The Peace of God

Philippians 4:1-7

At Buckingham Palace in London, the King’s Guard sentries remain posted, also fulfilling duties at other key British events and sites. Famous for their tall, bear-skinned hats, red tunics, and standing completely still for their 2-hr. shifts, with 4-hr. breaks in between, these guardsmen occasionally faint on the job. While these men are highly skilled soldiers, their heavy uniforms, inclement weather, and the pressure of doing their jobs properly can cause muscle strain, swollen feet, mental and physical exhaustion, muscle strain, and lower back pain. While these men generally look bored and perhaps even mean, staring stone-faced as they stand guard, tourists often talk to them, even taunt them, and even get up in their face to see if they can distract them or get a reaction. All the while, they must stand fast, not flinching, manning their post for the King.

That’s what Paul encouraged the believers at Philippi to do as they followed Christ, giving them some helpful guidance for how to persevere in such a way that they would experience the peace of God together. This guidance applies to our lives today, as well!

Persevere in your loyalty to Christ.
Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.

Here Paul urges the believers in the church at Philippi to “stand fast.” He tells them to stay put, stand in place, and remain faithful and constant in following Christ.

A football coach will tell his defensive or offensive linemen to hold their positions till the end of each play, no matter how much pressure they receive from the opposing team, no matter how deep into the game they have played, and no matter how many minutes they’ve been out on the field. That’s what Paul is doing here, urging the believers at Philippi to hold their position, no matter how many difficulties were pushing against them.

That’s what Paul is encouraging believers to do. Stand fast. Don’t waver or quit. Hold the line. No matter what challenges arise – emotionally, financially, mentally, physically, professionally, relationally, spiritually, socially – don’t back down from following Christ.

Paul does not speak entirely like a stereotypical football coach here, though. He doesn’t unleash profanity-laced tirades, stomp around angrily, or throw things. Instead, he speaks in a heartfelt, loving way – like a friend or parent who cares for them deeply. Notice how sincerely and strongly he expresses his care for them.

Not once but twice he calls them “beloved,” a term of special relationship. This does not refer to the more general sense of how a person should love everyone but refers instead to a more specific sense of how we love some people in a special way.

  • This is how God the Father addressed Christ the Son at his baptism and beginning of public teaching ministry, announcing, “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, my Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!” (Matt 12:18).
  • In a letter to another church in Thessalonica, Paul used the same word (translated “dear”) to explain how after spending time serving them, they “had become dear” to him (1 Thess 2:8).

Paul both begins and ends his statement here with this word, revealing how special these believers had become to him.

Additionally, Paul calls them “longed-for,” which expresses a deep, inner desire for them to succeed spiritually. He is not giving instructions as a professional doctor or teacher might give, void of personal concern and emotional involvement. He exhibits a personal and strong desire for them to succeed, much as a parent desires for his or her children to succeed at their schooling or extracurricular pursuits.

Paul also calls them “brethren,” revealing that he viewed his relationship to them as one of spiritual equals – talking to them like a brother coming alongside in their trouble, not a parent or superior talking down to them from a position of authority. This also reveals that he viewed his relationship to them as one like family, not mere social acquaintances, a professional arrangement of some kind, or even as just friends. Family relationships are the closest relationships that exist, but as followers of Christ, we can enjoy such a relationship together.

Paul goes on to say that the Philippian believers were his “joy” and “crown.” By “joy,” he means that they are a source of great happiness and gladness to him. Whenever he thinks of them and hears what God is doing in their lives, such news and thoughts brought a smile to his face and a gladness to his heart, making his sacrifices and service for them worth every ounce of hardship and suffering.

By “crown,” he means that they are not just a present source of gladness, but they are what he is counting on in the future as his ultimate accomplishment before God. He looked forward to the day when he would be able to point to their spiritual success and perseverance in following Christ as the outcome and result of his efforts for Christ. His goal (or prize of accomplishment, so to speak) was not degrees, money, promotions, or professional accolades. His desired prize was nothing other than their spiritual success.

