How often do you find yourself restlessly contemplating circumstances in life? Are you often bothered by present conditions or tense over an uncertain future? I’ve been there, and often find myself returning to this pitfall which plagues the mind and paralyzes the progress of sanctification. Although most are probably familiar with the exhortation to replace worry with prayer in Phil. 4:6-7, there is another passage of Scripture which exposes the ugly underbelly of this all-too-common sin.
The Sin of Worry
Yes, that’s right. I called worry a sin. It’s not just something which merely causes discomfort in mind or body from which God wishes to free us for our own consolation. We need seek victory over worry, not primarily for our own benefit (although that is a blessed result!), but for the glory of our Lord and Savior.
Paul’s gentle exhortation to the Philippians in Phil. 4:6-7 has long been precious to me. It is a marvelous and freeing thing to rid one’s self from the burden of worry. Yet I always thought of this passage as primarily an exhortation which was given for the benefit and comfort of the one who would put it into practice. At that level, I have been most thankful for this revealed means to alleviate myself of such agony which worry can bring. However, this passage never brought conviction over the dreadful sin of worry. Perhaps it’s there, I have just always missed it.
Worry: The Other Master
More recently, I was reading through the book of Matthew and came to the passage which speaks of laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19-24). The exhortation to lay up heavenly treasures falls immediately after Christ’s warning against religious hypocrisy in the earlier part of the chapter. We will only gain heavenly treasure if our motive is pure. If we are engaging in religious activity for the purpose of earthly recognition, then we can be assured that we “have our reward in full”. Matt. 6:24 seems to flow naturally out of this idea when Jesus states that we cannot serve two masters; if we love the one, we will hate the other. In other words, if we love the praise of man, we are effectively despising the praise of God (because we cannot have both, and we have prioritized man’s praise above God’s praise).
While I still believe this is a valid interpretation, the eye-opener for me was the phrase which follows immediately in verse 25:
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried…”
Christ ties the principle of verse 24 about serving two masters directly to the exhortation which follows in verses 25-34 to forsake worrying about everyday needs. Why does Jesus exhort us not to worry? Because when we are worrying, we are serving another master. It’s that simple.
What our Worry Communicates
Worrying is a symptom of faithlessness. Worrying is effectively telling God: “Look, I know you’re all-powerful and I’m trusting in you for my salvation, which is the most amazing thing ever in the history of mankind… but things are really difficult right now and I just feel like I need to figure this thing out on my own, because I’m not sure you are really going to pay attention to my needs in this circumstance or handle it the right way.” My worry and your worry tells God that we do not trust Him. He is not powerful enough, or attentive enough, or loving enough, or understanding enough to work this thing together for good. We must remember that without this practical kind of faith, even as sealed saints, we will not please God (Heb. 11:6).
Worrying is a symptom of idolatry. Rather than devote all our desires and goods into God’s care, we choose to seek our own desires and use our own means to acquire the goods which we want or need. We become slave to the master of money (or security, convenience, power, etc.). As servants of another master, we love, obey, and seek the approval of someone or something else. We are worshipers of fleshly things, worshipers of ourselves. In Matt. 6:32 Jesus reminds us that when we worry we are acting like the lost who have no hope: “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things…”. Gentiles in this verse refers to those outside the faith; unbelievers.
We should note that the things about which Christ commands us not to worry in verses 25-34 are not superfluous, extravagant things. They are everyday, basic necessities. They are things which are exemplified in thoughts like, “How am I going to pay this bill?”, “What if this makes me a burden to loved ones?”, “What if I can’t care for my family?”, etc. Jesus is saying that worrying about even the most basic, elemental things necessary for managing daily life is serving another master and acting like an unsaved person. Our actions should always bear witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Truth and Freedom
The truth is, as a child of God, your heavenly Father knows what you need (Matt. 6:8, 32), desires to give you good gifts (Matt. 7:7-11; Jas 1:17), and will be faithful to give you what is needful (Matt. 6:11; Phil. 4:19; Rom. 8:31-39). In the course of life, sometimes we can become convinced that God doesn’t understand what we truly need, that He is not fully acquainted with our sufferings. But this is a lie. It’s a lie we tell ourselves out of the faithless and idolatrous heart of the sin nature. We must hold fast to the truth, and the truth will indeed set us free from the slavery of other sin masters, including our worry. In this way we are equipped to glorify God with the pure worship of a faithful heart.