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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 21, 1999
The Cure for Anxiety
Anxiety, worry, fret, distress, agitation, tension, irritability. Words that describe a feeling of an inner turmoil that result in a feeling of outward uneasiness. The words describe a common feeling among humans as we consider what the future may bring to us personally and to the ones we love.
Lets face it, this emotion is used to motivate us to do all sorts of things. The Jeep commercials that paint a picture of some sort of bad storm and your child is sick and must get to the doctor. Don’t you want to have a vehicle that is "safe and reliable." Politicians also use this emotion to motivate you. How many political campaigns center on mud slinging? The basic presentation is that "the future is uncertain, you have reason to worry if the other guy is elected, but elect me and I will make the future better so that you do not have to worry." How many of our civic leaders were elected based on fear and worry rather than on a careful weighing of the issues with sound reason and judgement. Think back to the few elections and ask yourself this question. Did you cast your vote because you advocated the candidate and their position or did you cast your vote in fear of the other candidate?
Anxiety, worry, fret, distress, agitation, tension, irritability. Common feelings, common emotions of man that effect our outward look on life, our decision making, and ultimately the direction of our lives. Jesus addresses this issue in Matthew 6:19-34. Jesus does not want us to be anxious and full of worry. He wants us to live life in a different manner. He does not want us making decisions based on a fear of the future. He wants the direction of our lives established on eternal truths rather than temporal things of earth and the hollow promises of man.
In the first section of this passage, verses 19-21, which we examined in detail two weeks ago, Jesus centers in on the issue of what you value the most. If you treasure the things of earth, then your heart will be set on them, and the direction of your life will be to gain in the things of earth. If you treasure the things of heaven, then your heart will be set on heavenly things, and your life will be spent in gaining reward in heaven.
Jesus uses this truth to lead into the discussion of the next section of this passage that you can not serve two masters, or more accurately, you can not be a slave to two masters. You will either be a slave to God and serve Him, or you will be a slave to the things of earth and serve them. That is a principle we can build upon. If God is your master, then He is the one who will take care of you. If the things of earth are your master, then you must rely on them for your future. It is precisely at this point that we find the cause of anxiety.
Consider again what Jesus says in Verse 19 in light of this. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." What feelings and emotions accompany the person who is trying to store up for themselves treasures on earth. Worry that something will eat up what he has stored. Anxiety that what has been stored up will corrode, devalue and become worthless. Fear that someone will break in and steal what they have worked so hard to accumulate. The cause of anxiety is fear that the treasure that has been accumulated will be lost. The master they serve, their source of security, could be destroyed or stolen. Frankly, that is the reason for the Y2K hysteria that is starting to surface. People advocating heading for remote locations, stockpiling food for a year and arming themselves with guns to protect it all. In the next month or so I will present to you the research I am doing on Y2K and give you are reasoned response to it. But at this point, regardless of what may happen on Jan. 1, 2000, this passage makes it clear that Jesus does not want us to be fearful.
We will not be anxious if we follow verse 20, But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal." The treasure we accumulate in heaven is protected by our master and therefore safe. We can be at peace. That is a principle that we can build upon. If our master is the things of this world, if we serve mammon, then there is no security and worry and anxiety will be present. If on the other hand our master is God, then we can be secure and at peace because He will provide and protect.
Notice how Jesus introduces verses 25-34 which we will concentrate upon in this study. He says, "For this reason," or in the KJV, "Therefore." What is the "therefore" there for? In light of what Jesus has already said about making sure that the master you serve is God, you are now to obey the following command and then take security in promises following. The command Jesus gives in verse 25 is predicated upon the principle given in the verses prior. The command is built on the principle that God is to be our master. We are to serve Him and set our hearts upon heaven rather than on the things of earth. The promises given in the passage are predicated on obedience to the commands.
The command is in verse 25, "do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on." In the KJV, the phrase, "Take no thought" is an old English expression which means to not worry or be anxious. The phrase is descriptive of the Greek word here which is derived from a root which means, "to be thoughtful," in the sense of caring, considering, striving after. The words "worry" and "anxiety" express this thought today. Be careful here that you do not get from this the idea that Jesus does not want us to think at all about what we should eat and drink and cloth ourselves. We shall see as we go through each of these items that we are to both think about them and work to gain them, but the idea here is to not have our thoughts bound up by them with a brooding, fearful concern. These are not the things that should occupy our minds and we should have no apprehension that we will not have what we need.
