Jesus warns against worry three times in this section of the Sermon, each time giving an illustration concerning why worry is wrong and a brief command based on that illustration. If the birds are well fed, the God will see to our food (6:26-27). Jesus points to the birds of the air, probably pointing to birds that his listeners could see as he spoke. These birds don’t plan their harvests or work fields, yet they are fed, and fed by God. That God feeds the animals is an OT idea, see here (cf. Job 38:41; Pss 104:10-15; 147:7-9; Ps. Sol. 5:8-11).
If the lilies of the field are well dressed, then God will see to our clothing (6:28-31). It is possible Jesus could gesture to flowers right where he was speaking. Lilies do not need to work to sew their clothes, yet they are “more beautiful than Solomon in all his splendor.” Even the grass is beautiful, even if it is temporary. God has created plants which will be pulled up and burned, how much more will he care for you?
“What are we to eat” (v. 31) are the words of someone who has nothing. If the disciples find themselves with no food or drink because they are being persecuted on account of Jesus, they can know God will provide for them.
Although there are no clear allusions to the story, God providing for his people is at the bedrock of Old Testament theology. In Exodus 15:22-17:7 God provides both water and food for his people in the wilderness. Manna was “bread from heaven,” food given to the people from the hand of God each day. But they were only to gather enough manna for each day, focusing their attention on God’s daily provision. The Israelites in the wilderness were to look to God for their “daily bread” (Matt 6:11).
There is an eschatological aspect to God’s provision of daily needs. For some (Guelich, Sermon, 370, for example), this is an allusion to the physical bounty of the coming kingdom of God. Certainly this is true, but if Jesus is preparing his disciples for future persecution, the his focus is on the coming tribulation prior to the establishment of the kingdom in (what is now) our future.
At the end of the final teaching section in Matthew, Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man coming with all his holy ones, setting up a throne for judgment and separating the nations like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. He praises the sheep for providing food and clothing for the “least of these brothers of mine,” and condemns the goats because withheld food and clothing for these same brothers.
There is a warning here that the basics of life may be withheld because of human sin. This helps to explain why Christians suffer from privation, pervasive evil in governments prevent relief from reaching people who need it.
As with Matthew 6:25, this is a very difficult for the most of the western, affluent church to fully appreciate since they do not lack for much. I confess that although I think I rely on the Lord, I also have retirement savings and a health care plan. I do not think these things are bad, but is it possible for these sorts of personal savings distract my attention from how the Lord is providing for me daily? What are some other ways the affluence of the western church can distract us from God’s daily provision for our needs?