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As a young Bible college student, being told from the pulpit that “if you have low self esteem, you are a sinner who is insulting God” left a life-long impression on me, an introverted person who at that time struggled with the anxieties of self-consciousness and social ineptitude. I left that chapel feeling even worse about myself - thanks alot, highly paid, semi-famous chapel speaker!

Over the years I have heard arguments back and forth on this question. Bible references used to support the idea of anxiety as sin include Matthew 6:25,34, and Phillipians 4:6, which are interpreted as commands: “Do not be anxious” certainly does sound like an imperative, after all. Anxiety is described (here by Stephen J. Cole) as a lack of faith, and a poor witness, therefore sinful. Julian Freeman concurs with Cole. Cole ends his article with this quote:

Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us. —Billy Graham

The other side of the coin, explaining that anxiety is the felt result of a disorder of brain chemistry, as Tim Challies does here seems more loving and empathetic, if less rigorous from a legalistic standpoint. Jesus wants us to come to Him with all the weights on our back, and drop them at His feet. When I envision this scenario, I do not see judgement in His eyes, but compassion and love beyond understanding.

For the sake of this question, let’s boil it down to one verse:

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Strong’s number G3309 shows that the word for “anxious” here, in the Greek, “merimnao”, means: Care (Noun and Verb), Careful, Carefully, Carefulness: akin to A, No. 1, signifies "to be anxious about, to have a distracting care," e.g., Mat 6:25, 28, RV, "be anxious," for AV, "take thought;" Mat 10:19; Luk 10:41 (RV, "anxious," for AV, "careful"); Luk 12:11 (RV, "anxious"); to be careful for, 1Cr 7:32-34; to have a care for, 1Cr 12:25; to care for, Phl 2:20; "be anxious," Phl 4:6, RV.

So my question is, how should “be not anxious” in Philippians‬ ‭4:6‬ be interpreted? As a pronouncement of potential sin to be avoided? Or as an appeal to receive comfort from a loving Savior?

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  • @NigelJ, thanks for letting me know. I thought I was asking for an interpretation on the sited verses, which is debated in the sources I sited. Is there a way to re-word the question? Should I leave out the back story for instance? – Laurent R. Feb 23 '19 at 1:06
  • If you were to change your question to "Does Philippians 4:6 say that worry is a sin?" I would say, "No, it doesn't even mention sin". Ditto for the Matthew passages. A verse like Romans 14:6 might be a verse to look at as it does mention sin and does mention something (at least in the KJV) that sounds like it might say something along those lines. But you might want to define what you mean by "a sin". Do you mean "wrong"? Or "penalized"? Or something else? Welcome to the site Laurent. – Ruminator Feb 23 '19 at 2:44
  • Perhaps your question could be something along the lines of "In Romans 14:6 is Paul suggesting that it is counted against a believer if they worry?" Of course, you would want to define "counted against"! – Ruminator Feb 23 '19 at 2:47
  • @Ruminator, I’m sorry but could you please recheck the chapter and verse you are recommending I reference? I don’t see anything in Rom 14:6 related to this question... – Laurent R. Feb 23 '19 at 3:18
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    I agree this is not the best place to answer such a question, but there is nowhere else either. It is a good and important question that needs to be addressed. Let us allow a little slack here and try to answer this question. – user25930 Feb 23 '19 at 9:04
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There were numerous people in the Bible who suffered anxiety and probably even had bouts of depression. Here is a sample:

  • Saul: 1 Sam 16:14
  • David: Ps 38:4, 42:5, 6, 11 (see also Acts 13:22)
  • Elijah: 1 Kings 19:4
  • Jonah: Jonah 4:3, 9
  • Job: Job 3:11, 26, 10:1, 30:15-17
  • Moses: Ex 32:32
  • Jeremiah: Jer 20:14, 18
  • Jesus: Mark 14:34-36, Luke 22:44. See also Isa 53:3.
  • Paul: 2 Cor 1:8-10

So, if a person is suffering anxiety (or worse), they will find themselves in very good company of some great leaders and saints of the Bible.

Second, there is no Bible verse that I am aware of that equates anxiety to sin. The Greek word "merimnao" occurs about 19 times in the NT and never once is it equated nor related to sin. Therefore, anyone who makes such a claim is making it on the basis of non-Biblical data.

