Summary: This sermon addressed the problem of anxiety and answers with the blessings that God gives us in His Gospel.Introduction
A writer from the last century said, “Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained” (Arthur Somers Roche). All of us will someday have to face some form of very serious anxiety. Jesus faced anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane before His death on the cross. Paul, who tells the Philippians not to be anxious, was himself anxious about his imprisonment and the effect that might have on the churches he was helping. Anxiety is a reality we can’t avoid.
I went to the website of the National Institute of Mental Health to see what they said about anxiety. They had a concise description of the problem and two potential remedies. The first was medicine. Pharmaceutical companies are constantly producing new drugs to help control our thoughts and feelings. The second remedy is psychological and usually involves a cognitive-behavioral approach. With this a psychologist might train a person to overcome their fear of germs by asking them to stick their hands in dirt and to finally realize that nothing bad will happen. Both approaches can be helpful if used in the right way.
However, as Christians we have a much better approach – the spiritual approach to anxiety. This is what St. Paul was teaching the Philippians in our lesson today.
The Spiritual Problem of Anxiety
Let’s begin with the spiritual problems involved in anxiety. If you look at the King James Version of Philippians 4.6, you’ll notice something interesting. Where we read “Do not be anxious about anything…” in the English Standard Version, the KJV has “Be careful for nothing…” To some people this may not make much sense. Aren’t we supposed to be careful about things? The answer of course is “yes.” The Greek word here means “to have a care or concern about something, to be anxious.” A little anxiety can be a good thing. We should care about an upcoming test. It might help us study harder. We should be concerned about a social situation in which we do not want to embarrass ourselves or someone else. And we should, at times, be anxious about the welfare of our children. Not all anxiety is bad.
Jesus helps us to see when anxiety it bad. In the Sermon on the Mount He said, “Do not be anxious about your life… what you eat, drink or wear, etc.” (Matthew 6.25ff). He says that God takes care of the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. God will also take care of you. Anxiety becomes a bad thing when God drops out of the picture. It is then that fears will take over. An equestrian knows how important it is to keep hold of the reins. A horse is a powerful animal that needs to be controlled and guided. If you drop the reins, it could become confused, and you could be in big trouble as it tries to go wherever it wants to go. When we turn away from God, there is a beast within us that will rise up and get out of control.
King Saul is probably the best example of this kind of anxiety in the Bible. Saul was the first king of Israel. He had many qualities for that job. He was a handsome man and stood head and shoulders above everyone else. But Saul also had a major character flaw that would eventually cause him to have uncontrollable anxiety. Saul didn’t take God seriously. He went through the motions of worship, but his heart just wasn’t in it. At times Saul would become so overwhelmed that they called in a young shepherd boy named David, who would play his harp to calm the troubled king. Listen carefully to this sentence: When there is no anxiety for God, there will be anxiety for everything else.
The Spiritual Remedy
Paul teaches us two approaches to the problem of anxiety. The first is prayer. Because Jesus came to lift up the burden of our sins in His own suffering and death, we can turn to Him in prayer:
Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7 ESV).
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane suffering the greatest anxiety of His life – as Luke says His sweat fell like great drops of blood – Jesus was handling it all with prayer. Paul tells the Philippians that in his anxiety he himself was praying earnestly for them (Philippians 1.3ff). Prayer is both a command of God and a privilege. It is a privilege especially because God offers so many important promises with prayer. In this case he says “the peace of God… will guard your hearts and minds…”