Do Not Worry

tumblr_mxzps1v6d11r0un19o1_1280Three 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.

  1. Worry or anxiety is defined as a feeling (emotion) that makes a person nervous or uneasy.
  2. 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.

  1. 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?
  2. I can seek medical attention because the anxiousness seems chronic meaning I must have some sort of disorder.
  3. 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:

Jesus’ Remedy for Worry & Anxiety

Treasure & Anxiety

Idolatry by Another Name – Part 2

John MacArthur attacked the problem of incorrectly classifying addictions and compulsive behaviors as diseases over twenty years ago in his book The Vanishing Conscience:

Perhaps the most prevalent means of escaping blame is by classifying every human failing as some kind of disease. Drunkards and drug addicts can check into clinics for treatment of their “chemical dependencies.” Children who habitually defy authority can escape condemnation by being labeled “hyperactive”or having ADD (attention deficiency disorder). Gluttons are no longer blameworthy; they suffer from an “eating disorder.” Even the man who throws away his family’s livelihood to pay for prostitutes is supposed to be an object of compassionate understanding; he is “addicted to sex.”

These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi-medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. MacArthur, J., F. Jr. (1994). The Vanishing Conscience (Electronic ed., pp. 23–24). Dallas: Word Pub.

As I noted in my blog post titled, “Are Addictions Diseases”, it should not surprise us that the world uses medical sounding language for addictions and bad habits. The world starts with the theories and ideas of men and arrives at the forgone conclusion that addictions must be diseases. Recovery programs of varying sorts then become the abuser’s best hope.

It should surprise us that the church often starts with the same presuppositions as the world does rather than to look at addictions and life dominating sin through the lens of Scripture.

Mark Shaw in his book, “The Heart of Addiction” gives us the biblical names for chemical addiction and substance abuse:

Chemical addiction problems and excessive substance abuse really have two biblical names: one is a general name and the other is more specific. In general, “idolatry” is the proper biblical name for substance abuse problems whether you consider yourself a drunkard, binge drinker, drug addict, substance abuser, or whatever name you wish to call it. The problem is biblically labeled as the sin of idolatry and it is a heart problem from within one’s sinful nature. Webster’s Dictionary defines “idol” as “a person or thing too much loved, admired or honored.” The substance abuser seeks to please himself with his “god of choice” above pleasing God… Shaw, Mark E., (2008), The Heart of Addiction-A Biblical Perspective (pp. viii-ix) Bemidji: FOCUS Publishing

Shaw writes from the perspective of a biblical counselor with a great deal of expertise in the field of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, in the Scriptures the definition of idolatry is anything a person is enslaved too and not just drugs or alcohol. Idolatry may feel like a disease beyond a person’s control but in reality it’s slavery; it is slavery to a person’s god of choice whether it be pleasure, comfort, control, affirmation or anything else craved and worshipped other than the one true God.

Addictions1The person is so enslaved they believe they can control the idol because they get something they want from the idol (pleasure, control, affirmation, and power, to name a few) but in reality the idol controls them in a vicious cycle.

There are four examples of the word “idolatry” in the ESV version of the Bible in the New Testament:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

Much could be said about verses 1-13 as to why Paul concludes this particular line of thought as to why the Corinthians should flee from idols but perhaps verse 11 offers the best reason why:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

In verses 1-13, Paul makes reference to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and despite the fact that Christ was with them in spiritual form (vs 4) their cravings were their undoing and God was not pleased with them and all but a few perished in the wilderness. The idols were not the ones made of stone or wood but rather the idols that reside in the heart or inner man.

