Have you ever had a panic attack? All of us know something about anxiety. We might even know a few tricks for dealing with it. But, I wonder how many of you have experienced anxiety to such a degree that you thought you were going to die. An estimated 2-3% of Americans have panic disorder at some point in their lives. Although I have not experienced anxiety to that degree, Pierce Taylor Hibbs has. He writes about it in his book, Struck Down but Not Destroyed. His anxiety disorder began to develop at the age of 20, when his father died, but it got dramatically worse a few years later.
“I was back at college, waiting on the curb outside one of the dormitories for my girlfriend at the time, Christina, who is now my wife (another impossibility made possible). I remember the comfortable evening air hanging over the campus. As I took in the smell of fresh-cut grass and a hint of smoke from a nearby cigarette, a wave of heat crept down from my head and rushed through my back and legs. My breath grew shallow; my throat closed up, and I couldn’t swallow.
“As she walked towards me, I struggled to stand up in a world that now felt like a great spinning ball. “Um, I’m having a panic attack.” I didn’t even know what that meant; I just knew I needed help—fast. I begged her to drive me to the hospital, thinking there would be some consolation in that, but every step I took towards the car added tension in my chest and shoulders. Within a matter of seconds, the whole world looked black and foreign and terrifying.
I knew it as soon as we started driving: I was going to die, right here in this car on the way to a hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This was it.
I’d love to tell you that I met that moment with resolve, but that would be a lie. I wasn’t brave. I was paralyzed with panic. Something very bad seemed to grip my whole mind and body and squeeze.
The next twenty minutes were hell on wheels. A few miles into the car ride I started yelling and calling out for help, moaning and gasping for air. An eighteen-wheeler churned down the dark country road ahead of us.
“Can you go around him!?”
“It’s a double line!”
Christina was crying, but I couldn’t think about calming down for her sake. Panic makes you blind and deaf to anything except your own preservation. With the little air I had in my lungs, I yelled, “Please, just GO AROUND HIM!” She pushed the petal to the floor, both of us hoping that no one was around the bend in the opposite lane.
I took out my phone and dialed 911. I’ll never forget that conversation with the operator.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“Yea, I’m having a panic attack, and I can’t breathe.”
“Okay, sir. Can you tell me where you are?”
“I’m in the car, on my way to the hospital . . . in Hershey.”
“So, you’re already on your way to the hospital?”
“Alright, well we can’t do anything if you’re already driving to the hospital.”
My heart dropped. I paused for a long second. I was dying. This was really it. I gave up all reservations. No pride. No pretending to be okay. Complete vulnerability.
“Okay, well, can you at least pray for me?!”
“Sir, if you’re already on your way to the hospital, there’s nothing I can do from here.”
“But can you pray for me?!”
She hung up the phone on a “dying” twenty-year-old!
That was the first time in my life I really asked for prayer. It wasn’t the sort of asking that I’d done before: the kind where you don’t really care that much if the person prays or not. It wasn’t prayer as a formality. This was real, earnest pleading. It was lifeline begging. It was all I had: a voice and a question. And even in that moment of raw panic, I was thrown by someone’s refusal to pray. Maybe she didn’t believe in prayer, or in God. Maybe she was just embarrassed or indecisive. I’ll never know. But it brought my crushing that night to a new low.
As Paul is bringing his letter to a close, we catch a glimpse that not everything is joyful and peaceful in Philippi. “Joy” has been, and remains, a theme throughout this letter. We will see it again in verse 4…twice. But, just maybe, the reason for constantly reminding them to rejoice, reveals a growing threat of shared anxiety within the community.
That’s not to say that Paul is covering up their root problem. He will address the conflict—even naming names—in this passage. But, his purpose is to give them positive commands to live out the virtues that he knows they possess. His love for them compels him to exhort them to persevere.
We experience crushing anxiety because there is a God who wants to communicate with us. Those who commune with the God of peace will enjoy the peace of God.
Read Philippians 4:2-9.
I. Peace Through Conflict (2-3)
The number one reason missionaries leave the field is because of interpersonal conflict within the team. They don’t typically run out of money or burnout from the challenges of living in a foreign culture. The main reason they return home is due to an inability to get along with their fellow missionaries.
Paul knows the inevitability of conflict. He dealt with it himself in a disagreement with Barnabas over who should go along with them. Their conflict resulted in their separation (Acts 15:36-41).
