This column, written by Dr. Heath Lambert, originally appeared in the print edition of the Florida Baptist Witness.
Worry is a sin. That statement is one of the most controversial I have ever made. I would not know how to describe the number of people I have angry with me over making such an observation. That is too bad for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I do not like to say things that are controversial. I have never been joyful about saying things that are upsetting to anybody—much less many people. In fact, I have something of a rule: and that is that I only make controversial statements if they are explicitly warranted from Scripture.
That gets to the second sad reality about the negative reaction I get when I say that worry is a sin. The Bible is clear that worry is a sin. We run from this reality in our culture. We prefer to medicalize worry, saying that it is a biological issue requiring medical treatment, or we minimize it saying that it is not a big deal—God, I’ve heard many say, understands when we worry a little bit. The problem here is that when we speak that way, we speak in a way that is not informed by Scripture. In fact, the most common command to appear in the pages of Scripture is God’s demand to “fear not.” God thinks worry is a massive issue and he commands us to avoid it more than any other thing.
One place where we see God’s command to avoid worry is from the lips of Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus commands his disciples three times to avoid the sin of worry (Matt 6:25, 31, 34). More than giving the command to avoid worry, Jesus also explains in his sermon why worry is such a big deal. Worry, Jesus says, is at odds with faith (Matt 6:30). We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Fear explicitly undermines this faith in God by doubting his good care for us. That is why Jesus can say that people who engage in the sin of worry are guilty of having “little faith.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not merely remind that worry is a sin, and he does not only explain why it is a sin. He also shows how we can fight worry. Jesus encourages us to fight worry with worship. Let me explain.
Jesus does not merely issue the command to avoid worry, he explains some very tangible truths about God that work to undermine worry. First, Jesus talks about the sovereignty of God in making provision for the natural world. He points out that the birds of the air and flowers of the field are more than adequately provided for by the sovereign God of the universe (Matt 6:26, 28-29). Second, Jesus makes it clear that God’s love for his people is much greater than his love for any bird or flower (Matt 6:26, 30).
Jesus is fueling our worship. He knows that worriers characterized by small faith need to turn their eyes on the sovereign God of the universe who has complete control over his creation, and who is determined to direct that control towards his people that he loves so much. Jesus is saying, in effect, “Don’t worry, worship.”
For more information about putting off fear and worry, check out the session “Fear and Worry”.