Paul’s warning to flee from the gods that can enslave us via our own cravings (James 1:13-15) is hard hitting. Paul is telling New Testament Christians to not follow the example of the people who perished in the wilderness. Calling an addiction disease or any other life-dominating sin a disease does not serve the person because it creates a victim mentality that says, “I can’t help it.”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists idolatry as a “catch all” for the types of things that enslave us. He makes it clear in verse 21 that a person who is enslaved to these things he lists will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a significant warning and it does not serve a person to classify their idolatry as a disease simply because it may feel like a disease and thus believe they cannot control their cravings whatever they might be. Paul is clear that if we are controlled by idols via our own desires (James 1:13-15) we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6] On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:5-6 ESV)

Each one of the sins listed takes place in the heart before they become behaviors. A good example is Matt. 5:27-28 in Jesus’ warning against adultery. He identifies the issue primarily as a heart issue rather than “a change the behavior” issue. The person who refuses to repent of their controlling idols has more in common with the unbelievers who do not know the true God and whom will experience God’s wrath.

In each of the three verses cited above the use of the word idolatry conveys a significant warning. By calling controlling idols “diseases” and giving life dominating sin a medical sounding label gives the person a false sense of security that simply is not biblical. That Christian churches often take the psychology route and use the world’s terminology to soften sin and turn it into a disease should concern anyone who belongs to such a church. Do not soft pedal that which God condemns.

The last use of the word “idolatry” is found in 1 Peter 4:3:

Cross-and-BIble2-300x200Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [3] For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.(1 Peter 4:1-3 ESV)

It’s interesting that in two of the Scripture examples the word “passion” or “passions” is used. In Scripture the word always means something bad as opposed to how we use the word “passion” or “passionate” as in, “he or she is passionate about his or her work.”

We use the word usually in a positive sense while Scripture equates the term with evil desires, cravings of the heart or otherwise in a negative sense.

All desires are not evil. They become evil when they become demands.

For example, the person who is passionate about their work may be craving affirmation and if they don’t get it they may act out angrily or vindictively. By the same token a person who is passionate about the work may be perfectionistic and may hold others to an unreasonable standard if they are in a position of authority over them.

In the passage, Peter simply calls the little gods that can control our hearts examples of “lawless idolatry.”

Lawless obviously means “without law” or lack of restraint. A biblical writer never equates life dominating sin with kid gloves and infers some kind of mental illness or sickness.

Instead the Bible calls for repentance and victory over life dominating idols:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Verse 11 gives genuine hope from that which can enslave us while the disease model can only offer coping devices. The consequences of ignoring what the Bible says about idolatry and issues of the heart are too terrible to contemplate. A person should know where their church stands on these issues for it reveals what the leadership really thinks about the Bible and the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with idolatry and the issues of the heart.

Idolatry by Another Name: Part 1

After I posted Are Addictions Diseases and received some feedback, I was curious as to how many bad habits are listed as addictions and therefore diseases if you follow the popular medical model of addictions.

I found a website (http://www.addictionz.com/addictions.htm) out of British Columbia that listed addictions. I was stunned by the number listed and even more stunned when I read on the website that the list was only partial.

The list is organized alphabetically and within it you can find the usual addictions we’ve become accustomed to, like alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, shopping, tobacco and caffeine.

The list is so broad you can also find coin collecting because according to the website coin collecting is; usually a nice hobby but any hobby can become a compulsion in the hands of a multiple addict.

Here are some more samples from the website that I bet most people never thought of:

  • Art
    • Getting high to produce better art is common. Also the lifestyle of an impoverished artist can be addictive.
    • Collecting art one cannot afford may create adrenalin like compulsive shopping or gambling.
  • Imagination
    • A good characteristic in most cases, but a luxury for an early recovering addict … and a self-destructive minefield for a practicing addict.
    • Living in “your head” is common amongst all addicts
    • One statistic is that addicts do approximately 80,000 words of self-talk per day – so this addicted ‘ head ‘ is a very busy place
    • One saying in 12 step programs is that the head is like ‘a dangerous neighborhood, do not go there alone’
    • The lack of reliable structure in today’s daily life leaves a lot of room for imaginative research
  • Religion
    • It is wise to examine ones attitudes in all areas.

