Philippians 4 – Anxious for Nothing

Philippians 4 Bible with Equal Exchange Dark Mint Chocolate Crunch
Celebrate May with snowmen. Seasonally inappropriate plates are my jam, fam.

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Today’s PassagePhilippians 4

Do you ever worry about running out of things?

Full disclosure: I do. But not things like money or food. I worry about running out of things to do or learn. I’ll drag out a task just to delay that moment when I complete it and have to ask, “What do I do next?” The possibility that time does not exist in heaven still unnerves me, as if the world had finally run out of events–or the prospect of a heaven that’s just endless repetition of the same activities, as if God had run out of new and interesting things to have happen. And historically, I have worried that maybe there was nothing to begin with. I worry that maybe I’ll come to the end of my life and discover that not only have I run out of me, but moreover there was no me to begin with, that there wasn’t anything, that God is nonbeing and heaven is union with him in illusory existence’s own self-annihilation. I fear running out of reality.

I have weird fears. Fortunately, today Paul’s got two verses to speak to my concerns. The first you can probably guess: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (6). The other, however, may not be quite so obvious.

But first things first: the command not to worry. The Greek verb Paul uses is μεριμνάω, merimnaó, which comes from the word for “part.” The idea is that a worrying person is divided in their thinking and attention, distracted by all their concerns, going to pieces. And if I let my fears of nonbeing run the show, they’ll pull me apart, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. But can I keep myself from breaking down mentally? Can I even keep myself from ceasing to exist? Or is Paul just like Bob Newhart’s character in the Mad TV sketch, telling us to stop mental habits or behaviors that we can’t control?

Well, he doesn’t just drop the command with no justification and expect us to follow it because he said so. He promises: ” And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (7). Even if we can’t keep ourselves from being anxious, God can. As our omnipotent creator, he knows us better than we do and is ready to get to work in our inner lives–if we’ll let him. I’ve seen the peace of God in action in my own heart and mind. It doesn’t always happen immediately–in fact, it rarely happens immediately–but God’s willing to play the long game if you are. Make a practice of prayer, and ask God for peace.

And that’s great. But can I know that we won’t run out of reality, or should I get rid of my anxiety by just accepting that individuality is illusory and nothing ultimately exists, go full Buddhist on it? Paul’s got a few more words that seem to suggest otherwise. He delivers a litany of good stuff, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute,” and concludes: “Dwell on these things” (8). There are real good things out there, truth and beauty and justice, and we can think and learn about them.

Paul uses the word λογίζομαι (logizomai) for “dwell on,” and the NASB notes that it literally means “to ponder.” It’s got mathematical and accounting connotations, and it suggests a deliberative process, considering or meditating on a matter at length. Truth, honorableness, purity–all the things Paul mentions are multifaceted entities, rich with meaning, things that we can keep learning about all our lives. There’s a depth to them that merits prolonged contemplation. They’re real, and as God teaches you more about their nature, you can reach out and mentally touch them.

As you can see, these days I’m inclined to think that things exist, that they are discrete from each other, and they were created by a distinct self-existent God who has a good plan for them. I don’t expect that you share my existential anxieties; lately, barely even share my existential anxieties. But I share what I’ve got, and today, these are the thoughts I’ve got. Hope you get something out of ’em.

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2 thoughts on “Philippians 4 – Anxious for Nothing

  1. Something caught my attention, reading this passage today: v.13. Oft quoted. It seems like the “do” is often applied in the sense “I can accomplish…” or “I can achieve…”. I can complete this task through Gods strength. I’m sure we’ve all observed this verse applied to some pretty dubious activities. Still, I wouldn’t say the sentiment is unfounded. If God gives us a task to do beyond our ability or means to accomplish, I do think we can count on him to make up the difference.
    What caught my attention, though, is the context of v.13. It strikes me that achievement and accomplishment is not really where Paul’s going here. Given the previous statements about privation and being in need (or the opposite), it seems to me the “do” in v.13 is more about enduring circumstances. Or perhaps moreso continuing to walk in grace, no matter what the situation is, for he talks about prosperity as well almost in the sense of something to be endured (I imagine his concern there might be pride, complacency, generally falling into the trap of getting to comfortable and forgetting our dependence on God…something like that).
    So yeah. I think that’s about as far as I’ve thought on this at the moment. But it does seem to me like the context of this verse is going in a different direction than the one to which I have often seen it applied. Something to think about, perhaps.

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    1. So I looked up the Greek word for “can do” just now, because of course I did.

      It’s not one I’m familiar with: ἰσχύω, ischuō. It’s to have ability, power, strength, force, which fits with the context that you pointed out. I think it would be fair to translate it as “Thanks to the one who empowers me, I’ve got what it takes.”

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