What Jesus means by, “Do not be anxious.”

May 13, 2019

Anxiety is a real problem in our society. Working in ministry, I regularly talk to Christians who are struggling with anxiety, and I also spend a lot of time working with leaders trying to help others deal with anxiety in a biblical and healthy way. It seems the problem is ubiquitous. From college campuses and local churches, to marriages and friendships, to coffee shops and businesses, anxiety is everywhere.

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to be anxious about our lives (6:25). Describing those words as challenging is a significant understatement. Jesus delivers them in part of his famous Sermon on the Mount. In many ways, his sermon is designed to help us look forward, to help us see what life will be like in the Kingdom of God. There will be a time when our lives and our world are no longer marked by anxiety, as well as anger, unruly sexual desires, deceit, poverty, and other signs of brokenness. Jesus confronts us with those things here. But we would miss much of what Jesus is saying if we simply assume that the things he sets forth in his sermon merely apply to the future.

So how what does he even mean by, “Do not be anxious”?

What Jesus didn’t say

As a general rule, it isn’t a good idea to try to make sense of a passage by starting with what it doesn’t mean. But I do think it is important to say that Jesus is not telling us to forget about anxiety, as if it isn’t really a problem. Jesus is also not saying that the things that cause us anxiety don’t matter.

For some people, anxiety, and many of the things often associated with it, can be so debilitating that it requires professional counseling or medical intervention. I am sure that Jesus would do nothing to discourage those people from availing themselves of such help. In the first century, and today, Jesus knew his words were for broken people. He also knew that because of the curse, even our best, Spirit-empowered efforts cannot fully liberate us from sin’s reach. This means that sometimes our besetting sins and struggles will remain with us throughout our lives. Each of us needs help to battle against the effects of sin, and if anything, this should encourage Christians to seek out the appropriate care for anxiety and other issues.

What Jesus did say

Jesus was a master teacher, and the amazing thing about these words is that they apply to all of us in the same way. The reason why Jesus tells us not to be anxious is because the Father cares for us. Notice that Jesus tells us not to worry things that are actually really important—our food and drink and clothing. All of us would be tempted to panic if we didn’t know where our next few meals were coming from, or if we woke up without clothes to wear. Jesus isn’t saying these things don’t matter. Instead, he’s saying that God loves us and cares about those things, so we don’t need to worry. Most of us would do well to think more about how the Father loves us.

All of that is easier said than done, though. So, Jesus presses the point further. He shows us the futility of our anxiety by drawing our attention to something we cannot change. He asks, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (6:27). Obviously, the answer is none of us. But we shouldn’t miss Jesus’ point. Jesus’ point is that, although we can’t control the number of days we will have in this life, God can. And that is what he wants us to see: God can do what is impossible for us.

What Jesus says to us

Here, Jesus gives us a spiritual answer to a very practical question. We are anxious because we have real needs and concerns. Jesus tells us not to be anxious because God knows what we need. Despite how hard it is to do, we are supposed to have faith. On the surface, this can look like a cop-out, but this is what faith is all about: learning to trust God when we would rather trust ourselves.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Instead, he says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (6:33). In my darkest moments, when life has pressed in with the most difficult of circumstances, these words have been far from memory. My inclination in the midst of a trial is not to seek first the kingdom, but to shelter in place, try to solve my own problems, or just pretend it isn’t happening. I think that is exactly what Jesus is speaking to.

None of us will live a life that is free from sin. Most of us will struggle with some measure of anxiety throughout our lives. But in the midst of our brokenness, Jesus is calling us to fix our gaze on the Father and his Kingdom that is to come. He wants us to be free from anxiety because of our confidence in our Creator. God loves us deeply and has the power to answer our prayers and provide for our needs. And when anxiety is bearing down, God wants us to reach for him.

I think the striving is more important than success. Do not be anxious about your life might seem like an impossible burden, but what I think Jesus would say is: Let your desperation become your prayer. Because God knows, God sees, and he cares.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24