With these words of personal care and pastoral love, he urged them to “stand fast,” hold the line, and not collapse, fall away, or leave the field. In what were they to “stand fast”? “In the Lord.” This means that they were to remain constant, true, and unswerving from their commitment not only to believe on Christ for forgiveness of sins, but they were to remain constant, true, and unswerving in their commitment to live in submission to Christ, always taking their next steps in following him and encouraging others to do the same – doing what Christ modeled and taught, no matter how easy or difficult that might be.

With this brief, heartfelt locker room speech, he proceeds to give the believers a game plan for standing fast. These X’s and O’s consist of four key concepts or principles which, if practiced persistently in reliance upon Christ, will enable you not only to persevere through any spiritual challenges but to do so with a deep, genuine inner peace from God.

Surrender disagreements to Christ.
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

When followers of Christ disagree with each other, they must insist that their disagreements not lead to disunity in the church. Public, strong disagreements within the church have a wearing-down effect on the rest of the church, making it more difficult for all to persevere joyfully in following Christ. A football team understands that locker room arguments and tensions weaken their team’s ability and resolve to win on the field. The same is true within a church.

Here Paul publicly identifies such a disagreement in the church at Philippi. He is not uncovering some personal, private disagreement between to people. Doing so would be unethical for sure. He is, in fact, acknowledging a disagreement which had already become public for no fault of his own and this disagreement was discouraging the hearts of the church members at large.

We don’t know much about these two ladies, and we don’t know what they were disagreeing about. What we do know from the evidence provided, though, is sufficient and helpful for us to learn from today so that we may avoid the same internal problem.

  • First, their unresolved disagreement had become a public disagreement.
  • Second, they had differing opinions about something which they both believed was important enough to argue or hold out over.
  • Third, their disagreement was not about first-level gospel or doctrinal matters. If it were, then Paul would not have addressed their disagreement so vaguely, and he would certainly have chosen a side, the side which was doctrinally correct.
  • Fourth, Paul viewed both ladies as equally responsible for the disagreement and perhaps both holding equally valid opinions on the matter in question. I say this because he says, “I implore Euodia,” then he says, “I implore Syntyche.” From a grammar, sentence-writing standpoint, there is no reason for him to repeat “I implore.” The normal way of speaking would simply be to say, “I implore Euodia and Syntyche.” So, it seems that Paul repeated “I implore” before each name to give both ladies equal and fair treatment, avoiding “taking a side” in their dispute.
  • Fifth, Paul considered both ladies to be “fellow laborers”, people who had worked hard and struggled intensely together with him in starting and establishing the church there at Philippi, and perhaps also assisting him in other gospel ministry endeavors as well. He viewed them as equal and important ministry partners alongside numerous other faithful ministry partners as well. He did not view them as enemies, as he did the legalistic influencers of the previous verses.
  • Sixth, he was personally convinced that these women – like the others – were genuine believers and followers of Christ, whose names were permanently recorded in “the Book of Life.” We’re not sure whether this “Book of Life” is an actual record in heaven with the names of all true believers written inside or whether it is a figure of speech used in the Bible to illustrate the permanence of our salvation.

So, in summary, these were ladies who seemed to be genuine followers of Christ and faithful ministry partners who had found themselves in a public disagreement within the church over a matter or topic which was not of a high-level doctrinal importance.

How does Paul tell these ladies to handle their differences and disagreements? To “be of the same mind in the Lord.” So, they were to find common ground, agree to disagree, and even acquiescing to the other person’s opinion for the purpose of agreement and unity. By doing this “in the Lord,” they were to submit their disagreement to Christ, acknowledging that Christ is most honored, obeyed, and pleased when we submit ourselves to one another in matters of lesser importance, opinion, and preference rather than insisting that our personal opinions, perspectives, privileges, and rights prevail.

We must take the same approach. When we practice the same sort of humility towards one another, we live out and faithfully persevere in our loyalty to and love for Christ. This principle works well not only in the church, but also in our homes, places of work, and other community relationships.

