“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4: 4-9
When was your last memory of experiencing peace? Peace is a rare commodity amid the uncertainty of these days. Peace and anxiety seldom co-exist, or do they? Certainly, feelings of peace can be fleeting in a pandemic. I can find myself in one moment resting in God’s sovereign care and in the next find my heart racing after reading or hearing a news report about COVID-19 or the stock market or news that a family member has lost a job. Where can we find peace amid so much hard news? We must start with what Paul means by peace.
Peace with God
Peace is rooted in peace with God. Remember the context around the commands in Philippians 4: 4-9 makes them more than a moralistic, try harder, put on a positive attitude exercise. The obedience we render to these commands is grounded in our gospel identity (3:20-21). To possess the peace of God (4: 7) we must rest in the assurance of peace with God through Jesus Christ (Romans 5: 1-2). Lack of assurance about peace with God will skew how we view hard things in life. Hard things can lead to insecurity rooted in a performance-based identity or resentment from an inflated, entitlement-based view of ourselves. Our “in Christ” identity frees us to experience the peace of God through our peace with God. How can this be?
The Peace of God
The peace (shalom) that Paul is writing about is more than a feeling. Peace is deep, settled assurance and sense of well-being in the Lord. Let’s focus on the commands in vv. 6-7. Notice the command isn’t to stop feeling anxious. In our own strength, we have much power over feeling anxious as we do over gravity. Instead we exchange dwelling on anxious thoughts and circumstances for prayer—”but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (v. 6).” The same God that acquired for us peace with him is tirelessly working out his sovereign purposes for his glory and our good. Prayer is turning over everything with thanksgiving to that God. Releasing everything to God acquires for us the peace of God. This is no mere momentary feeling of peace. The peace of God “surpasses all understanding (v. 7).” It is not natural but a supernatural, uncommon peace that will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Here we see the reality. Our hearts and minds are under steady assault in these days. They must be and will be guarded by the peace of God. Peace—that deep, settled assurance—is the fruit of choosing dependent prayer instead with worry about things we cannot control.
The God of Peace
Finally, Paul provides assurance that in addition to peace with God and the peace of God, we can have the presence of the God of peace with us. How? Two observations. First, the promised presence of the God of peace is on the other side of where we direct our minds (v. 8). He is already with his people. Where do we see the fingerprints of God in our world? His presence can always be seen in the darkest of times—the true, honorable, just, lovely and commendable things. There is always something our God is doing past, present and future that is praiseworthy. Paul’s instruction is to see and dwell on these things. Second, we find the God of peace in the example of spiritual fathers and mothers among us. Find those that know Christ well and walk with him faithfully. Follow their example. As we see God actively present around us, we will have confidence that the God of peace is with us. He is a peace making and granting God.
Back to my original question. When was the last time you experienced peace? Perhaps in this season when the feeling of peace is fleeting, we have more of the peace of God that we imagined.
Our Father help us rest in the certainty of peace with you. Help us be witnesses to those that lack assurance or don’t possess your peace. May our growing first response to anxiety be prayer and thanksgiving. Nothing will be wasted in these days to morph us into the image of Jesus. May our inarticulate prayers give your Spirit freedom to stir in us that deep, settled assurance . . . a peace from you that will protect hearts and minds constantly under assault by worry and fear. Give us eyes to see the echoes of your character in the world around us, especially in your people. Turn our hearts outward to serve your Kingdom agenda with the full assurance of your presence with us! May this uncommon Holy Week be the most transformative Holy Week of our lives. Amen!