That Passes Understanding

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Philippians (15)

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Paul is following his typical pattern here. He loves to conclude his epistles with a set of rapid-fire exhortations, which is what he is doing here in our passage. The two larger themes to take away from this section would be peace and purity—the peace of God, and purity of heart. These are the two main points to take away with us today. God wants His people protected from anxiety by the peace of God, and He wants them to cultivate purity of mind.

The Text

“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:4–9).

Summary of the Text

The Christian has a solemn obligation to live a life of joy (v. 4). Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord all the time, and then he anchors the point a second time—rejoice (v. 4). He then says that Christians are to be steady people, and that their steady moderation should be visible to others (v. 5). Why? Because the Lord is at hand. One of the things that interferes with joy is anxiety, and so he then says to be anxious for nothing (v. 6). Rather than be anxious, he says that we are to present our requests to God with “prayer and supplication”—with thanksgiving. If you do this, then the peace of God—beyond our understanding—will protect your hearts and minds through Christ (v. 7). Thus protected, what are we supposed to do then? We are to set our minds to run a particular course. We are to think (logizomai) on certain objects. What should those objects be like? They should be true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and if there is any virtue or any praise. Pay attention to how wide ranging this is. Look at the “whatsoever” and “if there be any.” Those descriptions should be applied across the board. Paul then pronounces a blessing on those who do what they have learned, received, heard, and observed (v. 9). If they do this, then the peace of God—the guardian of their hearts and minds earlier—will accompany them.

Freedom from Anxiety

Worry is a basic challenge that many Christians struggle with. One of the reasons we have so much trouble is that we have a tendency to take this verse and pull it inside out. We have an anxiety and so we pray and pray and pray. What we are doing actually is worrying on our knees. This happens because we imagine the peace of God to be down inside us somewhere, and we try to arrange and configure our hearts and minds so as to protect that deep, inner peace of God. But this is exactly backwards. Notice that Paul says the peace of God protects our hearts and minds, not that our hearts and minds protect the peace of God.

The peace of God is the armor we must put on. The peace of God is the helmet that protects your head. The peace of God is the breastplate that protects your innards. Your head is not the helmet. Your stomach is not made of bronze. You are not to protect your armor. Your armor is there to protect you.

So how do we put the armor on? Paul tells us the basic steps here. 1. Don’t exclude anything. If it is big enough to trouble you, it is not too small to bring to God—“in every thing.” 2. Present your requests to God. Lay them all out. 3. With thanksgiving. This is often the missing piece. When you are done laying out your worries before God, find a place where you can sing a psalm of thanksgiving. You don’t simply thank God after He answers your prayers. You should thank Him, really thank Him, before He does. Remember that you are dealing with two things here—your prayer about “the issue,” whatever it is, and your “anxiety about the issue.”

True and Lovely

Now this next part of the passage—whatever is true, whatever is lovely—applies to absolutely everyone here. We all must take these things to heart. But I want to take a moment to address you young people on this topic. This is because you have been flattered into thinking that none of this applies to you, and yet it actually applies especially to you.  

If your Spotify playlist has at least one song that has that explicit warning attached, then you are not nearly as wise as you think you are. And this applies more broadly as well. It applies to the books you read, the TikTok videos you watch, the movies you take in, and the web sites you visit. And of course it applies to porn and almost porn. It is a bad business for someone to gunk up his brains at any time of life, but your brains are still growing into a particular shape—the concrete is still wet. Do you really want a patio with that many corrugations in it? And whether or not your folks were too careless in letting you run feral in cyber-space, you are still Christians with your own set of individual responsibilities before God. Stop putting dog doo in your salads, and then feeling virtuous because you know enough to eat around the worst bits. 

C.S. Lewis made the point this way:

“Literature exists to teach what is useful, to honour what deserves honour, to appreciate what is delightful.”

The Discarded Image, p. 214

Stop compromising here. Who wants a rancid soul?

Christ is the Peace of God

In verse 7, it says the peace of God will do its guarding of our hearts and minds through Christ. We are told in Ephesians to put on the full armor of God. The helmet of salvation—well, Christ is our salvation (Eph. 6:17; Is. 59:17). We are to have the belt of truth (Eph. 6:14). Well, Christ is the truth (John 14:6). Our breastplate is righteousness (Eph. 6:14; Is. 59:17), and Christ is our righteousness (Jer. 23:6). Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), and Christ is that gospel. We have the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16), and we are saved by the faith of Christ Jesus (Gal. 2:16). When we put on this armor, we are putting on Christ.

When we walk in this way, we are walking with Christ, who always accompanies us. Christ within us, Christ before us, Christ behind us, Christ around us. Who can touch you against His will? And with Him accompanying you this way, why would you want to be carrying around a satchel full of gunk? You are a Christian.

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