It seems that there is so much to be anxious for in life. Work brings anxiety. Life choices bring anxiety. Family brings anxiety. ISIS and terrorism brings anxiety. The world is full of anxiety. Yet the scriptures are going to teach us how we can overcome and defeat anxiety. The apostle Paul is going to show us that the Christian life is a life that knows how to handle and defeat anxiety.
Settle Your Disagreements (4:2-3)
First, Paul addresses a problem between two women in the church at Philippi. I want you to imagine what this sounded like in the gathering of these Christians as this letter was read before the whole assembly. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” Both are called upon to work this out and they are called upon by name. Personal conflicts must be resolved. We must live in harmony with one another. We must settle our disagreements and issues that we may have with each other. Remember that Paul has taught us to live humble, self-denying, self-sacrificing lives. Therefore we must work together and solve any dispute.
Further, the apostle calls for the others in the church to help bring resolution. Others are to be peacemakers in this process. The “true companion,” whoever he or she is, was called upon by Paul to help these women. Notice what everyone was to focus upon. Do not focus on the disagreement. Focus on that you are laborers side by side for the gospel, fellow workers, and your names are written in the book of life. We are not going to be on separate sides of heaven with a dividing wall raised from the people we could not get along with on earth. Personal conflicts must be solved and cannot be allowed to drag out, which will cause problems in faith and disturbance and division in the church. One simple way we can defeat anxiety is to simply deal with our issues with others in a self-sacrificing way. Be peacemakers. Look to get along with each other. Do not look to be right. Do not look to win the argument. Do not wait for an apology. Sacrifice yourself and humble yourself to restore the relationship.
Rejoice in the Lord Always (4:4)
Joy always. Now remember where Paul is when he writes these words. Paul is imprisoned awaiting a trial, the outcome of which may bring his release or bring his death. Yet Paul commands joy always. In fact, if we doubted the command, Paul says it twice. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Whatever you are going through, put your focus on Christ and have joy there. Paul is not saying that life will be enjoyable at all times. But the joy of the Lord is our strength and stabilizes our lives. Focus on your joy in Christ! Do not forget all that God has done for you in Christ. If you have lost a loved one, you can have joy knowing that your loved one stands before a loving, gracious, and just God. You can have joy in any occasion because you know that God is always available to you. Joy is the description of God’s people. There is always joy in reflecting on what the Lord has done.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5–6 ESV)
Be Gentle and Gracious (4:5)
Paul continues by teaching that our reasonableness (ESV) must be known to all. Most translations read “gentleness.” Our gentleness and our graciousness is to be known to all people. The BDAG lexicon suggests the translation, “forbearing spirit.” The Greek word is defined as not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom. All of these words help us get an idea of what we are supposed to look like in the Lord. Be gracious. Be gentle. Be reasonable. Be forbearing. We cannot be thinking about ourselves for this to happen.
Do Not Be Anxious About Anything (4:6)
Since the Lord is near, do not be anxious about anything. It is not that the Lord is coming soon. We should not take “at hand” or “near” in terms of time. Rather, we should read this as the nearness of the Lord. The Lord is with you. The Lord is near you. The Lord is the first help for anxiety.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18 ESV)
God is near. God is at work. God is not asleep. God is sovereign. This is why we do not have to be anxious about anything. The Lord is near. God will help. We are trusting that God is in control. Now think about what Paul said. There is not anything to be anxious about. I do not think that Paul is saying that you can never feel anxious or that you will never feel worry. Rather, these are the instructions on what to do to defeat anxiety. Here are the steps you need to take when that worry and anxiety come upon you. Do not be anxious about anything means that we can use these instructions given to us by God any situation and circumstance. So what are we to do.
In every situation talk to God. “But in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Talk to God. How often we will talk to others about our worries but not talk to God! But talking to others is not a solution. God is the solution for he is the one who is able to help. In every circumstance talk to God. Why would we be anxious? How could we be anxious? God just said to tell him what you want! We do not use the word “supplication” in our conversations much. But it is a request or a petition. Ask of God is what Paul is telling us. Is this not mind blowing? Do not be anxious about anything. God is near. Tell him! Pray about everything. Do not be a crisis prayer. Pray for everything!
Notice that our prayers and requests are mixed with thanksgiving. This is our attitude when we come to God in prayer. We are not coming to God complaining, but with gratitude as we ask our God about something else in our lives. Joe Thorn made this beautiful point about suffering well:
“God does not promise to rid your life of affliction and difficulty. He does, however, offer to give you the grace needed to suffer well, and through grace to discover the riches and beauty of the gospel. It isn’t wrong to ask God to relieve you of your pain, but it is more important that in the midst of the pain you rely on the promise of God to work such experiences for his glory and your good — to use these times as a means of perfecting your faith, strengthening your spirit, and transforming your life in such a way that you are becoming more like Jesus.”
Paul had everything to be anxious about as he sits in prison not knowing his future. But Paul did exactly what he is instructs these Christians to do. Go back to Philippians 1:18-19.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:18–20 ESV)
Prayer with thanksgiving is how to defeat worry and anxious when those feelings strike our hearts. Prayer is the water that extinguishes the fire of anxiety. God is telling us to use our anxieties to drive us to prayer, not to panic. We will attack anxiety with humble, thankful, “help me” prayers. Then, if you are still anxious, pray again. Then pray again and pray again.
Result: the Peace of God Will Guard Your Hearts (4:7)
This is where your peace of mind and peace in heart will come. There is no other response that is going to be bring the peace of God to your life. Notice the peace of God is set in contrast to being anxious. Our trust in God’s flawless wisdom and infinite power allows us to be calm in life’s storms. God gives a tranquility of life in the midst of your darkest and hardest days. Peace comes from prayerful trust.
Our culture has a saying right now to “keep calm” and then do something like play volleyball or something like that. I saw one that said “Keep calm and trust Jesus.” But this is not accurate. Paul is saying, “Trust Jesus and then you will be calm.” We do not approach him calmly and then trust him. We run to him with our worries and fears and find the peace of God after we have turned to him.
Now the next thing we want to do is to try to explain how we have the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. This is why Paul immediately tells us not to do this. The peace of God surpasses all understanding. This is not something that you are going to be able to explain in a step by step formula. This is not about trying to explain how this works. It is just a statement of fact. It is a promise made to those who trust in the Lord.
Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:2–4 ESV)
The real challenge of Christian living is not to eliminate every uncomfortable circumstance in life but to trust in our wise, sovereign, good, and powerful God in every situation. Sometimes it is said that anxiety is the result of too much thinking. But we should realize that anxiety comes from too little thinking in the direction toward God. Faith is not wishful thinking but a reasoned response to God’s revealed promises. God gives us the hope and confidence we need to carry on with joy even when burdens are heavy. Anxiety can be defeated. The problem is not that we have those feelings but what will we do when we feel anxiety. Will we trust in ourselves? Will we trust in other people? Will we panic? Let us turn to the Lord in prayer and tell him who can give us the peace we need to sustain us through whatever difficulty we are facing.