Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Commandment Against Being Anxious

The Sermon on the Mount contains many different commands from Jesus. As I have mentioned before and elsewhere, this makes sense as it is God speaking to His people through His servant (in this case, the Son) about matters of how He desires them to live. This harkens back perfectly to God speaking to His people through His servant (Moses) on the mountain in the Old Testament. We know that God gave many commands for the new nation of Israel and codified a few on two stone tablets – commands we call the Ten Commandments.

Jesus clarified these ten and other commandments within His sermon as recorded in Matthew 5-7. For example, do not murder was “enhanced” to include hatred against another (Matt 5.22). Jesus further clarified what true giving, true prayer, and true fasting were. But in my preparations this week, I came across a new command. It is a command I have read many times. It is a command I have said before. But until this past week, I had never included the thought with the severity of a command – and yet, it uses the same language as many of the Ten Commandments used. That is, Jesus began this command with “Do not...” Do not be anxious (Matthew 6.25, 31, 34).

Now, at first glance, you might object to this being a command. If so, you likely object because you, like me, had simply not thought about it in these terms before. But we cannot dispute that the phrase used is identical to “Do not murder,” “Do not lie,” “Do not commit adultery,” etc. The difference is that those earlier commandments have to do with action while Jesus command here about anxiety has to do with thought. Yet, isn’t that exactly what Jesus did in the latter half of Matthew 5? He took the actions of murder, adultery, lying, etc. and made it about our thoughts, not just the act. So, we cannot dispute that thought is paramount to kingdom-living. Of course, our actions are important, but we cannot fool God if we do the right actions even though we do not have the right thoughts.

This concept truly struck me this past week as I was preparing my sermon. Jesus’ words truly jump off the page as He says the same words three different times within just a few short sentences. And while we may still be hesitant to lump “Do not be anxious” with the Ten Commandments, the idea of our anxiety is rooted in not trusting God which can be like having another god before the one true God.

Jesus does not say that we cannot have concern. Jesus was concerned about what was before Him as He prayed in Gethsemane. But the question is: Does our concern go into overdrive? Being concerned about the past is foolish – nothing can be changed. However, we can learn from the past. Being concerned about the future can lead to making better decisions. But if we are concerned about the future, we really only have two viable options if we are to avoid becoming anxious. First, we must deduce if something can be done about the projected future. If we can affect the future (even potentially), then we should do it (this would include prayer). If our efforts (beyond prayer) cannot change anything, forget it. Let me restate this – if you cannot do anything about the future, then why worry about it? It is going to happen. Make plans for it, don’t worry about it.

As I type this, I realize the idea of not being anxious is much easier said (typed) than done. But the command not to be anxious does not come from me, it comes from the one who created the universe. He is in control. And that will not change.

I do realize that some are medically diagnosed with various disorders which are called anxiety. I am not suggesting medication cannot help or that it should not be used. Just at the heart can be helped with medication, so can the brain. (After all, both are organs, right?) But apart from that, most of us worry over a variety of matters which, truly, do not matter – especially, when we are busy seeking first (primarily) the kingdom of God and His righteousness (but that part will have to wait for next week’s post).

So, do not worry. Do not be anxious. Do not fret over what might happen. Either do something about it, or let it go. Whether or not you agree that His words represent a commandment on par with the Ten Commandments, your choice, and mine, is to follow these words or ignore them – just like every other command God has given. But, for those who claim to follow Jesus, to ignore His words is as impractical as it is unwise. Let us wisely choose to follow and, therefore, learn how to not be anxious about anything.

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