The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in May, 2022*
Sermon Audio: The God of Peace (Phil 4:2-9)
Do you ever feel like your life is spent responding to what happens rather than exercising control over what happens? Like the difference between a raft floating on the ocean, victim to the currents and winds, entirely different than the cruise liner cutting along wherever it wills. Our emotions, our time, our relationships, our thoughts—all of it is consumed with the next thing wave that crashes upon our life. From the stresses of fixating on how to pay our bills or that tension building with a friend, to the trivialities of wasting time on social media or letting the countdown timer on Netflix usher you into another hour of television you don’t need—it is easy to feel like we are helpless.
When my wife and I were first married we took a class on helping us get on the same page with a budget and finances. I had always grown up with the idea that budgeting was something you did on the back end, it was how you found out where your money went in the past month and then you just hopped that all was well. The class we attended presented a different perspective: it invited you to tell your money where it was going. And this is similar to how the Bible describes the way Christians should think about life. We are not victims to the forces of life and circumstance. Of course, I am not saying this means that we can order circumstances around us in whatever we want—not at all. In fact, we acknowledge that God alone has the power to do such things. But something has occurred in the interior life of a Christian that enables him or her to have agency and choice in how they respond to life. We are not life rafts floating along, hoping for a favorable current. Rather, we have an engine inside us that enables to overcome the headwinds of our circumstances and choose how we respond. Charles Wesley describes this well in the hymn he wrote in reflecting upon his conversion:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, My heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee.
Here is what the gospel tells us: we were utterly helpless, stuck in our sin like a prisoner. Then, one day, God opened up our ears, our minds, our hearts to receive and believe the message of Christ—His death on the cross, His resurrection, His atonement for our sins, and His invitation to eternal life. But God doesn’t leave us in the shackles of sin; He sets us free and invites us to follow Him. He gives us His Spirit that empowers us to live a different life. We are not helpless.
We see a series of commands in our passage today where Paul looks at different situations where we normally feel that we are at the mercy of circumstance and Paul reminds us that this isn’t true. We can choose how we respond. Turn with me to the book of Philippians:
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Phil 4:2-9
The overriding theme that stitches these rapid fire commandments is the idea of “peace.”
We don’t know much about Euodia, Syntche, or Clement other than what we find here in this passage. Euodia and Syntche are two women who are members of the Philippian church who appear to be in a quarrel that has become at least significant enough that Paul feels the need to publicly address it in the letter. Remember, this letter would have been read before the entire church, so these ladies must have been in a conflict that was outward, obvious, and serious. We read, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life,” (Phil 4:2-3).
Notice three things Paul does here to address the conflict between these two women:
1. He asks the ladies to agree “in the Lord.” He reminds them both that they are both united to Christ, and so whatever disagreement they have with each other they must first fundamentally remember their basic identity that supersedes any other disagreement. They are both “in Christ.”
2. Paul calls on another individual a “faithful companion”—perhaps the pastor or another trusted co-laborer with Paul who was well known—to intervene in the conflict and to serve as a conflict mediator of sorts.
3. Paul reminds both of these women and the rest of the church that their conflict is not the final, or only word about them. He reminds them that they both labored at Paul’s side for the sake of the gospel, that they labored with the whole company of Paul’s workers. Paul also reminds them that their names are in the “book of life.” This is a book we can read of at the end of Revelation (see Rev 20:11-15) which possesses the names of all those whom Christ has saved. Paul wants these women and the rest of the church to know that, whatever their disagreement is, it is an “in house” disagreement.
This provides helpful instruction for us when we become divisive with one another. We should always remember that the brother or sister we are arguing with is fundamentally “in Christ.” This means that sometimes we may need the help of a “faithful companion” to mediate a difficult situation. We should also keep in mind that this conflict is not the only thing that defines and marks this other person. We should keep clear categories of “theological triage” for this disagreement, remembering where this disagreement falls on the ladder of importance and responding accordingly.
