The Path to Incomprehensible Peace
Text: Philippians 4:4-7
One of the things I make my priority in my ministry is expounding, explaining, and applying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. My hope is that by the consistent preaching of this truth, you will be kept from the deficiencies of much preaching today.
While the Bible may be read and certain truths discussed, much preaching today is designed to direct your mind to self rather than to the Saviour. It endeavours to make you hopeful by seeing your purpose, rather than confident as you see His purpose. It is designed to inspire your will, rather than ground you in His will.
Under such a ministry, everything will seem fine until trouble comes. When trouble comes, you’ll then realize that self has little to offer in the way of comfort. You’ll discover the hope you had in your purpose is now shattered, and that your will is beyond inspiration.
Jesus said, “in this world ye shall have tribulation” and Paul exhorted the followers of Christ “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” There’s no promise of earthly riches, perpetual good health, or a life of ease – but there is concrete promise of tribulation. Yes, a promise!
And how you think is critical. The true gospel enlightens the mind, and the apostle Paul makes this a point of constant emphasis. He knows that an equipped mind is the only weapon against tribulation. Note the words of v8, “think on these things” i.e. the mind is to be used to make use of truth. We are to reflect on the truth stated, this is always the case with scripture. We are to contemplate it and imbibe it.
The very act of writing a letter to someone needing advice is an admission that it is through the mind that help is given. And as Paul has addressed them, he has sought to strengthen their resolve against external enemies (1:27-30; 2:14-16), and unite their resolve with those in internal dispute (2:3-5; 4:2-3).
As we come to 4:4-7, the apostle addresses not how to deal with external enemies or internal disputes, but personal anxieties.
I. BE CONVINCED OF THE DESIRED STATE v4
Paul has already given this exhortation, but here he gives it again. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “aim at nothing and you’ll hit it”. There’s truth in that. The exhortation Paul gives for each believer to rejoice, must be seen as the state of being that the Lord wills for his people.
We might translate it, ‘Keep on rejoicing in the Lord always in all circumstances regardless of what happens’. That’s essentially the meaning. The text makes no allowances for circumstances. Just as 3:1, this is in the imperative. And just as though he anticipates objection, he says, ‘Again I will say to you, Rejoice.’ The words “I say” are in the future tense, indicating the certain occurrence of an event which has not yet taken place. So Paul is basically answering any objections that no matter what happens, at all, we are to rejoice in the Lord.
It is always possible to rejoice in the Lord. When we rejoice in the Lord, we must think not only of who He is, but what He has done. You cannot and should separate those those aspects of our Saviour. You will have heard me and will continue to hear me using the phrase, ‘who He is and what He has done’ because those are the two sides of the gospel of Christ. The person and work of the Son of God.
Thus, when Paul says to rejoice in the Lord, we are to find our joy in those to things. We are to consider the person and the work of Christ. We are to consider the gospel as the answer to anything that seeks to terrorize our joy.
No experience can change what Jesus Christ has done for you. It is not a psychology you need for your problems, it’s the gospel. Rejoice in the Lord, believer. You are the recipient of all the blessings His atoning sacrifice has purchased for you. The forgiveness of sins, your adoption into the family of God, the indwelling Spirit, the priesthood that enables you to pray with confidence, the knowledge that your name is written everlastingly in heaven, and that there’s a place prepared for you in glory.
Whatever is troubling you today cannot change these things! Rejoice, believer! Don’t let the worries cloud your vision of Jesus your Saviour. Remember, when you rejoice in the Lord, you are thinking about a living Lord. He is living today at the Father’s right hand, overlooking your circumstances, governing your affairs, and guaranteeing his grace.
The troubles that threaten to go over your head are under His feet. He is not surprised by them for He has given them.
II. BE ENGAGED IN THE ADVISED PRACTICE v5-6
1. Prioritize Patience
v5 “moderation” not an easy word to translate. “speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.” Tit 3:2. Gentle, patience, or moderate. We are to be reasonable, gentle, patient people, and the world should bear testimony to it.
This word seems to have been often applied to authorities to denote equity and leniency. When strict adherence to the letter of the law would lead to injustice, those with this quality knew how to act with fairness. Aristotle describes such a person with this quality as “the one who by choice and habit does what is equitable, and who does not stand on his rights unduly, but is content to receive a smaller share although he has the law on his side.”
Thus, this quality is very important for people in authority. For church leaders, parents, employers, managers, etc. The world should not see you as an unreasonable, impatient individual.
This is a very pertinent instruction. The first century church lived in a world hostile to their beliefs, and this was the command given to them. In the face of hostility, it is very easy to justify a hostile response. As we witness a growing tide of Islamic hostility, this command needs to be kept in mind. Picking fights over the rights of muslim women to wear certain islamic head coverings is petty, and just creates a needless barrier to the presentation of the gospel.
