The Cure for Anxiety
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 4:5-7
Read Philippians 4:4–13
This passage I just read is so rich, and it deals with some of the most foundational battles we face. This is because Proverbs 4:23 states, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” In other words, everything begins with the heart. And Philippians 4:4–13 address some of our most basic heart struggles. We struggle to think truth, to experience godly affections, and to overcome emotional struggles like depression, anger, jealously, bitterness, anxiety, and discontentment.
Last week, we spent a lot of time in v. 4 talking about true Christian joy, which is the biblical prescription for depression and discontentment. We spent so much time in v. 4 that we didn’t have time to cover v. 5. So, today, we’ll talk about how we must replace anger and envy with gentleness toward those who wrong us.
And I’m especially excited to get to vv. 6–7, because they address one of my greatest battles, the battle against anxiety. By the grace of God, I’ve never struggled with panic attacks or any sort of debilitating anxiety. But I was anxious a lot of the time during my first couple of years at Life Point. I tried to carry every little burden of this church on my shoulders. It was miserable, and I’ve come to see that it was arrogant.
I’m thankful for what God has taught me, and I’m excited to share it with you, because I know I’m not alone. Many of you try to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, and you need to learn how to rest in the nature of God and the promises of Scripture. But first, we need to heed the challenge of v. 5. Verse 5 challenges us to…
I. Walk graciously in a harsh world (v. 5).
To understand this verse, we first must understand what gentleness really means. I like how Rogers & Rogers define it. “The word signifies a humble, patient steadfastness which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of it all.”
We sometimes equate gentleness with being soft and weak, but R&R are clear that Paul is not encouraging weakness. It takes great strength to maintain control, bite your lip, and respond with grace when you are being mistreated or slandered.
Since Paul specifies that we need to exhibit this kind of spirit among all people, not just fellow believers, I have to believe that he is especially concerned with how the Philippians needed to respond to the injustice and persecution they were facing in Philippi.
Again, they were probably being pushed out of their families, trade guilds, and jobs. People were being mean and nasty, and pushing the church to the edges of society. And none of it was just. It was all built on slander and lies.
When people treat us that way, we are all tempted to lash out and put them in their place. I know I have, but God says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men,” not just to those who are good to you.
I’m reminded of 1 Peter 2:18–23 (read vv. 18–20). God says we honor him when we graciously endure wrongs. But we might say, “That’s not fair! How can God expect us to graciously endure the kinds of wrongs these slaves endured and maintain a godly attitude? It’s just too much!”
Let’s read on ( 21–23). Christ doesn’t ask any more of us than he already practiced himself. In fact, he endured far more injustice than we ever will. But rather than lashing out in anger, he remained sharply focused on obeying the Father’s will and trusting him with the consequences.
Now, I want to be clear that all of this does not mean we never defend ourselves or those we love. The Scriptures are clear that we should defend the weak and stand for justice. Jesus drove the money changes out of the temple when they were dishonoring God. And Paul fought back when people told lies that could damage his gospel ministry (e.g., 2 Cor 10).
But they key is that we must never sink to the level of those we treat us wrongly. Like Jesus, we must never revile those who revile us or threaten those who hurt us. Instead, as hard as it may be, we must always speak truth, act graciously, and control of our thoughts and passions.
Furthermore, we need to consider why we want to fight this battle. Am I really fighting for truth and justice, or is it really about my pride? And even more importantly we need to consider God’s glory and the advance of the gospel. You need to ask yourself, “Will God be more glorified by fighting this battle or refraining from this battle? Will it shine a light on the gospel, or distract from it?”
And if God’s purposes will be best served by biting your tongue and graciously enduring wrongs, then, as 23 says, “commit (yourself) to Him who judges righteously.” Do what’s right and trust the Lord with the consequences.
Maybe you are enduring some kind of injustice. People are slandering you, breaking promises, or hurting you. It’s incredibly frustrating and hurtful. We are tempted to return the evil and fight for our happiness at any cost. But God says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men.” Respond with his grace.
And praise the Lord that we can do so knowing that we will get justice in the end. God “judge(s) righteously.” And Paul ends our text by saying, “The Lord is at hand.” In other words, Jesus is coming again! And when he comes, he will make every wrong right, and he will reward us for our service.
This hope should revolutionize our perspective on injustice. We don’t have to anxiously fight for every inch of dirt, because we know that Jesus will fix it all in the end, and he will give joy and gladness beyond our imagination.
So, keep your eyes heavenward, looking for the return of Christ and his perfect justice. Then walk in the light of the gospel every day. Remember the incredible grace you received when you wanted nothing to do with the Lord. Then demonstrate that same grace and gentleness to others.