We should be eager to pursue peace, as Paul reminded the Ephesians, “1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Eph 4:1-3). Our peace between one another is something we should be eager to maintain because we have been filled with the Spirit and our peace together testifies to the peace we have with God.
Peace with God
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,” (Phil 4:4). Joy has been a repeated theme in Philippians (mentioned 15x), whether it be Paul rejoicing (Phil 1:4; 1:18; 2:2; 2:17; 2:19; 2:28; 4:1; 4:10), Paul working for the Philippians’ joy (1:25), or Paul commanding the Philippians to rejoice (2:18; 2:29; 3:1; 4:4). The big question, of course, is how on earth does anyone do this? How do you rejoice always? Further, how can Paul command us to rejoice? How many parents have tried out telling your kid, “You’re going to do it, and you’re going to like it!” Has that ever worked? And yet, here Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord”?
In Romans 5, Paul explains: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” (Rom 5:1-2). What is this verse telling us? Sinners who declared war on God can find peace with God through Jesus Christ. Imagine a good king who rules his land fairly and justly. He establishes a law to govern the kingdom and all the citizens agree to it. But when the citizens rebel against the law, the king turns to the rebels and tells them, “If you will come back to me, I will personally pay the penalty of your debt.” This is what Paul is saying has happened: rebels like us have been made right with God, we have peace with him. And notice, the peace with God then leads to rejoicing, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Joy here isn’t lighthearted frivolity; it doesn’t refer to the laugh track of some sitcom. It is a deep joy that can persist even in the midst of sorrow.
We rejoice because our great dilemma has been solved, our sin is taken away and our guilt atoned for. Hell is no longer our destination, but eternal life, and nothing on heaven or earth can alter our eternal destiny, so we have every reason to rejoice. But that isn’t only all. When we “rejoice in the Lord” we are rejoicing that we are being connected to the source of all joy: God Himself. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” (Ps 16:11). God command us to rejoice because we have been reconciled with the God of all joy, have come into the presence of Joy itself. This is why Paul commands us to rejoice
Practical tips to rejoice always in the Lord:
– Consider the liturgies of your life.
o Read your Bible and pray every day so that you may keep your heart warm to the Lord.
o Prioritize Christian community and corporate worship.
o Sing hymns and Christian songs—even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll be surprised at how your heart may change.
o Remove practices that deaden your joy.
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand,” Phil 4:5. What does this mean? The word “reasonable” there could also be translated “gentleness.” It has less to do with logic, or an ability to use reason in an argument, and has more to do with fairness, selflessness, and a desire to prioritize the need of others, even at cost to yourself. This is what is to mark off and highlight God’s people. We have peace with God and are given God, so we are people who should reflect God in our lives—and what is God like with us? Certainly He is powerful and righteous and just, but He is also gentle, compassionate, patient, kind—willing to empty Himself for us.
What are you known for? Would your fellow employees or subordinates describe you as “reasonable”? Would your spouse? Parents, would your children say that your gentleness is what marks your parenting? The parent who relies on “shock and awe” displays of anger to intimidate their children into submission is not only growing the seeds of bitterness and resentment in their children, but is also fundamentally misrepresenting God. That isn’t what God is like. God can be stern with His children, He disciplines them, and He does get angry—but God is slow to anger, and His anger lasts but for a moment. It is not the organizing principle or defining characteristic that marks Him. Rather, He is “gentle and lowly of heart.”
Angry, outraged people who have to rely on fury and intimidation are weak people—they are insecure and afraid that maybe they are wrong, so they overcompensate with intensity. “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone,” (Prov 25:15). Gentleness isn’t about caving on our convictions of what we think is right or wrong, it is about the quiet strength that comes from the settled certainty of the Lordship of Christ and a commitment to follow His path, even when it takes us into lowliness.
Why does Paul mention “The Lord is at hand.” He is referring to the imminent return of Christ; Jesus is coming again soon and, I think, Paul mentions that here so that we need not feel tempted to create our own version of justice, attempt to balance the scales ourselves. We can simply leave that to Him.
