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(This is the second part of a lesson on anxiety).

COUNSELING PROBLEMS AND BIBLICAL CHANGE

BIBLICAL SOLUTIONS FOR ANXIETY, PART TWO

 WHEN THE BIBLE DOESN’T WORK

The “go-to” text for anxiety is found in Philippians 4:6

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (ESV)

The faithful and trusting Christian prays, Dear God take away my fear and fix my trouble. He then lays down to sleep, but only tosses and turns throughout the evening. Come the morning, he feels tired and anxious and complains that somehow the promise of Philippians 4:6 “doesn’t work.”

  1. A Serious Charge

Now it would be a serious charge if a promise of God truly failed. However, as we shall see, using Philippians 4:6 like a magic-charm does a grave disservice to Scripture and has needlessly troubled the faith of many broken Christians.

The impulse to trust the promise is correct. Trouble in not in the trust or in the promise. The trouble stands in the misunderstanding of the promise.

  1. A Mistaken Charge

Let’s consider our problem. First, note something about the text. It should shows up in the fourth chapter, which means it was preceded by three chapters. It is in the sixth verse of the four chapters. It is followed by 15 verses in the fourth chapter.

Let’s say you bought an assemble-yourself piece of furniture from Ikea. You lay the materials out on the floor. You take out the manual, turn to the fourth page, go down a bit on the page, read one line of instruction, perform that step, close the book and step back.  You wanted a desk, but instead you have a plastic clip attached to a piece of wood.  You complain that the instructions “don’t work”.

When we pluck a single verse from an entire letter, we should not be surprised if it does not “work”. The trouble is even greater: The verse concerns the matter of “prayer”. The Scripture says a great deal of prayer which help inform our understanding of this command. As we should know, “prayer” entails more than a mere recitation of words.

  1. A Common Problem

This problem is quite common in the contemporary North American church, and it has been a common problem throughout the history of the church. Even the Devil tried this trick on Jesus. In Luke 4:9-11, the tempter quotes two Bible verses to Jesus and says, why don’t we see if these promises “work”. Jesus responses, not be denying any promise but rather by explaining the content and context of the promises: God has said more about this subject. When add in the context of Scripture, we can see that those verses – while true in and of themselves – do not mean what you are trying to make them mean.

When the Pharisees rebuke Jesus for permitting his disciples to pluck some grain on the Sabbath, Jesus responds with Have you never read…. Jesus does not deny the command respecting the Sabbath, he rather demonstrates the greater context.

Philippians 4:6 is in the Bible and it is true. However, when we pluck it from its context and exhibit it alone, we will easily (and perhaps necessarily) misunderstand it. Christians often use the Scripture like a bag of magic words and isolated phrases. When we do this, we hurt ourselves and slander God.

Therefore, we will consider the greater context of Philippians 4:6 to see if we can understand it better.

  1. ANXIETY IN PHILIPPIANS

The church in Philippi began happily enough with the conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15). However, trouble began for Paul and Silas following the exorcism of a demon from a slave girl: the slave’s owners were angry and had the missionaries imprisoned (Acts 16:16-24). That evening in prison, the pair sang and praised and God sent an earthquake. Paul used the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to the jailer, who repented. Paul and Silas were freed the next day, leaving behind a church.

Thus, the church of Philippi begins with an unusual assortment of people. The potential for conflict constantly exists in the church, because the church is comprised of people who in other circumstances would have no intimate relationship. In the “normal” course of events, interactions between differing social groups (however organized, by ethnicity, age, marital status, et cetera) tends to result in conflict.

The Christian church creates a new body, a new household whose allegiances supersede all prior relationships (Mark 3:31-34; 1 Peter 4:4). Yet, those prior patterns persist (at least for a time) and thus give rise to conflict (see, e.g., Acts 6:1). Thus, we should not be surprised at inter-congregational conflict even though we must recognize it as sin.

Philippi was undergoing conflict.

