Anxiety and Peace
Anxiety and Peace
Anxiety can rob you of the enjoyment of life. The causes of anxiety are numerous: health issues, problems at work (or lack of it), finances (debt, unpaid bills and so on) and much else besides. Some of the biggest causes of anxiety are those dealt with in today’s New Testament passage: relationships, marriage (or lack of it), sex (or lack of it), singleness and divorce.
In our Old Testament passage, the book of Ecclesiastes suggests that much of the anxiety we experience is caused by something deeper. This could be described as the anxiety of meaninglessness. In the midst of all this, you are called to live in peace.
Speak to God about your anxietiesPsalm 94:12-23
Do you know what it is like to experience great anxiety (v.19a)?
The psalmist certainly did. He writes, ‘You grant… relief from days of trouble… When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul’ (vv.13a,18–19).
He goes on, ‘But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge’ (v.22).
When surrounded by great anxiety, turn to the Lord for help. ‘When I was upset and beside myself you calmed me down and cheered me up’ (v.19, MSG). In God’s love we find relief, consolation and joy. God provides ‘a circle of quiet within the clamour of evil’ (v.13, MSG).
Thank you, Lord, that you give me relief in the days of trouble. Today I come to you and bring my anxieties to you…
Live at peace with your situation1 Corinthians 7:1-16
Do you feel you are living a life of peace? ‘God has called us to live in peace’ (v.15c). How do you find this ‘peace’? In this chapter, Paul sets out how you find peace in relationships, marriage, singleness and separation. He begins by asking the question, ‘Is it a good thing to have sexual relations?’ (v.1, MSG). He responds, ‘Certainly – but only within a certain context’ (v.2a, MSG).
Paul is dealing with two opposite dangers: those who say that ‘all things are lawful’ (see chapter 6) which leads to immorality, and the super spiritual ascetics, who deny the body totally. In response, Paul answers a number of questions:
- Is marriage God’s general will for his people?
Marriage is the norm for all men and women: ‘It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband’ (v.2, MSG). God’s general will is for people to get married for partnership (Genesis 2:18), procreation (Genesis 1:28) and pleasure (1 Corinthians 7:1–5). Singleness is the exception. It is a special call.
The reason Paul gives here is because there is ‘so much immorality’ (v.2). ‘Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder’ (v.2, MSG). He is dealing with his opponents on their own terms. They were reacting against immorality and arguing for no sex and no marriage.
Paul replies that, as well as all the positive reasons, the temptation towards immorality is a good reason to get married.
- What is the Christian attitude to sex within marriage?
The route to spiritual fullness in marriage is not through abstinence. Within marriage there is sexual freedom and sexual equality: ‘The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality – the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband’ (v.3, MSG). The only reason to abstain is for short periods of prayer, if mutually agreed, and that is a concession not a command (vv.5–6).
- Is it better to be single or married?
Paul writes that both are gifts from God. They are both good (vv.7–9). In a way, it is best (for reasons to be given later) to be single: ‘Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me – a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is’ (v.7, MSG). But it is also a good thing to get married (v.9).
- Should a Christian ever seek a divorce from another Christian?
The general principle of this passage, and the rest of the New Testament, seems to answer this question, ‘No’: ‘If you are married, stay married... a husband has no right to get rid of his wife’ (vv.10–11, MSG). Of course, this is a very complex issue. (I have tried to look at this question in more detail in The Jesus Lifestyle[JS1] , chapter 6.)
- What about relationships with people who are not Christians?
Paul does not encourage a Christian to marry someone who is not a Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1; 1 Corinthians 7:39). However, if they are already married that is quite different. They should not seek to dissolve any existing marriage relationship.
Paul’s opponents were worried that being married to someone who was not a Christian would pollute the marriage. Paul’s response is that the opposite is the case: ‘The unbelieving husband shares to an extent in the holiness of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is likewise touched by the holiness of her husband. Otherwise, your children would be left out; as it is, they also are included in the spiritual purposes of God’ (v.14, MSG).
If the person who is not a Christian insists on leaving, and clinging to the marriage would lead to nothing but frustration and tension, then the Christian should let them go for the sake of ‘peace’, not purity (see v.15).
Lord, help us at whatever stage we find ourselves, regardless of our marital status, to live according to your standards and to know your peace.
Find purpose instead of meaninglessnessEcclesiastes 1:1-3:22
‘What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?’ (2:22). This expression ‘under the sun’ occurs twenty-eight times in this book. It is used to describe a search for meaning that never moves beyond this life and this world.
Ecclesiastes is a story of one person’s anxious search for meaning. The writer, in the shoes of King Solomon 3,000 years ago, searches in various areas.
Joyce Meyer writes, ‘Solomon was a busy man; he tried everything that could be tried and did everything there was to do, but at the end of his experience, he was unfulfilled and bitter... exhausted, disappointed and frustrated.’ Ecclesiastes expresses some of these frustrations about life.
Eugene Peterson writes, ‘Ecclesiastes doesn’t say that much about God; the author leaves that to the other sixty-five books of the Bible. His task is to expose our total incapacity to find the meaning and completion of our lives on our own... It is an exposé and rejection of every arrogant and ignorant expectation that we can live our lives by ourselves on our own terms.’
Solomon finds that ‘everything’s boring, utterly boring – no one can find any meaning in it’ (1:8, MSG). ‘So what do you get from a life of hard labour? Pain and grief from dawn to dusk. Never a decent night’s rest. Nothing but smoke’ (2:23, MSG).
He begins by chasing after ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’ (1:18a), but this only leads to ‘much sorrow’ and ‘more grief’ (v.18b). ‘The more you know, the more you hurt’ (v.18b, MSG). Accumulating wisdom and knowledge does not deal with the ultimate cause of anxiety – meaninglessness.
Hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is the chief good or proper aim. ‘I said to myself, “Let’s go for it – experiment with pleasure, have a good time!”’ (2:1, MSG). He tries escapism through ‘laughter’ (v.2). He tries stimulants – ‘cheering myself with wine’ (v.3). He then turns to music, ‘men and women singers’ (v.8). He tries sexual pleasure, ‘and a harem as well’ (v.8b). Solomon in fact had 700 wives and 300 mistresses. All this still did not satisfy.
He concludes, ‘Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind’ (v.11). He experiences the paradox of pleasure – the law of diminishing returns. The more people seek pleasure, the less they find it.
Materialism is ‘The tendency to prefer material possessions to spiritual values’. He tries various ‘projects’ (v.4). He obtains property (vv.4–6). He has many men and women working for him (v.7). He has many possessions (v.7b). He acquires money: ‘I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces’ (v.8). He achieves greatness, success and fame (v.9). He has a successful job and career (v.10b). Yet death makes this entire search ‘meaningless’ (vv.16–18).
Ecclesiastes raises the questions that the New Testament answers. Meaning is found not ‘under the sun’, but in the Son.
Lord, thank you that in Jesus, I find the answer to the anxiety of meaninglessness. Thank you that in him I find true peace and purpose to my life.
‘There is a time for everything…’
But there doesn't seem to be much time for the Bible in One Year (even though I'm on holiday!).
Verse of the Day
‘When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul’ (Psalm 94:19).
Eugene Peterson, The Message, 'Introduction to Ecclesiastes', (NavPress, 1993), p.882
Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible, (Faithwords, 2014) p.1017.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.