One evening, after a day of teaching crowds of people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee from a boat, Jesus decided it was time He and His disciples got away from the crowds for a bit. He said to His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” As they were sailing along, Jesus went to the back of the boat, laid down on a cushion and went to sleep. A fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, the waves got so big they started to break over the boat and fill it up. The disciples were freaking out, terrified, panicked. Jesus just continued to sleep amidst the chaos… until they woke Him, “Teacher, do you care that we are perishing?” He sighed, sat up, turned His face toward the sea, and said, “Hush! Be still!” The wind quit and the sea became perfectly calm. He turned to His disciples and said, “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?”
Who do you identify with in this story? When we have turbulence and turmoil, storms going on in our lives; when they’re not happy with your performance at work, you’re not able to meet the demands and might get laid off, and you’re not sure where to find another job, can you be calm? When your health is failing and the doctors have said, “It doesn’t look good,” when you’ve lost some loved ones, or there’s bitterness and conflict in your family, could you not worry? When there’s violence in your neighborhood and people are threatening you, are you free of fear? When your house and yard are a mess, your washing machine is on its last leg, your fence is rotting because you haven’t had time to paint it, but you want to spend more time with the kids, yet there’s no end in sight, can you be calm in the midst of it all, and lie down and go to sleep, or are you too full of worry and anxiety and fear?
It’d sure be nice, wouldn’t it?
… despite whatever turmoil or scary things or chaos there are in our lives, to be able to be okay, to still be calm and at peace? If only we had the power like Jesus to be able to say to the storms in our lives, “Hush! Be still!” and the storms would obey, then we could have peace and sleep in the storms like Jesus, right? Well, according to Jesus we don’t have to have the power to calm our storms to have His peace. John 14:27, talking to His disciples just before leaving them to go to the cross, He said, “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 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” There are going to be tribulations. You’re going to be caught up in storms. The world around you and your circumstances are not going to be very peaceful, and you’re not going to be able to change that and yet you can still have peace because of Jesus.
And it’d sure be nice to not only have more peace within ourselves, but to have more peace with people, wouldn’t it? Proverbs 17:1, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it, Than a house full of feasting with strife.”
Picture two homes. One home is huge, in a gated community, next to a ski resort; it’s got new cars parked out front, inside is beautiful, lots of nice things, the family has lots of money, every meal is like fine dining… But inside that house there is strife and yelling and name calling and door slamming, they can’t get along with one another. The other home is a tiny mobile home in a trailer park, they don’t have any nice things, they can’t even afford good food; often it’s rice or beans for dinner. But in that home they are kind to one another, they are respectful of one another, they love each other dearly, there’s peace in that house. Solomon says that little home in the trailer park is a much happier home than the big one by the ski resort. The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our life, much more so than the quality of the things we own or the food we eat.
What Kind of Peace?
The apostle Paul said the fruit of the Spirit (what the Spirit of Christ wants to help us develop in our hearts and lives), is not only love and joy, as we’ve talked about, but it’s also peace. People debate about what kind of peace Paul had in mind. Peace with whom? Peace with God? Is he talking about friendship and harmony with God? Or does he mean peace with one another? Or broader than that, peace with our neighbors and the people we work with and others? Or does he have in mind more, peace in ourselves, inner peace, akin to joy, an inner serenity, a sense of well-being, a sense of okay-ness, and contentment? I imagine if we could ask Paul, “What kind of peace is a part of the fruit of the Spirit, peace with God, peace with others, or peace in ourselves?”, I imagine his answer would be, “Yes.” I can’t imagine Paul saying that he didn’t mean one of those sorts of peace. Throughout the writings of Paul and the rest of Scripture we find that peace with God and peace with people generally (there are exceptions, but generally) and peace in ourselves is all God’s will for His people.
I’d like us to look primarily at just one passage on this subject. It is so full of practical instruction and truth for finding more peace, that I thought our time would be well spent in just this one passage. I’d like us to turn to Philippians 4. Really the entire chapter speaks to the subject. But we’re just going to look at the first 9 verses.
