The Anxiety of Idolatry

Our Lord concludes by insisting that what we treasure and set our sights on is actually what we truly love.

Here is the connection between idolatry and anxiety. Christ says “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.” The importance of this principle is highlighted by the fact that Jesus repeats it in vs 31 and 34, as well as by the fact that each time he teaches it he prefaces it with the word therefore (e.g. “Therefore, do not be anxious…”). The word therefore is all important, as is the position of Christ’s teaching on anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount–following as it does, the teaching on those who pursue earthly treasures.

 

Lately, I’ve been wondering if we’ve given adequate consideration to the relationship that exists between idolatry and anxiety. Many rightly cite reasons to separate the one from the other (i.e. physiological problems, mental problems etc.); but in our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6, he clearly links certain forms anxiety to idolatry. Consider the following:

First, our Lord had been teaching about people who desired reputation and glory from men (Matt 6:1-19). He implicated the Jewish leaders for giving alms, praying and fasting so that they could receive glory from men. They were worldly-minded hypocrites whose chief desire was to be acknowledged as something or someone. Then our Lord proceeded to teach about earthly and heavenly priorities: earthly or heavenly treasures (6:19-21), what our sight is set upon (i.e. light or darkness) (6:22-23) and what or who we love (6:24)? Our Lord concludes by insisting that what we treasure and set our sights on is actually what we truly love. He said “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (6:24).

Here is the connection between idolatry and anxiety. In the next verse (v. 25), Christ says “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.” The importance of this principle is highlighted by the fact that Jesus repeats it in vs 31 and 34, as well as by the fact that each time he teaches it he prefaces it with the word therefore (e.g. “Therefore, do not be anxious…”). The word therefore is all important, as is the position of Christ’s teaching on anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount–following as it does, the teaching on those who pursue earthly treasures.

Having taught that earthly treasures are susceptible to moth, rust and thief (Luther calls these three “miserable watchmen to put in charge of treasures”).1 Christ implies that pursuit of them ultimately leaves the pursuer empty. Moreover, he teaches that as we strive for earthly pleasures they end up darkening our hearts and ultimately captivating them – we end up loving them and not God. However, chasing idols, is an empty business. Not only are they “here today and gone tomorrow” but they do not satisfy, they do not pacify, they do not fulfill. Only Christ does that. It is in this context that Christ then says “Therefore I tell you do no be anxious about your life…” (v25).

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