Anxiety

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Our subject for this evening is ‘Anxiety’. Not surprisingly, the Office of National Statistics has recorded greater levels of anxiety over recent months. So how we need to listen to Jesus’ teaching this evening on the subject.

Anxiety is our subject because we are starting a new series of studies in the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday evenings, and we start where we left off last summer, which means Matthew 6.25-34, where Jesus teaches about our subject.

So let us now pray:

Heavenly Father, we pray that you will open our hearts and our minds to this teaching of Jesus on anxiety, which is so relevant, and that our faith in you will increase as a result, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And this evening I have three headings as we consider and, I trust, learn from Jesus’ teaching: first, THE CONTEXT of this teaching; secondly, BASIC FACTS Jesus teaches; and, thirdly, JESUS’ ANSWER to the problem.

So, first, THE CONTEXT

There are two things you need to know about the context and first is the immediate context. For Jesus starts off this teaching on anxiety with these words (Matthew 6.25):

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious …

Therefore is how Jesus begins, and that is because in Matthew 6.24 (the preceding verse), Jesus says:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus is there saying you must be whole hearted in your commitment to God, for he knows what a temptation money is (either making it, or losing it, or not having it) and for rich and poor alike. It can become an idol in the place of God.

Jesus, in personifying money as having servants or slaves, is saying money can be a rival to God. You may not believe that; that money can be an all-consuming idol, but Jesus teaches it. For money can so easily lead to covetousness, namely the desire to get more than you’ve got (or haven’t got) for selfish reasons. And money, even rightly used, can stand for what is called ‘worldliness’. That is when God and eternity are left out of the picture, with the belief that money can solve all problems. Notice Jesus does not say, “You must not serve God and money,” but, “You cannot serve God and money.” It is a sheer impossibility.

Well, that is the immediate context of Jesus’ teaching on anxiety – the choice between God and money (and to what money can lead). Secondly, there is the context of the whole Bible itself. And particularly important for what Jesus is teaching about anxiety is this vital biblical truth; namely the truth that our Heavenly Father is in control of the whole universe of space and time, and so of all history and all people, and then down to the minutest of sub-atomic realities. So our God knows all about you and me and the virus, and he is in control, while, amazingly, we remain free agents. And, sadly, since the sin of Adam, we all have a bias towards sin. But practically what does this mean?

Jesus tells us later in Matthew 10.29-31 when he said:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are more value than many sparrows.

It is beyond our imagining how this is possible – that God is involved in the death of a sparrow. But that is what Jesus teaches - Jesus, our incarnate Lord, the second person of the divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who is one God in three persons. Theologians call all this ‘the providential working’ of God. And it is so important. That is why that famous and hugely encouraging verse, Romans 8.28, can be true:

…for those who love God, all things work together for good.

God’s providential control is over everyone and everything and, please note, over human follies and sins as well (but those through his permissive will). Yes, this is a mystery but a fact, according to the Bible – and Christian people can witness to its reality in their own lives. I certainly can.

So think of this second contextual factor of God’s providential working, as a continuation of God’s divine energy, which was seen uniquely in the Creation of this amazing universe in the beginning. Now that divine energy is continuing in history as God’s equally amazing control of the Creation.

That brings us to my second heading and BASIC FACTS

And there are three – they are simply that anxiety is, one, needless, two, mindless and, three, faithless.

So first, look at Matthew 6.25, where Jesus says:

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing

Life here means your ‘bodily’ life.

So Jesus is saying virtually “don’t be worried or anxious about your physical life and all that goes with it, to keep it going and make it comfortable – such as food and drink and clothing; for you don’t need to be anxious.”

Jesus explains, Matthew 6.26:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Notice he says, your heavenly Father – he doesn’t say “their [the birds’] heavenly Father”. Whatever Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer say, human beings are radically distinct from the animal world. For humans alone are made in the image of God. Indeed, Jesus says, expecting the answer “Yes” – Are you not of more value than they [the birds]? But, you say, “Does God really feed them? Don’t birds feed themselves?” Well, yes.

