“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
There are few things certain in life, but one of them is - we are all going to face trouble at some point, those difficult experiences in life. Life itself appears to be set up that way, and in turn the natural consequence of these difficulties for many, will be anxiety in some form or other.
That’s why when I came across this verse the more I thought, is this possible? “Do not be anxious about anything” !
Firstly I don’t mind admitting there are circumstances that make me anxious. I would say it’s most likely the same for you? Who of us really, truthfully, live a life free of all anxiety?
In fact even the apostle Paul who wrote these verses was not adverse to anxiety! This is what he says in 2 Corinthians 11.28 - “And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches”
And then there is the remarkable David whom God said of him - He was "a man after my own heart " however writing in the Psalms David this great man of God, said – “I am numb with pain and severely battered; I groan loudly because of the anxiety I feel.” (Psalm 38:8)
So what does the great Apostle really mean here? Was he preaching to himself? And is it really possible? “Do not be anxious about anything” Firstly Paul, when he wrote these words had every right to be anxious, as the book of Philippians has been described as a ‘Prison Epistle’. The letter was written while he was in prison due to the persecution he faced regarding the proclamation of his Christian faith.
Paul wrote it in about 62 A.D as he anticipated his release from prison however things were on a 'knife edge' regarding Christians in the first century world and there must have been an awareness by Paul that at any time he could be facing the executioners axe! We know as well from Church history he was eventually beheaded for his faith, yet there is a consistent, positive proclamation throughout the Apostle Paul’s writings.
One of the key themes of this Apostles message in Philippians is joy in spite of suffering. That is why he could say with confidence “do not be anxious about anything” if he, by example could say this with authority in his own personal circumstances, that is, in prison, facing death, surely his readers could find that same confidence in their own personal experiences or indeed in their shared circumstances as a group of Christian people living in the midst of persecution.
So what is this anxiety we are talking about here? The original definition of the Greek word for anxiety is 'merimnaó' and it means, as translated by a number of reliable sources, to be a:- “nagging debilitating force that pulls us a part, that divides us” - it means to be "full of care" a "harassing, weary, wearing care, where we tend to brood and ponder over things".
It’s the same word used by Jesus in the Story of Mary & Martha in Luke chapter 10, where Jesus says “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things but just one thing is important”.
So it is important to remember what this anxiety is & what it isn’t ! This anxiety we are talking about here is what you could call a ‘stage two anxiety’ and it could be described as something that goes beyond normal care & concern to a negative, harassing, debilitating distress that makes us unable to function or think properly.
But clearly what it is not, is that the natural, positive care & concern we should have for other people or situations or circumstances. There is a care of diligence and compassion and concern that we have which is part of our humanity and it’s perfectly right and natural, but there is also a care that comes out of fear & distrust and which only perplexes us and distracts our mind. That is the anxiety Paul is talking about here in these verses and what he is commanding us to avoid at all costs.
So as the Apostle said “Do not be anxious about anything” and perhaps with a little more understanding of the meaning of this verse, it's context and definition, it might be just possible to make this lofty command a reality in our own lives.
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