If you’ve ever had the pleasure of having an expense account, then you know what “per diem” means. It’s a Latin phrase that means “by the day” and it refers to a daily payment or allowance. In other words, let’s say you’re traveling on a business trip and your boss allows you a certain amount of money each day to pay for your room, your car and your meals. That’s a per diem. When you go on a business trip, your boss usually doesn’t give you enough money to take care of you and your family for the rest of your life. He only gives you enough to take care of your needs day by day—per diem.
There’s a spiritual lesson somewhere in that phrase. Because that’s the way God treats us. That’s the way God expects us to live: per diem—day by day. He promises to cover our daily needs—no more, no less. And that truth can be either freeing or it can be frustrating. It all depends on how much you trust the boss.
This year we’ve been studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. And right now we’re in the middle of a series about how to find security in a shaky economy.
We all know that the economy has been slow, unpredictable and unstable in the last few years. But as we’ve seen, the truth is that the economy is always shaky. It’s just that sometimes we’re aware of how unreliable it is and sometimes we’re lulled into a false sense of security.
The Bible teaches that there is a way to find true financial security even in the midst of our shaky economy. But it’s a different path than one might expect. Here’s what we’ve discovered so far:
First, it’s important to choose the right bank. Jesus says we can either keep our treasures here on earth, where they slowly disappear and eventually burn up in a great fire at the end of the world, or we can deposit our resources in heaven where they will last forever. We can use our earthly resources to invest in things that will last forever: loving people and helping them find and follow Jesus, developing the character of Christ in our lives, promoting and building God’s kingdom. Treasures on earth or treasures in heaven: we have a choice.
Second, stick with long-term investments. Jesus says, everyone has to make that choice between earth and heaven. Everyone needs to use money, but if you try to find your security in money, then it’s impossible to find your security in God. You must choose between them. Otherwise it will compromise your values, distort your spiritual perception and corrupt your behavior. You can be loyal to only one or the other.
Now, if you’re with me so far, then you might be persuaded that we need to focus our attention on getting ready for heaven. That’s more important than building up investments to provide for our future here on earth. But the natural question that comes next is, “If we invest our major resources in heaven, then how are we going to take care of ourselves before we get there? I’m planning on living a few more years and I want to know how I’m going to pay the bills.”
Great question! In fact, that brings us to the third biblical principle for finding security in a shaky economy.
Jesus tells us to count on social security. Now I want you to be really careful here, because I’m not talking about trusting the Social Security Administration of our federal government. From everything I hear, it’s dubious if Social Security is going to be able to take care of me whenever I’m ready to retire. And it seems impossible to count on the solvency of the Social Security system if you’re currently 24 or 25 years old.
What I’m talking about is trusting in God’s system of social security. Because God has promised to take care of what we need each day. He’s promised to meet our daily needs. He’s promised us a per diem. And because it’s God that made the promise, we can count on the social security system of His kingdom.
This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 6:25. Trust me. Have confidence in what God has promised. If you’re counting on me, then you don’t need to worry about making ends meet. You don’t need to worry about the essentials like food and clothing. God’s got it covered. Here’s what he says:
Matthew 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.
Notice he mentions two things. We can trust God to protect our lives and we can trust God to protect our bodies. To protect our lives we need food and drink. To protect our bodies we need clothes. And Jesus says don’t worry about either one of these. In fact, the way he says it in Greek actually means, “stop worrying about these things.”
Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
The argument here is that God is that one that gave us life. God is the one who created our bodies. So if he loved us enough to give us lives and give us bodies, then he will also give us what we need to sustain and protect our lives and our bodies. In other words, God’s gifts—our lives and our bodies—come with an extended service agreement—maintenance included. We didn’t get our lives or our bodies by worrying. Why do we think that worrying will somehow help us to sustain our lives and our bodies? God gave us both and God will provide for both.
That’s one reason why we don’t need to worry about the essentials. Because God can and will take care of what we need.
There’s also a scientific reason why we can trust in God to provide for our needs. That is, we can observe in nature that providing for needs is just part of how God runs this place.
In the next verse, Jesus turns to an example from nature:
Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Jesus and his followers were outside when he spoke these words. I bet there were birds singing in the trees and flying around their heads. He probably turned and pointed to the birds flying around and said, “Where do you suppose they ate lunch?” You don’t see birds out planting crops or riding little tractors. You don’t see little bird grocery stores or fast food drive through windows. They don’t have little bird bank accounts or little bird 401K’s. Yet somehow they manage to eat everyday.
