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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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CARE (μέριμνα, μεριμνάω, μέλω, ἐπιμελέομαι).—The teaching of Jesus on care has been slightly obscured for English readers of the NT by the change in meaning through which this word and the word ‘thought’ have passed. Properly meaning trouble or sorrow, ‘care’ was from an early period confounded with Lat. cura, and from the idea of attention thus obtained was held to express the particular trouble of the mind due to over-attention, viz. anxiety (see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible i. 353), while in modern language care, and especially its compounds ‘careful’ and ‘carefulness,’ are often used in a sense which indicates no trouble, but the well-directed effort of the mind in relation to present affairs and future prospects. The Authorized Version rendering ‘take no thought’ (Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:31; Matthew 6:34) is still more misleading. As used by the translators, it meant ‘distressing anxiety’ (see Trench On the Authorized Version p. 39; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. 754). That the phrase μὴ μεριμνᾶτε is not ‘take no thought,’ but ‘be not anxious’ ( Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885), seems clear by the derivation of μέριμνα from μερίς, with its sense of dividing and, as applied to the mind, of distraction; and is rendered certain by comparison with the word θορυβάζω or τυρβάζω coupled with it in Luke 10:41, and with the expressive phrase μὴ μετεωρίζεσθε used in Luke 12:29, which expresses the metaphor of a ship tossed and helpless on the waves (see Cox in Expositor, 1st ser. i. [1875] p. 249).

The warning of Jesus against care is therefore in no sense applicable to reasonable forethought (πρόνοια). Man cannot live his life like the birds and the flowers, without a sense of the present necessity and the impending future. He can and must think, plan, and toil. The forethought and work necessary to provide food and raiment for himself and for those dependent upon him, are part of the Divine discipline of character. A careless life would be essentially a godless life. But Christ’s reproofs are directed against all feverishness and distraction of mind. Whatever is the exciting cause of the distress—how food is to be obtained (Matthew 6:25-26, Luke 12:23-24) or clothing (Matthew 6:28; Matthew 6:30, Luke 12:27-28), how the unknown future is to be met (Matthew 6:34) tliough there seems no obvious source of supply (Matthew 10:9; cf. Mark 6:8, Luke 9:3; Luke 10:3-4), though the duties of life press hardly (Luke 10:41), and though there is impending and certain peril (Matthew 10:19; Matthew 12:11), He says, ‘Be not anxious.’

The argument of Jesus against care is clothed in language of rare geniality and felicitousness. ‘Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his stature’ [rather, ‘a span to his age’]? Worry does not help forward the great designs of life. It cannot even accomplish ‘that which is least.’ It may take a span from one’s age; it cannot prolong life. It is futile, and it is needless as well. Nature reads to man the lesson of trust. The wild flowers, though their life is so brief, are decked with loveliness by the great God. God takes care for the flowers. And He is your Heavenly Father. The argument is a minori ad majus. God’s care for the flowers is a constant rebuke of His children’s feverish anxiety concerning their own wants. The Providence, unforgetful of ‘that which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven,’ is, in relation to His children, an all-wise and all-loving Fatherhood.

But the geniality of the argument does not disguise the seriousness with which Jesus regarded care. The context of the locus classicus (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-34) is not the same in the two Evangelists. St. Matthew attaches the warning against care to the saying, ‘No man can serve two masters … ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ In Lk. it follows as a deduction from the parable spoken against covetousness and the closing saying, ‘So is every one that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’ There is no need to decide the question of the priority of the two accounts, for the moral context of both is practically the same. Care arises from a division at the very centre of life, an attempt to serve both God and mammon, to ‘worship the Lord and serve other gods,’ or it arises from the radically false idea that ‘a man’s life consisteth in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.’ Such a false estimate of values, involving the desire for and the pursuit of material goods for their own sake, inevitably produces the fever and distraction of mind called care, and it is the moral condition out of which it arises, as well as the consequences which it engenders, that makes it so serious a fault in the eyes of Christ. ‘The cares of this life’ are part of the hostile influences which choke the good seed of the kingdom, so that it bringeth forth no fruit to perfection (Matthew 13:22; cf. Luke 8:14). In a mind so preoccupied by worldly interests and anxieties the word of Christ may survive, but it never comes to maturity, or produces its potential harvest in life and service. Hence the severity which underlies the gentleness of Christ’s rebuke of Martha (Luke 10:41-42). She was distracted about much serving, anxious and troubled about many things, and her worry spoiled her temper, and the service of Christ to which her love for Him impelled her. So serious indeed may be the consequences of this distress of soul, that Jesus, in His warning against the evil things which may overcharge the heart, and make men utterly unprepared for the coming of the Son of Man, combined with surfeiting and drunkenness ‘the cares of this life’ (Luke 21:34).

In opposition to care Jesus sets trust in the Heavenly Father. The assurance of His intimate knowlege of life and all its needs, and of His loving care, ought to exclude all anxiety concerning the wants of the present, and all fear of the future. But trust in God’s love must be continually subordinate to the doing of God’s will. The assurance of His Fatherly love and providential care is mediated to loving obedience. Thus in sending forth the Twelve (Matthew 10:8; cf. Mark 6:8, Luke 9:3), and in the case of the Seventy (Luke 10:3-4), Jesus bids them make no elaborate provision for their physical needs. God takes care of His servants when they are in the path of obedience to His will. And similarly, when He warns His disciples that they shall be brought before the ecclesiastical and civil authorities because of their allegiance to Him, He calls upon them to have no anxiety as to the reply they shall give (Matthew 10:19, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11). Jesus would have them believe that the moral order and the providential order of the world are essentially one, and are both controlled by the love of the Heavenly Father, so that they who seek His Kingdom and do His will shall not want any good thing.

Christ’s own life is the supreme example of perfect peace, conditioned by absolute trust in the Heavenly Father, and loving obedience to His will. The pressing necessity gave Him no anxiety, and the impending peril no fear. ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee’ (Isaiah 26:3).

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Care’; Maclaren, Serm. pr. in Manchester, 1st ser. p. 235; Dale, Laws of Christ, p. 157; Hunger, Appeal to Life, p. 149; Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] Macleod, Serm. p. 119; Fairbairn, City of God, p. 317; Drummond, Nat. Law in the Spir. World, p. 123; Expositor, i. xii. [1882] 104, iii. ii. [1885] 224; Moore, God is Love, 82; Allon, Indwelling Christ, 110; Zahn, Bread and Salt from the Word of God, 287.

Joseph Muir.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Care'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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