Anxiety is an aspect of our fallen condition which every one of us battles to one degree or another. Some, like me, may struggle in a significant way at times. But we are not alone. It is estimated that 23 million Americans fight an ongoing battle with anxiety and suffer from “panic attacks,” at least occasionally. Therefore, it is helpful and encouraging to realize just how honestly the Bible addresses this aspect of our human condition, including the synergistic relationship of the body and spirit. That is, in the manner in which God created us there is a mysterious union of body and spirit—soul and flesh—so that each continuously impacts the other.
According to Proverbs 12:25, anxiety can cause mental, emotional, and physical distress. “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.” Here, the wisdom of Solomon instructs us. Anxiety can be a heavy weight upon the human body and spirit, but words of encouragement bring relief. I wrote on this verse, recently.
Medical physician and biblical counselor, Dr. Robert Smith, writes of the physical impact of anxiety in The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference, “People weighed down with anxiety and cares are much more likely to become ill. And the recovery time for them is much longer: [and then quotes Jay Adams] ‘The effects of worry upon the inner man are serious; literally one can worry himself sick. The picture is of one sinking down into the depths; perhaps this is referring to the kind of fatigue that often accompanies those who worry.’”
Anxiety may at times be connected to disease or other physiological conditions. There is much we do not know. However, from the viewpoint of Scripture anxiety involves the heart and mind. For myself, the Lord has taught me in recent years that anxiety, as well as the depressive tendencies that often accompany it, are most often linked to my thought patterns and my response to life circumstances. Often times there are negative ways of thinking that we have unknowingly trained ourselves in throughout our lives. Therefore, regardless of whether or not there is a medical or physical component to our experience of anxiety, the appropriate remedy always includes ministry to our soul. This ongoing soul care involves a minimum of three essential ingredients: Scripture, prayer, and fellowship among believers in the local church. Together these enable us to keep on attacking anxiety as it attacks us.
But how do we cultivate and maintain this inward God-centered perspective? Philippians 4:4-7 helps to answer that question which, in turn, demonstrates how keeping our eyes and affections on the Lord leads to inner peace.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
From this passage, there are three exhortations we must take heed to, all of which are part of a comprehensive approach to anxiety relief. Today, we will consider the first two exhortations.
Rejoice in the Lord at all times (v. 4).
This admonition begins a new thought or, actually, picks up again a dominant theme in the book—rejoicing. It is the first of several admonitions addressed to the whole congregation in contrast to verses 2 and 3, which were addressed to certain individuals.
But what is joy? What does it mean to rejoice? Joy is a positive human condition that can be either feeling or action. The Bible uses joy in both senses (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible). In other words, in Scripture, joy is both a feeling—an unanticipated emotional response to something wonderful—as well as an action that can be commanded.
Here, in verse 4, it is a command to be obeyed. The joy Paul is speaking of here is a choice of the will. The Lexham Bible Dictionary says joy is “closely related to gladness and happiness, although joy is more a state of being than an emotion; a result of choice. [It is] One of the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22–23). Having joy is part of the experience of being a Christian, which is a theme in the book of Philippians (1:18; 2:17-18, 28; 3:1).
Notice three very significant words in verse 4—in the Lord. True joy is found only in Jesus Christ. Joy is not found in our circumstances themselves; we are not even commanded to look to a change of our situation for the return of joy. Ultimate joy is in Christ and our union with Him. In John 15:9-11, we find the following words from Jesus about joy. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Rejoice when? Always. This is the will of God. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). We are commanded to rejoice. This joy is a choice of the mind and will. It is an affection of the heart that comes to those who are in Christ. Therefore, when we are walking in the Spirit we can overcome any fears we may have and not allow our circumstances to control our emotions.
Let your gentleness be evident to all people (v. 5).
The ESV translates this character quality “reasonableness,” but the word may also be translated: graciousness, consideration, moderation, and gentleness. Gentleness is preeminently a characteristic of Christ. In fact, did you know there is only one time in the New Testament that Jesus describes himself?
Yes, he describes and defends His deity, His divinity in many places. The 10 “I Am” statements are an example.
- I am the Alpha and Omega
- I am the way, the truth, and the life
- I am the bread of life
- I am the light of the world…and so on…
But there is only one time Jesus describes Himself in personal terms. It is in Matthew 11:28-29.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Jesus describes Himself as gentle and meek and invites us to come to Him for soul rest. Therefore, the gentleness that the apostle is urging the Philippian believers to display is a quality of Christlikeness. As followers of Christ we should be known for our gentleness and meekness. Being angry and hateful makes the gospel look ugly. Let us be conscientious about heeding this admonition so that our demeanor makes the gospel attractive in order that all people—believers and unbelievers—may know us as gentle people.
Though verse 5 is not grammatically connected to the verse before, or the verse after, there is a relationship between gentleness and the peace that anxiety often robs from us. When we are overtaken by anxiety we often become harsh toward others, rather than gentle. Therefore, making a disciplined pursuit of gentleness, as one of the Christ-like qualities to “put on” (Col. 3:12), is also part of a comprehensive approach to relieving anxiety.
Tomorrow, we will consider prayer as another of the means by which God ministers to our anxious minds and hearts.
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