August 8, 2020
Peace, Perfect Peace in this Dark World of Sin?
“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.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Peace is a very popular word; it’s an almost impossible thing to find. If there is one thing that people are chasing; it’s peace. If there’s one thing that eludes most people, it’s peace.
Turmoil dominates this fallen world. It is fair to say that we have an epidemic of anxiety in the Western world. There is a seething ocean of troubles, anxieties,stresses, concerns, and fears. As godlessness increases each year, so too, do people’s fears about the future.
In fact, it’s quite possible we live in one of the most troubled generations inhuman history. Despite an army of psychologists, therapists, and counsellors very little seems to stem the flood. There are whole industries devoted to trying to help people find peace. Mediation, yoga, uppers, downers, you name it. The entire New Age religion is a kind of religious therapy where people seek to find peace by essentially using brainwashing techniques on themselves. People want some kind of tranquillity inside them. They want to be free from trouble,free from stress, free from threats, and anxieties and fears.
Yet,for all the talk of peace we don’t need to look far to see broken human beings who find no tranquillity in their lives. I was talking to a woman a few days ago. She told me her life story and it was a sad one. This poor lady cried remembering her mother who had died, and the years she had spent on the streets, and her search for a home. And I felt like crying too.
This has been the human experience for thousands of years. One war, one famine, one plague, one personal disaster; one recession; one virus; one sickness; one ruined life after another. On and on from the fall of man. The tragic irony of mankind is that his troubles often grow when he seeks to escape them. People run from their troubles into drugs, others sit in front of a screen for hours on end, others move from one relationship to another, ever seeking solace. Others– like Mary Baker Eddy the false teacher who founded Christian Science – try hard to brainwash themselves to avoid any negative thoughts. Negative thoughts,said Mary Baker Eddy, is what makes you sick and get old and feel bad. So just think positive stuff and you’ll be happy and healthy. Mary Baker Eddy’s beliefs didn’t even work for her. She developed weird obsessions and her religion became bizarre. But it shows the lengths to which people will go to find some kind of peace.
So many people live in painful suspense: “What if it all goes wrong?” they say. “Who is going to take care of me?”
Amidst all of this fear and anxiety our Father in heaven tells us that there is peace.There is a real peace; a supernatural peace that is far greater than the sum o four fears. Paul says that this is a real peace that we can all have. It’s not theoretical. It’s not just for super-Christians, whoever they might be. This was something that was in reach of all the Christians, great and small, at Philippi. And it’s within our reach today. There is indeed such a thing as a peace that passes all understanding.
Before we look at what God’s word tells us about how to get peace, it logical to ask why there is so little true peace in this earth.
Isaiah says this to rebellious Israel:
Isaiah 59:7-8: Their feet rush into sin. They rush into sin. Isaiah’s generation didn’t resist sin; they ran toward it like a moth to flame. He goes on: The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have made their roads crooked; no one who walks along them will know peace. You can’t know peace, says Isaiah, because you refuse to walk in God’s ways. You take what is straight and turn it into something crooked, and then expect things to go well. God says no. No peace for the wicked. No peace for those who walk in crooked paths. God says, “If you want sin, you’ll get sin, and you’ll get all of the trouble that goes with it”.
At the root of all human troubles is sin. Every war, murder, riot, broken marriage, drug overdose; every abused child, abortion, fraud, theft, and every venomous word ever spoken has been the product of sin. These crooked paths literally destroy the peace of individuals, communities, and nations.
Sin even manifests itself in a physical way in the human body. It takes the form of death, and illness, and dysfunction. Paul wrote: (Romans 8:10) “your body is subject to death because of sin”. Death, illness, and physical suffering were never part of God’s design for human beings. The devil injected sin into creation and it now produces sorrow and suffering in every life.
