Three times in 10 verses Jesus tells us not to worry. (Matt. 6:25-34)
So, why do I worry from time to time and what do I worry about?
Furthermore, if Jesus tells me not to worry, then I have to believe there is a way to avoid it.
First, let’s define the kind of worry Jesus is speaking of.
Worry is synonymous with anxiety.
An online dictionary defines anxiety like this: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
From this definition we can make some observations.
- Worry or anxiety is defined as a feeling (emotion) that makes a person nervous or uneasy.
- According to the definition a person experiences nervousness when then think about an immanent event or something that has an uncertain outcome.
Ok, so, what do I worry about, or what am I thinking about when I experience the emotion of anxiety?
In late 2012, my wife was diagnosed with lymphoma. We both experienced anxiety to a greater or lesser degree because it was difficult not to think about the diagnoses and we were obviously uncertain as to what the outcome would be.
Her treatment was successful although there is no guarantee with this type of cancer that it won’t come back.
When I think about it now, the question that pops into my mind is, “what if it comes back?” The more I think about it and the more I think about the possibility of life without my dear wife the more anxious I get.
Yet, Jesus tells me not to worry.
There is more than one reaction I can have to that command.
- I can get angry. How dare Jesus command me not to get angry because I’m concerned with my wife and the possibility of life without her?
- I can seek medical attention because the anxiousness seems chronic meaning I must have some sort of disorder.
- I can look at the rest of Jesus’ teaching on the subject to discover how not to worry.
Reaction #1 indicates a lack of submission to Jesus. I may not articulate my anger toward him, but by being angry with others who give me biblical counsel, I indicate I’m really angry with God. Bad plan.
Reaction #2 holds some promise if my goal is to simply feel better. Perhaps some medication will do the trick and I’ll no longer think about lymphoma and the possibility of losing my wife. After all, if I have a medical disorder, a chemical imbalance of some sort, then correcting it with meds is simple common sense.
Reaction #3 is a bit of a challenge because it seems to fly in the face of a normal human reaction (#1) and medicine (#2). Nevertheless, I’m a Christian and I do want to follow Jesus, so I’ll study what he has to say on the subject.
Since I’ve decided to study what Jesus had to say about worry I looked at the context of his words in Matthew 6:25-34.
The passage is roughly in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and the thrust of the sermon is how to live in the kingdom now. In other words, how is a Christian characterized in the kingdom of God and how should they live in the kingdom now?
This realization leads me to understand that when Jesus gave the teaching on worry there was no such thing as a medical disorder for anxiety.
Instead, there was a total reliance on God and his sovereignty in all situations.
This is made clear in how Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’ (Matt. 6:9-13, NASB)
Verse 10 is pertinent to my worry. It declares that God is at work and His kingdom (has come) and will continue to come. God is in control for he is absolutely sovereign. Furthermore, His will be done on earth just as it is in heaven.
This is a reminder to me that we live in a sin cursed world and as a result we suffer. We suffer because of our own stupidity and sin and we suffer because others sin against us, and sometimes we suffer simply because everything breaks down including our bodies.
I have come to realize that my wife’s cancer diagnosis was God’s will. I further realize that if it returns then that is his will as well.
I can reject that and get angry with God (and others), or I can humbly accept that God is Holy (perfect); sovereign (He can do what he wants for his purposes) and rejoice in the fact that my wife received Christ and belongs to Him, and thus if cancer takes her she will be with Christ forever.
There is more, but right away I see my thinking changing. Verse 11 hammers home the point we are dependent on God for everything including our daily bread and thus every day we live is a gift from him.
My study of Matthew 6 reveals that verses 25-34 are set up by verses 19-24.
After Jesus tells his disciples not to store up earthly treasures he says:
“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (NASB95)
This verse is sometimes called the treasure principle. What do I treasure most? What I treasure most will direct my life. If my treasure is something other than Jesus then that treasure will dominate my thinking and my emotions.
In verse 24 Jesus gives the example of wealth as a person’s master.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24 (NASB95)
The prior verses (verses 22-23) indicate that which I focus on, think about, worry about is that which will dominate me. Wealth is Jesus’ example and symbolic of our quest for security. Yet, Jesus makes it quite clear that our love for wealth means it is our master (idol) and not him!
That is a scary thought especially as we realize that idolatry can take other forms.
For example, my love for my wife can be greater than my love for Jesus. I can make her an idol in my worry about her. I can treasure what she means to me and what she has meant to me more than I treasure Jesus and my salvation found in him!
By the same token, I can elevate my son and his family (wife and g’kids) to a position of idolatry.
For example, I worry about the kind of world my grandkids are growing up in-a world that increasingly anti-Christian and anti-gospel. I can treasure them more than I treasure Jesus as I give way to a hundred “what if” type of scenarios in my mind.
In verse 25 Jesus says “for this reason” and that is a reference that goes back to verse 24 about which master will control my thoughts. Will it be some sort of idol or will it be Jesus and Scripture as a whole?
For this reason-don’t worry…because worry accomplishes nothing (vs 27) and it won’t add a single day to my life or my wife’s life or my son and his family’s lives.
Again, God is in control and absolutely sovereign. The only question is whether or not will I trust him even “IF” my wife’s cancer comes back or something happens to my son and his family?
Job, who lost everything including his family told his less than helpful friends, even though he slay me yet do I hope in Him (Job 13:15). How can my attitude be anything less?
As I further study the passage, I come to realize that in my worry I’m not thinking theologically. What I am doing is reacting emotionally to the things I fear; loss of family-indeed an emotional train wreck if I give in.
When Jesus says, “do not worry” I believe this to be a gentle rebuke-a pastoral rebuke from my Savior who loves me and understands my human weaknesses and is sympathetic. (Heb. 4:15)
Jesus wants me to repent from a me-centric view of life to a God-centric view of life. (Matt. 6:33)
Jesus assures me that God will take care of my needs (according to His will, Matt. 6:10 and not necessarily my desires) and then points to my essential problem when I worry-a lack of faith (vs 30b).
When I see Jesus reminding me of my main problem I imagine him looking at me in the eye, perhaps with his hand on my shoulder and as he says I have little faith he encourages me to have more faith in him and our Father in heaven. The only question is, will I hear his voice and listen to his counsel?
In other words, Jesus forces us to look at him in our anxieties. He reminds us that he came to take care of our biggest problem and that he will eventually restore all of creation and reverse the curse that causes cancer and fills the world with every kind of danger.
Jesus is right. My faith is weak. I need to strengthen it. My worries and anxieties are opportunities to do so and the only way I can do that is to train my mind to think theologically when I’m reacting emotionally to the things I fear the most.
Two links to helpful sermons on the subject of worry and anxiety on Sermon Audio: