Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Do Not Be Anxious . . . Really?

Below is a lesson from curriculum I have written. If you're interested in getting this curriculum for your small group or church, let me know.

Do Not Be Anxious . . . Really?                    Philippians 4:6-7


Literary Context

Philippians is one of Paul’s most joyful letters. He considers the church at Philippi, “dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, ...” (Phi 4:1). They had sent financial aid via Epaphroditus (1:3-8; 2:25-30; 4:10-20). Paul gives them updates of his present and future ministry (1:19-26; 2:19-24; 4:10-13) and encourages the Philippians to continue to live out their Christianity (e.g., 1:27-30), especially by emulating certain models (2:5-11, 19-30; 3:7-14; 4:9), while emphasizing the need to stay away from false teaching (3:2, 18-19). The final chapter of this letter encourages unity and proper Christian thinking.

Interpretative Issues

Do not be [overly] concerned about anything[1] (6) The Greek word used here simply means “to care for” or “be concerned about.” This can be positive (e.g., 1 Cor 12:25). Yet, in this context, it means something like, “don’t be overly concerned” or “anxious” or “worried.” Paul is not suggesting that we not be concerned at all, but rather, not to be concerned to the point that we ignore God’s role in the situation (hence the need to pray).
We are not told if Paul has a particular issue in mind. Yet, in context, Paul has given a few reasons why the Philippians could be anxious: opposition (1:27-28), divisiveness (2:3-4; 4:2), teaching from enemies (3:2, 18), or for Paul’s situation in prison (1:12-26). On the other hand, Paul could have in mind a more general commandment not to be anxious about worldly things (like in Matt 6:25-34, Lk 21:34-36, and 1 Cor 7:33).[2] In any case, Paul’s “point” is what to do when we are anxious, viz., pray.

But, in everything, in/by the prayer and the petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. (6) The Greek word translated here, “prayer,” is a general term for prayer (and “to wish”), while “petition” (or “supplication”) means the prayer that asks God for something. Here, Paul is suggesting the antidote to being “overly concerned/anxious” is to take your anxiety-producing issue to God and let Him take care of it. Of course, such “requests” (not commandments!) are made to God with an attitude of thanksgiving. And what do you put in anxiety’s place? What should we be doing with our thoughts? We should be focusing on what is true, respectable, righteous, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (4:8).

Discussion:
(1) Psychologically speaking, worry is an obsessive pattern of thinking of an issue, typically in an attempt to control it. What do you worry about? Why? (2) List some benefits to worrying. That is, list some things that have been helped by your worrying. (3) How good are you at letting God run the universe? Do you go to Him with your requests? What can you do this week to get better at allowing God to be in control, instead of you?

The Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis (= The Colony of Julius Augustus Philippi) was settled by several war veterans, and by the time of Paul’s visit would have been a flourishing city. Therefore, it is unlikely that many of the Philippians were “anxious” over finding food, shelter, and other basic needs. However, in many modern people’s existence, having enough food, water, and shelter is a source of great anxiety. In the context of this letter, what might Paul have said to anxiety over money to find adequate food, water, and shelter?
Paul knew very well what it meant to go without. He knew want (2 Cor 11:9) and hunger (2 Cor 11:27). The Philippian church had collected an offering to help Paul, and sent the money with Epaphroditus (Phil 4:18), for which Paul expressed great joy (4:10). However, the financial gift given by the Philippians was not the source of Paul’s “contentment.”

for I, myself, have learned to be content in which things I am. . .I have learned the secret of contentment. . .I am able to do everything in the one who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you did well to share my distress. (4:11-14) The Greek term translated, “contentment” is actually “self-sufficiency,” a term used among ancient Stoics to denote serenity because one has no need of anything more than what a person already has. That person wants nothing from anyone, and is therefore, self-sufficient.
As soon as Paul says that he is “self-sufficient/content,” Paul says that the source of that sufficiency is “the one who strengthens me.” So, Paul has no need of other people (= “self-sufficient”) because He knows that His God will “strengthen” him in any endeavor. Notice how Paul is not content because he has financial resources; he is content because he is equipped and enabled by the “nearness” of a God (cf. 4:5) who strengthens. Nevertheless, Paul says, he’s still very glad that the Philippians have supported him.[3]

Discussion: (1) Do you share Paul’s view? What gives you more contentment: knowing what’s in your bank account or knowing that God will give you what you need? Imagine if God gave you the option to choose: (a) I’ll give you ten million dollars and you’re on your own or (b) I’ll give you just enough to cover meager bills, but I’ll stay with you. Which option makes you the most anxious? Why? (2) When you think about your success, jobs, and money earned, who really gets the credit? (3) Paul said that he had great joy because the Philippians gave to him (4:10). Do you have a story of someone giving you that joy? Share it. (4) Phil. 4:13 is almost always used to support the belief that God will enable us to do whatever it is we want to do (as if God were a cosmic genie). Reading this verse in context, what would you say to that interpretation?

Lesson Focus

·     Paul tells the Philippian Christians not to be [overly] concerned with something (either with a particular problem at Philippi or a more general “worldly” concern) to the point that they ignore God’s role in the situation.
·     Paul suggests the antidote to being “overly concerned/anxious” is to take your anxiety-producing issue to God with thanksgiving and let Him take care of it. What do you put in anxiety’s place? What should we be doing with our thoughts? We should be focusing on what is true, respectable, righteous, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (4:8).
·     The Philippian church had collected an offering to help Paul, and sent the money with Epaphroditus (Phil 4:18), for which Paul expressed great joy (4:10). However, the financial gift given by the Philippians was not the source of Paul’s “contentment.” Instead, Paul was content because he was equipped and enabled by the “nearness” of a God (cf. 4:5) who strengthens.




[1] All translations are my own.
[2] Paul expresses “concern” (same Greek word) for the churches he supervised (2 Cor 11:28). Was Paul being inconsistent? If you translate the Greek word in 2 Cor 11:28 as “anxious,” then it seems that Paul isn’t being consistent (i.e., he tells the Philippians not to worry about anything, though he tells the Corinthians that he does worry for the churches). On the other hand, Paul could only mean “concerned” in 2 Cor. 11:28, but “anxious” in Phil 4:6, which means there is no inconsistency. Or, Paul in Phil 4:6 could mean being anxious about “worldly” things, which means there is no inconsistency (since the churches are not worldly things).
[3] Paul does not act overly appreciative of their gift probably because he is concerned with not being seen as mercernary, only seeking money (cf. 1 Cor 9:14-18). There were many known Roman philosophers who were paid for their teaching and wisdom (e.g., the Sophists). Paul is almost certainly distancing himself from those philosophers. In fact, Paul disallowed the Corinthians to support him (2 Cor 11:8-9). He earned his own way (1 Cor 4:12; 2 Thess 3:8-10). This is why Paul used the term “self-sufficient”: his livelihood was not based on the financial support of the churches.

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