THE PEACE THAT SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING

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PHILIPPIANS 4:5b-7

RESTING ON A CONFIDENT FAITH IN THE LORD

The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, (4:5b–6a)

There is no greater source of spiritual stability than the confidence of knowing that the Lord is near. Engus (near) can mean near in space or near in time. Some take engus in a chronological sense, either as a reference to Christ’s return (3:20–21; James 5:8), or to believers’ death, which ushers them into the Lord’s presence (1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8). While those are comforting truths, it seems that Paul’s emphasis here is on the Lord’s nearness in the sense of His presence. He is near both to hear the cry of the believer’s heart, and to help and strengthen them. In Psalm 73:28 the psalmist declared, “The nearness of God is my good” (cf. Pss. 34:18; 75:1; 119:151; 145:18). Because of God’s nearness, believers should not be fearful, anxious, or wavering. They should not collapse but be strong and stable (Josh. 1:6–9; Pss. 27:14; 125:1).

Unfortunately, when they face trials, believers often seem to forget what they know about God. They lose their confident trust in Him, lose their self-control and spiritual stability, and are defeated. Even strong believers are not immune to an occasional lapse, as an incident from the life of David reveals.

Seeking refuge from Saul’s relentless pursuit, David sought asylum in the Philistine city of Gath. Some of the Philistines recognized him and said to Achish, the king of Gath, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” (1 Sam. 21:11). Realizing that his true identity had become known, “David . . . greatly feared Achish king of Gath” (v. 12). Instead of trusting God to deliver him, David panicked and “disguised his sanity before [the Philistines], and acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard” (v. 13). His act produced the desired results: “Then Achish said to his servants, ‘Behold, you see the man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act the madman in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?’” (vv. 14–15). As a result, “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam” (1 Sam. 22:1). There, with the crisis past, David had time to reflect on how he should have handled the situation in Gath. In Psalm 57, written at that time, he reaffirmed the truths about God that he had temporarily forgotten:

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me. He will send from heaven and save me; He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Selah. God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth. (Ps. 57:1–3)

Remembering the character of God restored David’s spiritual stability and his joy, enabling him to declare, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!” (Ps. 57:7).

Like David, the prophet Habakkuk faced a crisis. But unlike David, he maintained his spiritual stability. Habakkuk the prophet cried out to God about His apparent indifference to Judah’s apostasy:

How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2–4)

To Habakkuk’s dismay, God answered that things were going to get even worse:

Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared; their justice and authority originate with themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards and keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swooping down to devour. All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. They mock at kings and rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble to capture it. Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god. (Hab. 1:5–11)

Instead of answering Habakkuk’s original question, God’s reply raised a second even more vexing question: How could He use a godless, pagan nation to chasten His people?

Faced with Judah’s apostasy, the impending Chaldean invasion, and his own unanswered questions, Habakkuk reminded himself of what he knew to be true about God: “Are You not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:12–13). Habakkuk reminded himself of God’s eternity, faithfulness, justice, sovereignty, and holiness.

Despite the trials, doubts, and questions he faced, Habakkuk’s faith and trust in God stood firm. He affirmed the importance of living a life of faith in Habakkuk 2:4: “The righteous will live by his faith.” Both initially in justification, and continually in sanctification, the Christian life is a life of faith in God. As he reminded himself of the greatness of his God, Habakkuk’s faith grew stronger. By the end of his prophecy he was able to sing triumphantly of God’s glorious nature and power,

Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17–19)

Habakkuk’s faith in God made him a spiritually stable man—so much so that even if the normal, dependable things in life suddenly collapsed, he would still rejoice in God.

The Lord who is near is the almighty, true, and living God revealed in Scripture. Those who delight themselves in His holy power, love, and wisdom and cultivate a deep knowledge of Him by studying and meditating on His Word will live by the foundation of that truth and be spiritually stable. Because of the presence of God, believers should be anxious for nothing. Nothing is outside of His sovereign control or too difficult for Him to handle. A low view of God leads to a myriad of problems in the church:

Weak, struggling, unstable Christians need to build their strength on the foundation of what the Bible says about God. The result of the church’s failure to equip believers with the knowledge of God’s character and works is a lack of understanding of His nature and purposes, and a subsequent lack of confidence in Him. The shifting sands of shallow or faulty theology provide no stable footing for the believer.

