In the last month I have used this passage a number of times as a benediction for a service and for opening devotions and teaching in meetings:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

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 Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 4:4-7 NIV

The passage has the caution: “Do not be anxious about anything”

The teaching I did had to do with teaching leaders in the church how to “see” or notice anxiety at work in people and how to defuse, calm and de-escalate the excessive part of it.

Part of the discussion which came from this is about what the writer of the letter to the Philippians meant by “anxious.”

So I went back to the Greek to find out.

The word used is “μέριμνα” which in our lettering is mĕrimna, and pronounced as mer´-im-nah. The dictionary1 says it is related to it’s root word μερίζω mĕrizō, (mer-id´-zo) through the idea of distraction and solicitude2;-care.

The most straightforward definition I found is this: μεριμνάω (merimnaō): be anxious about, worry, have anxiety, be concerned3

If I get to exploring the deeper roots and history of the word, I come up with “having your attention divided/distracted by” and then a sense of “caring too much.” Our word Anxious fits that background meaning. Caring too much about some things generates unnecessary anxiety. I believe this is what the passage is warning against. Especially when you see that the warning follows encouragement to rejoice, to be obviously gentle (few are gentle when they are anxious) and be aware of the Lord’s nearness. The passage also encourages prayerful petitioning of God about those things, and encourages what I’ve called an “Attitude of Gratitude.” The passage clearly says a new kind of peace (literally “rest”) that is hard to explain will come over you.

We do not let anxiety or the anxious ones run the church. That is not healthy and it is not biblical. We seek restfulness, not anxiety. We present the things we do get anxious about to God in prayer, all the while grateful and deeply thankful for the good he gives.

1 Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 47). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

2 Full Definition of SOLICITUDE

a : the state of being concerned and anxious

b : attentive care and protectiveness;

3 Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.