Notice also how Paul speaks to an unnamed member of the church, perhaps appealing to any member of the church, to be a peacemaker and aid to reconciliation between these two ladies. In this way, we learn that whenever we are aware of a public disagreement between people in the church (or elsewhere), out of love for Christ, we should do what we can, not to take sides, but to help resolve the difference and bring peace.

Always find a reason to be glad.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!

Next, Paul urged the believers at Philippi to rejoice. In other words, he urges them to “be glad.” By this instruction, we learn that to choose to see positive purpose and value in any circumstance is an intentional, personal choice, regardless of how difficult or painful your experience may be. Genuine gladness, happiness, and joy is not the result of enjoyable, pleasant circumstances only – a passive experience that “happens to you” when things go well. Genuine happiness is the result of God’s grace whenever we choose to look at like from God’s perspective.

Notice how Paul repeats the command to “rejoice.” He says it first and last. This indicates that there are no exceptions. From beginning to end, rejoicing is the right response to the experiences of life. No matter what difficulty, misunderstand, or supposed injustice you have experienced, choose to rejoice. Choose to smile – on your face and in your heart.

Search through the archives of whatever Bible phrases, verses, or passages – even principles – you have stored within your heart, then bring to mind and choose to focus on truth about the goodness of God, the sovereignty of God, the grace of God, and the hope that God provides through Christ. Scan through your internal music playlists – even your actual music playlists – so that you can listen to and/or sing along with songs that encourage your heart with biblical truth.

Simply refuse to sit, sour, and sulk. There are so many sad, selfish, and sorry thoughts that you can think about in times of difficulty. Woe is me! We call this throwing a pity party. Yet doing this is no different than what the children of Israel did to God and Moses in the wilderness after they had been rescued from slavery in Egypt. Such thoughts only close you off to the grace of God and cut you off from those thoughts which remind you of the goodness, sovereignty, grace, and hope of Christ.

Notice how Paul says, “in the Lord.” He urges us to remind ourselves not of positive, self-help, Disney-level, pop-psych thoughts, but to find comfort, hope, and joy in Christ – who Christ is, what Christ has done, what Christ is doing, what Christ will do, and what Christ has said. When we keep our focus on Christ, we can remain glad in any circumstance.

Paul emphasizes this instruction even further by saying “again.” And then he shows further intentionality by saying, “I will say.” This is similar to saying, “Let me repeat myself,” or, “Mark my words,” or, “I’m serious when I say this.” It is important for me to point out these obvious indications of strong emphasis and repetition by Paul because as a pastor (and a human and follower of Christ myself), I know how easily we fail or forget to do this. We so easily, frequently, and quickly wander off into the shadowy woods of self-pity or the dark rabbit holes of blame, negativity, and unbelief. Choose to be glad in Christ.

Refrain from retaliation.
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

With this third word of spiritual advice, Paul teaches us how to respond to people whom we believe have mistreated us. The keyword, “gentleness,” here is a challenging word to translate. It means something like to be “gentle, tolerant, and kind.”

  • According to 1 Tim 3:3, Paul insists that anyone who desires to be a pastor must exhibit this quality towards other people.
  • Christ himself both exemplified and taught this principle when he said that when someone strikes us on one side of the face, we should turn to the other side and let them strike us on the other rather than retaliate by striking them back (Matt 5:38-40).

The British theologian and biblical scholar of 100 yrs. ago, G.B. Cairn, describes this word and concept helpfully when he says:

“It is that considerate courtesy and respect for the integrity of others which prompts a man not to be forever standing on his rights; and it is preeminently the character of Jesus.”

This quality reminds us that harmony and unity within the church is more important that insisting on your own personal desires, opinions, privileges, and rights. There is also a sense in which this word teaches us to respond to mistreatment and misunderstandings (whether real or perceived) with ambivalence, like (to borrow an idiom) “water off a duck’s back.” We should let go of such things easily, realizing that the harmony and unity of the church is far more important than getting my way or being properly acknowledged.

Paul expands this instruction broadly, teaching us to whom we should behave this way, when he says, “to all men.” This may be translated as “to all people” and means that we should behave this way towards anyone – whether within the church or not, whether actually or only potentially or possibly mistreating or misunderstanding us. Why?

