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Alternatives to Anxiety

This is the sermon I am preaching on Sunday at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is Philippians 4:1-9

In Philippians Paul speaks emotionally as the father, pastor, and teacher giving his dear ones words of lasting advice. He repeats and applies what he has already stated, giving practical advice for a life centered in Christ, which applies to us today too. 

The first piece of advice is not to waver in the faith, but to stay on track and be steady in God (v. 1). Paul uses intimate language, unabashed in his love for this dear church. He addresses the entire community of faith at Philippi, leading to the specific appeal of the verses that follow

Paul’s second piece of advice is specifically for two individuals for unity (vv. 2-3). These were close co-workers of Paul. He wants the women to "iron out their differences and make up" (v. 2), regarding their work together in the gospel. Unity and harmony are so important that Paul appeals to another co-worker at Philippi to help the women straighten things out. Discord affects the entire church, occurring when our focus on God has become fuzzy—when other concerns start to dominate our agendas.

Paul begins his closing remarks by telling the Philippians, “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean revel in him” (v. 4). He tells the Philippians not to fret or worry, but rather, to let prayer and praises usher them into God's peace (vv. 6-7). Integral to such rejoicing is prayer, a combination of petitions, and praises. Paul presents a challenging, profound sense of confidence in God's providence. Prayer and God’s peace are God's alternative to anxiety. As Paul wrote, "It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life" (v. 7). We do not have to have it all figured out to trust God.

Are you feeling stressed over situations in your life whether they are physical, emotional, financial or spiritual? It is a time of high anxiety for us all while we wonder whenever things will return to “normal,” whatever that means, with people out of work, and those who before COVID struggled financially, are struggling more so today. Do you get nervous, worried, or anxious? Do you break out in a sweat and panic? Are you finding your sleep disturbed because of stress? Or is your response to take time and pray to our Lord for wisdom, guidance, and inspiration? Do you respond with, “I’m too busy to pray?” If so, you’re too busy.

An intimate prayer life with our Lord develops a sense of peace and security. Laying our burdens on Christ’s shoulders takes the worries out of daily living. For Paul, peace is more of a community matter than it is an individual one. Living in God’s peace protects our hearts and minds and sustains our unity in Christ. Prayer is an earmark of Christian existence (Acts 2:42; Rom 12:12 and so on), and the antidote to anxiety.

Paul issues a call for gentleness in how the Philippians relate to one another. "Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you're on their side, working with them and not against them" (v. 4).

Now Paul urges the same joy he has on the Philippians. Joy is a central concept for Paul. He did not know what the future would hold or whether he would ever be released from prison. Joy is knowing Christ’s presence with us in the middle of the awful, hard stuff we experience in this life. Real joy has to do with where the focus of our life is and should be the distinctive mark of the believer in Jesus Christ. For Paul, joy is an entirely appropriate response to the good news of God's action in and through Jesus Christ.

How can we be joyful when life is so hard? The basis of our confidence in all things is the presence of Christ. "...the Master is about to come" (v. 5). Not only is there the promise of the future aspect of Christ’s coming, but he comes to us today and every day through prayer, God’s word, at the table in the bread and wine, and through our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul’s summation is a list of virtues; the contours of the Christian mind we are to meditate on. This way of thinking goes hand in hand with moral transformation in Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 10:5). Following this impressive list, Paul challenges the Philippians to imitate him. They are to embody the Christian tradition just as Paul does. Rather than just telling these Christians what they should do, Paul personifies and demonstrates it. He is doing the opposite of what some of us heard as children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Paul says, “Do as I say AND as I do.”

These words are not just for individuals, but all God’s people. The good news of Jesus Christ is always at stake in our world. God always calls his people to live the life of Christ now in whatever place we are in and in the face of whatever opposition we may encounter. Paul's words call us to genuine Christian life in the face of every form of difficulty and opposition. "Steadfastness, unity [and] reliance on God rather than on anxiety are possible only for those who know that God will indeed be with them" (Beverly Gaventa). Amen.

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