Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Philippians 4:4-7)
February 23, 2012 will go down as a horrible day in my life. After that morning’s chapel, I filmed the dean of the university for the local cable station. Obvious that Bill was quite distracted as I filmed him-he stumbled over words right and left. After we finished filming, Bill said, “Justin, I have some distressing news . . . . Your job is going to end after this semester.”
My immediate thoughts went to my family . . . . How were we going to make it? I went home and told Tammy-We had a good cry, but our thoughts were on our kids, “What would come of our family?” Then, it was time to go pick the kids up from school. We pulled ourselves together, went and got our children, and we called them into the living room. I vividly recall Wil’s getting into my lap, laying his head on my shoulder and weeping, all the while saying, “Daddy, what are we going to do?” In our search, there were many sleepless nights, many tears, many days of doubt. For a while, worry became a constant companion.
I don’t tell you any of that to make you feel sorry for us. God provided for us wondrously while I was without work-we never went without food or shelter or any other necessity of life. The end of the story is a quite happy ending with our being here to work with you. I should have known that God would provide, I should have known God was in control, I should have known all would work out in God’s way in God’s time, but too often in the process I was filled with anxiety and worry.
I’m confident that you too have had times in your life filled with anxiety. Maybe the company was looking at downsizing and you thought you’d end up without work. Maybe you’ve sat in a doctor’s office awaiting a diagnosis. Maybe you’ve sat at the funeral home wondering how you’re going to make it without your loved one.
Worry and anxiety are natural in life. Jesus himself faced anxiety as the cross approached. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matt 26:38). But, instead of allowing worry/anxiety to fester, Jesus turns to his Father in prayer.
Satan wants worry and anxiety to fester. Worry and anxiety snuff out faith. If I’m worried about something, there’s no room for God’s provisions, no room for his guidance, no room for him. Therefore, like Jesus, Paul tells us in our text that “We must respond to worry with prayer.”
Scripture (Philippians 4:4-7)
Paul and the Philippians had many reasons for anxiety instead of rejoicing. Paul was in prison and facing a probable execution. Epaphroditus-who was likely the preacher at Philippi-was sick almost to death (Phil 2:25-30). There’s bickering going on in the church (Phil 4:2).
How could people facing such trials “Rejoice in the Lord always”? The key is “in the Lord.” We have joy because we know the end of the story. There’s a big difference in “happiness” and “joy.” “Happiness” has to do with external circumstances. “Joy” is an internal contentment knowing that God still sits upon his throne. Regardless of what happens in life, we have reason for joy: We know the end of the story! and We are covered in the blood of Jesus!
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” “Reasonableness” refers to rightfulness in judging. The term refers to the patient endurance that puts up with persecution and other mistreatment. Our patient endurance is to be known to others-it’s to be evident. How can we endure in the face of mistreatment and all sorts of trials? Paul tells us in this verse:
The Lord is at hand. Jesus is ready to burst through the clouds at any minute. Every struggle, every heartache, every disappointment is about to be far, far behind us!
We are to be anxious about nothing. But, what does Paul mean by “anxiety” here? That question is complicated because Paul uses “anxiety” in a positive way earlier in Philippians. “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned [same Greek word] for your welfare” (Phil 2:20). How could Paul commend Timothy for being anxious for the Philippians, but tell the Philippians to be anxious for nothing?
A couple things come into play.
- Anxiety for people seems to be justified. That seems to be mainly because I can minister to people. Timothy could be anxious for the Philippians because he could go and help them.
- Several other types of anxiety seem to be forbidden in Scripture. Any type of selfish anxiety-where I’m concerned about what I want-is forbidden. Such anxiety focuses inwardly-it keeps me from caring for others and keeps me from looking to God. Anxiety for the necessities of life is forbidden. Matthew 6:31-34. Since God has promised to provide, worry for such things takes God off his throne and seeks to put ourselves there in his place.Paul offers a remedy for worry: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Notice Paul says “in everything.” Prayer isn’t to be an every now and then activity. Prayer is to be a constant companion as we face the trials of life. I know no one who is better at this than my own father. The night I lost my job, he sent me a text. The text simply read: “Luke 18:1.” “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Lk 18:1).Paul uses four different words for prayer in this verse. Some commentators want to talk about what each word means. That’s missing the forest for the trees. Sure, there are different kinds of prayer and you and I are going to pray differently based upon our situation. But, we’re always to be praying-That’s the point Paul wants to make!
The peace of God passes understanding. I used to want to explain the peace of God and how he comforts us as we pray. That isn’t being faithful to the text! The peace of God passes understanding-his comfort isn’t explainable. But, we’ve all known that peace as we’ve prayed.
Our hearts and minds shall be wrapped in the peace of God.
Applying the biblical truth taught here is really easy-We pray. After all, “We must respond to worry with prayer.” Each of us will face challenges in life. The answer to challenges is prayer. When Jesus was confronted with the challenge of the cross, he prayed. When Paul and Silas were cast into prison, they were praying and singing hymns unto God.
No doubt you have some struggle or some worry this morning. Get off by yourself and pray. Pour your heart out to God-Such is a great demonstration of trust. God holds the future-not you, not me. God can help in ways that no one else could ever help. God’s peace will comfort your heart and mind.
God has promised to answer prayer in accordance with his perfect will. “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 Jn 3:22). Will you pray this day?
We earlier mentioned that anxiety for others can be healthy. There’s another healthy anxiety-that’s the anxiety for your own soul. “And as [Paul] reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed” (Acts 24:25). Perhaps, it’s time that all of us began to tremble more when we think about the judgment to come. Are you anxious this morning over the state of your soul?
Do you need to come to Jesus this morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.