But the problem is even worse than the miseries that sin produces. God is not a passive observer of his creation. God is holy and God is just; and God hates sin. Habakkuk says of God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing”. God will not tolerate evil. He warns that the day will come when he’s going to totally obliterate sin in a sweeping, purging final act of judgement. Luke writes in Acts 17:31: “he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world”. Paul writes in Romans 14:12: “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God”. All justice on earth for the time being is incomplete, but one day justice and judgement will be perfect.
The writer of Hebrews summarises this experience by simply saying: Hebrews 10:31 “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”. Many make light of the day of judgement because it seems to be slow in coming. Yet while the wheels of God’s judgement may seem to turn slowly, the day is surely coming.
Given the pain and misery caused by sin, and the certainty of God’s judgement, you would think men would flee from sin. But God’s word tells us the exact opposite. John 3:19: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. Men love the darkness. They don’t always love the trouble and pain that comes with it. But they love the darkness.
Paul summarises the human condition by saying: Romans 3:13: Their throats are open graves…Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness… ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.
God’sword is the most realistic book in the whole world. It describes the nature of the world exactly as we find it. It lays reality before us and God says, “This is the problem of the human condition. This is why people do not know peace”. God is an honest physician and he gives an honest diagnosis. He tells us that our ultimate problem is not so much what is going on around us,or what is being done to us: our ultimate problem is within us.
God’s first requirement for a man to know peace is that he must repent and submit to his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus puts it this way:
(Luke 14:31-33) Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Humanity and God are at war. All of us came into the world locked in combat with God. And the king comes with overwhelming force: Jesus Christ, who rides upon the great white horse, and a sword proceeds from his mouth, and he comes with thousands upon thousands of the holy angels. The question Jesus puts to us here is this:are we able to go to war against such a king? Do we have the resources to defeat such a king? Most assuredly, we cannot. So our only hope for peace with such a righteous king is unconditional surrender; to throw ourselves on his mercy.
Early in 1945 the Japanese knew they couldn’t win. But they desperately wanted to avoid unconditional surrender. They fought one hopeless battle after another. By August, 1945, their navy lay at the bottom of the sea, their air force had been shot to pieces, they were talking of recruiting civilians into what was left of their army, and most of their factories were piles of charred wreckage. They weren’t even able to scramble fighters to oppose daily raids over their cities. But they still refused to unconditionally surrender even in the face of overwhelming force coming against them.
Then they were hit with an atomic blast that vaporised a city. And still they held out, refusing unconditional surrender. Had they been wise, they would have sent a delegation and asked for terms of peace and saved two cities and millions of lives. In the end, resistance was utterly futile.
So it is with us. If we lay down our weapons before the might of the coming king, and realise that we are in no position to make demands, and all we can do is offer our total surrender, then God promises us that all hostilities will cease. A new peace will come into our lives. We’ll find, firstly, a peace with God and a blessed release from the path of sin; we will also find an extraordinary, supernatural peace in our daily living unlike anything that the world can offer.
God’s peace is special. It’s not circumstantial. God’s peace is a peace for all seasons because it is based on the Person of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
So Paul writes to the Philippians a simple command:
Phil 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything”.
Do not be anxious about anything, says Paul. Not even one thing. There are no exemptions from the command. God’s word does not say, “do not be anxious about anything except that one thing you’re worried about just now”. We’re not allowed to be anxious about even one thing.
Because this is a command, anxiety is therefore a sin. The sin of worry. It is important that we see it this way, because the scriptures see it this way. If we are ruled by worry we are not only living in disobedience to a biblical command, but our hearts defame the character of God.
The moment we were converted, God took total responsibility for our welfare. He promises to take care of us from now on until end of the trail. Any worry,fear, and anxiety are really our declaration that we do not believe that God will do what he promises for his children.
Psalm 55:22: Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. Phil 4:19: my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Worry is the heart saying that God’s is lying. That God will fail us. One may simply ask:what has God ever done to deserve such treatment? Does God deserve such suspicion and distrust?