This patience is vital because “the Lord is at hand.” Again, the meaning here is disputed. But I think the idea is that those in authority need to remember that the one with authority over them is near. He is watching. If you wish Him to deal gently with you, then deal gently with others. In a world that is hostile, the greatest testimony is that when we’re abused and mistreated yet we respond with patience and gentleness, they are confused. They expect us to dish out hostility in the face of hostility.
2. Prevent Panic
v6a “be careful for nothing” – i.e. stop being anxious. The sense here is of one being pulled apart between what is wished and what is reality. It causes fret, worry, distress, and obviously anxiety. At its heart is unbelief which causes inner pain.
That inner pain often translates into external pain. Headaches, neck and back pain, ulcers, insomnia, weight gain, weight loss, etc. It robs you of joy and contentment. It is a failure to trust God, a failure to see Him in control, a failure to comprehend His love in all things.
Matt 6:25-33 – you’re anxious because your priorities are wrong and you lack faith. If this has unbelief at its root, it is sin. Worry and anxiety is sin. Admitting that will do two things: i) it will lead to confession of it as a sin, ii) it will lead to seeking for help to overcome it.
It is clear from these verses that Paul became aware of some anxiety among the church at Philippi. Instead of dealing with the particular issue, he gives a general exhortation designed to help any believer facing anything that may cause anxiety.
Some of the anxieties we know they felt include the imprisonment of Paul, the sickness of Epaphroditus, the lack of unity, the threat of external pressures against the witness.
But Paul doesn’t just say, ‘don’t be anxious’. That’s the kind of advice many people give. They hear your plight and say, ‘don’t be worried’. You might as well ask the world to stop spinning.
3. Persist in Prayer v6b
But is it possible to give advice that will stop anxiety? According to Paul there is. Now Christian, you need to believe that what Paul says is true. If you say Paul wasn’t applying that to me, or Paul doesn’t know my circumstances, then your lack of faith is going to rob you of the promised outcome of his advice.
a) Learn to commune about everything “in everything by prayer and supplication”
Note the contrast – nothing vs everything. In every situation, circumstance, trial, or difficulty. Everything that competes against the peace God desires for you. It is waiting before God long enough that you can unburden your anxiety to him and walk away free from the concern they bring.
The greatest difficulty you face isn’t that which causes your anxiety, it’s not doing that which removes your anxiety. Failing to pray to the Lord is the first difficulty. Failing to trust the Lord is the next difficulty.
“supplication” – in contrast to prayer which is general, supplication has the idea of bringing a specific matter before God, in this case the matter causing your anxiety.
You are in the Lord. That not only gives you cause to rejoice, that gives you reason to pray. Trouble didn’t stop Jesus from praying, and it shouldn’t keep us from praying.
Tell the Lord everything. Don’t hold anything back. Don’t doubt any answer
b) Learn to commune with thanksgiving “with thanksgiving”
Here is the hard part. We are to be thankful in the midst of our anxiety. More than that, we are to be thankful for the thing which is causing us anxiety, because we remember that the sovereign hand of a loving God has given to us for our good. This requires submission and prevents prayer being a season of self-pity before God.
c) Learn to commune with specifics “your requests”
Those actual burdens and things which cause anxiety. Pray about them. In those requests, you need to ask God to change the situation or to change you, because anxiety is not the will of God for you, beloved.
III. BE ASSURED OF THE GIVEN PROMISE v7
This is the result of living out v6. “keep” – military term, placing soldiers to guard. Precisely what Paul was experiencing with the Pretorian guard 24/7. No one could get access to Paul without the permission of that guard.
The peace of God militates against anxiety. It protects your heart and mind from the enemy or worry.
When you are deeply anxious, it is because you have let the anxieties fill your mind, instead of the truth of what you have in Christ. We cannot control our circumstances to remove those things that threaten our anxiety, but we can by the Spirit’s help, control the effect these circumstances have upon us. “the peace of God” i.e. the peace the gospel of Christ brings is what keeps your inner being at rest.
Get before the Lord and plead the merit of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. He loved you enough to shed His blood for your sin, now plead its merit to keep you from the sin of anxiety. Apply the gospel in prayer. This is God’s alternative to changing your circumstances. It is blessing you with supernatural peace.
“through Christ Jesus” – this is how it’s accomplished. It is a gift purchased by Christ on the cross. It is favour merited by the shedding of the precious blood. But there is no peace outside Christ.
Close – The world does not know how to respond to the believer that lives out this text. They rejoice no matter what they face. They are gentle no matter how hostile their environment. They have peace no matter how tumultuous their circumstances. What a witness. A miserable worrier is no witness for Christ. Understand that. This kind of life is a powerful testimony to the world.
God the Father is not a worrier. He never panics. He presides over the universe with absolute control. Such is His love for His children, it is His will that they know something of heaven here on earth. True joy and true peace. This peace does not mean we never lose our jobs, or our health, or our loved ones. Remember, Paul writes this as a man imprisoned and chained to a roman pretorian guard. When he was in Philippi he was scourged for the gospel. But we have the Prince of Peace in our hearts, and these exhortations are His will for our lives. Let us take them to heart.