Summary: God's antidotes to anxiety
Joy Over Anxiety
God’s promise of peace
It was the great north African theologian and church leader, Augustine of Hippo, who wrote that ‘The purpose of all wars is peace’. Augustine believed and taught that the most fundamental human longing is the longing for peace. And that even those who go to war, go to war because they are seeking a better peace than the one they currently experience.
But the peace that Augustine believed in was not simply the absence of conflict - but the peace we can experience when we are at peace with God, our neighbour, and ourselves, the peace the Hebrews called shalom. In his great book the City of God, Augustine writes: “The peace of the celestial city is the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God, and of one another in God. (City of God, Book 19)”
It is this peace that Paul speaks of in this passage, a peace that we can experience not just when we enter heaven, the celestial city, but here and now if we put our trust in God. It is the peace which Jesus spoke of when he rose from death on that first Easter Day and said to his disciples ‘peace be with you’. It is the objective state which forms the basis for our subjective experience of joy. Without this peace we cannot know the joy that we have been speaking about over these past weeks.
In our passage today, Paul writes about this peace as a peace which passes understanding (verse 7). He writes: And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. And he promises that the God of peace will be with us (verse 9): ’Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you’.
But how do we receive and live in this peace? We can do so by applying Paul’s antidotes to anxiety from this passage. He tells his readers ‘not to be anxious about anything’.
Paul wasn’t immune to anxiety. Earlier in this letter he had written that he was anxious about his friend Epaphroditus’ state of health, and in particular that his fellow believers from Philippi would be worried about him.
But Paul knew and applied God’s antidotes to anxiety and wanted the church in Philippi to know and apply them too. What are they?
1. Rejoice in the Lord (v 4,5)
We rejoice when we express our joy. Let me say it again. We rejoice when we express our joy. Joy is something that we shouldn’t keep to ourselves. Joy can be energising and contagious when it is expressed. Especially when the cause of our joy is something or someone that is of universal and lasting value.
So, Paul’s first antidote to anxiety is to rejoice. Because as we consider our reasons to be joyful and express our joy, the things that are causing us anxiety become less potent. We recognise that what brings us joy is greater and more enduring than what makes us anxious.
But notice that Paul directs us to rejoice in the Lord. We are right to be thankful for the many and various blessings that we enjoy. And I hope we are and thank God for them. If we look through this letter at the things Paul rejoiced over, we see that it was not just spiritual things that brought him joy – but very human things too. In verse 10 of this chapter, Paul rejoices that the church in Philippi has been able to send aid to Paul to help him in his imprisonment.
But it is the particular blessings we enjoy in and through our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that is the basis of joy and our rejoicing – as we have been thinking over the past few weeks. Joy stands for Jesus Overcame Death for you.
In summary, we can rejoice over what God has done for us in Christ, through his cross and resurrection, we can rejoice over what God is doing for us in Christ, through the work of his Spirit in our lives, and we can rejoice over what God will do for us in Christ, in coming to take us to be with himself in what Augustine calls the celestial city.
There are times when I arrive at church on a Sunday morning or evening, and the last thing I feel like doing is praising God, often because there is something I am worried about. But I need to take God’s first antidote for anxiety, and remember all that Christ has done, is doing and will do for me. And start rejoicing.
So, in Jesus, we have a great deal to rejoice over. And it is a rejoicing that can continue even through times of suffering or anxiety. Whatever our present circumstances, if you are a Christian this morning, you have reasons a plenty to rejoice in the Lord.