In addition, to this, Christianity brings us into conflict with the wider-world. Christianity creates identities and demands which cannot fully accord with any society (the degree of such conflict will vary from place-to-place and time-to-time). Peter tells Christians that we must not be surprised by such trials (1 Peter 4:12; see, also Acts 14:22). There are hints of such troubles for the Philippian church and explicit discussion of Paul’s trials.

Such trials (within the church and from those without) will tempt to fear. Thus, Paul addresses the anxiety of the Church at Philippi (in part by referencing his own cause for anxiety).

  1. The Trials of Paul

Paul is in prison (Philippians 1:7), “in … my imprisonment”. He alludes to his imprisonment with the phrase “what has happened to me” (1:12). He alludes to the monetary gift sent by the Philippians (1:5 & 4:10). By being in prison, Paul would be dependent upon the gifts of those outside to care for him (he would not be able to work, and Rome was not interested in supporting prisoners).

However, prison (and possible death) was not the only difficulty faced by Paul. There were other Christian teachers who sought to afflict Paul by preaching! (1:17). Boice notes that at some point (whether this or a subsequent imprisonment), Paul found himself forgotten by the Roman church: “For a while he was forgotten. When Onesiphorus arrived at Rome no one seemed able to tell him where Paul was” (Boice, Philippians, 59).

Paul’s imprisonment could have resulted in Paul’s execution (1:20; cf. Acts 26:31). Church tradition has it that Paul was eventually executed by Nero.

Epaphroditus fell ill and nearly died while with Paul (2:27), which did cause Paul sorrow and concern.

Paul speaks of his “loss of all things” (3:8).

Paul evident concern for the church at Philippi as evidenced by the very letter itself. In 2 Corinthians 11:28, Paul states his concern for the congregations as the capstone of his trials. Hence, Paul’s desire to send Timothy to obtain cheerful news of the church (2:19).

He writes, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith” (2:17). In 2 Timothy 4:6, such a reference is made the equivalent of “the time of my departure”.

In short, Paul has lost liberty, property, status, comfort. He is without many relationships, facing death and completely at the mercy of others (most especially God). Even Christians are afflicting him. Thus, he has sufficient ground for anxiety; yet, interestingly, he speaks of the subjective aspects of his stress very little in this letter.

  1. The Trials of the Philippians

Just as Paul cares for them, they care deeply for Paul (1:5 & 4:10). They apparently have concern for his good and safety (1:12). If one thinks of the love they would feel for the apostle who founded their congregation and taught them, the possibility of his death would likely be a source of fear (1:20-21).

They are evidently facing some outside trouble which has the ability to cause fear (1:28), and they are experiencing suffering (1:29).

They were concerned for Epaphroditus’s sickness and potential death (2:26).

They were (potentially) troubled by false teachers (3:2).

Internally, they are experiencing rivalry and grumbling (2:2-3, 2:12). Such fighting may be the reason for this particular letter (4:2).

  1. Conclusion

In conclusion, both Paul and the Philippians were experiencing trials from the actions of those inside the church, those outside and the general effects of sin upon life.

 

 

 

  1. HOW PAUL PREPARES THE CONGREGATION TO UNDERSTAND AND RESPOND TO TRIALS WITHOUT SINFUL ANXIETY

Philippians 4:6 does direct believers to leave anxiety with God. But it only does so within an entire complex of instruction and encouragement. The Scripture does not merely give directions and promises, it also reveals God in Jesus Christ & it lays out the human heart so that it will be rightly fashioned to worship God.

  1. We’re All Servants and Saints of Jesus Christ

Paul begins his letter:

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Philippians 1:1 (ESV)

  1. Servants

In this verse Paul does not call all believers “servants”.  However, Paul does extend this title explicitly to Timothy, who is not an apostle. Therefore, the title does not solely apply to Paul.  In addition, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul explains that believers have been purchased by Christ:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (ESV)

In 1 Corinthians 7:23, Paul again notes that believers have been bought by God, therefore, they must not “become bondservants of men.” If we are owned by God, then we perforce are slaves of God.

