We all worry at some point in our lives. Maybe you are consumed with worry at this moment. So many of us are or have been affected (usually negatively) in some way or other by worry. Worry can be defined as giving way to anxiety or unease; to allow one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. Worry takes place in the mind and it is often based on real and present issues in our life. We worry about multiple things… finances, the future, life altering decisions, sickness, politics, religion, and so on. There have been times in my life where worry had consumed me that I was nearly paralyzed with fear. And let’s face it, worry is generally rooted in fear and anxiety. There were times in my life where I worried about finding a job when I was unemployed. I worried about making ends meet. I worried about my health. Worry, can take up so much of our mental energy and thoughts that sometimes we can feel paralyzed by fear and worry.
When I was a kid, I used to collect Mad Magazine. If you remember Mad Magazine was an American satire magazine that poked fun at politics, pop culture and many times was just plain stupid. The magazine had a mascot or fictitious cover boy named Alfred E. Neuman. He had a saying or slogan that said “What, Me Worry?” I think he was on to something because this slogan, I believe, was intended to have the nonchalant attitude of, “Forget about it! There’s nothing that’s going to get me down. I don’t care what you think or what I may be facing, I’m not going to concern myself with worry!” In some ways, this attitude reminds me of the Apostle Paul has a similar thought in writing to the Philippians as he continually goes back to this idea of not worrying and rejoicing.
Today we are going to conclude our series in Philippians as we will spend some time in chapter 4 and Paul’s truly concluding thoughts.
Philippians 4: 1 – 7
Vs 1 – 3: Chapter 4 begins with Paul dealing with first things first by mentioning two individuals in the church at Philippi who are apparently having a disagreement of sorts. We are not sure what the issue is, but it obviously is concerning enough for Paul to address them. These were women who worked with Paul at some point in his ministry and it is obvious these two women were believers in Jesus Christ, since their names were written in the book of life. However, Paul admonishes these two women to drop their differences and seek unity in the Lord. Which is always a good way to settle a conflict. He continues to encourage unity in the church in order for the church to stand in the difficult times that they will be facing.
Now, Paul comes back to his continual exhortation to rejoice once again! Rejoicing and joy is the common thread that is weaved throughout this letter. Yet, this time he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” The word “always” gives no exceptions to rejoicing regardless of circumstances. Paul is continuing to tell the Philippians to find their joy in the Lord rather than in the reality they are facing. I really, really think he is trying to tell the church and even us today something very important, because Paul says to “rejoice” and having “joy” about 16 times in Philippians. He writes that regardless of life circumstances…Rejoice! Why is Paul so determined for the people (and you and I for that matter) to rejoice? If things are not going our way and we are facing difficulties in life what can possibly trump our current difficult situations? The answer, we may rejoice, we will rejoice, we must rejoice because of what Christ has done. We rejoice in Him!
After Paul exhorts the church to rejoice in the Lord, he then reminds “The Lord is at hand” or the Lord is near, thus he encourages them, “do not be anxious about anything.” Anything??? ANYTHING! Instead of worrying and being anxious about the things that are overwhelming or looming over the Philippians, go to God in prayer. Paul says, “Let your requests be known to God.” This is another way of saying take your concerns to the foot of the cross and leave them there. Do not let your anxiety and worry consume you. Give it to Jesus and once you do, you will experience peace. Not your regular peace which generally refers to the absence of conflict, but the true peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Now, I realize it is not a logical peace. It doesn’t make any human sense because the issues that are causing distress are still in front of you, but when you give your worry and anxiety over to the Lord you gain a true and genuine sense of peace that is rooted in Jesus. When we experience this peace, it will guard our hearts and minds. This means that in those times when worry or anxiety pop back into our heads or our hearts we can be protected from worry because we are in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4: 8, 9
Finally! Here is that word again… But this time Paul means it. In response to all he has written Paul gives a practical suggestion in how we can find joy in turmoil and have peace instead of worry. Since worry is an issue of the mind, Paul is telling the Philippians that instead of focusing on that which is causing worry, they need to think on these things… whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. These whatever’s are to become the new reality. When you are at work, home, school, in the car, at church, etc. choose to think on these things or live in them. Paul calls his readers to essentially write these virtues into their lives by putting them into practice instead of worry and anxiety. There are so many things that can drag our minds and attitudes into dark places, but we cannot set our minds on those things, we must set our minds on God and trust that he can and will walk with us through our worry and anxiety, thus giving us the peace we long for.
Philippians 4: 10 - 13
As Paul concludes we need to be reminded again of the context of Paul’s situation in writing this letter. Paul is not vacationing on the beaches of Ostia near Rome, nor in a luxurious palace people waiting on his hand and feet, nor a comfortable home where he can relax and enjoy his time in Rome. No, Paul is writing from prison. He is in chains. His living situation is not the ideal setting for having a thankful or joyful attitude, but Paul again and again tells his readers to have joy and explains that he is filled with joy as well… regardless of his situation.
In fact, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Paul admits that contentment was not something that came naturally, he had to learn to be content. He had to learn because he knew what it meant to have much and to have little. He had to learn because he knew what it meant to be respected and honored and to be low and humiliated. He had to learn because he knew what it meant to have an abundance of food and to have nothing and face hunger. He tells the Philippians I have learned that in any situation “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” We have all heard this verse. It may be your favorite verse. You may tell yourself this before you do something that you are scared to do. You may tell yourself this to psyche yourself up before a sporting event, musical concert, a speak, a test, you name it. We need to look at this verse in context. This is not intended to be a kitschy wall plaque to hang in a locker room or in your front hall. Nor is it a saying intended to cause you to look deep inside yourself and gather the faith you need to accomplish a difficult task. Of course, this verse does imply that you can do whatever you want to do, if you just put your mind to it. It is a truth of contentment. Paul is saying that in plenty in want he can do what God is calling him to do. Whatever comes Paul’s way, he has the strength to meet it. I like how R. Kent Hughes writes, “If he is brought low, he is a man in Christ; if he abounds, he is a man in Christ. In any and every circumstance he is a man of Christ he is content regardless of the situation.” So, the verse taken in context would say that if you are following Jesus’ call in your life, you are serving him faithfully in these tasks that he has called you to do, then you certainly can trust and believe that whatever God calls you to do, you can do it through Christ who strengthens you.
Now, as we conclude this chapter and this series, we can sum both up in the following truths and applications in our lives.
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.