Attacking Anxiety

One of the more intimidating commands in the entire Bible is the first part of Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing.” You can almost hear people, maybe yourself, reply, “Seriously, Paul? I mean, have you met my boss?” Or “Really, Paul, you should have been here when I got back my medical test results.”

Or, Okay, Paul, but you were never married or had children.”

But what do we do with this command, which, by the way, Jesus also gave us (Matthew 6:25): “Do not be anxious about your life”?

The first thing is to determine the kind of anxiety Paul and Jesus are talking about. They can’t mean concern for our children or one another, for both Jesus and Paul exhibited signs of great compassion for others.

They also did not mean freedom from the fear of harm or danger. It is humanly impossible not to empathize with Jesus when in Gethsemane, where He prayed that the cup of His suffering would pass, or Paul, when he speaks of his concern for the churches. To be free from caring about others and pain would make us less than human.

The second reality is the context of these commands. Jesus already has laid the foundation for His words with “You can’t love God and money” (Matthew 6:24). This signals that He is talking about worry that we would be without the basic elements of life, since God provides these things even for the animals and plants. Paul, of course, follows up his admonition by giving the flip side of worry, namely serious prayer, faith that commits one’s circumstances to a loving God (Philippians 4:6, 7). In both cases, anxiety is blameworthy because it is destructive, and gives way to peace for those who are trusting God.

In both Philippians 4 and Matthew 6, the issue is an emotion that is capable of overthrowing our faith, and even temporarily replacing it with fear. We can become incapacitated, paralyzed by things over which we have no control. Jesus and Paul are saying that the antidote to that kind of anxiety is faith, not meaning that the trial goes away, but that it no longer debilitates us or causes us to doubt the goodness and power of God.

So, no, the Lord is not asking us to throw caution to the wind and care nothing for ourselves and others. He is asking us to trust Him IN our circumstances, whatever they may be, because He is all-powerful AND all-loving. The the more we can manage to do that (and there is a learning curve), the less anxiety we will experience, and the more God is glorified as the One who keeps His promises to His people.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
Luke 12:25

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