In other places, Paul refers generally to all believers as servants:

The apostle speaks of believers generally as servants of God. They perform various functions in accordance with the gifts each one has received from God (Rom 12:4–8; 1 Cor 12:4–6), and it is through their service that the church is enabled to grow in maturity (Eph 4:7–16; Col 2:18–19). Seeing that all believers (Jews as well as Gentiles) are servants of God, no one is to pass judgment upon another, remembering that it is before their own Lord that each servant (oiketēs) stands or falls (Rom 14:4).

Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 870.

We must understand that this language of servant does not entail “voluntary service”, such as could be rendered by an employee, but rather mandatory service from one who owns us:

Hence we have a service which is not a matter of choice for the one who renders it, which he has to perform whether he likes or not, because he is subject as a slave to an alien will, to the will of his owner.

Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 261.

Thomas Manton draws out what it means to be a servant of God:

 

He is one liveth under a sense and conscience of his dedication, not as his own, but God’s When you have given up yourselves to God’s service, you must not walk as you list [please], but as your master pleaseth. Aristotle makes it the property of a servant to be one that cannot live as he would, that hath no will of his own, but hath given up himself to be commanded and directed by another, and sometimes contrary to his own inclination. They are rebels and not servants that said ‘Our tongues are our own,’ Ps. 12:3. Your tongues are not your own to speak what you please, nor your hearts your own to think what you please, nor your hands your own to do what you please. You are God’s servants, therefore must be wholly at his will. The angels, that are God’s ministers, when they are described, they ‘do his pleasure’, Ps. 103:21. So your business is to do the will of God; not to please yourself, men or the flesh, but to please God, to do the will of God, without any respect to your own inclinations and worldly interests; and therefore your hearts will rise against sin upon this account, when you are tempted to do anything that is contrary to the will of God: Oh! I am not my own; these members are Christ’s. You look upon everything as God’s, to be employed to his service.

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 6 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 405–406.

We suffer anxiety when we feel that something “wrong” has taken place, whether it be the result of error, neglect, malice, injustice, et cetera. We suffer thinking that we have lost something to which we have a right, or that we may lose something. (Unless you are utterly mad, you do not go to sleep at night fearing that someone may steal the crown jewels of England from you: you don’t have them and have no right to them. Yet, you may feel fear that you would lose your watch or phone or car.)

None of these ideas are open to the believer. God, being the sovereign Lord, has express right to do with his servants as he sees fit. Such an idea very easily crosses our pride. Yet, as we saw in the previous lesson, it is the meek who inherits the earth.

Indeed, even Jesus submitted his will to his Father (Matthew 26:42). Paul will make much of this model in chapter 2.

Thus, we see that Paul strikes from us the basis for fear of loss, because we as servants have no “right” or expectation to anything other than what God gives to us.

  1. Saints

The language of “saint” refers to the privileged place believers hold:

The church was called “the saints.” The term has no other New Testament meaning than Christian people, and Paul used it in place of “the church,” which he had used earlier in his ministry.11 The saints were those who were set apart by God at conversion, and they were in process of becoming like Christ. The term thus reminded the church of its special status in God’s redemptive plan.

Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 49.

  1. Servant and Saint

In combination that we see that to be a servant and saint meant that one’s orientation and status no longer depends upon the context of this age. Indeed, the context of this age is temporary, but the age to come is permanent (2 Corinthians 4:18). What have in this life may all be taken, but what we will obtain in the age to come cannot be touched:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19–21 (ESV)

This helps us see that the exhortation to pray in 4:6 could easily be misunderstood without the proper orientation toward God and toward the world. If our anxiety is that we may be unable to maintain some honor, position or property in this world, we may very well be disappointed even if we pray that God will protect it. We must begin with the proposition that God has the right to dispose of us as he wishes. If we pray without that knowledge, our prayer will be amiss and our trouble will persist.

  1. Grace and Peace

Our great good is knowing of our reconciliation with respect to God.  Throughout this letter, Paul repeatedly comforts himself (and the Philippians) with the hope that flows from reconciliation and thus peace with God. That hope is sufficient to ground a contentment which cannot be shaken.

