call the world’s attention to yourself and your piety. Only you and God can judge where your treasure really lies.
Thought to Remember
An eternal perspective is the cure for materialism.
Our Father, you have given us so much. Help us use your gifts for you. Help us to see how we can use finite things for eternal good. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 187