The New Testament offers certainty for uncertain times. I spoke recently with a friend who has received a diagnosis from his physician that he has a dangerous, life-threatening disease. For most of us, news like this might be a source of anxiety, but he spoke about it with composure and trust in God. How could he respond this way? I believe it was the peace of God.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reported that he had been disappointed by the recent events of his life. He had been unjustly imprisoned for his faith. He had been disappointed by people who had caused him trouble. He also knew what it felt like to be in need of material necessities. Yet he wrote to his friends in Philippi with a sense of peace and contentment.
If there is anything we need in these uncertain times it is peace and contentment, a peace and contentment that come from God. “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). “The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).
The peace of God is not a spiritual marshmallow pillow. It is the New Testament equivalent of the strong Hebrew word shalom, which means emotional wholeness, security and maturity. The “peace of God” (v.7) is linked to a relationship with the “God of peace” (v. 9). It is a result of the Lord’s presence with his people: “The Lord is near” (v.5).
Peace is an outcome of prayer, honest and thankful prayer. In a time of trouble and stress we may be tempted to curl up in a corner complaining about our circumstances, full of anxiety and self-pity. Paul offers an alternative. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). The promise of scripture is that if we make prayer an habitual response, God’s peace will stand guard over our emotions and our minds (v. 7).
The same is true of contentment. Paul said this is a learned response. “I have learned the secret of being content,” he said in verse 11. He said he had experienced both prosperity and poverty. He had learned to overcome anxiety about material things. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13).
Some people never learn contentment. Never satisfied, they have an abundance of everything and still they complain. They seem always to look for bigger and better toys. They pay rent on storage sheds that are larger than the houses of the poor in the developing world. Of course the advertising and marketing industries fuel this dissatisfaction.
Paul said he had more than enough and he was content with what the Lord had provided. “I am amply supplied,” he wrote (v. 18). He could say this because he had entrusted every part of his life — including his daily need for food, shelter, clothing and health — to Christ. In every situation the Lord helped him maintain a contented frame of mind.
What do we learn from this? How can we enjoy peace and contentment? First, like Paul, we must make a decision not to be greedy or selfish. In Acts 20:33 Paul reviewed the example of his ministry: “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.” He had made a decision to be “free from the love of money” or material things (Hebrews 13:5). So should we.
Second, Paul’s initial decision was followed by a disciplined mind. Like him, we may train our minds to think correctly about what is excellent and constructive, not what is doubtful and destructive. “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
One of the dangers of our addiction to the entertainment media is that we become passive receptors, not active thinkers. The Lord wants us to use our minds the right way. When we ponder, analyze and carefully reflect on God’s truth, we are promised God’s peace and the assurance of his presence. In my years of pastoral ministry, I have seen this demonstrated over and over again in the lives of the Lord’s people as they have faced the troubles of life.
Third, we must learn to trust God in prayer for our daily needs. Jesus meant it when he gave us permission to ask our Heavenly Father, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That was the prayerful lifestyle the apostle Paul had cultivated. The result for him was peace and contentment. It can be the same for you and me as we talk to God about our problems and needs.
This is a certainty for an uncertain time.
Pastor Randy Faulkner