  1. Grace

Too often Christians have a very crimped view of God’s grace. We think of grace as merely the first step of our life in Christ and fail to see how the entire life is one of grace.

Let’s say you bought someone a ticket to Disneyland. This person would rightly be thankful for that gracious act. Now let’s say that you bought lunch and dinner and provided VIP treatment all day ending with a stay in the finest room in the hotel. The next day, following your breakfast, your guest thanks you for the ticket to get into the park but ignored all of the other kindnesses. You rightly think such a response strange if not outright rude.

Many Christians make precisely this error. They rightly see God’s grace in the initial grant of faith and forgiveness. The Christian sees the initial move of salvation as “grace” but ignores all of the other ongoing and eternal benefits of grace. John Newton put this well

Twas grace that led me here thus far

And grace will lead me on.

All the effects of the Holy Spirit upon the human soul to bring about the transformation of our lives is an act of grace. To be brought to see Christ is an act of grace. It is foolishness to think of grace as merely a moment in the past.

Indeed, if grace merely the past act of salvation, why would Paul pray that the Philippians receive new stores of grace?

If we do not have grace from God, we cannot hope to be cured our anxiety. It will be a grace of God to ease our hearts.

  1. Peace

Peace is the precise opposite of anxiety and fear. In Romans 5:1-2, Paul explains that such peace comes as the result of Christ’s work or reconciliation:

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1–2 (ESV)

It is important for our purposes that Paul immediately ties this idea of grace and peace to the application that even trials cannot subvert our peace but rather will transform our hearts to greater hope:

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3–5 (ESV)

The application of this understand to anxiety is immediately apparent. We do not experience anxiety in our trials, because we know that our trials do not come as the first hints of judgment but rather come as the good work of a God with whom we are reconciled and have peace.

If our hope is set on life with Christ and God’s glory, then nothing in this life can trouble us because nothing here can upset our expectation, our hope. Anxiety comes about because someone may invade our current ease or earthly expectation. Yet, if know the true depth of peace with have with God, we cannot fear the momentary.

  1. The Resurrection

Anxiety is a fear of a future loss; anxiety is about expectation and desire. I am anxious because I am fearful that some expectation or desire I have for the future will not be met.

  1. What We Can Expect and Do Expect

Human beings have tremendous expectations and desires, and, in a manner, such expectations and desires are good. We desire to never die nor know sorrow. We easily transform our desires into expectations. It makes sense that we have such expectations and desires, because we were created for such a world (Genesis 1 & 2). However, due to sin and death, the fall & the curse our desires and expectations cannot be met within this world.

2       Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

3       What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?

4       A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.

5       The sun rises, and the sun goes down,

and hastens to the place where it rises.

6       The wind blows to the south

and goes around to the north;

around and around goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

7       All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they flow again.

8       All things are full of weariness;

a man cannot utter it;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

nor the ear filled with hearing. Ecclesiastes 1:2–8 (ESV)

 

The purpose of such loss is not to leave us in despair but to drive us to God. We may enjoy things of this life but constantly remember that all such things are temporary and that death will end them all (Ecclesiastes 9:9-10).

Therefore, Christians, even the most wealthy (and thus most able to meet expectations) are told to not set expectation on this life:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17–19 (ESV)

As Peter writes, “set your hope fully upon the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13 (ESV)). Here moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). Here “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)).

Thus to press this present age for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) is seek something which does not exist. Yet, do continually have desires and expectations for such things in this world. As Augustine noted, we are seeking a happy life in the land of death.

Since we know that this world will disappoint such expectations, we are necessarily anxious. We have desires for things we know cannot be true, for even if we avoid one cancer, we will soon run into heart disease:

19       as if a man fled from a lion,

and a bear met him,

or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,

and a serpent bit him. Amos 5:19 (ESV)

God’s judgment upon this present age will not be avoided.

