Pastor Jonathan Stockton
Because of the Coronavirus, we’ve been seeing a lot of strange circumstances. We’re not used to it at all. We know of many in the culture who are experiencing “anxiety”. This is not surprising; lives have been turned upside down and death and loss is more on the mind than normal, in some cases in front of our eyes. But even before the virus, anxiety has been a growing problem for the culture. So, what about Christians?
Is anxiety sin? Is it sin to “have anxiety?” Certainly we have times of need, times of distress, sadness, weakness, frailty, or times of fearful obstacles coming into our lives. But is it sinful? Why, the Psalms are full of professions of great anxiety! And does not the Lord say that He knows and understands our anxieties? Some are afraid because of the government overreach that is evident just under the surface. They see American rights eroding away and it causes anxiety. Even persecution of spiritual practice seems like it might rear its ugly head soon enough. A fearful thing, indeed! Others fear the disease itself, afraid they may catch it themselves, but mostly they’re afraid of losing folks they love. These are anxieties that come into our lives, and we cannot avoid them. So is anxiety sin? Instead of answering that question right off, let’s look at a few Scriptures, and then come back into it.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”. (II Timothy 1:7) Focus on that word “spirit”. The reality is that this is a spiritual battle, between the flesh and the Spirit.
“Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6a)
In other words, “have anxiety about nothing!” (That word “careful” is the Greek merimnao, meaning “anxiety”). Notice how many things, the various and sundry things, the vast amount of things about which the Christian is to “be careful” or “have anxiety”: “nothing”. Then Paul switches things completely: “but in EVERYTHING” by prayer and supplication…” Then he adds “with THANKSGIVING!” Try saying it now: “Lord, I’m anxious about coronavirus, but I’m bringing it to You, as You instruct me to; I’ll no longer have anxiety about it. Also, THANK YOU for coronavirus because…” There are actually blessings in this time: a Christian man yesterday publicly thanked the Lord for extra time with his family that he almost never has. Another expressed thankfulness that he had more time to spend in the Word. What blessings are you missing because your anxiety causes you to be unthankful?
Here’s the answer to the question: Anxiety itself is not sin; but if anxiety is governing your spirit, you’re living in sin.
Many times, out-of-control anxiety manifests itself in one/both of two ways: 1) Active Anger, or 2) Paralyzed Passivity:
“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her”. (Luke 10:41-42)
Notice, Martha was “careful” (merimnao, same Greek word used in Philippians 4:6) about “many things” (not just “much serving”). She needed to whittle down her cares and concerns. She was so concerned about the needs of others, so focused on the details, and making sure everything was exactly “right”, so caught up in the physical realm that she “had anxiety” and was also “troubled” (turbazo – trouble, turmoil).It seems by Jesus’ response to her that she was also concerned about losing something. These things brewed inside her until she blew up, acting in anger. She had allowed anxiety to govern her spirit. Maybe this has happened to you? Wife, maybe you’ve blown up at your husband because anxiety has governed your spirit? Ladies and men, perhaps you’ve lashed out at others? Anxiety is governing your spirit. Notice that others were able to observe Martha’s emotional attitude: if she had children, they would see this, learning that behavior themselves and noticing that her attention was not on the Lord. What about your children? What are you teaching them? What about your husband? What about your church? What about your personal relationship with the Lord Jesus? Remember, dear sister: “one thing is needful.” Instead of having “many” anxiety-causing focuses, narrow down your vision to “One”: the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. What has He provided for you? What is His power? What is His promise to you? Notice what Jesus says, by the way: “that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Seems like Martha was afraid of losing something: maybe her brother Lazarus? He died a chapter later). But whatever Martha was afraid of losing, Jesus pointed out to her that Mary would not lose the “good part” on which she focused. Also, Mary “chose” that good part. She could also have been governed by anxiety, but chose something else.
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.” (John 20:24-26) Notice, Thomas was called “Didymus” (two-fold or twin). Perhaps Thomas was an actual “twin”, but we find that he was called so three separate times in the book of John. Thomas was a “two-faced” Christian. In John 11:16, Thomas said “Let us go…die with him (Jesus).” But by John 24, he’s nowhere to be found. It seems that Thomas had some good intentions, a right desire to be with the Lord, but struggled with “doubts,” and so he gets called “Doubting Thomas”. Old “Doubting Thomas”, who had the blessing of the presence of Christ (as we do) but he ignored it in unbelief (as we do) and so missed the blessing of Jesus “breathing” the Holy Spirit on the disciples! (We also miss God’s special blessings when we let doubt govern us!) Wife, have you found yourself frightened into doing nothing profitable? Husbands, have your anxiety rendered you useless when the work is being done? Worry really does keep us busy! Many talk a good game of faith in the Lord, “I love the Lord”, “I just trust the Lord”, etc., but, like Thomas, they are “scared” into apathy. Some people become so overwhelmed with anxiety about what might happen or what is happening, that they curl up in the fetal position (spiritually) and waste away! Some can’t sleep, some can’t eat, and some never even leave the house! (At non-corona times, I mean) Is fear controlling your life, causing you to shut yourself up, but opening yourself to the temptation of Satan and the lusts of the flesh? I wonder what was going on in Thomas’s mind while he was living in fear and doubt, and in anxiety! Nothing spiritually fruitful, that’s for sure, and he missed out on precious time he could have spent with the Lord Jesus in person, and receiving special blessing from him. My brother, be “in season, out of season”, (II Timothy 4:2), be “stedfast, unmoveable” (I Corinthians 15:58) in the Lord! By the way, notice what Jesus brings with Him when He is in control of the situation: “PEACE”.
In both instances, lacking a proper focus on and perspective of the Lord Jesus caused an issue in hearts. What was Jesus’ Word on this?