Birds work and we, too, must work for our food. But our heavenly Father is providentially working at the same time, for he is in control to make and let this happen. So it is needless to be anxious about material things such as food and drink, because God is in control and will supply, somehow, what is needed. For if he can do it for the birds, he can certainly do it for you, if you are a believer. So anxiety is needless.

Secondly, anxiety is mindless - it is utterly foolish to worry or be anxious. For anxiety won’t solve any problems. It may make them worse. Matthew 6.27:

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

The answer is no-one!

I remember once, years ago when flying was rare, hearing a pastor of a big foreign church being asked a question whether, when flying, he was frightened the plane might crash. And his reply was, “in no way; for I am not going to die a minute before or after the time God has appointed.” How right he was! Of course, we need to steward our lives responsibly, not least now and follow social distancing and wear masks and so forth. But then don’t worry! If the Lord doesn’t first return, you will die no sooner nor later than God wills. And it will be for your good with Christ having prepared a place in his Father’s house for you, if you are believing in him. So to repeat Jesus’ words which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

Such anxiety is mindless as well as needless. And, thirdly, it is faithless. We can now see why. Look at Matthew 6.28-32:

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

So anxiety and worry, says Jesus, is for people of 'little faith' – with too small a God. They are not aware that our heavenly Father really knows that they need, food, drink and clothes and so every other need. In that they are like the Gentiles – who Paul says, have no hope and [are] without God in the world (Ephesians 2.12). So anxiety is not only needless and mindless, it is also faithless.

That brings us to our third heading and JESUS’ ANSWER

Jesus answer to the problem is in two parts. He first says, in Matthew 6.33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

As we’ve just seen, the problem is too little faith, with people having a “pigmy” God, to quote Jim Packer, who died recently. And so such believers, like the Gentiles, were (to quote Jesus), seeking after (or their focus was on) simply things of this world like food, drink, clothes and money. They were buying into the pagan world-view, which was much the same as modern ‘secular humanism’, that is to say, godless. Of course, they were anxious. And that is a temptation not just for Jesus’ day but for today. But the answer to the temptation and anxiety that goes with it is, implies Jesus, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That is to know more of God and his greatness and glory ourselves; and to tell others about his greatness and glory - to extend his kingdom. But then we need to seek God’s, not our, but, his righteousness. That includes not only experiencing but promoting the righteousness that God alone can give. There is the saving work of Christ on the Cross, to start with.

I wonder who watching hasn’t yet received that covering of Christ’s righteousness by faith in him? Why not consider doing so and make use of our Christianity Explored courses at Jesmond Parish Church?

Then we are to seek God’s righteousness that is holiness or right behaviour for individuals, as evidence of that saving work of Christ in individual lives; and also we are to seek God’s righteousness for the nation. And for that make use of the Christian Institute, Clayton TV and the JPC website. But what is the result of seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness? Well, Jesus says all these things [these material things including money] will be added to you. That is a promise. Do you believe it? If not, first, you need to note that the command and the promise are in the plural (in the original). It is you as a group of disciples – where people can help one another as needs require. So this promise presupposes a society of Christians - a church.

Whatever you think of Max Weber (one of the fathers of modern sociology) and his seminal work the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, one thing is undeniable. It depended on the fact that Protestant Christian societies, on average, did well materially. And study after study still proves that, where people seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, on average the results uniformly are positive in terms of human flourishing, wealth included. However, all these things added does not mean believers this side of heaven are going to have an easy ride. Jesus is a realist as is evident in his second answer to the problem of anxiety in Matthew 6.34 where he says:

Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus knows that any day can bring trouble, but he knows that our Heavenly Father knows all about that, and will help you. So, now in conclusion, two things:

One, don’t waste time and energy today being anxious about tomorrow’s problems which you don’t know about. And, two, as you seek to promote God’s kingdom and rule, and his righteousness and morality, and as you face today’s challenges, remember God is always with you to help you and guide you and guard you. Hebrews 13.4-6 says it in words appropriate for the 21st century as for the 1st century AD, I quote:

Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

Keep your life free from [listen] love of money, and be content with what you have, for he [the Lord] has said,

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

So we can confidently say,

“the Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Amen

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