  1. What Paul Expects From This Age

Nowhere does Paul betray any expectation that this world will not be painful and disappointing. Paul does not expect any ease or reward from this present life. Indeed, he sees reward as future. For the present, he sees only work:

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Philippians 1:21–23 (ESV)

This thinking is consistent with Paul’s understanding elsewhere. In Romans 8:18 he refers to “the sufferings of this present time”. In Colossians 1:24, he writes, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” In 1 Corinthians 15 he notes that even our bodies as presently established are not fit for the glory we desire (see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:50).

This age is an age of suffering. Therefore, one has no rational basis for expecting continuous ease and comfort here and now. Expecting and desiring something we cannot reasonably hope to obtain creates anxiety.

When we understand this point, we see that Philippians 4:6 cannot mean, “If you want something and are afraid you won’t get some ease in this life, pray. God will give it to you.” Nor can it mean, “God will make you comfortable desiring and expecting something which can’t expect here.”

The peace of Philippians 4:6 must be a peace which comes in the midst of expected suffering and work.

  1. Loss in this Life

Paul’s expectations are not mere hypotheticals. Paul had already obtained whatsoever good he could from this life. He refers to this as his “confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:4). However, he has exchanged the minimal benefits to be obtained from this age with the hope of something better. That means that at present all Paul has “loss”. In Philippians 3:7 and 8 he refers to his loss. He goes and does not merely consider such things as loss, but he actively despises them (and the hope he previously vested in them) calling such things “rubbish” (this is a sharp word which means something like “something only a dog would eat”).

Thus, Philippians 4:6 cannot mean pray for something here and now and wait for God to get it. Paul has said he willing has “suffered the loss of all things” (Philippians 3:7). The prayer thus cannot be a prayer to those things back.

What then does Paul do?

  1. A Resurrection Hope: Coming to Christ

The hopeless of this present age is not the final word in God’s counsel. We unquestionably should not set our hopes on this present age. However, that does not mean that we are to be hopeless.

  1. Do not be Diverted from the Goal

There is a kind of thinking that says we should expect a grim life and then just bare it until life is over. The trouble here is that it stops one from seeking life in a place where it can be found.

Chemical solutions to pain are a modern variant on this thought. The idea is that nothing will ever be sufficient to satisfy you (true), therefore, take a pill which helps you pretend that you’re satisfied. This is again a cruel trick. Unhappiness is the not worse thing which can befall one. Unhappiness which drives one to seek true happiness is a painful mercy.

Imagine a man who was thirsty. The thirst is painful, but not the worst thing which could happen. His body drives him with thirst so that he’ll go find water and not die. To tell a man just to bear his pain and not seek water would be cruel and stupid. Yet it is probably worse to give him a drug which makes him forget his thirst so that he contentedly dies.

This world is painful and disappointing. The world, the Devil, the flesh all offer up variants to keep people from seeking true rest and hope. If you’re lonely, there’s sexual immorality and entertainment. If you’re dissatisfied with your financial situation, there envy. If you’re hurt, there is revenge.  There is no pain for which sin does not offer a short term solution (which typically results in greater pain now and then delivers you over to eternal judgment).

God, however, offers something greater: a resurrection which satisfies all right hope and expectation. It truly matches the discontentment we experience in this world. This hope runs throughout Paul’s letter.

  1. Seek Christ through Life & Death

Paul sees this life as aimed at Christ. The first hint is found in 1:6, where Paul states that God will complete the work he has begun. This completion will come about on the “day of Christ Jesus”.[1]

In 1:20-23, Paul speaks of his death resulting in his coming to Christ. Importantly, Paul sees his departure to Christ as merely a continuation of his present orientation

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 (ESV)

His hope and expectation is to achieve Christ; his present life is completely oriented toward that goal.

In 1:27, Paul restates his orientation as a command, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”. This radical orientation toward Christ will necessarily entail suffering:

29 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, Philippians 1:29 (ESV).

Think of a musician practicing for a competition. The long hours of repetition and practice alone are not the goal, but they are the means to goal. Such work may be lonely and unpleasant, but they are weathered because the goal is worth the work. The musician is not disappointed or anxious about the practice. Since the practice is not merely expected but necessary, the practice does not cause anxiety.

