Paul commands us to be anxious for nothing in Phil. 4:4-7. Read it using an ancient Middle Eastern reading style, Chiastics, and learn what this famous passage really says.
Today we’re going to take a break from our ongoing video series, and examine an ancient Middle Eastern reading style. Although Christian scholars have been aware of this reading method for decades, I knew nothing about it. Prophecy teacher Mark Davidson recently introduced it to me and I have uncovered numerous subtleties about Biblical texts by being sensitive to the fact that the Biblical writers often wrote and thought in this manner.
So what is it? Trying to make it as simple as possible, it’s reading from the middle outward. Let’s say a biblical writer wants to convey an important thought. Many times, instead of placing this thought at the beginning of passage or at the end as we might do in modern, western culture, the Biblical writer might put that thought in the middle of the passage.
Let’s say that central though is “A”. The biblical writer might then arrange his passage with “A” in the middle, like this:
Where sentences C1 and C2 are related in some way, and B1 and B2 are related to each other as well; and all the phrases give meaning to the central thought “A.” You would be shocked at how many passages I’ve found in the Bible that use this method.
One of my favorite BIble passages is Phil. 4:4-7. It’s probably one of yours as well. But did you know it was written chiastically? Let me show you. Here’s how it appears in our standard English text. This is the way I memorized it years ago:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in 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 hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)
If we read it in our standard, western way of thinking, we see a number of commands. Common sense says follow them in order.
- Rejoice in the Lord, always
- Let your gentle spirit be known to all men
- Be anxious for nothing but let your requests be known to God
And then comes the promise that the peace of God will then guard our hearts.
This is a Great Promise and the reason this is one of my life verses. But frankly I have focused only on the last command about letting our requests be known to God with thanksgiving. Even though this passage is one of my favorites it never made complete sense to me. For instance, how does one rejoice in the Lord always as the first thing we do when terrible things sometimes happen? And what does letting all men know our gentle spirits have to do with this?
Then I learned Chiastics.
Phil. 4:4-7 Using Chiastics
Let’s examine this verse using the Chiastic guide I gave earlier. You will instantly see what this verse is about.
C1 “Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say rejoice”
B1 “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men the Lord is near“
A “Be anxious for nothing”
B2 “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God“
C2 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”
The middle of the passage, the key phrase, is “be anxious for nothing.” But that is a tall order!! How do you do it and what is the impact if you can pull it off?
The first thing I noticed in analyzing this passage is the two “be known” or “make known” lines. These are related. The lower one (B2) is how we accomplish the central idea of being anxious for nothing. The upper line (B1) is the impact on the world around us.
In the B2 line, the “how we do it” line, we are to make all our worries and anxieties known to God in prayer and to do it in with an attitude of thanksgiving. We are to thank God for our circumstances, even when we don’t understand them. He has allowed this anxiety causing event to enter our lives for a purpose even if we don’t see it.
If we do that, we gain the great promise found in line C2, that God will supernaturally grant us his peace that surpasses our understanding. You might say, I don’t understand how that is possible? EXACTLY, that is God’s point. You won’t understand it. He’ll just give that peace to you.
That part I understood, But here is where Chiastics comes in. Line B1 tells us what effect that peace has on other. Others will see it. We will make our gentle spirit known to all men. THIS IS OUR TESTIMONY during the test! While the world expects us to be going crazy during anxious moments, if we have this spiritual peace that surpasses human understanding we can be gentle and at peace in even the most trying times. The world will recognize this as supernatural and wonder in awe at what God is doing in us.
Which then leads to line C1, the top line. When the world sees this and wonders how we can have this peace, we are to rejoice in our savior. Paul doesn’t say to do this verbally, but I say that is his unstated intent of the line. Share the source of our hope with others.
So this ancient Middle Eastern reading method helped me understand one of my favorite verses just a little bit better. What seemed jumbled up in my modern, western mind, made sense when I looked at it chiastically.
So if you’re looking at a passage that just doesn’t make sense. Or if you notice shared phrases like “be known,” and “make known,” don’t ignore them. You may be looking at a great biblical discovery that our modern world has been missing.