During the earthly ministry of Jesus, our Lord was asked many questions about life, eternity, law, and even politics. His answers to these questions astonished the multitudes, silenced the critics, and moved soldiers, such as those who were sent to arrest Him, to say, “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).
Regarding our study on the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” Jesus gave an insightful lesson. On one particular occasion, Jesus was asked to intervene in the private financial affairs of a family inheritance. “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). Apparently, the man who asked this question was involved in a typical family dispute over money. One brother had refused to give another brother what he believed was his due, and Jesus was expected to intervene.
Instead of delving into the details of this family’s dispute, Jesus availed the opportunity to address a warning about covetousness. “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” (Luke 12:14). Jesus did not come to earth as a litigator of financial disputes. His answer does not, in any way, imply that such questions are unimportant. Passages in the law of Moses deal with how justice ought to be administered in questions of financial inheritance. God has appointed proper judges and civil magistrates to hear arguments and render decisions based upon the law. But such was not the role of Jesus as the Messiah.
Rather, according to Luke Chapter 12, Jesus employed this man’s dispute to address the deeper problem that was underlying the one at hand. “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (verse 15). Our Lord went on to tell the parable of the rich man who tore down his barns to build greater, thinking to himself, “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (verse 19). The judgment of God fell upon this covetous man that very night: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (verse 20).
After this sobering story, Jesus continued by imparting some very important, practical encouragement to His disciples. “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment” (Luke 12:22–23). This basic, foundational instruction is far more important to you and me than any advice a financial adviser could ever give.
When Jesus says, “Take no thought,” He is warning us, whether rich or poor, against worrying and becoming anxious about the future. Jesus is certainly not forbidding proper planning. Other passages of Scripture plainly indicate that it is wise to plan ahead, save money, and prudently invest resources. But it is vain and profitless to worry and fret over financial matters, and it is certainly sinful to covet the wealth or possessions of others.
As in a similar discussion in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses two practical illustrations of contentment from creation: the birds and the flowers.
Birds: “Consider the Ravens”
“Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?” (Luke 12:24). Jesus used an intensive word here for consider, meaning “look with interest.” Jesus is calling all His disciples to be “bird watchers” and to draw an important lesson from the birds of the air. It is interesting that Jesus specified the raven in this account. In the Sermon on the Mount, which occurred earlier in His ministry, Jesus simply said, “Consider the fowls,” meaning all birds in general. Here, He specified the raven. Ravens are common and conspicuous birds in the crow family and have a worldwide distribution. Israel is home to several species of raven, including the fan-tailed raven, the brown-necked raven, the hooded crow, and the common raven that is also present in the United States. Ravens are very intelligent birds that continue to amaze ornithologists and bird watchers everywhere.
Noah sent a raven from the ark to see if the earth was habitable again. Unlike the dove that returned to Noah, the raven found sustenance and never returned (see Genesis 8:7). Another account in Scripture involving a raven is recorded in I Kings Chapter 17. The prophet Elijah was sustained by the Lord at the brook Cherith. God sent ravens to the prophet with “bread and flesh” every morning and evening (see verses 4–6). As omnivores and experts at food collection, ravens eat anything from fruit and grain to carrion (dead flesh).
Jesus said of the raven, “God feedeth them” (Luke 12:24). Yet ravens certainly are diligent and active in the search for food. This teaching by Jesus on contentment and lack of anxiety over material possessions does not mean that we as Christ’s disciples are not to labor for our food. The raven actively searches for food, but it is content with what it finds. So also, as we spend time actively working to provide for ourselves and our families, we are not to become anxious or fretful but instead rest in God’s provision for our daily needs.
Flowers: “Consider the Lilies”
“Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27). Every day, we trample underfoot a common but delicate reminder of God’s infinite care for us. From the simple clover to the intricate orchid, flowers are a delightful testimony to God’s ability to adorn and sustain the world that He has made. Israel is home to the iris, and irises grow wild in the land where Jesus walked and taught. The exquisiteness of a flower petal can never be imitated by human ingenuity, and a flower’s ability to reproduce itself can never be imitated even by the most fabulous man-made fabric.
As the flowers of the field are artistically created by the Lord, so is each person on earth. The need to clothe ourselves in a wide array of fashionable colors and designs should not be our focus, but rather practical and modest dress should be our aim. Over-attention on clothing, jewelry, and fashionable hairstyles can lead ourselves and others to discontentment with God’s design. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (see I Corinthians 6:19), and He will provide the necessary raiment that we need if we will trust Him and honor Him.
It is with these two basic necessities, food and raiment, that we are to be satisfied. Paul told Timothy, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (I Timothy 6:8). What satisfies you? Take a moment in the busyness of your day and consider the raven and the lily. Are you content with God’s basic provisions? How have His provisions enabled you to invest your time and energy in eternal matters? It is in this same context about contentment that Jesus encourages us: “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:31).