And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 NIV)
Doubtless, this is one of the most precious promises of scripture – God’s transcending peace is available for us today.
Consider the Context
As we mentioned throughout this short series, these words were written to address a certain circumstance – two women in conflict with each other, two women who were active in ministry, two women who each saw their concerns as primary and the concerns of others as unimportant. This is a passage which goes from the specific to the general, that is, it addresses a particular problem but in doing so it establishes a spiritual principle for all believers of all times.
Having preached and having heard others preach on this passage often, I believe we have a tendency to focus on some thoughts here and miss others. For example, it is common to hear pastors emphasize the importance of praying, but neglect the importance of gratitude in prayer. But it is gratitude that acknowledges that behind every ministry initiative is the hand and voice of God, and in that sense, we should not be merely obsessed with those things that matter to us, but with those things that matter to God.
This was the apparent problem with the two women in the church at Philippi. They were both right in what issues they cared about, and they were both wrong in those issues that they saw as competing with theirs. The word merimnao, translated “worry,” which they were commanded not to do, had a specific relevance to that circumstance, for the word means to see one thing to the neglect of seeing other things. Christ taught us to pray “Our Father” and not just “My Father,” and God is a Father who cares for all His children, and has a multifaceted approach to ministry.
But the common short-cut method of interpreting this passage – “Pray and you get peace” – does not do justice to the entire passage. Gratitude opens up our minds to see that God is the Author of all our godly concerns. Not that we would say that every issue is as important as every other issue, for surely they are not, but we should be able to say what Peter said:
Each one should use whatever gift he has receive to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 NIV)
A Change of Heart Is Required
If there is one truth that we can say is repeatedly emphasized throughout the Word of God it is this: that to receive the peace and joy that God offers us in Christ Jesus. So when it speaks of rejoicing, of not worrying, of praying, and of being thankful, we should understand these as not mere activities, but as indicators of a change of heart. This change is engineered by the Spirit and includes repentance from sin, faith in Christ, and surrendering to His Lordship in all of life. Consider these verses:
Acts 3:19-20: Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
James 4:7-10: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and weep. Turn your laughter to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Romans 6:12-14: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires. Do not present the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and present the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.
The last verse above, John 14:27, typifies these promises of inner peace and assurance that come through our faith. He said, “Do not let our hearts be troubled; do not be afraid,” and this is a description of turning from the world and its troubles, of deciding that inner peace does not depend on getting that promotion or raise or new car, but rather it depends on Christ. This requires a change of understanding and an act of faith and surrender to Christ.
The five commands of this passage all point to this change of heart, of repentance from sin. They are:
- Rejoice at all times in the Lord, believing in His ultimate victory over all that oppose Him.
- Let your gentleness or meekness be evident, be willing to let others have their ways and do not insist on your rights above them.
- Do not hold onto a limited perspective or being a one-issue type of person, rather let go your pet cause or personal concerns, and listen to others.
- Pray for the needs God puts on your heart, for the concerns you have.
- Pray with gratitude, realizing that God has been and will continue to be faithful to all of His promises. The work all belongs to Him.
We need to be careful in analyzing these five commands too closely because the emphasis is on a change of heart, and when our hearts change and become aligned with God’s then everything tends to wash together, and all we know is that we have been restored to God.
Peace that Transcends Understanding
The first thing we should recognize about this peace is that it is particularly God’s peace – we should consider the source and the nature of the peace. What we call peace that is generated by humans is mere distraction, or respite from conflict, a brief turning away until we feel better about ourselves, or utter boredom and nothing-ness. But God’s peace is the peace that the Creator alone possesses, and as such it is the peace that is not in a hurry. It is not a brief respite from the rushing temper of today’s society. Rather it is the peace that looks at life like a man looks at ants hurrying to bring a morsel of food into their home.
There may be a need, and often is, for us to pull away from the distractions and the busyness of this world so that we can think about God, but it is not the mere absence of this busyness that our hearts crave. We crave the true peace that God has, the peace that is never in a hurry because it has an entirely different perspective of everything. Someone once commented to me that the difference between a ferry and a cruise ship is that when you are on a cruise ship you are already where you want to be. The peace of God is like this only in a greater sense, that we realize His greatness and his majesty and we believe in His victory, so we truly rest in our hearts.
Secondly, this peace is not understood by mankind, and how can it, because it does not agree with the world’s way of thinking. This peace exists because God exists. The believer does not obsess about the past because it is all forgiven. The believer does not worry about the future, because it is all assured safe and secure in Christ. At some point in time, if the Lord delays His return, it shall be said of each of us that we were born and lived a certain number of years and then died. And then we shall be forgotten as the years roll on. Yet we can become so obsessed with these temporary things in life — this is the thinking of mankind — and the two ways of thinking do not agree.
The natural man thinks almost exclusively of those things he can hold in his hands, but it is like holding fine sand, and it all runs out in the end. And though he may wish to help his family and friends, this help is often no more than passing fine sand between one another. The Christian sets his feet on the Rock of Christ, and looks forward to each day because it is all part of eternity. We hold on to those things which will never be taken from us. We are focused on more than the mere sentiment of the day, and are thinking of God and of His love and of eternity with Him.
Thirdly, this peace transcends all knowledge. This word is huperecho, which means to rise above or to be superior. So this peace is superior peace to whatever other types of peace the world has. Alexander MacLaren described the problem of modern man this way:
Men have not peace, because in most of them everything is topmost that ought to be undermost, and everything undermost that ought to be uppermost… The more regal part of the man’s nature is suppressed, and trodden under foot; and the servile parts, which ought to be under firm restraint, and guided by a wise hand, are too often supreme, and wild work comes of that.
The peace that God gives to the one who believes and surrenders to Him is not just a different kind of peace but the one true peace that God created us to have – the superior peace or transcending peace of God.
The Peace that Guards
And this peace stands guard at our heart’s door and refuses to let the unrest of the world inside. It must guard against hopelessness, against impurity, against selfishness, against lust and pride, against all that oppose God. In biblical thinking, the heart is not merely the center of our emotions. It is also the center of our minds and our thoughts. The Hebrew specifically says such things as, “applying your heart to understanding” (Prov. 2:2), which to the modern English thinker seems counter-intuitive. When we say in modern English, “Follow your heart,” we almost never mean, “Do what makes sense.” We generally mean the opposite.
But biblically, the new man in Christ is a whole and integrated person. His feelings and his reason and intellect are not in conflict with one another. He loves instruction and he think about love and affections. The fruit of the Spirit in his life is a well-balanced spectrum of the mind of Christ: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
Do you have this peace?
If so, how is it guarding your heart?
If not, what must you do to have it?