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:1,27).
On one hand, God’s people should not allow their heart to be “troubled” (“agitated”) by circumstances! On the other hand, God’s people should not allow their heart to be “afraid” (“timid”). You can see how the Lord Jesus’ words here mirror the above illustrations of Martha and Timothy. Are you in obedience to Christ’s instruction? (Notice it comes with a promise of “PEACE”!)
My friends, I’m much more concerned about your spiritual life than I am about whether you live or die. After all, we are going to die (unless, you know!) If we are going to live in anxiety over these events, what will we do when the trial of sickness or death actually comes, and when real persecution actually arrives? Remember this: “Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s!” (Romans 14:8). I’ve told you before, and I’ll keep on telling you:
“Worry’s like a rocking chair – keeps you busy, but never gets you anywhere!”
This is a Biblical statement; it’s a copy of something Jesus said: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matthew 6:27)
If you really focus on it, think about it, etc, can you make yourself taller? No! Jesus’s point is, stop worrying about what you can’t do anything about! Stop worrying, Christian! Trust the Lord to take care of these things! Now, I want to make a point here: the English phrase “taking thought” is from the SAME Greek word the Lord used in Philippians 4:6 “Be careful for nothing” AND in Luke 10:42 “…thou are careful about many things”: merimnao (“ANXIETY”)!
Ok, just one more time, notice that word merimnao (“anxiety”) in Scripture:
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (I Peter 5:7).
You’ve probably heard Pastor Smith preach this, if you’ve been in CBC long. There are two different words for “care” in this verse. The first is merimnao – we must cast all of our “anxiety” on the Lord. The second is melo, meaning the Lord “takes interest in, is concerned for, has care for”. You see, the Lord knows and cares about your anxieties! You tell your children “don’t worry” about things that you will take care of for them. God tells you, His child, to “stop worrying” about what only He can and will take care of! “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22). God will sustain thee, “thee” can’t sustain thee!
Is your spirit governed by anxiety? That is, do you find yourself exhibiting an unbiblical response to anxiety? We have the express command of the Lord regarding being governed by anxiety. Christian, God knows your cares, but He tells you what to do with them. If you don’t do that, then you’re in sin. For some of you, it is time to get off of the internet. You’re filling your mind with worries and cares that are often hypothetical, often someone else’s, and often non-existent! For some, it is time to stop talking about your fears with others, constantly returning your focus to the anxieties! While some are real and legitimate, here is the other truth regarding most of these fears: real, or not, there is nothing you can do about them. Why not take them to the One who can, and leave them there? Some of you should turn off the news: as one man called the TV recently, the “Hellivision”!
Given the current calamity, we should also consider the question “who/what am I trusting in?” What is the “bank” for my deposit of “trust?” Is that bank secure? Many of God’s people are tempted to put their trust in “experts”, citing their great education. So when the “experts” say “be afraid!”, many obey instinctively. Listen, education is good, but education is not everything. Experience is good, but experience is not everything. In fact, when these things are put up against God’s great wisdom and might, they are nothing! For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
So what should the Christian’s attitude be during this time? You should trust in the Lord. In other words, “deposit” your life into the “saving’s account” of the Lord’s care, and let it earn some wonderful interest! (Note that “salvation pun”!) God wants to augment your spiritual life, and He’ll care for your physical life as He sees fit. You must be walk in wisdom, being cautious to weigh out the risks of each activity. This is a battle waged in the mind. Make your thoughts God’s kind of thoughts – use the “whatsoever” list in Philippians 4:7-9! You should obey the government, using the system that exists for the glory of God. Surely we can vote, support conservative ideologies, and even take the government to court (as this is our system) if appropriate. But you must not stand in open defiance against the government unless it restricts our responsibilities before the Lord, and then you must do it in confident humility, not prideful rebellion. Whatever the case, if you’re being influenced to let what happens in government govern your thoughts and spirit, then you should cut out those influences, whatever they are, for GOD is on His Throne! (Read Psalm 2:1-6!)
This is “rubber-meets-the-road”, “brass-tacks” Christianity, folks. It’s time to put feet to our words.
You should not worry regarding the future. Ok, one more merimnao: “Take therefore no thought (merimnao) for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself….” (Matthew 6:34).
Get rid of the influences that are causing you to fear. Focus on the Lord, on His Word, and on doing His work in your family and your church. Spend much time in prayer, “…let your requests be made known unto God! (Philippians 4:6b)
“Why worry when you can pray? Trust Jesus! He’ll be your Stay! Don’t be a “Doubting Thomas!” Trust fully on His promise! Why worry, worry, worry, worry; when you can pray?”
Summing up; anxiety is not sin, but being governed by anxiety is sin. This is the flesh bossing us, instead of the Spirit. “Walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit!” Stop sinning, be sanctified before the Lord, and start singing the Spirit-fruit song of peace and joy! And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:28-33)
“Consider the lilies…how they grow…”
Ah yes, the lilies: how they grow. Yes, that’s a good question: how do they grow? The Lord takes care of them (v.28, “…God so clothe”), and my, does He do a good job!
“They toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Solomon, the great king, not in his great earthly wisdom, not in all his diligent work, and not in all his focus attention, no, he could not provide the beauty that God has wrought in one fragile, temporal little Lily-flower.
“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith”?
Lord, help me to trust in Your great might, and not to be “of little faith”!
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.)
Lord, help me to stop seeking after and focusing on the physical – help me to “seek first the Kingdom of God, and His Righteousness”! Ask yourself, Christian, “Who shall separate [me] from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35a) In Luke 12:32, the parallel passage here, the Lord adds this phrase, and I leave you with it: “Fear not, little flock”.