Trivium Pursuit

A Prescription for Anxiety

Philippians 4:4-9: A Prescription for Anxiety

Translation and Comments by Harvey Bluedorn, from the Exegetical Translation (XT), a work in progress.

I. Rejoicing in the Lord (4:4-5a)

4 {Keep on} ‡ rejoicing in the Lord at all times. Again I will say, {keep on} ‡ rejoicing! 5 Cause ‡ your gentle-kindness toward all men to be known.

Keep on rejoicing in the Lord at all times. Again I will say, keep on rejoicing! Our joy should be uniform and constant, steady and habitual. Circumstances should not distract us from our joy in the Lord. The only genuine and lasting joy is in Him.

Cause your gentle-kindness toward all men to be known. Paul would never tell us to be a show off about our virtues. Instead, Paul is telling us that in every circumstance we should let the gentle-kindness which is in us (as part of our new nature) to come out. We should cause our kind and gentle spiritual nature to prevail over that nervous anxiety generated by our carnal nature – that anxiety which Paul is about to discuss.

II. Praying to the God of Peace Who is Near and Guards Our Hearts (4:5b-7)

[5…] The Lord {is} near. 6 Stop ‡ being {unduly} anxious regarding anything, but instead, in everything with prayer and entreaty along with thanksgiving, {keep} causing ‡ your requests to be made known to ▪God; 7 for only then will the peace {which comes} from ▪God – the {peace} which holds {protective authority} over every mind [/surpasses every understanding] – take custody of [/guard in restraint] ‡ your ▪hearts and ‡ your ▪minds in {union with} Christ Jesus.

The Lord is near. The words, “the Lord is near,” are commonly associated with the previous words and taken to mean that the Lord is near in a timely sense, about to return to earth as a Judge, which might be a motivation for our gentle-kindness while we allow the Lord to administer mercy and justice. But awareness of the Lord’s timely return is not otherwise to be found connected with the context.

It may be better to take this clause with the following verses and to understand that the Lord is close at hand to help. Paul is reminding us that the Lord is close by and we can rely upon Him in every circumstance because, in fact, the Lord is in every circumstance.

Stop being unduly anxious regarding anything … In Greek, there is a way to say “Don’t start being anxious,” and another way to say, “Stop (don’t continue) being anxious.” This verse is closer to the second, yet it is not quite the same. The idea here is as if we have buckets labeled “anxieties” and we are commanded to keep those buckets empty by doing the things which Paul is telling us.

… but instead, in everything with prayer and entreaty along with thanksgiving, keep causing your requests to be made known to God … Here is the first part of Paul’s “treatment” for anxieties, a formula or method of sorts. Of course, the whole matter of treating and curing anxieties cannot be reduced to a mere formula – do this and live (Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12; Luke 10:28; Leviticus 18:5). Rather, it requires faith, and it exercises faith, and when faith is strengthened in this way it displaces anxieties – “live and do this” (Romans 1:17; 10:10; Galatians 2:16; 3:11; Philippians 3:9; Hebrews 10:38; Habakkuk 2:4).

1. Anxiety will rob us of our joy, hence Paul began with the command to rejoice in the Lord in every circumstance. There is no joy in trying to anticipate everything, to know more than one can know, to control what cannot be controlled. So we should cast our cares upon the Lord, (Matthew 6:25; 1 Peter 5:7), for there is nothing which we can need which He will not supply.

2. We should bring out our gentle-kindness in every circumstance, displacing the nervousness of anxiety.

3. We should be self-aware that the Lord is close by – He is in the circumstance, so we can rely upon Him in every circumstance.

4. We should keep our anxiety bucket empty by continually identifying our anxieties and bringing them before the Lord, talking to Lord about them in prayer, pleading with the Lord about them, thanking the Lord for them, and bringing specific requests directly to the Lord for help in them – in other words, laying our cares upon Him Who cares for us.

… for only then will the peace which comes from God – the peace which holds protective authority over every mind – take custody of your hearts and your minds in union with Christ Jesus. The imperative mood plus the future tense is a Hebrew idiom conveying the idea of a causative conditional clause: “(when this happens) … only then (does this happen).” The peace comes only when, in faith, we do these things.

What would otherwise be an anxiety-inducing circumstance – whatever it may be, whenever it may come, however it may appear to us – yet it is actually a blessing from the Lord, though it may come to us in disguise. The circumstance cannot dissolve our union with Christ, nor remove God’s forgiving love toward us, nor cancel our reservations in heaven. The circumstance will always work together with all other things for the good of those who are “the called” according to God’s eternal purpose. The peace which the world or the flesh gives may really amount to apathy, complacency, indifference, or stoicism; but this peace which Paul promises is tranquility which rests in God.