We Must Be In the Lord
After talking a lot about how we are to think and live as Christians, Paul says in Philippians 4:1, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” That’s of course the foundational essential if we’re going to have peace. We must be in the Lord, in a right relationship with Him, and we have to stand firm in the Lord. Anyone who is outside of Christ (says Ephesians 2:12) has no hope and is without God in world. There’s no peace, no friendship with God, without trusting and following the One He sent for us and having His blood cover our sins.
Did you know we were made for God? We were made to have a relationship with God. Acts 17:27, “…they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” Ecclesiastes 3:11, “…he has put eternity into man’s heart …” We have this understanding of eternity and in our hearts we long to experience that (and be okay for that). Augustine in the 5th century put it well, he said, “Our hearts were made for Thee o God, and we are restless until we find rest in Thee.” And I don’t know who came up with the image, but it’s a great, truthful metaphor: In every man or woman, there is a God-shaped hole in their souls. It feels empty and hollow, and so we try to fill that void. We try to fill it with money, with relationships with people, with status, with fame, etc. But it’s always like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole; it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t satisfy, it doesn’t fulfill us. We don’t really find peace and satisfaction until we have a relationship with the One we were made for. When we find God, we find that answer to eternity that we long for, and then we can have peace within ourselves. And once that void is filled, we’ll find the power to be not so self-concerned and self-focused in your dealings with people; following Jesus is going to have us being kind and forgiving and generous and patient, and resultantly we’ll have better relationships with people.
So that is foundational for peace: we must be in the Lord, be trusting and obedient, and we must stand firm in the Lord.
We Must Be of the Same Mind in Christ
Then in verse 2 Paul goes from preaching to meddling. No congregation is perfect, even though the church at Philippi is Paul’s joy and crown, as he says. There’s these two ladies, Eudioa and Syntyche, who (as it appears) probably weren’t getting along with one another. And Paul calls them out by name. Can you imagine this, sitting there in the Philippian congregation; one of the elders stands up and says, “We got a letter from Paul. Epaphroditus brought it with him when he came in yesterday.” And then he reads the letter to the congregation. These two women are sitting on opposite sides of the room (as usual), perhaps each of them surrounded by their supporters. They’ve been nodding and saying “Amen” to everything Paul has been saying. Then all of the sudden, here in 4:2, they hear their names, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” I am sure each of them wanted to crawl under their seat. I don’t think Paul’s intention was to embarrass them, the issue was probably already common knowledge. But I think he does this because discord in a church needs to be resolved ASAP. Trouble between two members can become trouble between others as well, as people start taking sides. And discord in the church is discouraging; it gives others a bad impression of the church. And if translated literally here, it is, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” And that same mind that they are to share, that we are to share, is not just being on “the same page” kind of mind. It is what Paul has being talking about in Philippians. It’s a mind that is at least three things:
- It’s a mind, first of all, that is deeply concerned about the spread of the gospel more than earthly welfare. Philippians 1:27-28, “Only let your manner of life be worthy[h] of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents..” And Paul gave himself as an example of that mind in chapter 1. He wrote about how he takes joy in his imprisonment because his imprisonment has turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. Because he’s in prison, the guards are learning the gospel. And Christians in the area have been inspired by him to be more courageous in sharing the word of God with their neighbors. He cares about the spread of the gospel more than his earthly welfare.
- Secondly, this mind is one that is more concerned about what’s good for others than what’s good for self. Philippians 2:3-5, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” And then he talks about how Christ gave up equality with God because He was more concerned about what was good for us, than what was good for Himself.
