In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He says, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:31–32). In understanding this passage, it’s important to identify what Jesus is not teaching and what He is.
Jesus is not teaching the miraculous eradication of worldwide hunger and poverty. In fact, Jesus later said that “you will always have the poor among you” (Mark 14:7, NLT). He is not issuing a blanket promise that everyone in the world will always have the staples of life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is specifically addressing His disciples, not the general public (Matthew 5:1–2); that is, He is speaking to those who were committed to Him and had made His teaching the basis of their lives. Those who follow Christ are not to be anxious about food and clothing.
Even to His disciples, Jesus is not promising a constant, uninterrupted supply of food, drink, and clothing. He is only teaching in Matthew 6:32 that God in heaven is aware of all their needs. The knowledge of God’s awareness of our needs is meant to have a calming effect in our lives. There is no circumstance in which our worry is validated. We may lack certain necessities for a time, but we do not fret, complain, or resort to worldly scheming.
The apostle Paul is an example of a child of God who lacked food and drink many times: “I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food” (2 Corinthians 11:27). His physical deprivation was, in fact, according to the will of God: in Acts 9:16, God says, “I will show [Paul] how much he must suffer for my name.” Even in his discomfort, Paul always had enough of what he needed to serve the Lord.
The book of Hebrews describes people of faith who likewise endured persecution to the point of being destitute: “Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. . . . They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Hebrews 11:36–37). Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6 is not that we will always have everything we need to be comfortable, only that our Heavenly Father is worthy of our trust, even in the lean times.
What Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6:31–32 is that God’s children have no reason to worry. God knows the need, and God is good. He will not allow true needs to remain unfilled but will, in His providence and in His time, see to His children’s welfare.
Also, Jesus is teaching His disciples to prioritize their lives. They are to place matters of eternity before their own earthly needs: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Put the Lord first; seek to lead a holy life, and “all these things”—your temporal, material needs in this world—will be granted to you. God, who is in absolute control, will make sure that you have all you need for your own good and His glory.
How we define necessity is often influenced by purely subjective considerations. Jesus mentions food and clothing—anything beyond that starts moving away from true essentials (see also 1 Timothy 6:8). It’s important to allow God to determine our “necessities”; He will deem what is best for us.
There are many cases of destitution and privation in the world. None of them, however, are the result of God’s failure to keep a promise. On an individual level, some lack food and clothing as a result of gambling, drunkenness, slothfulness, covetousness, etc. On a national level, even greater numbers of people suffer privation because of inept governments, corrupt leaders, or unjust wars. God is not responsible for such evils (see 1 John 1:5).
God is good, He knows our needs, and He is perfectly capable of providing: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). The Lord’s promise that He is with us is the source of our contentment: “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’” (Hebrews 13:5).