Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil 4:6 ESV)
As we have throughout this short series on Philippians 4, we have seen how important the context is to understand the commands. The conflict between Euodia and Syntyche was perpetuated not because they were bad women. Paul claimed, “They had both labored with me for the gospel” (Phil 4:2).
Being Overly Worried about Good Things
Some people have an “obsessive-compulsive disorder.” That is their attentiveness, or obsession, on some selected details has risen to the point that their minds and their lives are disordered, out of perspective, and they are unable to function in a healthy balanced way, such as the person who obsessively washes his hands. But most successful people have some of this trait in them, but that it does not rise to the dysfunctional level. They are “obsessive-compulsive” but not in a disorderly way. They just are more concerned with some matters than others, and it is this concern that has led to their success. But they can also lead to conflicts with others who have different concerns.
Take the Christian who is obsessed with fulfilling the Great Commission, who want to see people come to faith and the church to grow. Put him in a discussion with someone who is equally obsessed with order and process of church decisions, or someone who is equally obsessed with proper theology or biblical doctrine, or someone who is equally obsessed with social justice, or with marriage or whatever, and quickly these very good concerns and very good people can be in conflict with one another. We must seek to understand first of all that all of these things are on God’s heart, and that He is a God of order and peace.
It is ungodly worry in the midst of godly concerns that is behind it all. Merimnao is the word in Greek translated “worry” or “being anxious” and its meaning is to see one part of a circumstance while neglecting the whole. This was used in Matthew 6 for the teaching of Christ: “Which of you by worrying is able to add one hour to his lifespan?” (Matt. 6:27). Even worrying about good things is still worrying, taking one single issue and wrapping everything around it. This problem was likely a major factor behind the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche.
“Do not worry about anything” and this includes even those good and holy causes about which we care. Even there we can slip into doctrinal or moral error by forgetting the larger picture. If there is something that the Lord has put on our heart, then we should listen to Him and speak up for that issue, but we should not do it in a way that ignores other issues about which God has spoken. We should not do it in fear or in jealousy or in a controlling way, or just to gain attention to ourselves.
Being Champion for a Cause
God often puts issues on some people’s hearts before He places them on the hearts of many. But there are still dangers in being a champion for a cause for Christ. The first, in my mind, is the danger of pride, of trying to replace the Holy Spirit Himself in the hearts of people. We should speak up for what is right, but also listen to others as they speak, and to do things orderly. 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 addresses this issue of orderliness in worship, and it is an important passage to understand how to maintain peace in the fellowship.
He uses the word “prophecy” and we should realize that this was written before the New Testament was completed, or before most Christians had copies of what was already written. It was a time when the Spirit spoke through gifted men and women and this led to both excitement and division. Paul commanded them to “prophesy in turn” and “for God is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). He chided them with the words, “Did God’s word originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” (1 Cor 14;36).
Being the champion for some valid cause for the church requires that we see this matter as one of many other concerns, and not as the only issue on earth or in heaven, and that we begin with prayer. Pray first, and pray for God to touch the hearts of His people for this matter. And pray that God would broaden your vision as well, so that you may understand the greater picture of the Lord. Until God moves in people’s hearts, and as a whole they embrace this matter because God has told them to do so, then no movement will go forward, at least for very long.
And be grateful. Gratitude is proper for God’s people because it basically establishes the point that God is moving in us and around us and through us, and that all of the work of the Lord is first and foremost His work, and ours only as His people. To be grateful means to stop and say to ourselves, “Wait a minute! This concern I have for this issue does not originate in me, nor will it be directed by me, or sustained by me, nor is it for my glory. It is on God’s heart more than mine, and He will put it on the hearts of others as well.”
The Wider Application of this Verse
Now, this exegesis above is my understanding of the meaning of the passage, of its background and of the concrete circumstance which it first addressed. However, scripture can have many applications. And this verse applies to each life in some way or another.
We should be careful in our own lives not to get caught up those things that concern us to the point that we neglect prayer and thanksgiving. Often these are good causes – health, income, protection, etc. God desires that we have His peace and our worries about good things can destroy our inner sense of His presence. So we each need to take our concerns to Him and to be grateful for His watchcare over us.
Take the parent who provides for his family and is worried about his job. Rather than obsessing about the details of his job, take them to God in prayer and be grateful for the knowledge that He cares for you. Or the parent who worries about his child’s success – pray for that child and trust that God loves him even more than you do. Or whatever else robs you of peace and joy, pray to the Lord and thank Him for Hearing your prayer and for caring about you.
This is a normal discipline of the healthy Christian life. Don’t worry. Don’t see issues of life or church or ministry as singular matters, separated from the rest of life, but see them as parts of the whole, and God watches over all of your life and all of the ministry of the church.