We live in a world full of anxiety and stress. And far too often, Christians default to unbelieving assumptions, diagnosing their problems as circumstances, environment, diet, or chemicals. While sometimes material changes can help, God’s Word says our central need is Christ. In Him is a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that is a fortress for our hearts and minds.
The Text: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing…” (Phil. 4:
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
As Paul brings this letter in for a landing, he exhorts the Philippians to stand fast in the Lord and to be likeminded (Phil. 4:1-2), which leads to a series of four commands and a promise, with a final exhortation for doing so. The first command is a doubled: rejoice in the Lord always, and again, rejoice (Phil. 4:4). Obedience to that command goes a long way toward making your gentleness obvious to everyone around you (including your kids), which is the next command, but the foundation of that gentleness is the presence of the Lord: the Lord is near (Phil. 4:5). The third command is to be anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:6), which is greatly assisted by obeying the fourth command: to bring your requests to God with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6). Obedience to all of these commands brings with it the promise that the peace of God will be an impenetrable castle around your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7). And Christians practice that joy and peace by meditating on all the true, lovely, and virtuous things (Phil. 4:8).
LAW & GOSPEL
Before talking about these commands in particular, we need to talk about what we should think about biblical commands in general first. There are two fundamentally different approaches to God’s law and commands. One approach says that if you obey God’s law, you can achieve righteousness, and be accepted by God. The other approach says that you cannot obey the law perfectly, and therefore you can only be accepted by God through Christ’s perfect obedience for you (Phil. 3:9, Gal. 3:10-13). The Bible says that the second understanding is correct: even if you obeyed most of the law but disobeyed at one point, you have broken the whole law (Js. 2:10). This is because breaking God’s law is personal defiance of the living God, and the same God who said not to steal, also said not to commit sexual immorality and not to lie (Js. 2:11).
So those who insist on trying to keep the law to achieve their own righteousness will be condemned by the law, but those who trust in Jesus Christ, are released from the demands of the law and accepted by God (Rom. 8:1). Christ is accepted in their place both as perfectly righteous and obedient and as the One who receives the penalty that we deserved for our disobedience (Rom. 8:2-3). And those who trust in Christ for all of this also receive His Holy Spirit who begins to work in us the power and desire to obey (Rom. 8:4-5). These two paths are called “works righteousness” and the “righteousness of faith.” Works righteousness is a treadmill of despair, but the righteousness of faith is God’s escalator carrying you to glory.
REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS
It’s important to begin with those two paths because if you are on the “works righteousness” treadmill, “rejoicing always” will seem like an impossible task. Then add “let your gentleness be known to all men” and “be anxious for nothing,” and it’s like somebody keeps dropping bricks into your backpack and pretty soon you might be ready to let something else be known to all men. Nobody rejoices always, much less is anyone ever gentle to everyone or never anxious about anything. These commands, like all the commands in Scripture, can only be received in one of two ways: either as raw law (“do this and live or fail and die”) or else as the righteousness received by faith alone (“Christ has done this for me, and His Spirit will work this in me”). One is a “got to,” and the other is a “get to.” One is the burden of a continual threat and a whip; the other is the grateful response to incredibly good news. The demand of the law condemns every infraction, but the righteousness of faith is first of all the announcement, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). And what is the believing response to that verdict from God the Judge? Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! Hallelujah, what a Savior! What’s the response? Rejoicing. Rejoicing in the Lord always. And when that saving God is near, God’s kindness and gentleness cannot help but be known to all men. All anxiety fades away.
PRAYER WITH THANKSGIVING
Being accepted by God for the sake of Christ is the foundation of an anxiety-free life. But God gives two additional tools here for fighting anxiety: thanksgiving and petition. The first step is thanksgiving. We are to make our petitions known to God with thanksgiving (Phi. 4:6). Sometimes prayers are just worrying in front of God, but thanksgiving is the God-ordained package we are to deliver our petitions in. Gratitude is what prepares us to actually present our requests. So whatever the trouble, whatever the worry, begin by thanking God for it. The same God who sent His only Son for you has allowed this trouble, this challenge in your life for your good. So thank Him. And then having honestly thanked God for the hardship, ask Him to take it, ask Him to deliver you, ask Him to change it. Present your request.
Christians are not people who do not notice problems or dangers. Christians are people who know what to do with all of those cares: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). In a strange irony, anxious people are actually being supremely arrogant. Anxious people insist on carrying their own burdens and refuse to cast them on the Lord. But your hand is not mighty enough; that’s why you’re so stressed out. That’s why your gentleness is not known to all men. But God’s hand is mighty; He can handle your cares and He cares for you like no one else. And the promise is that when you pray like this, God’s peace that passes all understanding will stand guard at your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7).
CONCLUSION: MAKE A LIST
The final exhortation is to make a list, to count, to log all the true things, all the honest things, all the just, pure, lovely, praiseworthy, and virtuous things. This is biblical therapy, if you like. How do you break bad habits of worry, or bad habits of any disobedient thoughts? Make a list of what to think about: beautiful things, true things, just things, praiseworthy things: the air in your lungs, refreshing water, sunrises and sunsets, chocolate, Psalms, good jokes, forgiveness.