Jesus gives a clear command that we are not to have a fearful concern over the basic needs of life – food, drink, clothing. Jesus could have simply given the command and left it there with full expectation that we should obey Him, but graciously He also explains the basis of the command. He gives us the reasons why we should obey it. The primary argument is from the lesser to the higher. Jesus says, "Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing." The obvious answer is, of course life is more than food and the body more than clothing. The argument is that since God is already master over your life, don’t you think He will take care of the needs of that life which are so much more insignificant. Jesus uses two analogies to demonstrate this.
First, Jesus talks about food and anxiety. Remember that they are sitting on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea of Galilee. Jesus is the expert of pointing out something common around Him to explain a spiritual truth, and here Jesus points out the birds that are flying around and uses them to bring home this spiritual truth. "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?"
Again the answer is obvious. Of course you are worth much more than the birds of the field. Jesus did not set aside His glory and become a man for the sake of birds. Jesus did that for the sake of the salvation of man. The argument is simple. If God will take care of insignificant birds, He will also take care of you.
But let me throw a caution in here. There are some that have taken this passage and concluded that they do not have to work. They do not have to think about earning a living, or sowing, reaping and gathering into barns. They get the twisted idea that God will miraculously bring to them their food. Now God is certainly capable of that, and He did so for the children of Israel by providing manna for forty years in the wilderness. God also did that for Elijah when he had the ravens bring him food. Those were exceptional situations and God graciously provided. But Jesus is not removing here the general curse upon man in of Genesis 3:17-19 in which we are told that "by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread." Man still has to sow, reap and store.
The Apostle Paul had to deal with some people in the church at Thessalonica who refused to work. Paul made the result of such an attitude clear in 2 Thess. 3:10-12, "if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread." In the verses previous Paul said that with "labor and hardship" they worked "night and day" so that they could pay their own way so that they could set an example and not be a burden.
Jesus is not saying that we can quit working because God will provide. He is saying that we do not have to be anxious because God will provide. The birds of the field do not sow, reap or gather into barns, but they do work constantly at finding food and eating. They are not anxious about their work for God provides. This is what Jesus is saying to us. Work, but do not be anxious about what the outcome will be. God values you much more than the birds, and He will provide for you needs. Work and plan ahead, but do not fret.
In verses 28-30 Jesus brings up the matter of clothing and anxiety. Food is a basic need and so is clothing, but when a person become pre-occupied with it, they can easily center their life around it. Jesus tells us not to have a brooding, fearful concern about these things. When it comes to clothes, Jesus says in verse 28, And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow, they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown in to the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith."
Again, Jesus is not saying that we should expect to be clothed like Solomon without working or that we will be clothed as lovely as the flowers, but He is saying that if God takes such good care of such insignificant things, then He will take care of us. The lilies of the field were the common flowers that those hearing the sermon could see all around them. They were also aware that later in the year those same plants would dry out and then be used for tender in starting fires for the ovens used to bake bread. If God cares for something so insignificant, then He will take care of us.
These truths apply regardless of whether you are rich or poor, we should not be pre-occupied by food or clothing. For the poor, the temptation to worry may be over concern that they will have enough to eat and enough clothing to keep warm. Jesus says that you are worth far more than the birds of the sky or the lilies of the field and God takes care of them, He will take care of you.
For the rich the temptation to worry may not be that they will have enough food or clothing, but over what kind of food and what fashion the clothing. Concern over what you will have to eat will lead to being unthankful for what God provides, and that is sin plain and simple. We want steak & lobster and we get macaroni and cheese so we fail to rejoice in what God has provided. That is the sin of ungratefulness. This was one of the sins by the children of Israel in the Wilderness as expressed in their constant murmuring and complaining (Numbers 11:4,31f; 1 Cor. 10:10). It is one of the many sins that will characterize the last days according to 2 Timothy 3:2.
This is one of the areas we seek to train our children. If we want our children to demonstrate gratitude, then it first must be in our own hearts. They learn by our example. If you want them to be thankful even when they do not get their favorite meal, you need to be too. The same is true with clothing.
