In a way, our battle with anxiety comes down to a few simple questions: do we believe God or not? Do we believe He is sovereign over our lives or not? In Phil. 4:4-7, we find Paul exhorting us to bring all things to the Lord in prayer at all times because He is a God we can trust absolutely.
Part 17 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Remember — Paul was a prisoner awaiting trial that could potentially have led him to his death as he wrote this letter. And yet he still implores the Philippian believers to rejoice, despite his own personal circumstances; from a worldly standpoint, he had little cause for rejoicing!
In a certain sense, this exhortation to rejoice connects with Paul’s exhortation to rejoice in Philippians 3:1. And at the same time, it is part of his closing words and continues the thematic imperative to joy threaded throughout the letter.
It’s significant to reflect on the word always here. Consider: how difficult is it to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of a loss, grief, sickness, or other life chaos? Tough, right? We tend to let our emotions and feelings rule us in those times. It’s not that we shouldn’t have emotions and feelings; we were created with them. But we need the ability — based on our knowledge of God’s word — to be able to tell ourselves the biblical truth in spite of what we may feel at the time. We need constant reminders of what it is we have that goes beyond these temporal struggles and looks past these earthly pains.
With the kind of focus that looks toward the eternal not the immediate future, we do not struggle as those who are without hope, without Christ, and for whom the earth is all there is. As believers, we can take joy in a God who never changes, no matter how much our circumstances do. Rejoicing in the Lord and in all that lies in front of us eternally alters our perspective on what we endure.
A Gentle Spirit Reflects Christ
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Many of us may look at this verse and think it merely stands alone as a command or exhortation about our attitudes. But I think there’s more to it. If we are rejoicing in the Lord — and if our rejoicing causes us a changed perspective — then it is very likely that that changed perspective will bring about gentleness.
Gentleness is epieikés in the Greek; the word means “mild, forbearing, fair, reasonable, moderate.” The NAS translates this verse so beautifully: Let your gentle [spirit] be known to all men.
The exhortation here is to let the gentleness of a spirit held captive by Christ be known to and experienced by all those who cross your path. What this looks like is a person who, as they follow Christ, allows His Spirit to maintain balance in all they do: eating, drinking, temperament, activity, words spoken, words left unspoken, attitudes, thoughts. James goes into even greater detail about what this looks like and puts it in an even broader category — wisdom:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. [Jas. 3:17 ESV]
When you follow God’s wisdom, you are gentle because you know there’s no need to do battle over your so-called “rights.” You know you have a much more pressing battle to fight: a spiritual one. And do you realize how rare this is in our world? By nature, this kind of gentle spirit will set you apart. It will make people wonder about you and ask, why is this person so different?
Christ’s Return and Holy Living
The phrase the Lord is near refers to the imminent return of Christ. Paul’s sense of this compels him to encourage these believers to live lives worthy of Him — to be found serving Him and His people — and conveys the urgency of living a holy life. I don’t want to digress too much into eschatological issues in this study, but it is fairly apparent that for Paul, with the information he had at the time, the Lord’s return could have been any moment. He certainly has a pattern in his teachings of this mindset.
The idea of Christ’s imminent return presents dual imperatives: one, it is God who is the ultimate judge, so it is not up to us to fight for rights or to take revenge; two, the things you think are so important here on this earth — the very things you do battle with each other over — fade in significance in the face of Christ’s return and of eternal life (related: Jas. 5:8-9; 1 John 2:28).
The Remedy for Anxiety
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
What is it to be anxious? Anxiety is:
- fear of the future or its consequences.
- the illusion that we are somehow in control (self-reliance).
- being pulled in multiple directions by worry and a lack of trust.
- expressing our underlying fear that something will not turn out as we want it to.
- being distracted to the point of losing our focus and priorities.
- thinking our own resources have to get us through (self-sufficiency).
The key here is in the contrast of this command: do not be anxious about anything… but…present your requests to God:
in every situation. Do you know what this means? Nothing is too small or big to bring to God. Nothing is insignificant and He is not going to think it’s stupid you’re praying about it. He delights in you coming to Him for everything in every circumstance.
by prayer and petition. Why does Paul use this pair of words when upon first glance they look like they mean the same thing? The first word (proseuché) encompasses a general idea of all prayer offered to God. The second word (deésis) indicates the kind of prayer you make for a specific, particularly heartfelt need. There is no limitation made in scripture about what that may be, only the imperative to bring all that concerns you to God (related: 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 John 5:15).
with thanksgiving. Thanking God reminds you who He is and what He has done in the past and will do in the future. Think of this not just in terms of blessing in your life, but on a larger scale, in drawing you to salvation by His grace in the first place. Otherwise you could not even come to God with your prayers. You could not even approach His throne. The word in Greek is euxaristía and is literally, “the giving of thanks for God’s grace” (HELPS Word-studies).
There are always things to thank God for. God exercises His grace in our lives in innumerable ways and often we don’t even see or think about them. The very fact we wake up each day and draw breath is by His grace. The fact He called us to Him is something accomplished solely by His grace.
For further study and encouragement:
A question that often comes up is, why should I pray at all? Doesn’t God, being omniscient, already know what it is I need and what is going on in my life? The answer is of course, yes.
Prayer is an opportunity to express your trust in God, and that brings Him glory. Prayer is about giving burdens that you cannot and do not need to carry on your own to the Wonderful Counselor and Helper. Prayer is also about fellowship with and worship of the unseen Holy One. Although at times, I’m sure we’ve all felt like we were talking to ourselves, the reality is, whether you “feel” God’s presence or not, we know from His word He is there.
And from a different perspective, although Paul talks about bringing requests to God, we don’t just pray to get our earthly needs met. We pray to express our praise and thanks to God. Often it can be helpful to find a passage of scripture and “pray through” it. This slows us down to a meditative and reflective crawl — a good thing in our overloaded, distracted world — and helps us put the Word into our minds. It also spurs us to seek God for more of our spiritual needs, not simply the temporal ones.
A Fortress of Peace
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
When you give your requests and cares to God, in return you will have the peace of knowing that God is sovereignly working. That He has heard and knows your concerns (related: 1 Pet 5:6-7).
The world does not understand this peace. They do not understand your calm rest and trust in the Lord in difficult situations and painful times. The underlying peace you have in Christ makes no sense to them. They expect instead that you would find someone to rage against and blame, to lash out and vent your feelings.
The peace of God transcends, or goes above and beyond, all understanding in a human sense. Your heart and mind are guarded by this peace; in other words, your feelings and your thoughts can be governed by and fall under the protection of this peace.
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you. [Isa. 26:3 ESV]
This is not a matter of putting on some phony Christian smile and pretending you’re okay and everything’s fine. Neither is it a passive metaphorical sitting on the couch and waiting till the storm blows over and the pain or grief goes away.
Notice what Isaiah says in the verse above. The two reasons you have peace are: your mind is fixed on God and you have placed your confidence in Him (related: John 14:27; 16:33; Col. 3:15). It’s an active trust. It involves reading and meditating upon the full counsel of God’s word and seeking Him in prayer; as a result, you will know Him more, know more of what He says and promises, and your trust in Him will increase, bringing greater peace.