In writing to the Christians at Philippi, Paul urged them to “Be careful for nothing” (Phil. 4:6, KJV). Other versions render that phrase as follows: “In nothing be anxious” (American Standard Version); “Have no anxiety about anything” (Revised Standard Version). Today’s English Version translates it, “Don’t worry about anything”; and Phillips Modern Version, “Don’t worry about anything whatever.” The New International Version says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”
The word translated “be careful” (Merimanao) means “to be anxious; to be troubled with cares . . .” (Thayer p. 400). It is also translated “take thought” in Matt. 6:25-34. So Paul is talking about worrying, not forethought, but anxious thought.
The apostle here is not forbidding a thought-out life. Rather, in other passages he emphasized this (Gal. 6:7-9; 2 Cor. 6:2). Neither is Paul urging us to be a happy-go-lucky people. He was far from being one that made a joke of life. The seriousness with which he looked on life is seen in his statement to Timothy, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Furthermore, we are not being told to be unconcerned about ourselves and others. Paul told the Ephesians that they would naturally be concerned about themselves (Eph. 5:28-29). Also, Jesus set forth the principle of being concerned for others in the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37; cf. Phil. 2:4). And neither are these words of inspiration prohibiting one being upset at times. Christ Himself wept when He beheld the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Paul also said, “Be ye angry, and sin not . . .” (Eph. 4:26).
But what is Paul saying? He is warning Christians against a fretful and feverish attitude toward life. Do not engage in anxious thought; do not worry is simply what the apostle is saying.
Jesus also taught on this important subject in Matt. 6:25-34. Here He emphasized that we ought to “Take no thought for your life.” Other versions (which are not always acceptable translations on many other texts) say, “be not anxious for your life” (ASV), and “do not worry about your life” (NIV). One example of the things we should not worry about is food (vs. 25-26). It is pointed out that fowls, which neither sow, or reap, nor gather, are fed by the heavenly Father. So why should we constantly worry about our eatables since we are obviously better than the fowls? Yet another example that Jesus gives is our raiment (vs. 28-30). We are urged to consider the lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these. So why should we be anxious and worry about our clothing since we are much better than the grass of the field?
The Need For This
An exhortation of this nature is needed by all. Worry is so common to man. The young and old, the rich and poor, the learned and unlearned, the saints and sinners, and the faithful and unfaithful all have worries. And it seems that we worry about everything beneath the shining stars of heaven. We worry about our money, how we are going to get it, keep it, and spend it. We worry about other’s troubles as well as our own. The thought of some calamity is constantly plaguing our mind, with 75% to 90% of these calamities never taking place. It makes us wonder if some are not setting up at night to plan out their worries for the next day.
The Folly Of Worrying
(1) It is useless. This is the very point that Jesus was making in Matt. 6:27, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Jesus is saying that if a man does not like his height, his worrying about it will not help. Worrying is not going to make him grow. Then in the parallel account Jesus said, “If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?” (Luke 12:26). So if our worrying will not accomplish an increase in our stature, why should we think our worrying will do any good elsewhere? Worrying never lifted a single burden; it never dried a single tear; it never solved a single problem. There are two classes of things we should never worry about: the things we can help, and the things we cannot help.
If there is a problem or situation that we can do something about, let us do what we can and quit worrying. For example, if one were to wake up at night just freezing to death, it would be silly just to lay there and worry about it. The only sensible thing to do would be to do something about it — get more cover. And so it is with many of life’s problems. Worry does not help but action does.
Neither should we worry with the things which we can do nothing about. What good would our worrying do? We cannot do anything about growing older, the weather, death, and many other things which must simply take their course. Our worrying about our age will not make us younger. Neither will worrying change the weather, nor keep us from dying. Therefore, seeing that we cannot do anything to help and that our worrying will not relieve any burden, we ought to forget such matters and not worry about them.
Many times we find ourselves worrying about close friends, relatives or neighbors as they travel from place to place. But again this is silly. Can we do anything to help in the matter to make their travels safer? If so let us do it and quit worrying. However if we cannot assist or do anything to better their safety, what will our worrying do? Obviously nothing, so it is just plain useless whatever the occasion may be.
(2) It is hurtful. Though this is not generally recognized by Christians, anxiety is hurtful in many ways. There is no disease that worry does not aggravate. Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famed Mayo Clinic, once said, “Worry affects the circulation — the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many who died from doubt.” Worry wears one out mentally and physically. Worry is the grime and grit that once inside the “wheel bearings” of our minds puts our steering out of control and sends us off at the next curve.
It is not only hurtful to ourselves but to others about us. Worry makes one hard to live with because they have always got a worry to share with you. Thinking of only the worst that could happen, the worry-wart will nag one half crazy.
(3) It is faithless. Worry indicates a weakness in our faith. Jesus describes one that worries by saying, “O ye of little faith” (Matt. 6:30). Do we not have faith that God will be with us and those whom we worry about? We need not become of doubtful mind and worry about what may happen, for whatever did happen it may be for our good. The apostle Paul said, “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28). Could it be, brethren, that we really do not have true faith in God?
Anxiety is not cured by laughing it off, drinking away our problems, or finding some ideal situation. However Paul suggested in the same context the answer.
The apostle commanded that we should (1) pray. “But in everything by prayer…let your request be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). If we are worried about ourselves or someone else, we should pray for God’s help in the situation. Another command given is that we should (2) redirect our thinking. We might illustrate this with a house that has only two windows. One window has an unbelievably beautiful view of a lawn with flowers and trees. The other has the most awful sight of garbage and trash you have ever seen. Now which window would you look out of the most? Obviously, the one with the beautiful view. So it should be in the house of life. We should spend our time thinking on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report (Phil. 4:8). We also should (3) put our faith in God. We ought to trust him, that he will be with us. The apostle Peter tells us to put our cares upon God (1 Peter 5:7).
The results of our prayers, redirection of thought, and faith in God will be obvious. The peace of God will keep our hearts (Phil. 4:7). We will be better both mentally and physically, being better able to get along with others. Let us not be a Martha in Luke 10:40-41 who was troubled with cares. But we need to strive to be as Mary who chose Jesus.
–Donie V. Rader