Anxious, fretful, worried, harried believers are inherently unstable and vulnerable to trials and temptations. Anxiety is both a violation of Scripture and totally unnecessary. In a magnificent passage in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out the sinful folly of anxiety:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:25–34)

REACTING TO PROBLEMS WITH THANKFUL PRAYER

Harmony in the fellowship, joy in the Lord, contentment in circumstances, and confident trust in God are the first steps on the path to spiritual stability.

but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (4:6b-7)

Our society admires people who stand firm, hold to their convictions, are courageous and bold, and cannot be bought, intimidated, or defeated. If courage of conviction, integrity, credibility, and an uncompromising devotion to virtue are admirable qualities for people of the world, how much more essential are they for Christians? The very name “Christian” identifies believers with Jesus Christ—the most perfect model of uncompromising, courageous integrity who ever lived. The New Testament repeatedly commands believers to follow Him by standing firm in submission to God (cf. 1:27; 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 1:24; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 6:11, 13, 14; 1 Thess. 3:8; 2 Thess. 2:15; Heb. 3:6, 14; 1 Peter 5:9, 12).

Spiritually stable people react to trials with thankful prayer. Such prayer is the antidote to worry and the cure for anxiety. The theology of prayer is not in view here, but rather its priority and the attitude the believer brings to it. The three synonyms used here, prayer, supplication, and requests, all refer to specific, direct offerings of petition to God. The assumption of the text is that believers will cry out to God when they have a need or a problem, not with doubting, questioning, or even blaming God, but with thanksgiving (cf. Col. 4:2). Instead of having a spirit of rebellion against what God allows, believers are to trustingly cast “all [their] anxiety on Him, because He cares for [them]” (1 Peter 5:7).

God’s promises support the wisdom of gratitude. He has promised that no trial believers face will be too difficult for them to handle (1 Cor. 10:13). He has also promised to use everything that happens in believers’ lives for their ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Even suffering leads to their being perfected, confirmed, strengthened, and established (1 Peter 5:10). Believers should also be thankful for God’s power (Ps. 62:11; 1 Peter 1:5; Rev. 4:11), for His promises (Deut. 1:11; 2 Cor. 1:20), for the hope of relief from suffering (2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Peter 5:10), for the hope of glory (Rom. 5:2; Col. 1:27), for His mercy (Rom. 15:9), and for His perfecting work in them (Phil. 1:6).

People become worried, anxious, and fearful because they do not trust in God’s wisdom, power, or goodness. They fear that God is not wise enough, strong enough, or good enough to prevent disaster. It may be that this sinful doubt is because their knowledge of Him is faulty, or that sin in their lives has crippled their faith. Thankful prayer brings release from fear and worry, because it affirms God’s sovereign control over every circumstance, and that His purpose is the believer’s good (Rom. 8:28).

Once the sinner has made “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1), that is, in salvation having ceased to be God’s enemy and become His child, he can enjoy the peace of God, the inward tranquility of soul granted by God. It is a confident trust in His flawless wisdom and infinite power that provides calm amid the storms of life. Isaiah wrote of this supernatural peace: “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3). Paul prayed for the Romans that “the God of hope [would] fill [them] with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom. 15:13). In his high priestly blessing on Israel Aaron said, “The Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:26). In Psalm 29:11 David wrote, “The Lord will bless His people with peace.” Shortly before His death Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). God’s peace is not for everyone, however; “‘There is no peace for the wicked,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 48:22), neither with God, nor from God.

Paul further defines this supernatural peace as that which surpasses all comprehension. It transcends human intellectual powers, human analysis, human insights, and human understanding. It is superior to human scheming, human devices, and human solutions, since its source is the God whose judgments are unsearchable and whose ways are unfathomable (Rom. 11:33). It is experienced in a transcendent calm that lifts the believer above the most debilitating trial. Since it is a supernatural work, it resists any human comprehension. The real challenge of the Christian life is not to eliminate every unpleasant circumstance; it is to trust in the good purpose of our infinite, holy, sovereign, powerful God in every difficulty. Those who honor Him by trusting Him will experience the blessings of His perfect peace.

When realized in believers’ lives, God’s peace will guard them from anxiety, doubt, and worry. Phroure (will guard) is a military term used of soldiers on guard duty. The picture would have been familiar to the Philippians, since the Romans stationed troops in Philippi to protect their interests in that part of the world. Just as soldiers guard and protect a city, so God’s peace guards and protects believers who confidently trust in Him. Paul’s use of the phrase hearts and minds was not intended to imply a distinction between the two; he was merely making a comprehensive reference to the believer’s inner person. Once again, Paul reminds his readers that true peace is not available through any human source, but only in Christ Jesus.

(Source: John MacArthur – New Testament Commentary – Philippians)

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