Paul gives the reason for living this way as “the Lord is at hand.” Once again, he focuses our attention on Christ, reminding us that we are not called to merely moralistic, exemplary lives, but rather to lives which follow after Christ as our example and enabler and guide – as our Lord and our God.

That “the Lord is at hand” reminds us that Christ is the judge of all people and he is near. He sees all things and will return soon to make all wrongs right. When we believe and focus on this reality, not just academically or in theory, but in real, actual focus and faith, then we are thoroughly convinced that we gain NOTHING and accomplish NOTHING when insist on our own rights and seek to correct those who seem to misunderstand or mistreat us. Whether we call it revenge or justice, we can leave such things entirely to the Lord knowing that he will judge all things accurately, fairly, and with mercy.

Turn anxiety into prayer.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…

Fourth, Paul encourages us to pray. You might like to know that to begin the New Year of 2024, our opening-year preaching series will be called “When You Pray,” exploring biblical teaching on prayer from the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ in the gospels! Praying faithfully and persistently is something that we can all grow in together as followers of Christ, right?

Here, Paul teaches us to exchange anxiety for prayer. Whenever you feel anxious, fear, or worry overtaking your spirit, you should pray, trusting in him to calm your spirit, equip you to make Christlike choices, and enable you accomplish his purpose through your life.

Over what circumstances in life should we not allow anxiety to take hold in hour hearts and minds? Paul answers simply and completely with “for nothing.” There is no experience in life for which we cannot exchange anxiety for prayer.

Christ taught us “to be anxious for nothing” when he told us to observe how birds of nature do not worry about where their next food will come from. About this teaching, poet Elizabeth Cheney wrote the following poem:

Said the robin to the sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the robin:
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”

Paul uses two words for prayer, here:

  • “Prayer” simply means “to address God” or “to speak to God.” The idea here is that rather than speaking to yourself or some other person, you speak to God instead. To pray is to “speak to God.” We know this is important, but how frequently do we actually do it? To speak to God is effective not only because he answers and hears prayer, but perhaps more importantly because prayer shifts our attention away from ourselves to God, reminding us that God is in charge and in control, so we have nothing to worry about. When you have prayed, truly prayed, you can walk away from your place of prayer knowing that God is involved, therefore you have nothing to worry about.
  • “Supplication” describes prayer that doesn’t just “talk to God”; it describes talking to God with heartfelt urgency that requests help about a specific need, problem, or question. This word describes serious, specific, and intentional prayer, not casual, vague, or flippant prayer. Paul makes this need to be specific and intentional more clear by telling us to “let your requests be made known to God.” If we spoke to God in childlike dependence and faith as frequently and specifically (or more) as we commiserate over them privately, complain about them publicly to others, or even seek to make things right ourselves, how different our lives would be.

In speaking about prayer, Paul reminds us to pray to God “with thanksgiving.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to “say thank you” every time we pray, though doing so from the heart is never a bad thing to do. Instead, what this likely means is that we should approach God in prayer with a thankful attitude and spirit, not a bitter and ungrateful spirit.

About what should we be thankful for? When we pray, we should approach God with appreciation and gratitude (a) that we can approach God in prayer to begin with, (b) that we are forgiven from sins, and (c) that God is good and sovereign in all things, even in our difficulties and questions. And while we should not be thankful for evil, we should be thankful that God is able to accomplish his good and perfect will in spite of and even through the evil that we experience. Consider Christ’s death on the cross as the ultimate example of how this works!

God will give you inner peace.
and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

In conclusion, Paul teaches that we can experience “the peace of God” when we live as he has taught us here today. No matter what difficulties you are experiencing, even if those difficulties are caused by other people and even if those people are in the church, you should:

  • Surrender disagreements to Christ.
  • Always find reasons to be glad.
  • Refrain from retaliation.
  • Turn anxiety into prayer.

When you learn these behaviors, you will be able to persevere through any trials with the steady, unflinching, untiring resolve of the King’s Guard on a long assignment in hot weather or of a football defensive linemen in a double over-time game, with short rest, on the opponent’s home field.