Don’t ever sink to the harshness and nastiness of the world. Let’s show the world the grace of our Father by “Letting (his) gentleness be known to all men (because) the Lord is at hand.” Our first challenge today is to walk graciously in a harsh world. The second challenge is…
II. Give your worries to the Lord (v. 6).
Verse 6 is built around 2 commands—don’t be anxious; instead, pray about everything. It’s profoundly simple but also incredibly rich. Let’s begin with the first command. God commands us to…
Reject Anxiety. God simply says, “Be anxious for nothing.” We need to begin by making sure we are all on the same page about what anxiety is and is not. Specifically, Paul is not saying that we should never have burdens or concerns. Paul just said in 2:28 that he was concerned for the Philippians, and he talks over and over in his letters about his deep concern for the churches that occasionally caused sleepless Paul carried real burdens that weighed heavily on him. And if you love and serve people (which the Bible commands us to do), there will always be burdens.
Therefore, Paul is not saying we should run from our problems. He’s not telling you to run away to a secluded shack on a mountainside while leaving people and responsibility behind. No, he is warning us about allowing the natural pain of life in a sin-cursed world to turn into sinful anxiety.
Of course, the million-dollar question is, “What is the difference? Where is the line between rightly bearing the burdens of those we love and becoming sinfully anxious?” To be fair, sometimes anxiety is clearly unhealthy. Maybe you worry so much that you can’t function or at least not at a high level. You are there, but you really aren’t.
Others express anxiety through self-harm. They eat way too much or too little, or they throw up what they eat. Some abuse drugs. Others cut themselves or constantly pick at sores. And many people hardly sleep, if at all. They can’t think straight, and they are an emotional wreck.
It’s so sad to see people like this, and if any of those things describe you, you need to get help. Ultimately, you need the grace of the gospel, but almost assuredly you can’t think straight enough to get yourself out of the hole. You need the perspective and love of a godly Christian counselor.
But to go back to my original question, not all anxiety is that severe. So where is the line between legitimate burdens and illegitimate anxiety? To answer this question, we need to consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25–34. Jesus points out 3 characteristics of ungodly worry. The first is…
A Worldly Focus: Notice the question Jesus asks at the end of 25. Jesus is saying that worry results from wrongly obsessing over the things of this world—food, clothing, a fancy home, the perfect Christmas, or just about anything else. And notice that he gives the corrective in v. 33. Instead of obsessing over the stuff of this world, we must focus on God’s kingdom and his eternal purposes. In sum, burdens become worry when we turn any temporal concern into an idol that we must have. 2nd…
Allusion of Independence: I love the question Jesus asks in 27. It’s comical, but isn’t it true? We lie awake for 3 hours worrying about something, as if it makes any difference.
Why do we do it? I don’t know about you, but I do it, because I proudly believe that I know what should happen, that I can carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, and that it’s up to me to fix every problem. Therefore, I carry a weight that I can’t actually fix. It’s pure pride.
So, a simple difference between legitimate cares and worry is that legitimate burdens concern things God calls us to fix; whereas, anxiety comes when we hold onto burdens that we should give to the Lord. 3rd…
Small View of God: Notice that Jesus repeatedly brings us back to the nature of God as the cure for worry. In 26, 30 he reminds us of the goodness of God (read). We don’t need to worry because our God gives good things.
And v. 32 reminds us that God knows exactly what we need (read). A basic reason we worry is because we think we know what should happen, so we worry about it not happening. Instead, we need to rest in the fact that God perfectly knows what we need. Not only that, he has the power to accomplish it. Jesus says in 33, “All these things shall be added to you.” God is trustworthy.
In sum, if you struggle with worry, I feel for you, because anxiety is miserable. But I’d also challenge you to recognize the sinful assumptions that undergird worry. Anxiety is built on a worldly focus, allusions of independence, and a small view of God. Therefore, Philippians 4:6 commands us, “Be anxious for nothing.” It has no place in the life of a believer. Instead, God commands us to…
Pray about everything (read). Paul piles up words for prayer, to emphasize that our instinctual, habitual response to every worry should be to pray. And BTW, he doesn’t say this is only true of the really big things. No, he says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” Anything that is cause for worry is cause for prayer.
Therefore, when worry begins to build, your first response shouldn’t be to stew about it or scheme to fix it(which is what I naturally do). No, your first response should be to pray. Specifically, Paul says you must “let your requests be made known to God.”
Now, we just saw in Matthew 6:32 that God already knows our every need; therefore, we don’t pray in order to teach God something he doesn’t already know or even to persuade him to do something better than his perfect will.
Instead, our prayers function as the means by we take the heavy burden on our shoulders and we transfer it onto the Almighty shoulders of our Heavenly Father (1 Pet 5:6–7). Verse 7 is such a great encouragement. God invites us to transfer the burdens on our shoulders to the Lord. We “cast our cares upon Him.” And we do so, because we know that “He cares” for us. He is a good Father who loves to give good gifts. It’s a wonderful picture.
Yet frankly, we often don’t experience the peace that should come from giving our burdens to the Lord. Do you know what I’m talking about? You pray about your burdens, but you don’t feel any less anxious. Why is that? At least for me, the reason is that I don’t practice 6. I don’t truly “humble (myself) under the mighty hand of God.”
In other words, I pray about my worries, but I am still convinced that my will is best, and I’m going to be seriously disappointed if God does something different. Or I don’t truly give my burden to the Lord, and I’m still trying to carry it myself, even though I can’t.