BDAG defines the "merimnao" in Phil 4:6 as, "to be apprehensive, have anxiety, be anxious, be (unduly) concerned". Jesus and others often provide great encouragement to be not anxious (Matt 6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34, 10:19, Luke 10:41, 12:11, 22, 26, etc) but the very fact that this occurs so often tells me that it is common and very human to be anxious.

Jesus also told us that His followers would suffer many things just as He did (John 16:33, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21). Many have found(eg, Paul's sufferings) were very difficult to endure but they trusted. Recall that Jesus told us that He would be with us (Matt 28:20) always. The best thing we can do is to "keep our eyes on Jesus" (Heb 12:2). More specifically, here is how some found comfort:

  • Moses needed to understand that he could not take responsibility for others’ problems (he was overly compassionate??) (Ex 32:33-35)
  • Jeremiah needed a listening ear and the Lord was the only one left to provide this. That is Jeremiah turned to the Lord and complained! (Jer 20:7-17)
  • Jesus also found comfort in prayer (Ps 34:18) but in His extreme case, He was also comforted by an angel from heaven (Luke 22:43)
  • Paul took comfort in the resurrection and the support from the prayers of his friends (2 Cor 1:9-11)

These are good examples of how those, just like us struggled and endured in the strength of Jesus, not their own.

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There is nothing in Philippians 4:6 that mentions "a sin" whatsoever so any suggestion that worrying "is a sin" has to be read into the passage from some other passage. That isn't to say that worry is or isn't a sin, only that this passage makes no such assertion. Inference which does not correspond to something elsewhere explicit is not safe. It is possible to use inference and "connect-the-dots" eisegesis to "prove" anything. So Philippians 4:6 should not be used to suggest or infer that to worry is "a sin".

However, Paul's letters are not intended as personal advice (such as you are likely to get from a question like this) but rather the explication of the divine will. To disobey Paul then is to disobey God and so can be considered "a sin". Hence the question.

My answer, derived from the text of Phil 4:6 itself is that:

  • Paul does not say that worry is a sin
  • inference is unsafe without a corresponding explicit assertion Ergo, No, one should not infer that anxiety is "a sin" based on Phil 4:6

That isn't to say that worry is NOT a sin, only that Phil. 4:6 does not say that and it is inappropriate to read it into it.

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In Phil 4:6, should we interpret “anxiety” as a sin?

We all know that anxiety or worry, stress can cause health problems,such as increase of blood pressure ,may also affect sugar in blood and the nervous system.

Harvard Heath Publishing. Harvard Medical School. Calm your anxious heart.

A wave of dread overcomes you—your chest hurts, your heart flutters, and you can't catch your breath. These classic anxiety symptoms are often mistaken for a heart attack—and for good reason. Emotional turmoil triggers the release of stress hormones, which act on the same brain areas that regulate cardiovascular functions such as heart rate and blood pressure.

Jesus as well as Paul were aware that the anxieties of life may lead to spiritual harm, persons being assailed with anxieties ,may choke out the word of God completely from their lives . Thorns prevent seedlings from reaching maturity and producing fruit, likewise anxiety prevents a person reaching spiritual maturity, so Jesus advised:

Matthew 13:22 (MEV)

22 "He also who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful."

"Mark 4:18-19(MEV)

18" And others are seed sown among thorns, the ones who hear the word. 19 But the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."

Yes “be not anxious” in Philippians ‭4:6‬ should be interpreted, as a pronouncement of potential sin to be avoided. Having permitted anxieties or worries to dominate ones life, to the exclusion of spiritual interests, may find themselves not worthy to stand before the "Son of Man". If however we are overcome with anxieties, we can cast them on him, because he cares . 1 Peter 5:7 , Philippians 4:6-7. Matthew 11:28-29.

Luke 21:34-36 (MEV)

Jesus Exhortation to Watch.

34 “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts become burdened by excursiveness and drunkenness and anxieties of life, and that Day comes on you unexpectedly. 35 For as a snare it will come on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth."

36" Therefore watch always and pray that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Mac's Musings answer is correct, many servants of God had anxieties and he mentioned some of them, I also, have not found any scripture to equate anxiety with sin. I just thought to answer you on a different line to that of Mac's.

  • Seems there are many viewpoints, thanks for the well thought out answer. – Laurent R. Feb 27 '19 at 14:44

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