The implication is obvious. People are more valuable than birds. So if God somehow manages to feed the birds, don’t you think he can manage to feed us, too?
This verse is not saying that we shouldn’t work or shouldn’t save. It’s saying that since God provides even for birds who don’t work and save, won’t he provide for us too? The Bible teaches us that we should work and it is prudent to think ahead and save. But in all our working and saving, we need to remember that our security comes from the fact that God loves us, that we are valuable to him and that he will always take care of what we need. The birds don’t worry about it. Why should we?
Here’s another example of how pointless it is to worry.
Matthew 6:27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
If you have an older translation of the Bible, your version might show that Jesus is using a metaphor here. Literally he says that worry can’t add a single cubit to your life. A cubit is about the length of your arm from your elbow to your hand. Jesus is using this metaphorically about the length of your life, just like we might say that someone’s fiftieth birthday is a milestone in their life. Basically, the meaning is captured by the NIV here: worry can’t add a single hour to your life. In fact, the truth is, worry might actually shorten your life. But it won’t prolong it.
Once again, the argument hinges on God. Who is it that controls the length of your life? Psalm 139:16 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in [God’s] book before one of them came to be.”
The length of our lives depends on God. The only option we have is to trust him that he will take us at the right time. So why not trust that he will also provide for us until that time comes?
In the next verse, Jesus gives another example from nature:
Matthew 6:28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
Again, Jesus probably pointed around him to the beautiful wild flowers and said, “Where do you suppose these flowers get their beautiful costumes?” It isn’t by working hard.
Matthew 6:29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
Solomon was one of the wealthiest men that ever lived. Certainly he was on the list of best-dressed ancient Israelites. But wild flowers are even more beautiful, even though they’re basically just decorative grass.
Matthew 6:30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
We planted some flowers this year and you know what I’ve been learning? They’re pansies. I don’t mean pansies as in the type of flower. I mean that the most beautiful colorful flowers are fragile, they’re wimpy. Trees are sturdy. You can climb them, swing in them, and build houses in them. They can bear an amazing amount of weight. Even bushes are a least strong enough to make it through the winter. But flowers are temporary. They blossom, then they die. You on the other hand—you’re going to last forever. So if God clothes something so temporary with such beautiful clothing, won’t he make sure that at least you have what you need to wear? So you don’t need to worry about it.
“O you of little faith” is a gentle admonition. “Hey, micro-faith!” Jesus is trying to say, I think in a light-hearted way, “Is that all the confidence you have in me? Don’t you trust me more than that?” That’s really the point of these verses. If you’re worried, it shows that you’re having a problem with faith. You’re having difficulty trusting in God’s abilities.
On three other occasions Jesus uses this expression of his followers.
Worry is the opposite of faith, that is, trust or confidence in God’s abilities. In each of these cases, the disciples forgot what God was capable of doing. They forgot he is the almighty commander and creator. And whenever you worry, it means that you don’t think God is up to handling your problems and your needs.
But if you trust God, then you don’t have occasion to worry.
Matthew 6:31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
Matthew 6:32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
The word translated “pagans” here is actually the word for Gentiles.
It’s referring to people who do not know God and do not have a relationship with him. What this is saying is that worry is appropriate only for those who don’t understand anything about God.
If you do know God and you know anything about him at all, then you know that he already knows what you need and that he can and will take care of you. So don’t worry about it! Trust God. Count on him. Count on the social security of his kingdom.
Philippians 4:19 (NIV) God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
If this verse is true, then it means two things:
1. I will have whatever I need. and
2. If I don’t have something, then it’s probably something I don’t need.
A lot of times when we’re worried, it’s because we want more than what God has provided. He takes care of today, so we worry about tomorrow. He takes care of our needs, but we worry about our desires.
But the Bible calls us to live a life that is confident that God will provide and satisfied with what God provides.
Hebrews 13:5 (NIV) Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV) If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Paul even learned that he could be satisfied with what God provided even when it wasn’t all that much.
Philippians 4:12 (NIV) I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
The secret to contentment that he’s talking about here is trust or confidence in God. If we really believe that God will supply us with everything that we need, then instead of worrying, we relax and we take life as it comes.
1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Philippians 4:6 (NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Job 31:24-28 (NIV) "If I have put my trust in gold or said … 'You are my security,'  if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained, …  then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.