In Philippians 4:6, we’re exhorted to do something that seems impossible:
“In nothing be anxious.”
How can we not be anxious? Each of us has a long list of anxiety-inducing circumstances—relationship issues, financial woes, responsibility for our children, pressure at work, no work, and so on. And in addition to our personal life, the world today seems to manufacture large-scale anxiety-inducing events—economic uncertainty, war, social upheaval—delivered to us on a conveyor belt of 24-hour news coverage.
Is Paul’s word here outdated or unreasonable, since we’re faced with so many modern difficulties? In this post, we’ll take a close look at Philippians 4:6-7 with notes from the New Testament Recovery Version to see how we can practically be saved from anxiety.
God’s Word never changes
The Word of God is unchanging, and it isn’t influenced by circumstances and changing times. So as believers, we have to take everything in the Bible seriously, including this word about not being anxious. But how is it possible not to be anxious in anything?
One important principle of studying the Bible is to never isolate a verse and interpret it on its own. Context is important. We need to look at what comes before this word concerning not being anxious and what follows it.
What immediately precedes “In nothing be anxious” is one of the most comforting assurances in the entire Bible:
“The Lord is near.”
This fact certainly applies to the Lord’s coming back soon, but it also applies to His presence with us today. He’s near us right now. In fact, He’s as near as can be; He’s within us, living in our human spirit.
It’s impossible for us to be anxious in nothing simply by trying. We just don’t have that ability. God knows this and has no expectation that we can do this by ourselves.
If we focus on our inability not to be anxious, we’ll view the word to not be anxious in anything as being unreasonable. But when we recognize that the Lord is within us, we realize it’s our anxiety that’s unreasonable, since He’s near and ready to help us. If we realize the Lord’s nearness, we’ll also realize there’s no need for us to be troubled.
Prayer and petition with thanksgiving
So preceding the exhortation not to be anxious, we have the word telling us that the Lord is near and ready to help us. But what about our list of cares that cause us to be anxious?
Now let’s see what follows the word about being anxious in the rest of Philippians 4:6. These words are crucial for us to be practically saved from anxiety:
“In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
So in everything—in every matter, every circumstance, every situation—we can pray and petition with thanksgiving, and let our requests be made known to God.
Notes 2 and 3 in the New Testament Recovery Version help us see how to apply this verse. Note 2 on prayer says:
“Prayer is general, having worship and fellowship as its essence; petition is special, being for particular needs.”
And note 3 on with thanksgiving says:
“Not and but with. Both our prayer and our petition should be accompanied by our giving thanks to the Lord.”
The Lord is near us and ready to help. So by prayer we can fellowship with Him and simply tell Him what we’re going through. We can also petition Him and make specific requests concerning our needs. But both our prayer and our petition should be with thanksgiving. No matter what we’re going through, we have much to thank the Lord for. We can thank Him for His care for us in all our circumstances. We can thank Him for being near, and for so many other things.
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Passing our burdens on to the Lord
With the Lord within us, there’s no need for us to carry our burdens by ourselves.
Watchman Nee, a Bible teacher and author, once used the illustration of three construction workers passing bricks up some stairs. One man passes bricks from the first level up to the next, and the second man passes them from his level up to the next. All goes smoothly as long as the bricks keep moving. But if the second man stops passing his bricks along and holds onto them, he’ll soon be crushed by the increasing weight of the load.
We’re often in this second man’s position. All day long cares, troubles, and burdens come to us. And if we hold on to them, we’re soon overwhelmed by the weight of anxiety. What should we do? As soon as we receive the cares and feel threatened under their weight, we must pass them on to the “higher level.”
How can we do this? The end of verse 6 tells us how:
“Let your requests be made known to God.”
Note 4 on to God in the Recovery Version is very enlightening:
“The Greek word is often translated with (John 1:1; Mark 9:19; 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 John 1:2). It denotes motion toward, in the sense of a living union and communion, implying fellowship. Hence, the sense of to God here is in the fellowship with God.”
This means we can come to God and let our requests be known to Him in fellowship with Him. Instead of being crushed by the weight of our burdens, we can unload them by turning to the Lord in prayer at any time in the day. We can tell Him our cares, and He’ll receive our burdens. What a wonderful provision!
The promise of peace
The very next verse, verse 7, tells us what issues from our prayer and petition with thanksgiving and making our requests known to God:
“And the peace of God, which surpasses every man’s understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”
Note 1 on peace in this verse helps us see how we can experience this peace that surpasses all understanding:
“The result of practicing fellowship with God in prayer is that we enjoy the peace of God. The peace of God is actually God as peace (v. 9) infused into us through our fellowship with Him by prayer, as the counterpoise to troubles and the antidote to anxiety (John 16:33).”
A counterpoise is a factor, force, or influence that balances or neutralizes another. And an antidote is a medicine that counteracts a particular poison. Our troubles and cares certainly exert an influence on us, and our worries are like a harmful poison to us. But the peace of God, God Himself as our peace, is the counterpoise to all our troubles and the antidote to our anxiety.
But we can only experience this peace of God as the counterpoise and antidote if we fellowship with God in prayer. In this fellowship with God, something wonderful happens. It’s not just that we’re telling God our problems and unburdening our cares. As we pray to Him, He infuses Himself into us as peace. This is the wonderful promise given to us, and this is how we can be saved from our anxiety.
The peace of God guards our hearts
The peace of God is not only a counterpoise and antidote, it even acts as a guard. Verse 7 says:
“The peace of God…will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”
Note 2 explains what guard means:
“Or, mount guard over. The God of peace patrols before our hearts and thoughts in Christ, keeping us calm and tranquil.”
As we bring our concerns and burdens to God in prayer, we enjoy fellowship with God. The result of our communing with Him is that the peace of God is imparted into us, quieting all our anxiety. His peace even patrols over us, standing like a guard before our hearts and thoughts, keeping us from anything that might disturb our calm in Him.
The Lord’s exhortation is clear: In nothing be anxious. And in His Word, it’s also clear that the Lord is near, and that by making our requests known to God through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, the peace of God will guard our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus.
Every day, let’s remember that the Lord is near us and that we can fellowship with Him in prayer. Instead of bearing all our worries ourselves, we can give Him our cares and even ask for what we need. By doing this, we’ll enjoy His promised peace and be saved from our worries and anxieties.
We encourage you to order a free copy of the New Testament Recovery Version and read all the notes in this wonderful section in Philippians 4.
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