By numerous measures, people’s lives today are safer and better than at any other time in history. Yet, we are constantly crippled by panic and anxiety. What if there was something that would put all the chaos and turmoil of our political systems, global pandemics, societal unrest, and environmental, economic, and ethical problems into perspective? What if you could be free from anxieties? This is the Apostle Paul’s wish for you: “I want you to be free from anxieties” (1 Cor. 7:32). But how?
We need to identify the cause of our anxiety. Matthew Henry’s commentary on 1 Corinthians laid out five common causes of anxiety. The first is our relationships. Paul’s primary point about relationships in 1 Corinthians is this: Undue emphasis on any human relationship adversely affects your relationship with Christ. If your comfort, hope, or rest is in other people, they will eventually let you down, hurt you, or fail you. We must not look to others to fill the place that only Christ can.
The second cause is afflictions. “Mourn as though they were not mourning” (v. 30). Do not indulge in your sorrows. Let go of your sorrow and pain. You invite anxiety into your life when you hold afflictions close to your heart. Instead, meet your sorrow with a holy joy, knowing that God intends good for you (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28).
The third cause is enjoyments. We don’t often think of enjoyments as a source of anxiety, but when our pursuit of the next pleasure becomes primary, the result is anxiety. Matthew Henry said: “Be moderate in mirth and sit loose to the enjoyments you most value. Here is not your rest.”
The fourth cause is wealth. Jesus’ parable of the great banquet in Luke 14 warns of how wealth can draw us away from what is best. The tighter you grip your possessions, the tighter they grip you.
The fifth cause is worldly concerns. “Those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it” (v. 31). Martin Luther said, “Use what is available but do not sink too deeply into love or desire with it.” Consume but take care that you are not consumed. Worldly concerns make fertile the soil of anxiety.
The reason these cause anxiety is a matter of perspective. Paul tells us that the “appointed time has grown very short” (v. 29) and “the present form of the world is passing away” (v. 31). Anxiety takes root when we fail to see life with an eternal perspective. Consider: “In a thousand years, what will I think about this thing which causes me so much anxiety?” The answer is probably not much.
Instead, replace your anxiety with the good, the true, and the beautiful (Phil. 4:8). Fill your life with God’s Word, because it is God’s Word that points us most clearly to Jesus Christ. He is the wellspring of all that is ultimately good, true, and beautiful. Look to Christ and see your anxieties pass away.