Paul goes on:
Phi 4:7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
The remedy to anxiety, says Paul, is prayer. Prayer is so simple a child can do it;prayer is so profound that the greatest prayers in the Bible have no language at all. Pray about every situation, says Paul. It is massively glorifying to God when we bring everything in our lives to him for his help, his judgement;his direction. It glorifies God when we trust him. It glorifies God when we can say to God, “I’m depending on You Lord. I have no back up plan. No plan B. I trust You and You alone.”
Every situation, says Paul, should be prayed about. Do we need wisdom to know what to do? Pray. Do we need a job? Pray. What if we feel like we need more energy to get through one day after another? Then pray. Do we need help dealing with a difficult person? Pray. No situation is exempted in this text. Paul does not say, “Pray to God about every situation except that one situation that is probably too big or too hard for God to do anything about”. Paul says, no, pray in every situation. It gives God the opportunity to glorify himself in our lives.
If there was one man who lived on prayer it was Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. One time he was travelling the world and was absolutely broke. He needed to catch a train from St. Louis, but he had no money. So he went and stood in the ticket queue without a single coin and he prayed. The line kept moving; until there was only one person ahead.
Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. The man behind him (who was also a Christian) turns to him and says, “I’ve got to pay for your ticket. The Lord has just been pressing upon me that I need to pay for your ticket”.
The alternative to anxiety, says Paul, is to pray about every situation. To bring our petitions to God and leave the situation in his hands frees us from anxiety and worry. We’ve gone to the Lord who rules over the universe and spoken to him about our needs and our situation. It glorifies God when we leave our burdens and our troubles in his hands. And it brings tremendous peace.
A.W. Tozer in his book Faith Beyond Reason mentioned that he had come across many Christians who couldn’t point to a single answer to their prayers. Tozer suggested that many people simply give up praying because they never expect real answers. Sometimes people wonder if they’re praying incorrectly, or if they are simply not blessed as others.
But if we listen to Paul and bring every situation to God in child-like faith, talking with God over and over again, we’ll soon start to see answers to prayer stacking up. As God answers our prayers we grow in faith, and as our faith grows it sterilises fear because now we have a catalogue of answered prayers behind us that strengthens us. Eventually, we learn have such faith and dependence on God that worry becomes rare in our lives.
Hudson Taylor put it this way: “I… am not especially gifted, and am shy by nature, but… God taught me… to rest on Him and to pray even about little things in which another man might have felt able to help himself”. Is it any wonder that with such a trust in God, Hudson Taylor was able to report countless answers to prayer that were both remarkable and frequent?
He was doing exactly as Paul taught: bringing every situation by prayer and petition to God.
Paul goes on to say:
Phi 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
God’s peace transcends understanding. Unlike the New Age movement that wants to dissect peace and give formulas on how to get it, and make it the product of our own brain activity, God’s peace transcends understanding. God’s peace is far beyond explanation. No human mouth; no human mind; no human pen can describe or fathom the origin or the nature of the peace that God alone can give.
I’ve had people describe to me terrible situations in which they prayed and committed the whole thing to God. And then no sooner were they done praying,they had a peace fall upon them like a blanket. Nothing else changed, but they were enveloped in peace – beyond describing, beyond explanation.
It is peace from a divine, source. It literally comes from out of this world. It comes when God overshadows our life and we become acutely conscious that he is ruling, he is aware, he is God, and he is sympathetic. In those dark, lonely hours of prayer, as it says in scripture, “God will suddenly come to his temple”. I love those words. Sometimes in our troubles God suddenly comes to us, and his presence can be so intense that it fills the room and all one can do is fall prostrate on the ground.
God is indeed so real, and so is God’s peace. It’s a peace that has no earthly explanation, because it springs from a heavenly source. It’s a peace that can never be defined or expressed in the words of human language. It’s a peace that transcends understanding.
The effect of this deep, spiritual peace, says Paul, is that it guards our hearts and minds like a soldier. Paul actually uses a Greek military term. It seems incongruous when speaking of peace to use the image of a warrior. We usually think of peace as a dove. The Japanese think of cherry blossoms. Something timid or fragile.But Paul uses here the image of a soldier. What is God’s peace like? What does God’s peace do? It takes up weapons. It guards our hearts and minds like soldiers outside a castle.
