How the Apostle Paul Handled Worry and Anxiety

Winfred Neely
header for How the Apostle Paul Handled Worry and Anxiety

Paul was a living embodiment of divine power and human cooperation in the conquest of anxiety. When we read through Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which is both a friendship letter and thank-you note, we meet in Paul a man full of divine joy (1:4, 18, 25), gratitude (4:18), and concern for others (2:19–23). His passion for Christ strikes us with compelling force. In an outburst of passion, he declares that the Lord Jesus is his reason for living (1:21), the ultimate example of an attitude of giving, service, and humility (2:5–11), the object of his ardent pursuit (3:7–14), and his strength in all things (4:13).

Paul’s Relationship With Worry

But when Paul, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power, penned the words, “Be anxious for nothing,” he was facing extremely dire circumstances. For the cause of Christ, the noblest reason on earth, he was in prison! And even though the cause of his imprisonment was noble (1:13) and God used his imprisonment to promote the gospel (1:12) and even lead some of Caesar’s own household to Christ (4:22), humanly speaking, Paul had every reason to worry and be preoccupied with his incarceration.

We overcome worry by ceasing to give in to worry.

To make matters worse, Nero was the emperor of Rome at the time. Nero was  a cruel and sadistic ruler. In fact, he had his own mother and his wife murdered. (Nero did not want to share power with anyone, including his mother, so he ordered her to be hunted down and murdered, and Nero himself killed his second wife after she had chided him for coming home late from one of the gladiatorial games.)

Obviously, Paul had every reason to worry about the result of standing before Nero for justice!

But he was not overcome by worry. Without a doubt, Paul, being a man of like passions with us, experienced anxiety about his circumstances. But he had learned how to walk in victory. We can and must learn this liberating lesson as well.

Not by Human Effort

We overcome worry by ceasing to give in to worry. We conquer anxiety by turning off the water faucet of anxiety in our own souls.

Now you may be thinking, Here we go again. Another unrealistic approach to handling life’s problems. If I could just turn off my anxiety like a faucet, I would not be reading this!

Paul, however, is not calling for mere human effort in these verses. Many of us have already tried to turn off the water faucet of anxiety but have not been able to do so. That’s because the ability to do this is grace-enabled, faith-based, and Spirit-empowered. By faith we yield our hearts and minds and will to God (Rom. 6:12–14; 12:1–2), and then the Holy Spirit fills us (Eph. 5:18) and empowers us (Rom. 15:13) as we cooperate with the Lord in the process of resisting anxiety. In this process of sanctification, turning off the water faucet of worry is the first step toward victory.

For Further Reading:

How to Overcome Worry

by Dr. Winfred Neely

Do you struggle with worry or anxious thoughts on a regular basis? Does your mind get fixated on the same concern over and over? Do you know...

book cover for How to Overcome Worry