In our nation right now, many people are experiencing a high state of anxiety over the coronavirus. In fact, many Christians themselves are also experiencing a certain level of anxiety in the face of this unknown virus. Scripture has much to say about worry and anxiety. One of the famous passages is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he writes: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God,” (Phil. 4:6 NIV). What I find interesting about Paul’s admonition “to not be anxious” is that earlier in his epistle Paul expressed a certain level of anxiety regarding the health of Epaphroditus, who had been sent from the Philippians to assist Paul in his imprisonment. We read Paul’s words concerning his illness: “Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore, I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad, and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me,” (Phil.2:27-30 NIV). In this passage Paul talks about the level of anxiety that he was having as Epaphroditus was at death’s door. But later he tells us “to be anxious for nothing”. Anxiety or worrying never made anyone stronger or helped them do God’s will. It’s never provided a way of escape out of any stressful situation, yet Paul talks about his own worries for his friend Epaphroditus. So, there must be some benefit derived from having a godly concern for others physical needs.
Is there a difference between anxiety and godly concern? As a pastor I have a godly concern for the health and welfare of the sheep that I shepherd, especially for the one member who’s now been diagnosed with the coronavirus. My general response is to go and visit those that are sick in our congregation, but currently that would not be a good idea for me. I’m also aware that being in a state of anxiety is something that Jesus warned us against when he spoke in the Sermon on the Mount and said, “So do not worry, saying “what shall we eat?” Or “what shall we drink?” Or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (Matt.6:31-34 NIV). Jesus is not teaching us here that we don’t need to think ahead or that we should never have a plan or pattern in place in our lives. He simply means that we are not to be anxious about our worldly needs. He points us to our heavenly Father who is the one who provides and guides in our lives. When we are living in a state of constant anxiety that will not add years to our lives (in fact just the opposite) and will result in a negative attitude and a lack of joy in our spirit. Is anything gained by worrying and being anxious about things that we have no control over? I think not.
I think there are two things that can help us move from anxiety to a proper godly concern in the passages that we looked at today. First of all, Jesus points us the reality that everything that happens is an opportunity for us to draw closer to our heavenly Father and be a witness for Him. We may not understand at all what God is doing through this current plague that has befallen our world, but we can be sure that God can move and work even in the midst of our current tragedy. Our heavenly Father knows what our needs are, and He has promised never to abandon us.
The second point of reference from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is when he continues after verse six to write: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on such things,” (Phil.4:8 NIV). One of the great challenges for us today is to think on those things that are lovely and noble and pure when we are being bombarded all day long by negative reports about what is happening all around us. But it is critical that we come to a point of realization that our God deserves our total confidence and trust. We are told in the book of Psalms, “to be still, and know that Jehovah is God”, (Ps.46:10). He deserves our trust even though the mountains may fall into the sea, we must think on Him and trust in our Savior, the Lord Jesus to work and move in our midst. Let us come to a place of peace and trust and we’ll find what Paul also wrote in Philippians to be true when he said: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,”(Phil.4:7 NIV). So, let us cast all our anxiety upon Him, for He cares for us (1Peter 5:7).
Finding peace in the midst of the storm,
Pastor Rich Sivo