Paul lays out a course for the believer: You will go through suffering to get to Christ. The suffering may be very painful, but you need not be anxious about it. Keep your focus on the end and God will bring it to completion.

In the midst of this direction, Paul takes a glance at the opponents. Much like the wicked of Psalm 37, the opponents of God’s people have only a momentary hope and a certain end:

28 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. Philippians 1:28 (ESV)

In the second chapter, the incarnation, humiliation, and exaltation of the Son is given as an example and a support for this orientation toward God’s glory.

Fear and trembling: Please note that Paul does not for a moment make light of our path. He has called it suffering. He says it results in death. In 2:13, Paul writes that we must make this progress “with fear and trembling”.

  1. The Resurrection

In the midst of the third chapter in the rhetorical high point of the letter, Paul launches into a rapid fire prayer, encouragement, praise and command all built around achieving the resurrection:

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:8–16 (ESV)

Paul’s entire life is built around one goal: attaining to the resurrection. Seeking the resurrection will cost him everything else. He seeks the life of Christ, and thus will share in the death of Christ. He forgets everything which would lead him astray. Then he exhorts and commands just such a manner of thought in the Philippians.

Again, when we think of the prayer in 4:6, the only possible anxiety which Paul can see reasonably standing before the believer is that something might keep from the resurrection. Our trials, suffering, temptation may all divert us from chasing after Christ.

  1. THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT

Finally, we have the immediate context of Philippians 4:6:

3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:3–9 (ESV)

Paul begins his exhortation for the warring women to reconcile. He mentions “the book of life.” Thus, Paul’s attention is again overwhelmed by the thought of the resurrection. This naturally leads to the spontaneous words

Rejoice in the Lord always.

This is a command, but it is a command which flows easily from a true sight of the circumstance. For example, if you a fireman told you to run from a burning building, he would give you a command, but the fire would make obedience unavoidable.

Paul continues, “the Lord is at hand”. Again, he sees the end, which directs all here.

Momentarily skipping down to verses 8-9 we see commands to meditation and obedience which conforms to Paul’s prior words of living a life fully oriented toward Christ and the resurrection.

Now let us consider the command to pray and the promise of peace.

First, the overarching goal of our life is to get to Christ. There is no need greater. Paul has already stated that even death cannot stop us from our goal. He has willing lost liberty and will willing lose life to gain Christ.

Second, Paul deliberately echoes Jesus’ words about prayer and anxiety:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31–34 (ESV)

God does know and care about our immediate and mundane needs. We are told to prayer for our daily bread. But such prayers must be made knowing that nothing will last forever:

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:27 (ESV)

Jesus makes this point in Matthew 6:33 when he tells us to seek first the kingdom of God.

Third, our immediate privations will be more than rewarded by God. Thus, even if we lose everything now, it does not mean that we will be losers for it:

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:29 (ESV)

Thus, the command to pray, is a command to pray and let God decide what we need. He will give us what we need to do his work. Then, we will come to him and he will reward us in full.

Fourth, as we saw in the beginning of the letter, “peace” does not mean peace with this age or this world. Paul was in prison awaiting death. Yet, he did not see the peace promised by God as contrary to his circumstances. Therefore, the peace comes from circumstances. He makes that explicit in his discussion of contentment (Philippians 4:10-13).

Fifth, the peace we are to achieve comes despite and is actually contrary to our circumstances. Our peace is not that this age will be peaceful, but rather that Christ has overcome this age:

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. John 14:25–31 (ESV)

  1. CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the reason why the promise of Philippians 4:6 “doesn’t work” for many Christians is because they radically misunderstand the promise. The promise is not that this world will be conformed to our desires, but rather that our hearts and lives will be conformed to Christ.

Our anxiety comes from our desires and expectations for rest without the resurrection and without Christ’s final victory. God uses our suffering to hone our expectations and desires and set them fully upon the glory to be revealed to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

[1] While most commentators consider this to refer to the Second Coming, a few think this refers to the day on which an individual believer will meet Christ even if it is before the Second Coming. This difference matters very little for our purposes.