Teaching series from Philippians

The Peace of God & The God of Peace

Philippians 4:4-9

Teaching t12681


Brief setting (MAP).  Paul now states a tremendous promise (read 4:7,9b).  No matter what my circumstances are, no matter whether I can understand how it happens or not – the God of peace can be with me, and His peace can guard by heart and mind.  What an attractive, tantalizing promise!  And this is not some superficial, sentimental slogan (e.g., “Don’t worry – be happy!”) uttered by a wealthy man living a cushy life.  Paul is imprisoned and facing possible execution when he says this!  His theology is not some ivory-tower abstraction; it is sustaining him where the rubber meets the road.

This morning we will look at this passage and other biblical passages to answer two key questions about God’s peace: What is it? and How can we access it?

What is God’s peace?

Jesus helps to answer this question during His last conversation with His disciples before He went to the cross.  He told them that they would soon receive His Spirit, and this His Spirit would provide them with all of the resources they needed to carry out His will (Jn. 14:16,17a,18a).  One of those resources was what Jesus called “My peace.”

Read Jn. 14:27.  His peace is not like the world’s peace – merely an external absence of war or hostility, something very fragile and superficial.  The Roman world was experiencing that kind of peace under the “Pax Romana” – but it was wholly inadequate.[1]  Instead, Jesus’ peace supernaturally replaces panic and dread regardless of adverse circumstances. (This sounds a lot like Phil. 4:7.) 

Read Jn. 16:33.  Again, Jesus’ peace is not the absence of tribulation (very broad word – affliction, adversity, difficulty, etc.).  Instead, His peace provides supernatural courage to face tribulation victoriously.

SUMMARIZE: God’s peace is His Spirit imparting a deep assurance that He is with you and will see you through even when your world is being rocked.  This peace is both supernatural and experiential.  Who would not want this?  This claim leads to our second question . . .

How can we access God’s peace?

Another passage about God’s peace that gives us the basic answer to this question (read Rom. 15:13).  On the one hand, this passage repeats what we have already learned – that God’s peace is experiential (like hope and joy), and that God’s peace comes by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But it also teaches that God’s peace is given to those who trust in Him.  So ultimately, our lack of peace signals a lack of or an inadequate trust in the God of the Bible.  What does this “trust in God” look like?  The rest  of our passage provides several practical answers . . .

Read 4:4.  Paul said something like this earlier (read 3:1).  “Rejoice” is in the present tense (“keep rejoicing”) and “always” – this is to become a habit, practiced by choice (imperative mood) each day.  It is a “safeguard” to be reminded to do this because we naturally neglect and/or wander away from doing this.

“Rejoice in the Lord” is an Old Testament technical term that means to recall and ponder how God has saved me, and to praise and thank Him for this.[2]  This salvation includes not only rescue from God’s judgment and lostness, but also the many other spiritual blessings God has showered on us through Christ.  Ajith Fernando summarizes some of these blessings: “We can describe the joy that the gospel brings as ‘the joy of the Lord’ (Neh. 8:10) or as ‘rejoicing in the Lord’ (Phil. 4:4).  This joy has as its base some great truths that undergird our lives:

• We believe in God.

• We believe that He loves us and that in love He gave us His Son to die for us.

• We believe that He has made us His children and looks after us and that He's for us so that no one can stand against us.

• He lives in us, banishing loneliness.

• He turns the bad things that happen to us into good things.

• He loves us more than the unkindness that we experience in life, and He is able to comfort and to heal us when we are wounded.

• He has prepared an inheritance that we will receive after this life that is more wonderful than anything we could ever imagine.

These wonderful truths and many, many others are the basis upon which we have built our lives.  They open the way for a love relationship with God.  While (this) relationship is essentially an expe­riential love relationship, the basis of our relationship is this list of objective, unchanging truths.  We can cling to them when everything about us seems gloomy . . . The almighty God loves us and looks after us . . . We have something more reliable than fickle (circumstantial) experiences.  Our life is founded on unchanging truths that open us to a love relationship with an unchanging God . . . What good news this is in a world characterized by so much uncer­tainty!”[3]

Of course, it’s impossible to rejoice in the Lord for your salvation unless you have actually received this salvation!  The Bible teaches that you can be saved only through Jesus (Acts 4:12) because only Jesus has paid the penalty for your sins.  The Bible also teaches that you will be saved if you simply call upon Jesus to save you (Rom. 10:9).  One of the first things you will notice when you do this is the ability to do what seemed strange before – to personally appreciate and thank Him for saving you!

Unfortunately, Christians often do not continue to rejoice in the Lord.  Instead, they take their salvation for granted – and as a result, lose the peace of God.  But Paul, whose heart was guarded by God’s peace although imprisoned, did this regularly and proactively.  Read Eph. 1:3 and summarize 1:4-14.  In fact, rejoicing in the Lord was so central to him that he even interrupted his letters to do this (read Rom. 5:1-5 and explain it).  Passages like this are great to memorize and meditate on!  It is also great to summarize these salvation-blessings in your own words, like Fernando did (EXAMPLES).

