Images of soldiers in battle are common in several of Paul’s epistles. That’s not too surprising, considering he and his fellow believers were all under rule by representatives of the Roman Empire, which had conquered its territories with a mighty army.
Thus we’re not surprised when Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to “stand firm … in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1). The picture is that of soldiers standing their ground in the face of opposition. We are to be courageous soldiers on the battlefield, not frightened soldiers hiding in the barracks.
Philippians 4:1–9 is a call to Christian steadfastness. It is not the Lord’s will that His people be wishy-washy. Christians should be strong, secure, and steadfast. Verses 2–8 teach practical steps that lead to the steadfastness of faith. And in the midst of these strategies Paul announces an essential part of this inspired strategies for Christian stability, one rooted in prayer: “Do not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (verses 6–7).
BRING YOUR WORRIES TO GOD
The text begins with a command: “Do not be anxious about anything.” The word anxious translates from a Greek verb that means to deeply care about something or someone. It can refer to proper or legitimate concern. Paul uses it this way when he says of his spiritual protégé, Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). But the word can also refer to sinful or undue concern. Jesus used the term this way when He said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41).
Philippians 4:6 uses the term in this latter sense. Paul is not saying that we should be carefree or unconcerned about the important things, issues, and people in our lives. He is saying that we should not worry about them. Legitimate concern turns into sinful anxiety when we allow our hearts and minds to be pulled into different directions by our circumstances. Faith pulls us in one direction. Doubt pulls us in another direction. Similarly, hope pulls us in one direction; fear pulls us the opposite direction. And we find ourselves pulled apart with worry.
The word worry is derived from an Old English word that means to strangle. Yes, worry is internal strangulation. Jesus affirms this in the parable of the sower when He speaks of seed being planted among thorns: “This is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
So the apostle Paul wisely instructs the saints of God, “Do not be anxious about anything.” The grammar of this command indicates that sinful anxiety was a present reality, not a potential threat. God is not just saying here, “Do not worry.” He is saying, “Stop your worrying.” God commands you and me to stop worrying. What are you worrying about? Is it your family? Is it your health? Is it your finances? Is it your job? Is it your future? Whatever it is, God says to stop worrying. But the Lord does not leave us there, with just a command to obey. God has given us an answer for your anxiety. He has shown us how to win over our worries.
Here it is: Pray your worries away!
Don’t worry. Pray.
Turn your worries into prayers.
Take everything off of your worry list and put it on your prayer list.
H. B. Charles Jr., It Happens after Prayer: Biblical Motivation for Believing Prayer (Chicago, IL: Lift Every Voice, 2013).
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