That doesn’t work. Giving your cares to the Lord requires humbling yourself before him and truly accepting the fact that he is God, not me, and his will is perfect, not mine. It’s only when I humble myself like this, that I am truly casting my cares on the Lord.
I believe this is why our text mentions thanksgiving as an essential part of praying about our anxieties. At first, we might think thanksgiving is out of place in v. 6. What does being thankful have to do with praying about cares? But actually, thanksgiving is essential to curing worry. This is because thanksgiving is an expression of humility. It is an admission that God has been far more gracious than I deserve. He is good and has been good. Therefore, I’m not coming to God demanding my rights; instead, I am coming humbly to my good and gracious Father.
And just saying that God is good and gracious is so therapeutic. It changes your whole perspective. For example, whenever we discipline our children for disobeying, after we are done, we always require them to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” It seems small, but one of our children sometimes struggles to say it, even though it’s a few basic words that are usually obviously true. Why is that? He doesn’t want to give up control. He wants to be the boss.
There have been times, where he struggled for long periods of time to say it, as he struggles in his heart. But almost without fail, as soon as he lets those words come out of his mouth, the defiance melts, and he wants a hug. He can once again rest in his daddy’s love.
And when we are struggling with worry, thanksgiving plays a similar role. It’s a vital expression of humility and submission that is essential to truly giving our worries to the Lord. So Christian, when you are worried, learn to respond with humility and faith before the Lord. Learn to acknowledge his greatness, his wisdom, and his grace, and then humbly leave your burdens with him. When you do this, you can gladly fulfill my 3rd challenge…
III. Rest in his peace (v. 7).
This is a wonderful promise, but sadly it is often misunderstood. When we lived in Michigan, I remember sitting in a testimony service, and a lady, whose grandson had died suddenly was giving a testimony. It was a heartbreaking situation, and I remember her saying, “I’ve been praying, but I’m still waiting for God’s perfect peace.” I don’t think she meant to say this, but she was essentially implying that God had not kept his promise.
And I don’t think she is alone. When believers go through hard times, they often look for a peace that never comes. And I believe it’s because they are looking for the wrong thing. Specifically, they are looking for the worldly happiness that we discussed last week. They want to feel like Buddha—out in the woods cut off from all pain and sorrow.
But based on what we saw earlier about Paul’s life and the burdens he bore, that can’t be what Paul means. Life in a broken world is going to hurt at times. So, the “peace of God” is not a complete absence of pain or sorrow; rather it is a rest in God in the midst of difficulties and trials.
For example, life in this world often feels like you are in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm. The wind is howling, and it’s raining so hard that you can’t see. But when you go into a warm air-tight house, there is peace. You can still hear the storm howling, but you can rest in safety.
That’s what God’s peace is. It is a rest that comes from the fact that no matter how terrible and painful our circumstances may be, we know that our lives are in the hands of good, wise, and sovereign Therefore, we know God is doing something good even if it hurts right now and even if we don’t understand it all. So, we are humbly resting in him.
And folks, this ability to rest in the goodness of our Father is something that is not available anywhere else. Paul says it is a peace “which surpasses all understanding.” This is because the only people who can have this kind of peace in a fallen world are people who believe in a big God, who is always good, always right, always sovereign, and who has grounded it all in the gifts and power of the gospel! Praise the Lord that our problems are not the product of chance or chaos. Everything is in his sovereign hands.
And Paul goes on to say that when we stay anchored to these realities, God’s peace “will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The verb translated guard would have created a powerful metaphor for the Philippians. This is because it was normally used of a military guard. And as a Roman colony, Philippi always had a Roman garrison in town to protect the city against criminal attacks.
In a day where robbers and looters were common, it had to be very reassuring to walk into Philippi, and to know you were safe. And praise the Lord that we can also be safe in the peace of God. You can go insane thinking of all the trials and hardships that could happen. But we do know who is on the throne. Therefore, we can rest in his perfect peace. Praise the Lord!
Finally, I don’t want us to miss the fact that this peace is only possible “through Christ Jesus.” In other words, this peace is only for those who are in Christ. We have peace, because we know that Jesus already died and rose again for us. And we know that we are secure in the gospel, and we will spend eternity in heaven. And because we are in Christ, his Spirit helps us to believe what the Bible says is true about God. So, we don’t drum up this peace on our own. It’s something God gives through Christ.
Which means that if you have never received Christ as your Savior, this peace is not yours, fundamentally because you are headed toward eternal destruction, not eternity with Christ. Therefore, your greatest need today is not to feel good or to find a way to escape your pain and anxiety. No, greatest need is to receive Christ, so that you can know where you will spend eternity and so that you can truly know God has your Father because you are resting in the finished work of Christ. I’d urge you to talk with us today about how you can know peace with God through gospel and the peace of God as you face the uncertainties of life.
In conclusion, this text offers tremendous hope in the midst of a dark world. We can enjoy “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” Praise the Lord. So, the challenge is quite simple. Don’t be anxious about anything. Instead, turn every anxiety into a humble prayer and a humble rest in the character and promises of God.