“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6 esv
Did you know that the Apostle Paul suffered from anxiety? You probably don’t believe me but several times in his epistles Paul talks about his anxiety.
“And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” II Corinthians 11:28 esv
If you thought your anxiety was bad, imagine feeling responsible for the Corinthian church. Sheesh! He even mentions that he is anxious in Philippians when he talks about Epaphroditus in chapter 2.
Is this in conflict to what Paul is teaching in Philippians 4?
The problem with this passage is that it has been widely misinterpreted by the evangelical community. In one case it is suggested that the emotion of anxiety is a plight and anyone who struggles with it is not trusting God and needs to repent. In this case, Paul should repent. Those who interpret it this way are wrongly mislead by legalism.
The other interpretation is that we should be care free about life. This is just base moralism and neglects to exegete the full weight of this verse.
The proper way to handle Philippians 4:6 is to understand anxiety. The legalist will say that it is a choice that needs to be controlled while the moralist will suggest that it is an emotion that gets in the way. The truth is that anxiety is both a choice and an emotion. There are times when some people are overwhelmed with anxiety just as others are overwhelmed with love or hate. There are other times when anxiety is caused by focusing on the things that overwhelm us.
We are made in the image of God with intellect, will, and emotions. Like any other emotion, anxiety triggers an intelligent and willful response. Because of our sin nature, anxiety causes us to worry and obsess. Emotions have a positive and negative response. A negative response is to be crippled by anxiety. But when something is going wrong, anxiety is the emotion that kicks in to let you know that things are not right. It is important to understand the value of our emotions.
Just like every other emotion, God wants to redeem anxiety and use it to draw us closer to Himself. What Paul is teaching us here in Philippians is that anxiety, in a redeemed person, is supposed to trigger a unique response of thanksgiving and prayer. That’s pretty much the opposite response to fight or flight. Paul has learned how to use the worst of circumstances to rejoice and praise God.
When a believer is understanding of the power and sovereignty of God, they have no reason to worry or fear because they can trust in God for every circumstance. It’s not an easy skill to learn, but by practicing it daily, a believer can learn to consider the worst of times the best of times.