This peace will “take custody of your hearts and your minds.” This word for “take custody of” is used for the soldier standing on guard duty on the inside of the city gate controlling who goes out. The heart is the center of inner life from which thoughts flow. This peace keeps the heart and mind from straying outside of Christ Jesus, preserving the enjoyment of union with Christ, a union which itself secures this peace.

III. Putting Living Examples of Virtue into Regular Practice (4:8-9)

8 From now on, brethren,

as many {things} as are trustworthy,

as many {things} as {are} honorable,

as many {things} as {are} upright,

as many {things} as {are} pure,

as many {things} as {are} agreeable,

as many {things} as {are} commendable,

if {there is} any moral excellence

and if {there is} any praiseworthiness,

{then keep} ‡ taking an inventory of these {virtues}.

9 What {virtues} ‡ you have also learned by instruction and have taken in for your own and have heard and have seen in me personally, these {virtues keep} ‡ practicing, for only then will the God of ▫this peace be with ‡ you.

From now on, brethren … The remainder of the “treatment for anxiety” follows.

… as many things as are trustworthy, as many things as are honorable, as many things as are upright, as many things as are pure, as many things as are agreeable, as many things as are commendable … Six items are listed which may be divided into three pairs of virtues.

The first four items are examples of moral excellence, virtue, or merit:

trustworthy – in character: truthful, true, real, genuine, honest

honorable – in reputation: noble, dignified, worthy of respect

upright – in judgment: just and right

pure – in behavior: innocent and sincere

The last two items are examples of things praiseworthy or commendable:

agreeable – in demeanor: delightful, pleasing, amiable, lovely, acceptable, endearing

commendable – in conduct: admirable and of good reputation

… if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praiseworthiness … Moral excellence describes the first four items in his list, and praiseworthiness describes the last two items in his list. Hence Paul makes it clear that his list of virtues is merely suggestive, not exhaustive, implying that we should add items of moral excellence and praiseworthiness to our own personal lists.

… then keep taking an inventory of these virtues … In another context, the word translated “keep taking an inventory” might be translated “reckon, calculate, think, consider, ponder, meditate on,” but in this context – following this list of categories – the idea would be to take a full accounting or inventory, implying a self-examination. Are we multiplying and growing and refining such virtues in our lives?

What virtues you have also learned by instruction and have taken in for your own and have heard and have seen in me personally, these virtues keep practicing … Paul instructs the Philippians to follow him as a living example of these things, which suggests that we should look out other living examples – people in our lives – which “flesh out” such virtues as these. It often helps us to understand how to do something ourselves when we observe someone else doing it first. So the final installment of the treatment of building the kind of faith which will displace anxiety is to recognize and to put into constant practice the virtues which we recognize in others.

… for only then will the God of this peace be with you. Just as in verse 7 above, the imperative mood plus the future tense conveys the idea of: “(when this happens) … only then (does this happen).”

The Lord is near (verse 5), and the God of this peace shall be with us (verse 9). Good company.

Notice that the treatment for anxiety has nothing to do with analyzing problematic circumstances. Instead, the focus is upon maintaining a strong spiritual life. Anxiety attacks faith, so the treatment for anxiety is to do those things which nurture faithful living. If we stop to focus on the problem, then we take our eyes off of the solution. The solution is to move ahead in faith toward Christ.

Colossians 3:1-2

Therefore, if you have been raised together with Christ, {then keep} seeking what {things are} above, where Christ is {continually} seated at the right hand of God. Keep directing your mind toward what {things are} above, not on what {things are} upon the earth.

Hebrews 12:1-2

… having for ourselves laid aside every hindering weight, and the easily ensnaring sin, with steady endurance we should be making a full run of the contest which is being set before us, looking away toward the Architect and Finisher of {our} faith – namely, Jesus …

3 Responses to “A Prescription for Anxiety”

  1. Patricia Christianson Says:

    Just what the doctor ordered! Thanks!

  2. Gabriella Simpkins Says:

    thank you for sharing!

  3. Mary Jean Phillips Says:

    Thank you! I am leading a Ladies Bible Study right now through the Philippian Epistle (using Susan Heck’s Book: In the Master’s Hand In Fullness of Joy). When we get to these verses, I plan to give the ladies your article and link.

    I am also in a Ladies Hermeneutics Class (using Matt Waymeyer’s: New Testament Exegesis – A Step-by-Step Manual for Interpreting the Greek Text, and my chosen text for those 10 steps is Phil 4:4-9). Besides using The Expositors Seminary materials, we are reading Roy B. Zuck’s book: Basic Bible Interpretation – A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth.

    It is a joy to see others use an Exegetical Translation approach to understand and live the depths and riches of His precious Word to us. Thank you for sharing! To God be the glory!

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