“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:4-13)
When reading a book (or in this case, a letter), it is always good to reflect on the context of the author. Paul is writing a letter to the church of Phillipi from prison. It’s essentially a support-raising letter of gratitude to a church that Paul had ministered to and had in turn sent him a gift while in prison. It is personal and joyful in tone. But I think the key part to remember for us is that Paul is writing from prison with a joyful tone. This is a posture that I don’t think I would be holding if I were writing a letter from prison.
If Paul, the gospel loving Christ follower from the New Testament, were to write a letter to Imago Dei Church after we sent him a gift, what would that letter look like? Although we may never know, I am grateful to read Philippians 4 and resonate with the early church. How do we rejoice in our suffering? Are we really trusting in God’s presence to remain steadfast as life swirls on around us? How does anxiety take hold of our heart in this tech-driven culture? How do we shape our thoughts around what is true and noble, believing God’s promised peace will be upon us? Are we truly content with our circumstances when our finances are at their highest and lowest? Although culturally different, these passages are bursting with Christ-centered truth and wisdom that we at Imago Dei church can learn from 2,000+ years later.
As someone who grew up in a Christian household but struggled with anxiety, Philippians 4:6 is a familiar golden ticket for “instant peace” to a young believer. I got the impression it was like a nice dose of Vitamin C to take on a cloudy day. It’s often served as a simple reminder to pray often, and do it with thanksgiving, and miraculously God’s peace would be with me. We can often skip right to verse 6 though without proclaiming the resounding truth of verse 5: The Lord is near! This verse follows with a commandment, not a suggestion, to not be anxious but to present your requests before God. There are both individual and corporate lessons that we can soak in. We can rejoice in the Lord in the quiet places. We can rejoice in the Lord as a church body. Our gentleness comes from individually clinging to Christ, but it should be evident to others. We can present our prayer and petitions to God alone, and we can also do that with others.
Paul is reminding us that the Christian life is not exempt from suffering. But unlike those apart from Him, we have the promise of God’s presence providing peace. Do I live and act as though God is near at all times? If I did, I have to believe that my anxiety would look different. Am I truly clinging to good, noble thoughts always? What am I spending time watching, listening to, reading, scrolling past, and how is that shaping my relationship with the God of peace?
I read this passage today and am reminded of God’s refining presence. My journey of anxiety is not completely over, but God has transformed my heart and where I put my trust. God’s presence transforms. It can reshape the heart of a prisoner sitting next to Paul, and it can reshape us today as we face a culture filled with anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and loneliness.
If we truly trust God and his ways, our lives will reflect that. It will be evident in gentleness. We will be filled with peace. It will be evident in our thoughts. We will rejoice. We won’t fret in earthly circumstances. And lastly, we will rightly acknowledge where our strength comes from. When we are at peace, do we look to ourselves, sleep, our bank accounts, friendship, new clothes, technology, down time, a warm bath, a glass of wine, or beautiful scenery as our reasoning? I pray that God’s peace would guard our hearts and minds today, reminding us that his presence is where the ultimate source of peace comes from. May we remember that He is near, and may the manifestations of that truth continue to shape how we live, think, talk, act, and love.