Tonight, we’ll be talking about peace. I’d meant to write this in time for Christmas, which would have been wonderfully appropriate during a season when everyone’s talking about peace on earth. But I kinda got sidetracked by this whole vacationing thing.
So anyway, we’ve been working our way through Philippians 4:6-7, which reads:
Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In the first post, we talked about anxiety. At its core, anxiety is a symptom of pride and self-sufficiency. We don’t want to submit to God; we’d rather hide out in the cold of our own little arctic kingdom than come into his kingdom where we’re warm and safe. In the second post, we talked about how we submit to God—by exposure. We need to bring all of our worries, all of our anxieties, everything that we stress out over and obsess over and everything that concerns us—all of it—to his throne and cry out for help, trusting in his goodness and care for us.
So what good will this bring us? What is this place of safety that we long for? Paul explains it in v. 7 when he tells us what God will do: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The backbone of this sentence is the statement that the peace of God will guard us. It’s good to have a guardian. And we have a great Guardian in God, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). More specifically, Paul draws our attention to the peace that God has worked to accomplish.
Now, here’s where we may sell ourselves short. It’s very common in our culture—especially when we’re speaking “Christianese”—to use the word peace in a subjective way. We talk about a feeling of peace: “I felt at peace about this decision” or “God gave me a peace about it” or “I had a sense of peace.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with talking about a feeling of serenity and using the term peace to describe it. However, I’m afraid that far too often we take this 21st-century use of peace and try to force it on a text written in a different cultural setting entirely. I’d encourage you to run a search on the word peace in the Old and New Testaments. How many times is it used in the sense of a mere feeling? I couldn’t find a single instance. When the writers of scripture talked about peace, they weren’t talking about feelings. Feelings are volatile and unreliable. They are terrific warning lights that give us insight into problems in our own hearts, but they’re often terrible indicators of what is really true about our relationship with God.
Paul doesn’t want us merely to think that if we cast our cares on the Lord, then the Lord will provide a wave of emotional relief to wash over us and all our worries will melt away. No—the Lord has something so much greater in store for us. The fact is that the peace of God is not a feeling; it is a reality. It means that all is well. God is on your side. He is your Father; he is your friend. He loves you, he cares for you, he will not leave you, and he will not abandon you. This is a truth as reliable as the law of gravity; it is as solid as the ground beneath our feet; it is always present though unseen, like the air we breathe. We are not under the temporary and incomplete safety of the Pax Romana, guaranteed by human government; we are under the permanent and complete safety of the Pax Dei, guaranteed by the Lord of Hosts.
Do you doubt that you are at peace? I do—a lot. Paul anticipates our weak faith when he says that this peace “surpasses all understanding.” Sometimes, there seems to be no reason to believe in God’s peace. The world around us may seem to be crumbling. All of our desires may seem frustrated; to our friends or our family who don’t trust in Christ Jesus, all of our prayers may seem unanswered and our situations may seem hopeless. But contrary to all human wisdom and outward appearances, the Lord is sovereign, and he is good. Along with Paul, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We don’t always understand God’s purposes and plans, but we can always trust him. He is sovereign. He is good.
Next, the Holy Spirit through Paul identifies “your hearts and your minds” as the things that God’s peace will guard. Once again, we have to be careful about dragging our own cultural baggage into this text. In our cultural idiom, the mind is the seat of logical thought processes, whereas the heart represents our emotions. However, in Hebrew thought, the heart was the core of a person’s being—the command center—including all aspects of a person’s ability to think and reason and feel and will. So when he places the word mind after the word heart, Paul isn’t talking about two different things. More likely, he’s nuancing the word heart to say that God’s peace especially guards the way we think. When we pray, God will make his peace known to us, and the truth of his protection and our well-being will guard our thoughts, keeping us from anxiety and fear. And when our minds are guarded, those feelings of serenity will surely follow, for we will know that all is well. If our mindset is one that recognizes God’s peace, then nothing will shake our confidence in him, regardless of circumstances. The winter may be bitterly cold, but in his presence there is warmth and light.
Finally, Paul ends with the crucial phrase “in Christ Jesus.” All of the above can only come about because we are in union with Christ. God our Father cannot see us without seeing Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. We have been crucified with Christ, we have died with him, we have been raised to life with him, we live through him, and someday we will reign with him. In Romans 8:39-39, Paul explains,
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What more is there to say?
If you want to “think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ) by spending more time reflecting on the peace of God that is our guardian, here are a few “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” to meditate on (obviously, the psalms are the best!):
- Psalm 46
- Psalm 121
- Day by Day and with Each Passing Moment
- Like a River Glorious
- It Is Well with My Soul