Recently, a church member told me that she had heard a TV preacher say that worry is a sin. She wanted to know what I thought. I’m afraid I didn’t give a very helpful answer, but I have been thinking about that ever since.
My first thought is that the statement is too simple. Many times as preachers we make pronouncements that oversimplify important things. In fairness to the preacher in question, I didn’t hear his full explanation, but that statement does not tell the whole story about what God wants us to understand about anxiety.
The first thing we need to do is to define worry. As we commonly use the word, worry is an emotion. When we are faced with an emotional state, we are limited in how much we can control. When worry arises within us as an emotion, we cannot control the emotional state, we can only control how we act in response to it. If worry arises within us, that is not sin. The only thing that could be sinful is how we act based on that emotion.
The second thing that bothers me about the idea that “worry is sin” is that to frame it that way is to turn it into a judgment. When the New Testament tells us not to worry, I believe the emphasis is on comforting us, reassuring us that because of God’s power and love, we do not need to worry. To say that if we worry, we are committing sin may simply add to our anxiety.
Having said that, the biblical texts do suggest that anxiety can lead us to sin if we give into it and let it determine our behavior. Two New Testament texts that are commonly cited when talking about worry will illustrate. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to put their mind and energy toward serving God’s kingdom ahead of everyday concerns like food and clothes. In this case, the sin would be to let anxiety about things like food and clothes keep us from living our lives in service to God. The emotional state of worry is not the sin. If our worry causes us to give up and not live for God or to work for things other than God, then we have strayed into sin.
A second text that relates to worry is Philippians 4:6-7. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” If we understand this text as a command, we will not experience its healing and help. It is a prescription for dealing with anxiety in a positive way. Anxiety and worry will happen to you. When they do, tell God about it and ask for God’s help. If you simply try to stop worrying, you will likely fail. Emotions don’t work that way.
Finally, we should also recognize that worry and anxiety are sometimes symptoms of medical problems that need a doctor’s care. It is irresponsible for any preacher or Christian teacher to tell a person who is having a sickness to “quit” because it is sin.
The message of the New Testament is not “stop worrying or I am going to punish you.” Jesus’ message is, “when you feel anxiety coming on, don’t let it rule your life, remember that you can trust Me.”
Love in Christ,
Greg W. Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC