The God of Peace
Topic: Peace Passage: Philippians 4:5–4:9
Today I want to address how we fight for peace. How we can fight for peace and joy in a world that has gone mad. In the times of revolution we are living through, how do we have peace, and be instruments through which peace actually spreads? We love the truth that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We love the truth that we have actually been given the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry “Abba! Father!”. And yet, over and over and over again we are commanded in the bible, “Do not fear. Do not be anxious. Do not fret.” And these are written to saints. This must be a besetting temptation, even for the Christian.
And that is precisely what we have here in our text. He is writing to a church he planted in one of his missionary journeys, out of deep affection for them, and his strong, loving command is “do not be anxious”. This is not a rebuke, this is not a word of correction. Paul is writing out of a deep, warm love for these saints.
Do Not Be Anxious
The command is actually quite daunting and we might think, “yeah, well he doesn’t know what I’ve got going on.” Here’s the command:
Do not be anxious about anything…
Anything? Really? To be anxious is to be troubled with cares and concerns, to worry, to have your heart in a fearful state. And Paul is saying all the things that cause you to worry (your health; your financial state; your business or job; your children, friends, family; your nation) - Paul says, “don’t be anxious about any of it.”
Well, how do you do that? To combat this temptation to be anxious, to be loaded down with troubles and fears, Paul wisely does three things:
- Reminds them of a Great Reality
- Paul gives three practical commands
- Points them to a Great Promise
The Great Reality
Before Paul gives the command to “not be anxious about anything” do you notice what he does? What great Reality he reminds us of. And we do need to be reminded of this so often. Here’s what he says,
The Lord is at hand… (v. 5b)
The nearness of the Lord is a great gift to anxious people. Our worries and cares usually imply that we need someone, someone who is wise, strong, and gracious. Someone to protect us, to fix something, to help us. Only those who are in Christ actually have that someone. God being near to his people has always been a great blessing. In fact, Moses said that it was the most distinguishing blessing God could give. In Exodus 33, he said
And he said to him, "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?"
What a gift! God was always near to his people. But the blessing of God’s nearness is infinitely better now that Christ has come. The New Covenant, which has better promises all of which have been purchased for us by a better Mediator, Jesus Christ our Lord. For those who are in Christ, listen to what he says to you, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” For the Christian, this is true - period! For the one who has been brought from death to life and purchased by the infinitely precious blood of Christ, this reality of a real, personal, present Christ is realized through the indwelling Spirit.
You might be thinking, “Yeah I know that, but I’ve got some pretty big problems” or “don’t you see what’s going on in the world or America or the schools, etc.” Yes. That’s why Paul reminds us who is at hand. Let’s think about this One who says, “I am with you”, the One of Whom Paul says, “He is at hand…”
The Lord is at hand. I think one great rediscovery that would do the church so much good - always, but especially in this hour is the rediscovery of the doctrine of God. We hear, “the Lord is near” and might be tempted to immediately say, “Yeah… but!” And it is because we don’t understand. The Lord. Lord means Owner. Owner of what? Everything and everyone (Psalm 24:1). Lord means Sovereign Ruler. Of what? Everything and everyone. We often wring our hands over what is going on, but I assure you, the Lord never is.
Jesus Christ, triumphant over the grave, with all authority in heaven and on earth, is the Lord… and he is with us! This is the great reality we need to set our minds and affections on by faith.
Three Practical Commands: PTA - Pray, Think, Act
The overarching command is “do not be anxious about anything,” Instead Paul says, do three things. The first is pray or prayer and supplication.
Pray (v. 6)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God…
Prayer - The word prayer means to address God, to talk to God. How often do we just want to talk with others about what concerns us, what bothers us? Or even worse, how often do we just stew privately and address our fears and anxieties with ourselves?
Supplication - to bring our need, privation, desperation to God. God loves this and he hears to cry of the needy. Psalm 102:17 says, “[God] regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.” Your needs are not too big for God. And he knows what you need (actually need) better than we do. Jesus taught, “Your Father knows what you need.” He knows. He is a good Father.
With thanksgiving - Our prayers are to be full of gratitude, thanksgiving, not just telling God what we want from him or our great need, but pouring out of our thanks for this great kindness toward us and for all he has done for us.