Euodia and Syntyche were probably prominent figures in the church. It’s possible they were among the group of women praying by the river when Paul first visited Philippi and established the church there (Acts 16:13).
It appears their public feud had been disrupting the unity of the body for some time, long enough for Paul to hear about it. Maybe Epaphroditus had filled him in on the details during his visit. The conflict was likely growing beyond these two women so that others were beginning to take sides.
If future generations could remember one thing about you, what would you want it to be? That’s nice. Now, what will it actually be?
We know nothing else about these women, but the fact that they were in a serious conflict. I’m certain Euodia and Syntyche had no clue that their personal spat would be memorialized in Scripture.
Unfortunately, their situation is not remarkable. It is typical in local churches around the world. Unaddressed conflict often leads to the detrimental consequences of division. Happy Mother’s Day! Following the pattern that many Father’s Day sermons follow, our theme this year is, “Women, get your act together!”
We want to understand the details behind this verse (2). We want to know who to blame. Instead, all we know is that they were co-laborers with Paul in gospel ministry (3a). They are listed with Clement as members of the missionary team. Paul reminds them that all of their names are written in the book of life (3b). Euodia and Syntyche will spend eternity together. They ought to learn to get along with one another now.
Opening Up Philippians To Two Women (v. 2)
To live above
With the saints we love;
Oh, that will be glory!
But to live below
With the saints we know;
Now that’s a different story!
Who was offended? What was it that caused the offense? Is one of them right and the other wrong? Does one of them need to repent in order for reconciliation to take place? We simply don’t have enough details to answer these questions.
Whatever the reason for the differences between these two women, for the sake of the gospel, it’s important that they reach resolution.
Paul calls upon them to “agree in the Lord”. Some have interpreted this as providing an alternative to “agree with one another”. In other words, “You may not agree with each other, but you should at least agree in the Lord.” However, “agree in the Lord” is just a synonym for agreeing with each other. It literally means “have the same mind in the Lord.”
Paul also instructs his “true companion” to help mediate the conflict resolution. It has been suggested that this is a reference to Syzygus, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Lydia, Luke, or even the whole church. It is safe to say that he is calling upon the most influential elder/overseer to step in (Phil 1:1). There may even be a sting of rebuke. Why hadn’t this “true companion” already stepped in?
Anxious thoughts are common regarding interpersonal conflict. But the peace of God is offered as the antidote to both our anxiety as well as our conflict. While conflict is inevitable, the gospel brings peace. Conflict is the means God uses to bring about fuller unity.
For the good of the gospel, we must seek to resolve conflict within the church. It cannot be allowed to fester. The lack of resolution in these matters inhibits the work of the church as a whole. Personal conflict can quickly lead to corporate division. How many churches have split because two individuals could not resolve a difference of opinion?
It is because both of these women belonged to the Lord, that they needed to seek unity among each other. Like Christ, they must humble themselves, putting the needs of others above their own (Phil 2:1-11).
The same gospel that has the power to reconcile a holy God to sinful man can surely accomplish the easier task of reconciling sinful man to sinful man.
We seek to resolve conflict for the same reason that we seek to promote the gospel, because it magnifies the work of God’s Son. Therefore, we must do it in the same manner—with faith and repentance. We trust that God will bring about a result that brings him the greatest glory.
› That trust is exemplified in our prayers…
II. Peace Through Prayer (4-7)
These verses teach us how to experience peace in our circumstances. We pray! But before getting there, once again, the role of rejoicing is never far from Paul’s mind (4). A deep seated joy steels us for any conflicts we might need to deal with. Joy also encourages a “reasonableness” (forbearing, generous spirit, tolerant) when dealing with difficult people (5).
“The Lord is at hand” could refer to his nearness, as several psalms suggest, but probably refers to Christ’s return as is common in the New Testament (Jam 5:8-9). Paul previously addressed the importance of having our eyes set upon Christ and the work he will complete upon his return (Phil 3:20-21). These exhortations remind us that our brief life should be lived in light of eternity. If you are always rejoicing with anticipation for heaven, nothing will make you anxious (6).
This is especially true in light of the fact that we can bring our worries to the Lord in prayer. Paul is not encouraging us to recite everything that worry us. He suggests that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…” This is not worrisome praying, but the typical prayers of the saints, which includes casting our anxieties on God (1 Pt 5:7).
