In our passage for study, Paul the apostle encourages his readers to apply the seven steps to peace: keep a joyful heart; be reasonable to all; stay conscious of the Lord's presence; avoid over-anxiety; live a prayerful life; think beautiful thoughts; and practice Christian understanding.
v4. This letter contains quite a number of references to joy, 1:4, 18, 2:17, 18, 3:1. Paul's exhortation to the Philippians is that in all circumstances they should rejoice. The enabling of such joy comes through Christ. When we are in an intimate relationship with Jesus we can be filled with joy, no matter where we are or what the circumstances.
v5. Here Paul encourages a show of goodwill toward all people. The word "gentleness" means something like: goodwill, fairness, friendliness, forbearance. It is opposite to claiming our rights over another. The exhortation is supported by the truth that Christ will soon return. The term, "the Lord is near", could mean that Jesus is nearby watching us, but it is more likely a reference to the Lord's close return.
v6-7. The cares of this age can very easily squeeze in on us and affect the stability of our lives. Jesus even warned that the cares of this age ("life's worries, riches and pleasures") can choke the life-giving Word from our lives. For this reason, we need to pass those cares onto the Lord and leave them in his keeping. We can then respond with thanksgiving in the knowledge that he will carry our load. Paul defines the business of prayer in the terms of: "by prayer" - by supplication or request to God; "petition" - asking; "with thanksgiving" - with a grateful acknowledgment of past mercies.
v8. Instead of focusing on the cares of this age, Paul encourages his readers to think on more positive things. We are to give our energy to eternal verities. We should focus on all that is morally excellent and worthy of praise (ie. everything approved of God): i] The truth - God's Word is truth; ii] Worthy, honorable and noble things; iii] Matters of justice; iv] Moral purity; v] The beauty of creation, all that is lovely; vi] Things that are reputable, decent.
v9. Paul finally encourages his readers to put into practice all that he has taught them, both by example and teaching. The result of such is not only the peace of God, but the God of peace will touch them personally; he will manifest himself to them.
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you", 1 Peter 5:7.
Anxiety is something we live with every day of our lives, and particularly so when we follow Christ. We have to struggle with the application of Jesus' teachings in our dealings with the world and the church. We are always wrestling with the "why" of every action. Am I seeking to please God or self? Is this action of mine for good or for evil? Then there is our constant wrestle with the drive for self-satisfaction. The shadows attract us and therefore, we are continually bothered with the compromises of life. We also find ourselves a target for the powers of darkness. The fact that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (ie. the real fight is not physical), but rather that we wrestle against spiritual powers in heavenly places, leads to a great deal of stress in our lives. In the end, being a Christian is a stressful business.
There are those who say worry is a sin for it shows a lack of faith. The truth is, anxiety is a common human condition. We must not condemn ourselves, or others, for being laden with care. Anxiety will always be there, and to hide it, or deny it with a hypercritical smile, is far from healthy or helpful. If we either deny the cause of our stress, or deny the stress itself, we will disconnect from reality.
So then, given that we will always face stress in our lives as we seek to follow Christ, how do we manage anxiety? It is an important question, for we all know of someone who has given up their faith because they found the going too hard. From our passage we are given one important clue for the management of stress in the Christian life. It is found in the prayer of faith. We are to hand the matter over to the Lord with a sense of thanksgiving. Although the circumstances may conspire, their ultimate outcome will conform to the sovereign grace of God. Therefore, we hand the matter over to the Lord and leave it at that.
It is when we respond in trust to the Lord that we receive the gift of his peace. A sense of ease covers all our complicated musings. Our fears and dreams take on their right proportion, for then we stand in the presence of Jesus. When Jesus invades our person, encircling us with his love, it is then that the clamor and clatter of the shadows seem muffled, and there is peace.
1. Does v4 imply that it is wrong to be sad?
2. What do you think of using the motivation of Christ's imminent return to promote right behavior? v5.
3. Is it a sin to be anxious? Matt.6:25-34.
4. Given there is anxiety in life, how is this increased (or decreased!) once we become a friend of Jesus?
5. How can a Christian relieve anxiety? v6 and v8.
7. What is this "peace of God"?