Fashion is big business and it causes people to worry about what they are going to wear because they want to be thought well dressed. Women are more susceptible to it, but there are plenty of men that get caught in this too. How many of you worried about what you were going to wear to church this morning? Let me ask it in another way, did you wear what you wore today to impress people or God? If the former, then your interest what not the worship of God. If the later, then take notice, He looks at your heart, not your clothes. How you dress should reflect your heart. 1 Peter 3:3 says it this way, "And let not your adornment be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses, but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gently and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God." Certainly we dress in respect for God whom we worship, but more important is the heart attitude with which you come to worship Him! Neither silk suits or name brand blue jeans impress God. He is impressed with the person who desires to give their best to Him in all things.
In our passage Jesus also points out that the worry and concern of anxiety is foolishness. In verse 27 Jesus points out that it bring no benefit. "And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span." The cubit here is just a reference to the length of life. Your anxiety does nothing good for you whatsoever. It adds nothing to the length of your life. In fact, if anything it shortens it. Dr Charles Mayo, of the famous Mayo Clinic, wrote, "Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands and the whole nervous system. I have never met a man or known a man to die of overwork, but I have known a lot who died of worry." Worry is foolish because it brings no benefit.
A second reason that it is foolish to be anxious is that it demonstrates that we are "men of little faith" just as Jesus says at the end of verse 30. That leads into verses 31 & 32 in which Jesus says, "Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things."
Your anxiety level is a good indicator of how much you really trust the Lord. It seems incredible, but we seem to have an easier time trusting that God will save our souls from Hell because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross than to trust that He will provide for our daily needs. Part of that is because dealing with what will happen to our souls after death is far removed from our daily lives. That is an intangible item far in the future, or at least we live as if it is far in the future. The truth is that death could come at anytime. When it comes to what we eat and what we wear, those are tangible items we deal with daily on a personal level. They are the real indicators of your trust in the Lord.
We know that God knows our needs. We saw that some weeks ago when were studying the section earlier in this chapter in which Jesus deals with prayer. He tells us in Mt. 6:8 that God knows our needs before we even ask in prayer. We can pray with confidence. We should have that same confidence that God will provide for us.
We have all heard a hundred stories of how God has met this person’s or that person’s need. Most of us have seen this in our own lives as well. Diane and I certainly have. When I have needed a job, God has consistently supplied the work. One time we had a large medical bill come in marked, "paid in full" which neither we nor the hospital could explain, but they considered the bill paid. We have had anonymous people give us money just when a bill was due. Eleven years ago I went to Australia as part of a missions team. I did not have the money to go, so Diane and I prayed about it. I had people I had not heard from in years write and say they wanted to do something special for me, did I have any suggestions? Many of you can recount similar stories. We know that God will meet the needs we have. Sometimes it will be through gifts by relatives or friends or even strangers, sometimes through an opportunity to earn some extra money, sometimes by His graciousness in allowing us to stretch our funds out to incredible lengths. (One thing I have learned beyond a shadow of a doubt over the years, is that the amount left over after giving to the Lord goes a whole lot further than if I had kept the whole amount for myself).
But even with all of this as a background, my faith can weaken and in my humanness I can start doubting if the Lord will continue to provide. It is precisely at that time that I need to remind myself of the truths Jesus teaches here and get my eyesight focused on the right object again. The gentiles, here used simply as a reference to those people that do not know God, the heathen, are anxious and seek after what they will eat and drink and what they will clothe themselves with. Jesus tells me that my heavenly Father already knows my need. I do not need to have my thoughts pre-occupied with those things. God already knows my need.
The Cure for Anxiety is simply, but logically stated in verse 33. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Those that do not know God spend their time being pre-occupied with seeking after food & drink & clothing. Those who know God are to be pre-occupied with God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness. If we will seek after those first, then Jesus says here that God will supply the other things that we have need of. The cure for anxiety then is simply to seek after what God wants and let Him take care of you. You can then rest in His loving care knowing that He will provide for you. If your mind is occupied with Him, then it can not be occupied with the things of this world.
