The Cure for Anxiety

by Spiros Zodhiates

On account of this I say unto you" (Matt. 6:25, a.t.). On account of what? The nearest conceptual antecedent is the impossibility of serving two masters (v. 24), a fitting introduction to the subject of anxiety. Attempting to serve God and the devil, heaven and the world, will certainly create a great deal of anxiety. All attempts to live out contradictions produce anxiety.

The Lord continued: "Do not put anxiety into your soul [psuche {5590}], what you will eat, and what you will drink, nor your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than food and the body than clothing?" (a.t.).

The three verbs, "eat," "drink," and "put on" are all in the aorist tense. Because the Greek aorist interprets actions as points, the emphasis is "at any point [of time]." Yet the verb "do not be anxious" (merimnate) is in the present tense. Not only are we to stop regularly irritating our souls and bodies over the future, but we are to continually stop every single instance of agitation over every single thing.

This does not mean that we should sit and wait for God to provide our needs. It does mean that anxiety should not replace God's command, "Six days thou shalt do thy work" (Ex. 23:12), as the primary motivator of the spirit and body. Since God commands work, Paul contended against welfare for the fit and able: "If any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10).

In verse 26 Jesus appealed to nature: "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" The fact that it is foolish for us to worry about our needs is seen in this example from nature. God has given us far greater intelligence, and therefore responsibility, than that of fowl. Since birds manage to feed themselves under the providential hand of the Father, our anxiety is without excuse.

And all the more so because of God's valuation of people: God values us and our faith higher than He values birds.

Too often we care about the wrong things. We should care for our eternal souls and the souls of others that survive the body. The verb "to be concerned" (from merimno [3309]; a.t.) is actually neutral, carrying a good or bad connotation depending on the object to which it is joined. Care is a vice when directed toward the devil and his world, but it is a commendable virtue when directed toward the wellbeing of others. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, for example, Paul taught that we should care (merimno) for other members of the body of Christ (v. 25).

To demonstrate that selfish care is useless, Jesus asked (v. 27), "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" This question has two possible connotations. The word translated "stature" (helika) means basically "length of life" and usually refers to the stage in life one has reached (John 9:21,23; Heb. 11:11). But it is definitely used figuratively of one's height in referring to Zacchaeus as being "little in stature [helika]" in Luke 19:3. The word translated "cubit" (pechus [4083]), on the other hand, is a measure equal to the length of a person's arm from the elbow to the end of the middle finger-between eighteen and twenty-one inches, obviously differing depending on who is measured. The King James Version and New King James Version assume that pechus should be taken literally, and helika should be taken figuratively of adding anything to one's height. But most modern versions take pechus figuratively and helika literally to describe adding anything to one's life span. For example, the New International Version translates this verse, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

Of course, the answer to this question (however we translate it) is, no one. Since anxiety cannot increase our heights or lengthen our lives, it is absurd to worry about God's provisions of food and clothing.

In verses 28 and 29 we have another imperative: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider [from katamanthno {2648} from kat, an intensive preposition; and manthno, to learn] the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil [kopiosin, to wear oneself out to the point of fainting] not, neither do they spin." The lilies Jesus referred to were wild but beautifully multicolored. Their beauty, He said, surpasses even the elaborate, multicolored royal robes of King Solomon.

Katamanthno means to thoroughly learn from creative ability as a mathetes, a disciple or learner of Christ (5:1). This is the only place in the New Testament where this verb is used.

For something to "grow" (auxno), an external power must act upon it to place the element of life within. The life God implanted in lilies is unique, and no one can duplicate it (Matt. 13:32; Mark 4:8; Luke 12:27; 1 Cor. 3:6, 7). Seeds cannot be manufactured; they are reproduced. The statement is absolute for they do not toil. The beautiful life in a lily simply emerges from its hiding place.

So lilies are unparalleled by anything made by human hands (v. 29). Since God creates such natural beauty, we should not be anxious to "toil and spin" for our outer (physical) bodies.