- And thirdly, this mind is one that sees how insignificant earthly things are in comparison with knowing Christ and becoming like Him. Philippians 3:8-11, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” It’s a mind that sees how short lived and meaningless everything is that people care about in this world, and you see that in Christ you will be raised from the dead to stand before God with no sin and you will live in the age to come. Philippians 3:15, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”
If we all had that mind, that cares more than anything else about the spread of the gospel and what’s good for others and following Christ to glory, we would hardly ever have conflict. Usually conflict arises because somebody cares about earthly things and is selfish. We have conflict because we care about who gets the recognition. We care about who gets to be in charge of the program. We care about who gets their way on the color of the carpet or how we’re going to decorate or the arrangement of furniture or getting our fair share of things, etc. But if we want peace, we stand firm in the Lord, we stay trusting and obedient, and we have this mind that we don’t care about earthly things, but we care about others, following Christ to glory, and the spread of the gospel.
In verse 3 Paul asks somebody in the congregation to help these ladies share this Christ like mind, especially toward each other. He says, “Indeed, true companion, I ask you to help these women…” The word “companion”, suzugos, may actually be the man’s name. And Paul may be saying you, suzugos, companion, are truly a suzugos, companion; you’ve lived up to your name, and I want you to help these ladies. Or maybe it’s just a description of somebody who traveled with Paul who’s in the Philippian church at the time, and he’s got a good relationship with both these ladies. We don’t know who Paul is talking to there, but he wants him to talk with, encourage, and try to reconcile these ladies and help them to exhibit the mind of Christ toward each other. I think the Lord wants us to do that if we have a good relationship with two brothers or sisters who aren’t getting along; step in the middle and point out the good things about each of them and try to help them understand each other and see what Christ would do if He were them. Blessed are the peacemakers, He said.
And Paul doesn’t want these ladies to think, that he thinks little of them, and he doesn’t want the church there to just focus on this negative thing about them. He doesn’t want these ladies to just focus on the negative thing about each other. So he mentions in verse 3 that these ladies “have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers...”
And then Paul decides to mention here that the names of his fellow workers are in the book of life. The image is of a book in heaven that has the names of all those who are citizens of heaven, all those who have eternal life (just like cities in that day would have a register of all its citizens). Why does he mention the book of life? I suspect, because when you have the book of life in perspective, then all the things we fight and quarrel over become really insignificant, don’t they? When you have the book of life in view, you realize it really doesn’t matter if life is a little unfair for you here or you don’t get your way for a little while here; all that matters is that your name and the names of as many others as possible are written in that book.
“Rejoice in the Lord Always“
Verse 4 is crucial if we want peace, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” I suggested before that when Paul commands joy like that he’s not really saying, “Just tell your bad feelings to go away. And just make good feelings arise inside. Just will yourself to be happy;” nobody can do that. If we could just decide to feel good whenever we wanted we wouldn’t need Paul to tell us to do so; we’d already be doing that. But I really think it’s an exhortation to remember what we have in the Lord, to think about those things, and believe them and feel what we believe. Because we have lots and lots of reasons to believe those things. So it’s an exhortation to remember and realize that Jesus really did die on our behalf, all our sins are forgiven, God loves us as His children, God listens to our prayers, He’s taking care of us, He’s working to make in us a beautiful heart like His, our inheritance as His children is a new heavens and new earth, etc. As servants of Christ we’re part of the greatest work going on in all the world. Rejoice in the Lord means realize all that, think about it, and know it’s true. You keep all those unseen things in perspective and you recognize and feel it, that’s what verse 4 is saying.
“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.”
