Is worry always a sin? Perhaps that seems like an obvious question. “Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil 4:6). Next question?
But wait. Is that all the Bible teaches on worry: just stop it? That’s a simple answer, but it doesn’t map well onto the complexities of life. If your spouse is seriously ill and you’re not concerned, or if your child’s salvation means no more to you than tomorrow’s weather forecast, something is wrong. Worry goes right along with compassion and genuine love. The same Paul who wrote “Do not be anxious” also said of he faced “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). He loved his churches, and that love carried with it the pressure of anxiety for their welfare. And in Philippians, before he commands us not to be anxious, Paul commends Timothy because he is “genuinely concerned” for the welfare of the Philippians (Phil. 2:20), using the same word for concern/anxiety that he uses in 4:6. So which is it: a sin, or something commendable?
Let’s go back to 2 Cor. for the answer. In 11:28 Paul mentions his daily anxiety, but it’s not the first time he describes this experience. Back in chapter 1 he’s already alluded to something similar: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (1:8-9). That last line is crucial: being burdened was meant to make Paul rely not on himself but on God. And there’s our answer. Sinful worry is a care that you carry instead of casting on God. “Godly worry,” if we can call it that, is running to your Heavenly Father with all the things that are beyond your abilities.
You can’t live in a sinful world without facing worrisome things. And you especially cannot love without being genuinely concerned with the real needs of real people. Those worries, burdens, and cares are meant to lead you to God. When you turn instead to your own resources – planning, scheming, fretting, attempting to control – you’re sinning. When you turn to God, worries and cares become opportunities to rest in your Heavenly Father’s care.
Photo by Evil Erin