Let your requests be made known to God. Tell him what is burdening you. Psalm 62:8 says, “Pour out your heart before him…”
The first thing we must do rather than be anxious is pray. What a Friend we have in Jesus, that old hymn reminds us in such simple, yet profound words, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” So we pray.
THINK (v. 8)
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.
The command is to set your mind in a certain direction or on certain things. To dwell on or think about certain things. Which of course, means we turn away from listening to other things. The blessed man in Psalm 1 is described first by what he will NOT listen to:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…
What are we to set our mind on? Paul starts with “whatever is true…” We want our minds informed by the truth. If we are going to fight against the temptation to be unsettled, anxious, worried, fearful, we need to fix our mind on what is true. It’s not coincidental that Paul starts here. Psalm 119:160 says, “The sum total of your word is truth.”
Besides, how do we know what is good, lovely, worthy of praise, etc.? Well, we go to God’s standard. What is true! Then what we see is a kind of progression. After what is true, what is:
- Worthy of praise
Listen, this passage assumes that you can think in a certain direction. You are not a slave to your emotions, or every passing thought that enters your mind. We live at a time when people do not think. They emot. They feel. They don’t think… at least not much. Paul says, “You want peace? Use your brain! Think about what is true. Or as Paul says to the saints in Colossians: “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth…”
ACT (v. 9)
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me - practice these things…
After we have prayed to the Almighty God of heaven and filled our mind with what is true, honorable, and so forth, we are to act. Paul says, “imitate what you’ve learned and received and heard and seen in me. Practice these things. Do these things. Christians are to be people of action. Not just addressing God privately in prayer and thinking God’s thoughts after him privately in our minds, but acting and practicing and living these things in public.
We are called to live like a Christian under the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life - both private and public. Daniel 11:32 says, "The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action."
We are to pray, think, and act. The great Reality, three practical commands, and finally… a Great Promise
A Great Promise
Two phrases that I think are communicating basically the same thing:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (v. 7)
And the God of peace will be with you. (v. 9)
The peace of God and the God of peace. When the peace of God comes, it is because the God of peace has stepped in and said, “Anxiety, be gone! Fear, GO! Worry, FLEE!” Jesus, asleep in the stern of the boat as the waves crash over the side of the boat. He’s the God of peace. And when the disciples cry out to him in desperation to help, He gets up and says, “Peace, be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). When the peace of God comes to us, it is because the God of peace has made his presence known.
It’s interesting that the answer to prayer is NOT the removal of what worries us. God can do that, often does, but Paul is focused on something else. The answer is peace given to us by the God of peace. The peace of God fully loaded and totally sufficient. Paul describes it as “peace that surpasses our understanding…” our ability to comprehend.
And what does it do? Paul says this peace will do something. It will “guard”. The word guard indicates a military guard to protect from hostile invasion. Like the heavily armed secret service guarding the President - better than that - this peace will guard your hearts and minds. The peace of God guarding your heart. The heart is the command and control center of our spiritual life. When the heart is constantly weighed down by fear and anxiety, it paralyzes sanctification and stunts growth in Christ-likeness. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Your life, the strength of your life and the experience of life in the life in the Spirit flows from the heart. The peace of God will guard it in Christ Jesus.
It will also guard your mind. Your thoughts. Amazingly isn’t this exactly where we go wrong? When we find ourselves wringing our hands, fretting about this or that, often things we have NO control over, it’s not hard to trace the problem back to what we are thinking about. When the God of peace gives us His peace, it is like a bulwark for our minds.
Someone might look at this and say, “Is this a way of earning peace?” If you pray enough, think hard enough, and do what pleases him, then he will give you peace. It’s not like we are doing our part and then God is doing his in the sense of workload. Rather, think of the anxious person who hears these words and responds, as a desperately thirsty wanderer in the desert, who hears that just over that horizon is an oasis where you can get a drink.
Brothers and sisters… in a world that is on fire… may we be men and women who know, walk in, and spread the peace of God. It does NOT mean we are wimps or pushovers or get walked all over. There is a time to act, there is a time to fight. But we do it from PEACE and our aim is peace. In an anxious, fretful, confused, angry world, maybe we ought to seek to represent the God of peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)