This is simple in theory, but it can be very difficult to do because of the pressure the world tries to place on us. We look around us and see people with a higher standard of living than our own, and we feel pressure to try to achieve the same. We look for ways to make more money so that we can get the things other people have. When we no not have our focus on the Lord, then we succumb to the pressure and in pursuit of what we covet we work longer hours, send the wife to work, take on high pressure jobs, and lower our standard of business ethics. We want people to be impressed with what we have and how we look including the house we live in, the car we drive, the kind of dinner parties we can prepare, and the clothes we wear. Our minds become preoccupied with the things of this world and we start becoming anxious. And once a standard of living is achieved, we do not want it to go down, so the same cycle can start again. We will then do whatever is necessary to maintain our lifestyle. We become concerned about the future and we start to worry. What will happen if…. I must prepare for that by….
What a difference if I obey God and then rest on His promises. If keep my focus correct and seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness first, then God’s promise is that He will take care of my needs. Therefore I have no fear of the future. I have no anxiety for my treasure is in heaven and God is my security for the present and the future.
That is what verse 34 is speaking about – the future. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself, Each day has enough trouble of its own." Worry is the preoccupation in the present with the fear of what may take place in the future. There is nothing wrong with having contingency plans. We need to plan ahead, but we must not become pre-occupied and fearful of the future. The future is in the hands of God, and we may never make it there anyway. We need to live for God in the present and not live for ourselves fearing the future.
But let me emphasize that God’s promise to take care of us is conditional. We must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. If you are not doing that then there is not promise and you will have good reason to fear the future. So the question that still must be addressed is what does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?
It means that at every point in my life I will view things in light of what it will do to expand the kingdom of God and reflect His perfect righteousness. The pre-occupation of my mind are the things of God and not my own kingdom or pleasure.
Let me give you a few areas to consider. What is your standard of living and why is it at that level? Remember, Scripture is not against having material possessions for many of the righteous (Job, Abraham, David, etc.), were very rich. Scripture is against loving those possessions over God. What are you doing to keep that standard of living at its present level? How do those actions things fit in with the kingdom of God? Are your activities helping expand the kingdom? Are they reflective of God’s righteousness? Let me be more pointed. American society is going increasingly to longer hours, two jobs, and double incomes not primarily because we must, but in order to keep the standard of living high. What sacrifices are made and what are their effects on the kingdom of God? Is the spiritual welfare of the family compromised – not just the children, but the husband-wife relationship as well? Do you have time left to use your spiritual gifts? Some can handle the pressure better than others, but all of us need to think through the issue of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness verses our standard of living.
Another area is your business ethics. Not just business practices, but personal practices as well. Do you cheat on your income taxes? Do you return overpayments? Do you keep your word even to your own hurt so that you are trustworthy? Petty theft is expensive for businesses. Do you take things home from work that you should not? True righteousness is above petty theft including pens and pencils.
Do you give sacrificially to meet the needs that God places in front of you. The apostle John tells us in 1 John 3:5 that "whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" It doesn’t. Are you willing to give (wisely) or do you refrain simply because you are keeping it for yourself?
Another area – What do you do for entertainment? Is it beneficial to the kingdom of God, does it promote righteousness? Does it cause you to think about what God has created, what He has done or see His hand at work? Does it motivate you toward holiness or drag your mind into the sewer? You may need to think through this issue.
A related issue is personal morality. Not only do you practice righteousness yourself, but are you willing to speak up for what is God fearing and honoring? We should be concerned about the moral condition of our nation and we should not be afraid to speak up about it and vote accordingly. Abortion and euthanasia are wrong because they violate God’s commands about murder (Gen. 9:6; Exod. 20:13; Isa. 26:21). Homosexuality is not an acceptable alternative lifestyle. It is an abomination before God (Lev. 20:13; Rom. 1:26-28). Lying is not the expression of an "alternative reality" as some of our national politicians have tried to make it. Lying is a grave sin that brings God’s severe judgement of Hell (Rev. 21:8).
Seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness means that the most important issue in every decision I make and in everything I do is determining God’s perspective. I ask myself, What is most pleasing to God? What will best further His kingdom? What will best reflect His righteousness? The answer to those questions then determines my actions.
Jesus tells me in this wonderful passage that God does not want my mind pre-occupied by the things of this world. He wants my mind centered on His kingdom and His righteousness. He make a wonderful promise here that if I will seek first His kingdom and righteousness, then He will provide for my needs. I have no reason to be anxious, I have no reason to fear the future. That is a wonderful way to live.
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