Prayer is the solution to worry. Do you want to experience less anxiety? Pray more. Is it just one area in particular that fills you with worry? In everything, pray.
Paul states it positively in the next verse (7). Through prayer your anxiety is replaced with the peace of God. Peace guards your hearts and your minds from spiraling downward into further anxiety. There is a difference between feeling anxious and thinking anxious thoughts, but the two go together. Your feelings and thoughts feed off one another springing from the desires of the heart.
Prayer brings the peace of God which guards the heart and mind like a Roman sentry would have guarded the city of Philippi. John Bunyan illustrates this in his novel, The Holy War, when he describes the appointment of Mr God’s-Peace to patrol the town of Mansoul. When Mr God’s-Peace was in office, the town experienced “harmony, happiness, joy, and health.” But his presence was fully dependent upon the presence of Prince Emmanuel. You could not have one without the other.
But we mustn’t get the impression that this is merely referring to an internal sense of peace. This peace is not merely offered to individuals, but to the corporate body of believers. Paul has not transitioned from interpersonal conflict to internal conflict. Listen to the parallel encouragement he gave to the believers in Colossae.
Colossians 3:15 ESV
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Anxiety may be the means God uses to bring us into fuller communion with him. It is through prayer that we engage with our Heavenly Father. That means we can commune with God in every circumstance. And the peace that results will benefit everyone involved.
› Paul is not suggesting we simply paper over our anxiety with a superficial mask of peace. He is recommending a new way of thinking, which he elaborates upon in verses 8 and 9.
III. Peace Through Thought (8-9)
The battle for the mind is really not all that complicated. Whatever you feed your mind will result in emotions which lead to actions. You experience greater peace when you learn to think differently.
Frankly, it should be abundantly clear to everyone who has experienced the last fourteen months, that filling our day with news regarding coronavirus and politics will have an adverse effect upon our peace. When we go from one news article or program to the next, it is difficult to enjoy any personal peace and quiet. And, of course, that inner tension spills over into our relationships creating discord and division.
Paul’s encouragement is that we fill our minds with something far superior. The virtues listed here oftentimes appeared in classical literature, although he does not mention the vices that typically follow.
Thomas Chalmers, “The most effectual way of withdrawing the mind from one object, is not by turning it away upon desolate and unpeopled vacancy—but by presenting to its regards another object still more alluring.”
Paul could have really milked their concern for him by revealing more details of the challenges he had faced. Of course, their concern for him was warranted. Spending years in house arrest while defending himself against attacks from opponents should have been deeply discouraging. But, he knew how to focus upon something more alluring.
Paul has modeled throughout this letter how to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. He concludes this passage with the encouragement for the Philippians to remember what they have learned, received, heard, and seen in him (9).
The way we think ultimately leads to actions. We put into practice whatever we believe. We will eventually “move beyond contemplation to action” (Hansen).
Distracted minds reveal the idols that must be destroyed by superior thoughts. Paul had modeled how to do this through communion with God. Communing with the God of peace in prayer and through his Word will leave an imprint upon our lives.
As we reflect upon life from a Christian worldview our meditations will compel our thoughts to a higher view of God and his glory, which will lead us to praise him. Our praise will not be distant or distracted, but deeply emotional. True worship cannot be manufactured by the right combination of smells and bells, it is the result of following after good doctrine and good examples.
What Pierce Taylor Hibbs learned about anxiety, was that God could use it for his good. He began with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. Then he learned that God doesn’t always remove our weaknesses, but he can use them to reveal the sufficiency of his grace and the perfection of his power (2 Cor 12:9). He learned patterns that freed him rather than imprisoned him. He developed the habit of reading the bible and listening intently to the voice of God through his Word. He began to trust that the God of peace was always with him. He learned the priority of prayer and clinging to a Savior who was teaching him to see the world in entirely new ways. All this, from someone who grew up in a Christian home. He read his bible and prayed already. But, God used—and continues to use—his struggles with anxiety to draw him into a faith that is deeper and wider than ever before.
You too can enjoy that peace which surpasses understanding, through the power of the gospel. It will transform the way you deal with conflict. You will learn to find peace through prayer and right thinking. Let’s ask the Lord to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.