“Stress” is not a biblical word. “Worry” and “anxiety” are. And they are sins.
That’s the thought that started a conversation the other day. Can we actually say that something like anxiety is sin? What makes it a sin? Isn’t it just a weakness to be delivered from? Or, rather, shouldn’t we conceive of it as a mental illness?
There are a few different ways that we could go about answering. Let’s try beginning with the commands of Jesus himself.
It’s a Command
The command, “Do not be anxious,” is repeated several times by Jesus in Matthew 6 (Matt 6.25″ data-version=”esv”>Matt 6.25, Matt 6.27″ data-version=”esv”>27, Matt 6.31″ data-version=”esv”>31, Matt 6.34″ data-version=”esv”>34) and it is repeated again in Matt 10.19″ data-version=”esv”>Matt 10.19.
While those commands deal with specific situations, the underlying reality at play is that if Jesus commands people to “not be anxious” we know that (1) it’s not just a chemical imbalance or a mental disorder, and (2) there are at least some ways in which anxiety is a sin, simply because Jesus commands against it.
Jesus’ Theology of Anxiety & Trust
When Jesus commands people to not be anxious in Matthew 6 and 10, he is charging them not to be anxious about specific things: food, clothes, length of life, what happens tomorrow, and giving a defence for yourself when suffering because of the gospel. I think it’s safe to say, those are some of our most basic needs. By arguing from the most basic and elemental things, he is making the case that we ought not to worry in general.
In other words, if you shouldn’t worry about the most elemental things necessary for life, then what should you worry for? Nothing.
Jesus teaches in a metaphor in this passage, saying that we’re slaves of one master: either worldly “stuff” or God. He says we should follow God, because as a just and righteous master, he will provide all we need for us as we serve him. By way of contrast, if we serve ourselves, or labour to ensure that we provide for ourselves, we can guarantee nothing: “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to his span of life?”
At root in the issue of anxiety is the question of trust. If you say you are a servant of God and then you are being anxious, you’re acting like he’s a pretty wicked master. What kind of master would demand from his servants and not provide for them? If even human masters provide for their servants, then that is a very untrusting view to take of God!
Trusting in yourself is what produces anxiety. And it’s vain: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6.34″ data-version=”esv”>Matt 6.34). Trusting in God, on the other hand, frees you from anxiety and enables you to obey the command to “Not be anxious.”
The Apostles Agreed
All this is why the apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4 that the believers there should “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4.6). There is one right place for trust. That’s what’s at stake when we battle anxiety.