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?