How often do you rejoice in the Lord?  Is there a connection between your answer and how much you experience God’s peace?

Next, Paul gives us two important reactive ways to trust in God so we can have His peace.

Read 4:5.  This is about how to reactively trust God when people annoy us (EXAMPLES).  What’s your natural response to annoying people?  Mine is to try to get them to stop being annoying or to get away from them as soon as possible.  But these responses are pursuing external peace, and they will prevent you from securing God’s peace.

There is another response for those who know Christ.  When we notice that someone is bugging us, we can remind myself that they are small (unable to define, control, ruin me), and that God (who is very big and utterly for me) is “near” (right here with me; will soon come to rule).  Then, on that basis, we can choose to express forbearance/gentleness (epieikes) to them.[4]  This will result in God’s peace replacing your annoyance.

4:6 is about how to reactively trust God when we have anxious thoughts and feelings.  What’s your natural response to anxious thoughts and feelings?  Mine is to ignore/suppress them or, if that doesn’t work, to obsess on them and (sometimes) medicate myself through drink, distraction, etc.  But, again, these responses are pursuing external peace, and they will prevent you from securing God’s peace.

There is another response for those who know Christ.  The moment we notice our anxious thoughts, we can take them personally to God by: pouring them out to Him (supplication: “Father I feel so anxious about X!”), recalling promises that connect to them and thanking God for His promised faithfulness, and then asking Him for what is needed.  I can say from much experience that this requires determination – but that it will result in God’s peace replacing our anxieties. (This is how to “cast all your anxieties on to Him” – 1 Pet. 5:7).

To be honest, there are times when I find myself unable to respond with this kind of trust in God.  In these cases, I share this with another Christian friend, pray with them about, and listen to any counsel they may have.  This almost always helps me to trust in God and begin to experience His peace.

In 4:8, Paul gives us yet another proactive way to trust in God (read).  This is much more general than rejoicing in the Lord (4:4).  “Whatever” and “if there is any,” and the long list of adjectives (“true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellence, worthy of praise”) refer to all of the good things in our lives.  This world is fallen and broken and has some terrible and ugly things in it.  But it also has much goodness  – from a tasty cup of coffee, to a beautiful sunrise, to a pleasant greeting from your work associate, to a polite driver, to the good qualities in your spouse/child/friend, to the health to walk, to a bed to sleep in, etc.  The key issue is whether you will take these blessings for granted, or develop an increasing appreciation of them.

G. K. Chesterton, a huge influence on C. S. Lewis, became suicidally depressed in college.  He later said that “I hung on to (my sanity) by one thin thread of thanks.  I (had discovered a) way of looking at things, with a sort of mystical minimum of gratitude.”[5]  This gratitude for his existence eventually led him to faith in Christ.  He practiced Phil. 4:8 like few others besides Paul.  Here is an example:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another!
Why am I allowed two?[6]

“Dwell on” (logizomai) is an accounting term – to count, to enter into a ledger.  This may be where the maxim “count your blessings” comes from.  What are you going to keep careful track of – the bad things or the good things in your life?  Most of us (myself included) naturally feel entitled to good things, so we keep track of the bad things.  This produces a sour disposition, discontent, anger, self-pity, etc. – all of which are antitheses of peace, and are highly toxic to our souls and others.  Instead, Paul says, we need to actively look for every good thing that God freely pours into my life, ponder these things, and consciously give thanks to God for them.  This focus is a form of trust in God’s goodness (Jas. 1:17) – and it unleashes the Holy Spirit to mediate His peace into your soul.

How often do you do this?  Is there a connection between your answer and how much you experience God’s peace?


Read 4:9.  This is not just a super-general exhortation to imitate Paul.  It is (in context) a pointed exhortation to practice (prasso) the above faith imperatives, as they saw Paul do this when he was with them.[7]  This is the path to increasing peace!

NEXT WEEK: Phil. 4:10-23 – “Contentment & Generosity”

[1] Epictetus (55-135 AD) wrote: "While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from (anxiety), grief, and envy.  He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even for outward peace."  Cited in Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, p. 112.

[2] See 1 Sam. 2:1; Isa. 25:9; 61:10; Ps. 40:16; 63:1-8; 94:17-19; 116; 130,131; etc.

[3] Ajith Fernando, The Call To Joy & Pain (Crossway Books, 2007), pp. 22,23,26.

[4] “The weak are always anxiously trying to defend their power and dignity. He who has heavenly authority can display saving, forgiving and redeeming clemency even to His personal enemies.” Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 2, p. 589). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[5] G. K. Chesterton, cited in Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), p. 25.

[6] G. K. Chesterton, cited in Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), p. 27.

[7] “Vv 8–9 constitute a single sentence in Greek that is marvelous for its rhetorical expression and for the loftiness of the moral standards it sets forth. It begins with τὸ λοιπόν, “and last of all,” which signals not the end of the letter or even its near end, but rather the last of the imperatives in a parenthetic section . . .” Hawthorne, G. F. (2004). Philippians (Vol. 43, p. 248). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.