You may have “forbearance” in your version. I’ve read multiple Greek scholars on this particular Greek term and they say it is impossible to capture the sense of it in one English word. We don’t have an English word that is equivalent to it. It’s a word that means: for the good of another, you don’t insist on the letter of the law. And by “law,” I mean your rights and what’s fair for you and what others deserve. It means you are willing for things to be unfair for you, to forgo your rights, or for them to have it better than they deserve when it’s for their good. It’s the opposite of saying to people, “It’s not my turn. I cleaned up last time.” Or, “I’ve done my fair share already.” Or, “Why would I do that for you, what do I get out of it?” “We did it your way last time, we’re doing it my way this time.” Or, “You broke my thing. You pay for it.” See that’s insisting on my rights and what’s fair for me and what you deserve, that’s insisting on the letter of the law for your own benefit. It’s an attitude exhibited in all the strange things Jesus talked about, like when He said if someone forces you to go one mile, probably picturing a Roman soldier who legally could force a non-Roman citizen, like most Jews, to carry their baggage for up to a mile. So this soldier who, doesn’t care about your schedule or the things you’re trying to get done today, when he makes you carry his stuff one mile, I don’t want you to insist on the letter of the law and drop his stuff at one mile, give him the look, and stomp home. What I want you to do, though it’s not fair for you, though it’s not what this jerk deserves, is bewilder him with kindness and offer carry to his stuff for him for another mile. And then Jesus said, if somebody takes your shirt, I don’t want you to insist on your rights and demand it back. What I want you to do, is ask them if they’ve got all the clothes they need, and if they’re lacking a coat, then give them your coat too. You don’t worry about what’s fair for you and your rights and people getting the vengeance they deserve. Verse 5 is saying you exhibit this kind of generous attitude toward everyone that you interact with, this attitude where you’re concerned about other people and you’re willing to be disadvantaged for their good, you’re willing to lose things, to have less, to do more, to not be repaid, when it’s in their best interest. That attitude will result in more peaceful relationships with people. That’s how Christ brought us into peace with Himself and God; it wasn’t fair for Christ to go to the cross, but He had this attitude toward us, and that has brought us into this good relationship with God. And He calls us to be that same way with people and change peoples’ hearts by this unselfishness and caring about others. And I think that will also give us peace within ourselves. A lot of our stress and frustration and worry and anger are because we’re worried about us and what’s fair for us.
And we have a great power to help us with that attitude. We can know this truth that Paul states at the end of verse 5…
“The Lord is near.”
And that could be understood in two different ways, both are true. That could mean the Lord is near in terms of proximity, He’s close to us. He’s with us, watching over us. And that fits good because it suggests that the Lord is taking care of us, we don’t need to worry about ourselves. We are free to just be concerned about the honor of Christ, the spread of the gospel, and the welfare of others. Or, the phrase could be understood to mean the Lord is near in terms of time, that His second coming is near, in the sense that He is coming and His coming can be here at any moment. That also fits well here because that reminds us that the Lord is going to right all the wrongs, He is going to render to each according to their deeds, He will take care of what vengeance needs to be dealt out. Things are going to turn out fair and right and just, and actually more than fair for those who are in Christ. We don’t need to worry about that. We can have peace knowing that Lord is taking care of things and He’s taking care of us.
“Be anxious for nothing.“
That command can come across as shocking as verse 4, where we’re told to rejoice always. How can we not be anxious when the cancer is back? When we don’t know how we’re going to pay the bills? How can we not worry about anything? Like the command to rejoice, the command to not be anxious, means to realize some things that are true because you are in Christ. Realize that the Lord is near, with us, and He can command the storm to cease, is in the boat with us, and He loves us, realize it’s all very temporary. And it will all be okay. Yeah, some waves may hit you. You may get wet, you may get cold, you may slip on the deck. But you’re going to be fine because the Lord is in the boat. You may not meet the deadline, you might lose your job, your health problem may not get better, you may die, but the storm will pass and you are going to be fine… more than fine.
And then he says, rather than worrying about things,
“in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Instead of worrying about it, pray about it. Turn your cares into prayers. Do you realize that if you’ve done what you can to take care of the issue and you’ve been praying about it, then the matter is in God’s hands? What better hands are there for any trouble of ours to be in? If you’ve done what you can and prayed about it, it’s in the hands of one who is wise beyond comprehension and who has the power to take care of it and who loves you more than you even realize. Whatever is in His hands He will take of in the best way. I’ve found that little prayer brings only little peace. Big prayer brings big peace. Like if you’re stressed out about something, and you’re trying to get all the chores done, and so you just send up a prayer real quick; I’ve found that only brings a little peace. Whereas I’ve found greater peace, by eliminating all distractions, going somewhere by myself, and just spending time talking with God. That’s brought rivers of peace. Pray more and have more peace.
