What Does Philippians 4: 6-7 Mean?
Philippians 4: 6-7 are two bible verses which speak as directly to us today as they did to the people of Philippi two thousand years ago. They are a profound source of comfort and inspiration, but before we take a closer look at what they mean, let’s consider who wrote them.
Who wrote Philippians 4: 6-7?
The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians. It is a letter written to fellow Christians, thanking them for their support of his ministry and strengthening their resolve in following the way of Christ. Philippi was an important city in Macedonia, an area of modern Greece, which at that time was under the control of the Romans. Paul made two visits there, in A.D. 56 & 57, accompanied by Silas, Timothy and possibly Luke. The Epistle dates from A.D. 61-62.
What is the meaning of Philippians 4: 6-7?
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’
‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.’ (NIV)
That first statement is extraordinary, so let’s just take a minute to let it sink in. Paul is saying that you should not worry about anything. Now don’t mistake this for a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude, that’s not what Paul is saying at all. What he is saying is that if you have faith, worry is an insult to God. Don’t waste your time with worry, it achieves nothing, turn to God, place yourself in God’s care. After all, why would you do otherwise? Think about it. And what do you get if you place your trust in God? What you get is something quite incredible, something worth far more than any amount of riches or fame. What you get is a profound peace, not some intellectual position based on arrogant reasoning but the peace of God, which is of course, way beyond mere human understanding. Now, let’s take a look at how different bible versions bring out the meaning of Philippians 4: 6-7.
Philippians 4: 6-7 KJV
‘Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’
‘And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.’
The King James Bible was published in 1611 and was the work of around fifty scholars. It has been the most influential version of the bible and despite the difficulty of its language it still remains a very popular bible to this day. The 400 year old language can be puzzling to a contemporary reader, but it is good to think carefully about what we read in the bible and the beauty of the language can help us get closer to the beauty of the ideas. ‘Let your requests be made known to God’ seems to me to be a near perfect description of prayer and the phrase ‘And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding’ the most beautiful expression of the mystery of divine peace.
Philippians 4: 6-7 NASB
‘Be anxious for nothing, but everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’
‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your heats and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
The New American Standard Bible follows the KJV closely but deploys phrases, which clarify meaning for the contemporary reader. The use of the word ‘ anxious’ certainly resonates in our age of anxiety and the use of the word ‘guard’ updates the word ‘keep’ , which we no longer understand in the way that a seventeenth century reader would.
Philippians 4: 6-7 MSG
‘Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.’
The Message sets out to make the ideas of the bible completely accessible by using conversational language and short sentences. The poetry and abstraction is stripped away so that nothing obscures the clarity of the instruction. Whilst this version may work for many readers, for me it’s almost too easy, it doesn’t push me to think about what is being said. ‘It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.’ is certainly true but it feels like a vague wish compared with the celebratory certainty of the earlier versions. What do you think?
Philippians 4: 6-7 in context
These verses come toward the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He thanks the people for the support they gave him on his second missionary journey and in the verses before and after 6-7 he encourages his readers to ‘rejoice in the Lord’ and focus on ‘whatever is true’ and ‘whatever is admirable’. As we have seen, verses 6-7 focus on a rejection of worry and a complete trust in God. Now, here comes the amazing thing: Paul was writing from a Roman prison, where he had been imprisoned for his faith. Can you imagine a Roman prison two thousand years ago? And Paul is writing about dismissing all worries. What stronger example could you get of the power of faith?
Reflections on Philippians 4: 6-7
‘In headaches and in worry, vaguely life leaks away.’ wrote the poet W.H.Auden. How many millions of us lie in our beds at night and worry, alone in the darkness? We raise our children to worry, about their appearance, about their grades. Our working lives are fuelled by worry, and all for what? Worry is a rust, it destroys us. The guidance that Paul gave from his prison cell, two thousand years ago is an eternal truth, yet it is one so many of us ignore.
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