Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7 ESV)
Paul just taught Christians to not be anxious about anything. Do not worry about anything (CSB, NRSV, NLT). But Paul certainly could not be talking about times of crisis. Paul could not be talking about times of hardship and difficult. Sometimes we can take the scriptures and apply them in their ideal circumstances, rather than applying them at all times. We can want to read the words to not be anxious under general life circumstances. But when bad things happen or when terrible times come, then we can worry. But a little background about these Philippian Christians can help us understand what Paul is teaching.
Things are not easy for these Christians. They are living as Christians in Philippi, which is a special city in the Roman Empire. Philippi was a Roman colony meaning it had rights and privileges granted to it so that those who lived there were considered citizens of Rome itself and tax exemption. If you could not live in Rome, then living in a city like Philippi was the next best thing. So it was a special privilege to belong to Philippi which led to problems proclaiming Jesus as the king rather than the Roman emperor. These problems are revealed in this letter to the Philippians.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27–30 ESV)
Notice that Paul wants to hear that these Christians are standing firm in the faith, “not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Not only this, the rest of the text tells us that these Christians are suffering for the sake of Christ, engaged in the same conflict as Paul. When Paul had come to Philippi, he and Silas were repeatedly beaten with roads and imprisoned (Acts 16:23-24). So knowing that these Christians are going through extreme persecution and suffering, Paul wrote these words: “Do not be anxious about anything.” You see that Paul did not write those words when things were going well. Paul himself is imprisoned when he wrote this letter. These Christians are being beaten and arrested when Paul wrote these words. Do not be anxious about anything. How were these Christians supposed to do this consider what they were experiencing? How are we to not be anxious about anything considering what we are experiencing? Let’s back up to verse 4 and take in the whole picture of what Paul tells these suffering, distressed Christians.
Rejoice Always (4:4)
Paul says to always rejoice. It is almost as if he knows that this is such a surprising declaration that he says it again. Rejoice! How are we supposed to rejoice when things are so terrible? Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. Look at what you have in the Lord. Look at what the Lord has given you. Do not look at your circumstance. We cannot always rejoice when we look at our circumstances. Rejoicing always requires looking past our circumstances to the Lord who rules over our circumstances. We look past these circumstances and look at our hope that is in the Lord and the salvation he has obtained for us. Like Paul would tell the Roman Christians, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39). Not distress, not famine, not persecution, not danger, and not any difficulty can separate us from our God. We are always able to rejoice when look at what God has done for us, how God continues to care for us, and how we have something in Christ far more valuable than anything this life has to offer.
Let People See Your Reasonableness (4:5)
Second, Paul says in the midst of your trouble that people should see your reasonableness. Some translations read “gentleness” or “graciousness.” People are going to see something different in you than what they will see in the world in times of chaos. You are going to be gracious and reasonable. You are going to be gentle. So we do not panic when the world panics. We do not hoard when the world hoards. We do not become irrational when the world becomes irrational. Why? We do not act like the world because we know the Lord is near. That is the rest of verse 5. We are able to rejoice and we are able to be reasonable in a world turned upside down because the Lord is near us. Knowing God is near makes sense of what Paul is going to say in verse 6.
Handle Anxiety (4:6)
So now we come back to verse 6 which tells us to not be anxious about anything. So what are we supposed to do when we feel worry and anxiety? What are we supposed to do when fear overwhelms us? Since the Lord is near, we are to use prayer. “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul says to pray and not worry. Worry about nothing and pray about everything. We talked about last week how Jesus told us that worry does not accomplish anything (Matthew 6:27). Your worry does not change anything but only increases your fear and anxiety. So God is near. Instead of worrying, pray. Let your requests be given to God. Paul says you need to give your anxiety to God. Paul says to give your worry to God. As soon as you feel anxiety, give it to God. I told you about this last week when I was in the grocery store and I started to feel that anxiety as I looked at the grocery shelves. I just prayed right there in the middle of the aisle of the grocery store. God, you said you would provide for me and my family and I am trusting in that promise. This is what we have to do. When you feel your worry well up, give that worry to God.
Think about this: prayer is how we show we are trusting God. If we do not pray when we feel the worry and stress rise, then we are saying that we will be our own god and solve this crisis ourselves. Prayer is critical because it shows that we believe God is near. Prayer shows that we believe God cares for us. Prayer is how we transfer our worries to God and ask God to take care of whatever it is we are thinking about.
But notice that Paul says to present your requests with thanksgiving. Without thanksgiving we may turn our requests into complaining or into a list of demands. Prayer is not telling God what he needs to do for me. Prayer is not coercing God, as we talked about last week as we saw Israel using the ark of the covenant as a talisman (1 Samuel 4-6). Prayer is not the avenue for complaining about what God is doing in the world or doing in our lives. Prayer is asking God to see our concerns and tell him that we believe that he cares and will help. Anxiety indicates a lack of trust in God’s care. Prayer indicates that we do trust God to care for us. There is nothing too small for God. Tell God about your anxiety about this virus, about food, or about toilet paper. Give your cares to God. Listen to what Peter said.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6–7 ESV)
Throw all your anxieties on God because he cares for you. God cares so give him what you are worried about. But notice more about what God said. Casting your cares on God is humility. We are humbling ourselves when we give God our worries. We exalt ourselves when we keep our worries and think we will take care of this ourselves. We must humble ourselves and give God your cares.
Expect Peace (4:7)
Notice the promise God gives in verse 7. Give your requests to God and his peace will guard your hearts and minds. Friends, this is exactly what we need when we are anxious. We do not have peace when we are anxious. We do not have peace when we have fear. We do not have peace when we are worrying. God says that if you will see that God is near, that he cares for you, and you throw your anxieties on him through prayer, he will give you peace. We are to picture God’s peace enveloping our hearts and securing them. God’s peace will free us from our anxiety, fear, and distress. This is exactly what we need. When you pray and really give your worry to God, you are going to have God’s peace. We have all experienced this. I have experienced. When I have stopped and prayed, the tension in body releases because I believe God has heard, he is near, and he cares. If you want peace, give it to God. God has this. I can rest and I can have peace because I know it is in God’s hands. Now please notice what this promise is. The promise is not that God will fix it but will give peace. God may not fix this, but he will give us peace if we will cast our worries on him.
Think Different (4:8)
Finally, we need to think on helpful things. We need to think on spiritual things. Verse 8 tells us to move on thoughts on God. Move our thoughts from fear to things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Worry rises up when we are thinking about things that are out of our control. Fear rises up because we are watching things on tv and on the internet that we can do nothing about. Stop thinking what we do not need to be thinking about. Starting thinking about what will help us and that is the things of God. Are we using our extra time obsessing about our worries? Are we using our extra time to spend thinking on the things of God? For a long time we have probably said that if we only had more time, we would spend more time on God’s things. God has been us a lot of extra time that we did not have before. So what are we doing with it? What are we thinking about?
So let us return to our big question that we need to be asking ourselves as we go through this storm. What is God telling us? What is God showing us in our lives? What is God showing our trust to be in? If we trust God, then we can rejoice, be reasonable, use prayer for our worries, expect God’s peace, and put our minds on his things. Tell God want you need and thank him for all he has done. Pray about everything. Worry about nothing. God is near. Look past your circumstances and look to God.