Verse 30 begins with the conjunction ei, which is either a subjective hypothesis ("if") or a contingency to which there is no doubt, as in the English "since" (see Matt. 19:10; Acts 5:39; Rom. 8:25). Thus, we could translate it as, "Since God so clothes" Jesus here moved from beautiful lilies to the equally transient "grass of the field." Grass beautifies the ground, but after it has served that purpose, it is still useful as fuel in the "oven" (from klbanos, a clay furnace fueled with grass or wood and used to bake bread).

Our faith should be strengthened by the fact that God surpasses even all Solomon's glory when He clothes lilies and grass:

"Since God thus clothes the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (a.t.)

The verb implies that the covering God gives to lilies and grass is not merely external. Jesus also used this word in Matthew 11:8 with regard to John the Baptist's clothing: "But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses" (cf. Luke 7:25). John the Baptist's clothing was different. Every fiber of his being was committed to Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice of fine food and clothing was the manifestation of his robe of righteousness.

"Little faith" presupposes some faith; however, the Lord wants us to believe that He will provide our need for food and clothing. The Father values us higher than the birds He feeds and the lilies which He clothes with glory greater than Solomon's.

Verse 31: The teaching was complete, so Jesus now commanded: "Therefore [i.e., on the basis that God will provide your needs], do not agitate yourselves saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, How will we be clothed?" (a.t.)

The Lord knows that when we become His children, we still carry some worldly anxiety, even though we have acquired His nature (2 Pet. 1:3, 4). No amount of faith can fully exempt us from the consequences of Adamic sin.

Two explanatory clauses are in verse 32, each introduced by "for" (gr). The first one is treated as a parenthetical expression in the King James Version, giving the reason why we might be tempted to worry. Don't be anxious because the Gentiles [typifying unbelievers] "eagerly seek [anxiously' is implied] all these things" (nasb). In other words, "Don't be anxious like unbelievers who act like there is no tomorrow!"

The second "for" clause summarizes the real basis for Christians' freedom from anxiety: "For your heavenly Father knoweth [ode, the perfect tense-used as a present-of edo {1492}, the aorist of horo {3708}, to perceive, to innately know This means that God actively and innately knows all our needs. It is a good thing He does. Otherwise, we would have serious problems coping with His granting all our desires instead of our needs.

"Allthings" is translated from the adjective hpas (537), which is derived from an abbreviated form of hma (260), at the same time; and ps (3956), all, therefore "all [these] things simultaneously."

We often are like little children when we pray to our heavenly Father. While we realize He can provide "all things," we want them all at the same time-now (hma)! The Lord, however, not only knows what we need; He knows when we need it. He gives us what we need first, second, third, and each time following, because He is the God of order (txis, 1 Cor. 14:40), not confusion (akatastasa, 1 Cor. 14:33). His order brings peace and progress. A child must first have milk to grow, then gradually solid foods.

Verse 33 is the key to Jesus' advice: "But seek first [proton] the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added [prostethesetai, the future passive indicative of prostthemi, to add] unto you."

"First" means a quantitative (chronological) and qualitative priority. Jesus wants us to desire God first and make our spiritual lives our top priority. When God possesses our hearts, we know how to live righteously.

We do not know what worldly goods are best for us or when we should have them. Jesus said that if we pursue the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first, everything else would be added to us in God's time. The passive voice of prostthemi means that God will do the adding according to His omniscient wisdom. We do not have to be concerned, for He promises to give what we need when we need it. Mature Christians desire only their needs and wait for God's timely, all-sufficient provision to bring them perfect peace and contentment (2 Cor. 9:8; 1 Tim. 6:6). This is the meaning of blessedness (makrios, Matt. 5:6)-full satisfaction with God's provision.

In verse 34 we have the summary of Christ's teaching regarding worry: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient [arketn] unto the day is the evil [kaka, evil, calamity, trouble, malevolence] thereof."

In other words, live one day at a time. Tomorrow belongs to the Lord. It is enough for us to contend with and overcome the evil of each day. We are reminded that we live daily in environments which are intrinsically bad (ponera [4189], evil, harmful). However, even though "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19 nasb), 1 John 5:18 assures us that "the evil one" [ho poners] cannot touch [from hptomai, to touch from the inside] us (a.t.) since Satan does not indwell believers. Nevertheless, as 2 Corinthians 12:7 states, he does buffet us. Thus, a little faith can dispel a lot of worry!
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