God’s peace isn’t passive. It’s active; it is aggressive; it’s a conquering and triumphant peace because it comes from God. The kingdom of God, Paul says, the kingdom – the sphere where God is acknowledged and reigns without contest, the kingdom is a matter of righteousness and peace and joy. Where God reigns there is peace. The atmosphere of God’s kingdom is infused with triumphant,anxiety-sterilising peace. It watches over us like a bodyguard, so that we aren’t robbed of tranquillity in the Lord.
Finally,in these two verses we can see that Paul takes it for granted – it’s not even questioned – that God is totally sovereign. Paul doesn’t even bother to prove it. It’s just obvious. The only way these verses make any sense is by understanding that there is a sovereign God who is in control of all things, orders all things, and does all things for his glory.
A sovereign, holy, omnipotent, and wise God will act in ways that don’t make sense to his fallible, weak human creatures. God knows things that we don’t. God’s goodness is far beyond ours. God’s vast intelligence is never clouded by sinful reasoning. For these reasons, God will do things in our lives that we don’t always understand or perhaps even like. Yet even at such times God’s peace can still be experienced.
Edward Payson – sometimes known as Praying Payson because he prayed so many hours a day – wrote this while he was on his death bed: “Christians might avoid much trouble… if they would only believe what they profess, that God is able to make them happy without anything else. They imagine that if such a dear friend were to die, or if such blessings were to be removed, they would be miserable. But God can make them a thousand times happier without them. To mention my own case, God has been depriving me of one blessing after another, but as each one was removed He has come in and filled its place. And now, when I am a cripple and not able to move, I am happier than ever I was in my life before or ever expected to be; and if I had believed this twenty years ago I might have been spared much anxiety.”
Unbelievers don’t like the idea of a sovereign God who does things they might not choose.They prefer a worldview where nobody is in control. But for a believer, the sovereignty of God is a joyful doctrine. And it is only in the sovereignty of God that we will find peace.
Joseph was able to say to his brothers Genesis 50:20 You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. You meant it for evil; but God meant it for good. Then we have Paul’s statement in Romans 8:28:we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. God sovereignly works everything for our ultimate benefit.
A sovereign God can see from one end of time to the other. He sees over the mountains and right through the valleys. Things which happen in our lives sometimes don’t make a lot of sense until we have travelled many years from them. We look back and start to understand. And some things will never make sense until we see them in clear light of eternity. Five years ago I was dealing with so much I felt I could hardly take any more. Yet, the only reason I met my wife was because of those horrible experiences. Years down the line, I am thankful. All those things worked together for good.
It can give great peace in times of trial to know that all things work together for good. As time goes on we come to see why God so ordered our lives. And when we finally come to eternity, we’ll see with absolute clarity why it had to be, and then we wouldn’t choose anything else but the pathway that a sovereign God set.
God’s peace is a peace that has to be taken. It’s a gift that comes from God, but it also has to be taken; has to be grasped. There’s always appropriation. God says, “Look, you have all of these blessings in Christ Jesus, but you have to ask. You have to pray. Bring to me your petitions and requests. Seek. Knock”.These things are appropriated by faith. God always deals with us on the basis of faith – because that is how he is best glorified and human beings are best emptied of pride. We start with faith, we ask, we step forward.
It is God desire that we should live with a perfect peace. We don’t always grasp the gift. But God tells us in his word, to first bow before him in repentance and hostilities will cease. And then he tells us to not be anxious about even one thing. He invites us to trust him with every situation. There’s no situation too heavy, there’s no problem too hard for our Father in heaven. He invites us to rely on him, to trust his sovereignty; to trust that he knows what he is doing even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.He is our Great Provider who will never leave us or forsake us. God reminds us this morning that peace is our inheritance as his people. There is a peace that literally comes from out of this world – a peace that passes all understanding! Amen.