READ PHILIPPIANS FOUR
On the heels of his exhortation to rejoice always, Paul pens these words:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
This passage is one that many of us are likely familiar with. We’ve heard it preached from the pulpit and may even remember it from Sunday school days. It’s one I memorized in middle school and one I recited to myself before college finals. But, for all my “use” of the passage, I have never studied it in context.
Think on how common this passage is in Christian culture today. How have you heard it taught in the past? What are your current impressions of this passage?
Knowing what you know now about the context of the book of Philippians as a whole, how does that change your interpretation of this passage?
I don’t pretend to have a “new” or “novel” interpretation of this common passage of Scripture, but I do think that having done the exegetical work through this book has put these words in appropriate context for me. Paul wants nothing more than for the believers to experience true unity because of their unity in Christ. He wants them to have a reasonableness about themselves that promotes unity because the Kingdom of God is coming. And, in this light, his call to put aside anxiety seems to come into focus.
Given what we know about the Philippians’ situation in chapter four, what can you imagine they were anxious about?
What do we know about their situation?
What requests do you imaging they have to present to God?
Disunity has an incredible way of producing anxiety. When we are not unified with other believers – particularly when it is as severe as the Philippians’ situation seems to be – it is difficult not to think about the situation all the time. In my own life, when I have had discord with other Christians in a substantial ways, it is always on my mind. Imaginary conversations are always spinning through my head – when I welcome them, and particularly when I don’t. I’m always wondering how I can “come out ahead” in the argument or wondering if I’ve been misrepresented by the other person. When I am in disunity, I am also consistently anxious.
If Paul’s diagnosis is anxiety brought about by disunity, his prescription is a simple one: pray. He calls the believers to pray to the God of the coming Kingdom. To turn to Him, look to Him, trust in Him for all their needs.
What kind of request do you think Paul has in mind?
The believers have likely heard Paul’s call for unity, but look at their own situation and think, “It’s too hard! The divide is too much! The hurt is too great!” And Paul gives them a clear command: pray. They are to take the request for unity to the God who have overcome much more than discord among believers. They are to take their request for a changed heart – a heart the embodies the gentleness of verse five – to the God who is greater than their hearts. They are to bring everything that seems too great for them to the throne of grace, and present those requests to God.
The promise that Paul holds out for the believers, as they do this, is substantial:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
What a fabulous promise for you and I! When reconciliation seems beyond us, and when our own hearts feel too stubborn to forgive, God will do what “transcends all understanding”: He will bring peace.
It is not insignificant that Paul specifies that God’s peace will guard hearts and minds. This is truly where unity starts. Right at home. Right here in my heart. Right here in my own thoughts. I know personally how destructive my inner life can be for unity with other believers. As I mentally argue with them, presenting my case and shutting them down with a boldness I would never have face-to-face, I quickly descend into bondage to my thought life. My mind is always whirling, always spinning, always wearied, always divisive. The result? I am always anxious.
But, when we turn our thoughts towards God, asking Him to change us and give us peace-making hearts, the incredible reality is that He does. He does! By the power of His Spirit, He keeps His promise and changes us into people who are freed from an inner life of division, and free to live in unity with others. In my own life, I have seen the astounding reality of God’s transformative power as He has brought me from constantly fighting (mentally and in person) with another believer, to a place of true affection and respect (even though disagreement still exists). With tears I write this: this is the power of the Gospel. We are truly set free from sin and brought into the glorious peace of Christ – even in our own stubborn, sinful, divisive hearts.
Are you experiencing any anxiety today that is the result of disunity with another believer?
How would God have you present your request for unity to Him, entrusting the situation into His sovereign hands?
How can you invite the peace of Christ to rule in your heart and mind today?
PRAY & REFLECT
Ask God to bring to mind any area where anxiety in your life is the result of disunity. Talk to Him about it. Present your requests to Him for a changed heart and situation – ask Him to bring peace where there is no peace. Pray for a changed mind and heart. Thank Him that He is able to do it!