Peace that Surpasses Understanding
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:6-7)
We will consider this passage again in a few weeks more thoroughly, but some brief comments will suffice for now. Anxiety may be the thing that feels most difficult to have any control over. In 2018, 39% of Americans said they felt more anxious about their health, safety, finances, politics, and relationships than they did just a year before that. In October of 2020, that number was up to 62%. Certainly, covid and quarantines have had an outsized impact on that. But, even setting that aside, our culture has taken the idea that to be “stressed out” is normal, maybe even a sign that you are a competent, responsible adult. How can we “not be anxious”?
Anxiety is imagining a future without Jesus in it. Anxiety is the consequence of you and me attempting to be God. It is the fear of the unknown coupled with the certainty of our limitations, projected forward in time. We can be anxious about anything.
Anxiety is when you talk to yourself about your problems; Paul invites us to instead talk to God about them.
Prayer is a general term that refers to communicating with God; supplication refers to making requests, asking God for things; and thanksgiving, of course, is thanking God for what He has done. And it is that last bit that we may be prone to forget—with thanksgiving. While I was in seminary I entered a few seasons where my anxiety got the best of me. I was working two jobs, I was a full time graduate student, and we had just had our second child. Pretty soon, I was waking up in the middle of the night from having stress nightmares and struggled to sleep at all. I had always had this verse memorized and began meditating on it, asking God to take my burdens off me, but I realized that I had completely excised “with thanksgiving” from the verse. I was making prayers and supplications, but not offering thanksgiving. So, every night before I went to sleep here is what I started doing: as I recited this passage, I would begin to thank God for everything that I could recall God had done for me. And as I began to mentally reflect on them, it slowly dawned on me just how many things God had done: namely, in giving me Christ, forgiving my sins, but also in giving me my wife, my precious children, providing our home, providing the money we needed when we weren’t sure how we were going to make it, the car that perfectly fit our family’s needs, and on and on it went. And slowly, like a life raft slowly inflating with air underneath me, I felt myself buoy upward with hope and confidence: God hasn’t failed me yet; He is faithful to provide. He will provide in this situation too. And he did.
And what happens when we do this? Paul tells us, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:7). Earlier, we reflected on how we have peace with God; here Paul shows how to receive peace from God. The peace which God Himself possesses. This is a peace which transcends all normal explanations, a peace that does not depend on your circumstances, but on the reminder of who your heavenly Father is. This peace then becomes a suit of armor which will protect you and guard you from the crippling power of anxiety. And armor is a great example–armor is intended to be used in battle. Meaning, there is still danger around you. The peace of God does not come to eradicate all the reasons for anxiety in your life; the risks and danger are still there. But in the midst of the danger, there is a peace that surpasses understanding that guards your heart and mind through it all.
Peace of Mind
Lastly, Paul invites us to fill our mind with what is true and fixate our eyes on what is good. “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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil 4:8-9).
Paul is concerned with the thoughts we entertain in our minds and the models we have lived out before us. From the fantasies we let roll out in our minds, to the content we consume online, to the ideologies we flirt with—Paul invites us to more critically evaluate them. Is it true? Is it honorable? Is it just? Is it pure? And on, and on it goes. Friend, do you let your mind run free to fantasize or catastrophize about every possible thing? Do you consider how the TV shows you are binging are shaping what your heart considers to be “lovely” and “excellent”? Don’t passively sit back and let your thoughts or media habits run the show; sift them through Phil 4:8. You become what you behold.
And if we pattern our life after Paul’s teaching “The God of peace” will be with us. As the great hymn reminds us:
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
In the final book of the Lord of the Rings, we find Sam and Frodo struggling through the Land of Shadow. Frodo has been carrying the Ring across all of Middle-Earth, and at this point the ring has hollowed him out spiritually. He is just a shell of a person now, consumed by fear and dread. It us up to Sam to bear his friend along to the end of their task, but as they trudge through the ugly, blackened land of Mordor, Sam’s hopes begin to flag. Until, one night while making camp, he looks up:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.” – The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, “The Land of Shadow”