The following is a chapter from the book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They Really Mean). You can pick up a copy here. Since we've been going through Philippians in the podcast (find the podcast player on the right), I decided to post this chapter...
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (NIV)
Generally when you see an online list of the most searched-for verses, Philippians 4:6 is clumped together with verses 7 and 8. This being at the conclusion of the letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul brought to their attention the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon On the Mount: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
The ten verses in Matthew 6:25-34 are where we read Jesus' teaching about not worrying. The Lord cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. How much more will he also care for you? God knows what you need. We are to, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." If we seek God first, and we know that he will provide for us all things, there is no need for us to worry.
Worrying displays a lack of trust in God. Philippians 4:6 actually starts right in the middle of a sentence. By adding in the portion from verse 5, we get this: "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything." If we believe the Lord is in control, there's no reason to worry. Then when we pray, we can come to him with thanksgiving—not in a panic, which would display a lack of appreciation for God, thus hindering our prayers.
Thanksgiving is a full-on assault against worry. Anxiety cannot thrive when we have thankful hearts. There's not a letter Paul did not write without expressing or calling for some form of thanksgiving. It is the will of God in Christ Jesus for each of us to give thanks in all circumstances. It is the expression of a heart that is satisfied in its Creator and Savior for all things.
If we follow the instruction of verse 6, then we gain "the peace of God" mentioned in verse 7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Wow! A peace that "surpasses all understanding" guarding our hearts and minds. What's that like? Some of us can be so anxiety-laden that we can't even imagine such a feeling.
The "peace" being talked about here is not simply relaxation or being stress-free. That is certainly a blessing from God, but it's not the point. We're talking about a peace that is afforded to us only through Jesus Christ, and no other way. As New Testament scholar Leon Morris once said, "The peace the Christian enjoys has no existence in its own right; it is possible only because of the presence of the Lord."
Again, as mentioned earlier, it is rooted in the peace we have with God. Christ's death on the cross has appeased God's wrath which was burning against our sin and unrighteousness; our former selves before we came to Christ and the knowledge of his sacrifice. As it says in Colossians 1:20, he made "peace by the blood of his cross."
"Soteriology" is the word that's used to describe the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. Burk Parsons, editor of Tabletalk Magazine and co-pastor of Saint Andrews Chapel, has a great way of summarizing soteriology. He puts it, "Soteriology simplified: God saves us by himself, from himself, unto himself, for himself."
And in him, we have peace—peace from the world, peace from the future, peace from guilt and the burden of our sins, peace with God. It's an eternal peace. It's not something that will be here for the moment but tomorrow we're back to stressing again. It's a peace we will have always because we can be confident and assured of God's total deliverance and unrelenting faithfulness.
Because it is a peace that's eternally significant, it "surpasses all understanding." How can we possibly fathom such a peace with our finite minds? Understand it or not, the blessed assurance that results will "guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." As we read in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Therefore, let us put our hearts and minds, guarded in Christ, toward things that are pleasing to the Lord. Philippians 4:8 goes on to say, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Now, we could start going through examples of what we should put our minds toward and what we shouldn't. I often see Philippians 4:8 come out when someone starts talking about what television shows we shouldn't watch or the movies we shouldn't see or the music we shouldn't be listening to. Those sermons have their time and place.
For now, let's consider it this way: If we devote our hearts and minds to the good things of God, we are able to help others in cases of urgent need and keep ourselves from being unfruitful (Titus 3:14). Whatever inspires us to worship God and share his love with others, let that be our full investment. And the God of peace will be with us (Philippians 4:9).
Who said it? The Apostle Paul.
To whom? The Christians of the Philippian church.
What was the setting? Read aloud to the Philippian congregants who were likely meeting in the house of Lydia.
When did this happen? Approximately 62 A.D.
How did he say it? Through a letter.
Why did he say it? To encourage Christians to trust in Christ in any and all circumstances.