Christ also says here in verse 6 when you pray, make sure you do so, with thanksgiving. Make sure in asking God for help, you also think about how blessed you are, count your blessings and thank Him for what He’s done and is doing and will do. That brings peace.
Now you do all these things that Paul has said, you rejoice in the Lord always, meaning you don’t lose sight of what the Lord’s promised us and you realize it’s all reality, and you have this attitude where you’re not concerned about things here being fair and right for you when it’s better for others, and you see that the Lord is near and you turn your cares into prayers, and you count your blessings and thank God for them, then here’s the promise, verse 7:
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
It surpasses all comprehension, or your version may say “transcends understanding.” He may be saying it’s a condition that is more wonderful than you can imagine. Or he may be saying that it excels anything that human ingenuity and contrivance and reasoning can produce. No secular physiologist or counselor can teach you how to find this sort of peace. There’s no self-help book at Barnes and Noble that you could follow and find this kind of wonderful peace. There’s no yoga exercise and mediation that’s going to give you this kind of peace. This wonderful peace is found only in Christ, doing these things that Paul advises here.
Verse 8 is also invaluable for peace.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things [think on these things].”
Not that you don’t ever think about anything negative, not that you ignore the fact that people are sinning, that there are problems, he’s not saying ignore realities. But I think he’s saying don’t miss the things that are good and right and true and praiseworthy.
Paul gives himself as an example of this in the book. Paul’s in prison and he talks in chapter one about how there are preachers in the area who are actually jealous of him and they are trying to take the spotlight off of Paul and onto themselves. They want the praise and recognition of Christians. Paul acknowledges this was happening, but he says that’s fine, Christ is being proclaimed, the gospel is spreading more. So he focuses on the good things instead of the negative. He also chose to focus on the positives when it came to Euodia and Syntyche. They had a problem, but he realized what was really praiseworthy about them. Philippians 4:3, “…who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together…” He thinks about what’s good about those ladies.
I think we have a tendency, when something bad is happening, to just focus on the bad. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “When someone has a toothache, it’s all they can think about.” We have a tendency to do the same, but we can train our minds to think about the good, pure, excellent, and right things.
So how does that work in everyday life? Let’s say a young woman, who’s never been here before, comes to visit us one Sunday morning. She comes in, she sits down, and her skirt is too short. Now if we focus on the detail that this woman came to church dressed provocatively and is causing a distraction or stumbling of other people, then we may think we ought to say something to her about her dress and how it’s dishonoring to God and how she shouldn’t dress that way. And guess what that woman will never do again? She will never come back here again. But what if, instead of focusing on the negative, we focused on what was good and right and honorable in the circumstance? This woman came to church; she is seeking God and a relationship with Him. And with that in mind, we might rather say, “We’re so glad you’re here. May we take you to lunch today?” We could instead, continue to encourage her on her path to Christ. And then… once she knew that we love her and we’re glad she’s here, we could in kindness and gentleness and respect, help her to see a better form of dressing.
What about brother and sister “so-and-so” who are always late. They always come in after class has already started. And you’re never late, not you. Our worship and this assembly is so important to you, you’re always here on time, often early. But here they come late again. And you just want to give them the look as they walk by. And you think about going up and talking to them afterward about being on time. Well, brother and sister “so-and-so” may get too discouraged to want to come back. But what if you focus on what’s good instead? Yeah, they may struggle a little with time management, but they’re here and they’re really kind, generous, hospitable, etc. And in thinking about these numerous, good qualities they possess, we may find it easier to deal with them and be at peace with them.
Or, brother “so-and-so” has a weird view on this particular topic and he doesn’t see it the way I see it in the Bible. Why can’t he understand it? But what are the good things about brother “so-and-so”? That question may help us be at peace in our interactions with each other.
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
God wants you to have peace with Him and within your heart and with other people. If we do these things, He will be with us to help us find all that wonderful peace.