Text: Philippians 4:1-7
Do you worry? There is so much to worry about, of course. The economy, foreign wars, a collapsing culture, your mother-in-law, his mother-in-law!—there’s no shortage of problems. How do you handle this kind of anxiety? Do you ever worry that you might be worrying too much? Anxiety is everywhere we turn.
Anxiety has been defined as “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Anxiety has been with us since the Fall, but the aspect of anxiety that is particular and noteworthy today is precisely that we have named it and identify it even among very privileged and otherwise comfortable people. It makes good sense, we say, to be anxious when running from wild beasts or struggling to find the next meal. It strikes us as odd to continue to be anxious when we have a steady a job, a family, and plenty of toys. Of course, this new twist really just shows anxiety in a clearer way. It isn’t simply an estimate of risk and probability. Instead, anxiety is a deep longing of the soul. It is the photo negative of romantic sentimentalism. Just as people can project all sorts of hopes and dreams onto the future, anxiety projects fears and dreads. And both anxiety and sentimentalism, being connected in this way, share the same problem. They look to find satisfaction for the soul in the wrong place. Instead of saying “In Thee, my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness” (Psalm 63:5), we find ourselves constantly seeking, searching for more, but with no idea of where to look.
We need to say a few more things about anxiety. The first is that anxiety is real. It comes with conflict, as we see in the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche. And it often comes from conflict between strong personalities, leaders and those who have big plans and big dreams. Euodia and Syntyche are not simply described as washerwomen, but instead co-laborers in the gospel. Paul says that their names are written in the book of life, and so there is no thought that they are somehow weak Christians still figuring things out. They are leading personalities in the church, and yet their disagreement was so public as to merit attention in a public letter from Paul. This happens with strong people more than we often admit. And while their strength can give confidence at times, prolonged conflict brings more anxiety.
Anxiety also comes from uncertainty about the future. It wants peace, security, and even fulfillment. The anxious person wants to become what they believe they are meant to be, to reach their telos, but they are afraid that this will never truly happen and that life will pass them by. So, in response, they feel a combination of guilt, frustration, and fear. Anxiety is an eschatological longing, but a longing that has no sure focus point to approach or measure success. It is a sort of internal meandering which turns to wandering and ends in simply feeling lost.
And this means that anxiety is sin. Anxiety doesn’t just come from sin, it is sin. Did you know that the Bible commands us not to worry? Commentators have said that the prohibition against anxiety is the most-common command in all of the New Testament. Here is the most famous example:
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matt. 6:25-34)
And then from our text in Philippians we are told:
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)
We are commanded not to worry for the same reason that we are commanded to trust God. God is in control. He is there. He will provide. Anxiety is the absence of faith, and as such, anxiety is a miniature apostasy. If it is indulged long enough, anxiety becomes full apostasy, an actual condition of despair which cannot believe the promises of God.
Only God brings Peace of Mind
We need to be clear that you will not and cannot find peace of mind in anything other than God. You can’t find it through money. It’s been tried. One of the 20th century’s greatest religious minds, Mr. Johnny Cash, explained the futility of this when he sang:
How many times have you heard someone say if I had his money I could do things my way. But little they know that it’s so hard to find one rich man in ten with a satisfied mind. Money can’t buy back your youth when you’re old or a friend when you’re lonely or a love that’s grown cold. The wealthiest person is a pauper at times compared to the man with a satisfied mind.
And this is a biblical sentiment. “He who trusts in his riches will fall” (Prov. 11:28). “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Indeed, riches become an idol when we look to them for deliverance:
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6, quoting Psalm 118:6)
We are not to have covetousness, not to look for contentment through riches, because “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:32-34). Fill your heart, not with mammon, but with the riches of Christ.
We also know that other forms of power do not bring satisfaction. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but those do not bring deliverance (Psalm 20:7). Friends will let you down. Even lovers fail, because no love can bear the weight of the only love which truly fills our souls, the divine love of God Himself. As St. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.”
Only the knowledge of God’s direct presence and His good will can bring this sort of peace. This is what Paul means when he says, “the Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:6). He doesn’t mean, as many assume, “He’s coming quickly.” While there certainly is sense of impending divine judgment in the New Testament, nothing like that has been mentioned so far in Philippians and nothing like it is mentioned later in the book. It doesn’t fit the context. Instead, the context is one of salvation in God alone. Thus, “the Lord is at hand” means that He is near—“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them” (Ps. 145:18-19). Because of this knowledge, you can be anxious for nothing.
Learn to Stop Worrying: Believe
Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
You only ever stop worrying by resting in God. Think about it. The gospel says that we are right with God, now. God is the maker of the universe. God is the sustainer of the universe. And we are sons of and friends with Him. Therefore, the most important thing is taken care of. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We know that we are, with body and soul, both in life and in death, not our own, but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all our sins, and redeemed us from all the power of the devil; and so preserves us that without the will of our Father in heaven not a hair can fall from our heads; indeed, that all things must work together for our salvation (HC #1).
The truth of the matter is that anxiety is a sort of works righteousness. It is looking for security in all the wrong places, everywhere but God. And so let it go. Trust in God and gain rest. Jesus said:
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:27-30)
Peace of mind an in fallen world is pretty unreasonable. It surpasses understanding. But this is exactly the kind of peace we need, and it is the kind of peace that is given to us. We don’t have it, and we can’t get it ourselves. It has to be given, just like grace. God gives it to us as we believe what He has said about us in the gospel.
Now at this point in the sermon there are two reactions. There’s a sort of pious admiration, but there’s also the predictable call for application. Ok, pastor, that sounded awfully pretty, but what are we supposed to do about it? But we have to be careful here. It would be all too easy to totally deny everything that has just been said by looking for a to-do list of applications. There are no spiritual tricks that are going to give you peace simply by doing them, not even old-fashioned Christian ones. Even in the conclusion of the sermon, works righteousness still won’t work.
So what do you do? Simple faith and simple piety, in that order. We have to believe what God has said in His word, and we have to believe that it will work. Do you believe that the Gospel is the power to salvation? Good. Do you believe that it is enough for your soul today, tomorrow, and next week? Do you really trust it to work?
Part of what it takes to have the mind of Christ is to submit your own mind— your own estimations, valuing, projections, etc.—to what Jesus says. Put others ahead of yourself and believe that you will still be alright. To do this consistently and well you have to train yourself to really, deeply, believe, and this is best done through simple practical piety, what the apostle refers to as prayer and meditation. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). Prayer simply means conversing with God. Supplication means making requests to Him. And so there you go. Talk to God and tell Him what you need. Ask for things from Him. And do this “with thanksgiving.” All throughout your walk with God, you need to exhibit gratitude. Thank Him for what He has done in Christ, for what He has done in your life, and what you do have. Even when you feel a sense of need and longing, express this within the larger context of gratitude. This gratitude shows your faith, that you are glad because you do believe.
As we have said in the past, prayer is hard work, and Paul adds “mediations” to it. To meditate simply means to think intentionally and over time, and Paul tells us what to think about:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
We will say more about this next week, but as you meditate on God’s character and works, you will grow deeper in your believe and understanding that “The Lord is at hand.” You will have a constant posture of godly peace, and that peace will be given to you to rest your minds, to strengthen your trust, and embolden your gentleness.
And so, ask yourself, what really is reasonable? If God is God, and if God is good, is it reasonable to live in fear and worry? If you say that God saves your soul, then why aren’t you thankful? Why are you so disquieted, oh my soul? Trust in God, your soul’s reliance. Give thanks. Be gentle. Don’t worry. Because God is at hand.