Clearly the authors of the website are willing to list everything and anything as being addictive or compulsive.

junkie1

The use of the word compulsive (under the subtitle of Art above) is revealing because the word compulsive means “compelling” as if the person has little or no choice. Furthermore, the word compulsive leads us to a minor distinction between addiction and compulsive behavior.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Compulsive this way:

1. Resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes: “compulsive eating”

Synonyms: irresistible · uncontrollable · compelling · overwhelming · urgent · obsessive · obsessive · obsessional · addictive · uncontrollable

2. Irresistibly interesting or exciting; compelling: “this play is compulsive viewing”

Synonyms: fascinating · compelling · gripping · riveting · engrossing · enthralling · captivating

Both definitions use the word “irresistible” while the first definition uses the synonym “uncontrollable.” Both words are self-explanatory and imply that a person has no choice.

Now let’s look at WIKI’s definition of compulsive behavior:

Compulsive behavior is defined as performing an act persistently and repetitively without it necessarily leading to an actual reward or pleasure. [1] Compulsive behaviors could be an attempt to make obsessions go away. [2] The act is usually a small, restricted and repetitive behavior, yet not disturbing in a pathological way. [1] Compulsive behaviors are a need to reduce apprehension caused by internal feelings a person wants to abstain or control. [3] A major cause of the compulsive behaviors is said to be obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). [2][4] The main idea of compulsive behavior is that the likely excessive activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to. [1] Furthermore, there are many different types of compulsive behaviors including, shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, trichotillomania and picking skin, checking, counting, washing, sex, and more. Also, there are cultural examples of compulsive behavior.

Now let’s compare the WIKI definition of compulsive behavior with the WIKI article on addiction derived from the DSM-V:

Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences;[6] it can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.[1][7] The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are (positively) reinforcing (i.e., they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and intrinsically rewarding (i.e., they activate the brain’s “reward pathways”, and are therefore perceived as being something positive or desirable).[1][2][5] ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.[8][9][10]

alcoholism

And…

Potential addictions can include, but are not limited to, exercise addiction, food addiction, drug addiction, computer addiction, sex addiction and gambling addiction. Currently, only substance addictions and gambling addiction are recognized by the DSM-5, which uses physical dependence and the associated withdrawal syndrome to identify an addictive state. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction)

And…

The official list of addictions can be found in the DSM-5, psychology’s Bible (http://www.myaddiction.com/addiction_categories.html) where the following are addiction classified as medical disorders:

Alcohol Addiction, Ambien Addiction, Amphetamine Addiction, Benzodiazepine Addiction, Caffeine Addiction, Cocaine Addiction, Crack Addiction, Eating Disorders, Ecstasy Addiction, Gambling Addiction, Heroin Addiction, Hydrocodone Addiction, Internet Addiction, Marijuana Addiction, Meth Addiction, Nicotine Addiction, Opioid Addiction, Percocet Addiction, Oxycontin Addiction, Pornography Addiction, Prescription Drug Addiction, Ritalin Addiction, Sex Addiction, Shopping Addiction, Smoking Addiction, Sugar Addiction, Teens and Addiction, Video Game Addiction, Work Addiction, Xanax Addiction

From these definitions one can deduce the psychology community and the vast majority of Americans believe there are addictions (compulsions) that are behavioral and addictions that are chemical (addicted to drugs or alcohol) and result in physical dependence. The commonality is the perceived “reward system.” In other words we do these things habitually because there is a pleasant pay off even if the consequences can be quite negative.

(In a 1990 survey 87% of Americans believed the disease model of addictions.)

We can also observe there is some level of debate between those who believe certain behaviors are genuine addictions and others who categorize the same things as compulsive behaviors and would therefore fall under the heading of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder rather than a genuine addiction.

The DSM-V is the latest edition of the DSM and in each upgrade the list of disorders and addictions has multiplied. This accounts for the assumption of what is called the medical model of addictions and compulsive behaviors. What that means is if I have a behavioral addiction or a chemical addiction the critical component is: ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.

In other words, addictions and compulsive behaviors are connected to DNA via gene transcription factors.

I should point out that even within the psychological community there is some level of disagreement between those who emphasize choice (minority) and those that emphasize the disease model.

What is the Bible-believing Christian to make of this trend that classifies everything as an addiction or compulsive behavior and is treated as a disease? I’ll discuss that issue in Part 2.