Have you ever noticed how professional athletes arrive at games and go through pre-game routines wearing headphones? Why do they do this? To tune out the noise and focus their minds on the game ahead. Surgeons often do the same thing, playing background music on loudspeakers during an operation (after you’ve been sedated of course). They do this so they can “get in a groove” and focus on the surgery in view.

When we learn to do what Paul has instructed us to do, God himself gives us a calm, confident, contented enthusiasm in our spirit that rises above and transcends whatever difficulties, disagreements, or problems we may either experience or perceive to occur. We’re able to rise above such things internally and take our next steps in following Christ.

Notice, that this is the “peace of God.” This means that this peace comes from God himself and is based upon the truth and reality of God, who he is and what he does.

This “peace” means “tranquility, serenity, and calm” and describes an unagitated, restful mind and spirit, even if emotions and physical factors seem to be contrary.

“Which surpasses all understanding” describes this peace as being difficult to describe. In other words, you have to experience it to understand it because it’s hard to explain. How do you explain color to a blind person, music to a deaf person, or flavor to a person whose tongue is unable to taste? Such peace is not able to be described in merely psychological or scientific terms and vocabulary. Such peace is more than an emotional or mental phenomenon, it is a spiritual, supernatural reality provided by God himself. Commentator Frank Thielman explains this special inner peace this way:

“an inner sense of contentment supplied by God. It transcends all understanding because the anticipated response to the persecution the Philippians are experiencing is anxiety, but just as throughout this letter Paul expects Christian behavior to break the bonds of normal behavior, so here God supplies an attitude in the face of adversity that does not fit the normal categories.”

Once again, this peace comes “from Christ Jesus” alone and not from the advice or guidance of popular psychological counseling and methods.

And this peace “will guard your hearts and minds.” “Will guard” is an illustrating word that envisions a troop of military soldiers standing guard around your inner man preventing anxiety and worry from entering in. Max Anders tells the following, impactful story:

A number of years ago a very rich man wanted a painting that would portray peace. He commissioned three artists to paint peaceful scenarios. After a month the artists returned with their paintings completed. Each painting was placed in the foyer, covered by a veil, waiting the moment of revelation.

The first artist unveiled his painting of a beautiful mountain scene. The mountains were covered with green aspens and spring flowers. The snow-capped, majestic peaks rose up to meet a blue, cloudless sky. The rich man said, “I like it. This mountain scene is indeed peaceful.”

Then the second artist removed the cloth veil draped over his masterpiece. His painting was of a beautiful ocean view. The sand was crystal white. The sea was blue and tranquil. The sun was slowly setting in the sky as its reflection danced across the placid sea. In the center of the picture were two people relaxing in lawn chairs at sea’s edge, their feet dangling in the water. The rich man was delighted. He said, “I love the beach. I love this. What a splendid portrayal of peace.”

The third artist reluctantly pulled the veil from his painting, and the rich man looked with puzzlement. This artist had painted a waterfall scene. In this scene a raging river is falling hundreds of feet, crashing on the rocks below. The rich man said, “How is this peaceful? I’ve stood beside a waterfall, and it’s anything but peaceful. The sound of the water is deafening. All I see is turbulence. Where is the peace?”

Then, the third artist said, “Look closer, sir. Notice I painted the waterfall from the side. Look closely under the fall, behind the water, and you’ll see a cleft in the rock. Do you see it?”
Leaning forward, the rich man replied, “Yes, I see it, and I also see a bird perched in that cleft. The artist responded, “That’s it, sir! That’s the peace! In the midst of the noisy turbulence, the bird has found a peaceful place. That, my friend is real peace; the ability to find peace in the midst of troubled chaos.”

The peace of God in our hearts and among us as a church family is not the result of peaceful circumstances and problem free relationships. These things will always be until Christ returns. The peace of God comes in and in spite of these things as we learn to do what Paul has taught us here today, finding our comfort, joy, and hope in Jesus Christ in the midst of our problems. This is what it means to persevere in following Christ.

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