Most of us know what it means to worry from personal experience. However, when examining Scripture, it is always helpful to look to the original languages of the text. The Scripture verses discussed in this article concern the topic of being anxious or worrying. The Greek word common to most of the verses emphasized is merimnaó, which basically means to be anxious or worried. However, one of the more detailed definitions of this Greek word means "to go to pieces" due to being pulled in different directions. That picture appears to describe the experience of what it feels like to be anxious or worried. The symptoms of anxiety can range on a spectrum from mild distraction on the one hand to near paralysis on the other. Needless to say, due to differences in temperament and constitution, some individuals struggle more with this issue than others. That being said, the malady is universal and everyone (if they are honest) will admit to being anxious at some point in their lives. Having roughly defined what the word "worry" means, let us proceed to what the Bible says about the subject.
Worry – What does the Bible say?
The first and most obvious thing that the Bible says about worry is that it is NOT something God desires His children to do or to suffer. However, the subject is a bit more nuanced than it at first appears. Although God does not want us to worry, that does not mean He wants us to be irresponsible or uncaring. The biblical idea of worry carries the connotation of an annoying, distracting, disturbing state of being that keeps us from doing what God calls us to do. There is work to be done and the cause of Christ should captivate our hearts and engage the full capacities of minds and bodies. There are specific things that our Lord commands us not to worry about, and other things which the Lord commands us to seek (Matthew 6:25–34). The seeking of such things as He commands is the antidote to our dis-ease of worry.
Jesus commands His disciples not to worry about earthly things, such as food and clothing. Of course, this does not mean we should walk around starving and naked. It means that we should not be preoccupied with such things as if this world is the only one that exists (Colossians 3:2). We should not live oblivious to spiritual things or to the reality that this world is passing away and every individual will spend eternity in either heaven or hell (1 John 2:17; Matthew 25:46). Instead of being distracted and preoccupied by the material things of this world, we are called to focus on the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We are encouraged to trust God's promise that if we seek His interests, God will provide for our material needs (not to be confused with our wants). God does not want us to be divided or distracted. Interestingly, this was the reason why Paul did not despise the state of singleness (1 Corinthians 7:32–35).
Jesus also commanded us not to worry about the length of our life or the future. Again, these things are in God's sovereign control, not ours (Psalm 139:16; James 4:13–15). Therefore, it makes no sense to worry about them. The antidote for worry is to redirect our minds toward the purposes of God and to trust in Him regarding matters that are out of our control. This doesn't mean we are to cease caring about God or others (Matthew 22:37–39).
Our slogan should not be, "Don't worry, be happy" or "Don't worry, do nothing," but "Don't worry, trust God." A couple of analogies might help to make this point clear. If you were to imagine a Christian as a farmer, that farmer would be one who tilled the land and sowed the seed. However, he would not worry about the weather or the crop. The working is his responsibility, the weather and the crop are in God's hands. He knows that he does not control the weather nor does he control the size of the crop. If you were to imagine a Christian as a soldier, he would be a soldier that manned his post, followed orders, and fought courageously. However, he would not fret over who would win the war. He would trust that the outcome is in God's hands. As Christians, we are called to follow the commands of Christ, but we are not called to be anxious about the results. Anxiety can even creep into Christian ministries when ministers fret and worry about the "success" of the ministry in terms of numbers of conversions, etc. Christ commands us to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, but we are not responsible for the actual conversions. This belongs to the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5–8).
As believers in Christ, there is nothing we need to fret. Our salvation is secure in Christ and we are free from both condemning guilt and the fear of death (Romans 8:1, 35–39; Hebrews 2:14–15). "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).
One of the most helpful verses on the subject of worry is Philippians 4:6–7. In those two verses alone, God speaks to us both the comforting command not to worry and the remedy to that troublesome state. We need not worry about anything. The prohibitive exhortation covers everything. We ought to pray and thankfully trust in God for our provision. Not only do we need not worry, but God has made a promise to those who cast their cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). The promise includes the wonderful, transcendent peace of God, which will guard our hearts and minds form the destructive dis-ease of anxiety. The more we practice "casting our cares" on Him and praying with a grateful trust and confidence in His providential care, the more peace we will experience. This is the peace which comes from the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). The perfect peace promised to those who keep their minds on God and trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3).
In conclusion, the biblical story of Mary and Martha gives us some great insights into what Jesus thinks about worry and what He desires that we do instead of worry (Luke 10:38–42). Although Martha was distracted and concerned about many things, Mary did the one thing that was needful. She sat at the feet of the Lord, learning from Him and worshipping Him. Oh, that we would be more like Mary in this Martha world.
Does the Bible say anything about anxiety?
How does the Bible address fear?
What does the Bible say about faith vs. fear?
In what way is peace a fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Does the sovereignty of God have an impact on everyday life?