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The Art of Peaceful Living

Philippians 4:1-9

In his closing remarks to the Philippians, Paul makes much of living at peace – with each other, with ourselves and with God.

(Phil 4:1-9 NIV) Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! {2} I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. {3} Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. {4} Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! {5} Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. {6} Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. {7} And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. {8} Finally, brothers, 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. {9} Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Living at Peace with Each Other

If you want to be a peacemaker, you might learn something here from how Paul goes about remedying a dispute, long distance. See the words he uses:

  • The Philippians themselves are those he lives and longs for, his “joy and crown.” An essential part of peacemaking is that the peacemaker puts himself in the middle, reminding the contesting parties of how precious they are to him! Peacemaking is not just counseling; it involves a great risk to the peacemaker.
  • He then “pleads” with these two ladies. Not a command, not an order, but a plea – even though he could be commanding. The object is not cessation of hostility, but peace.
  • Peace comes when they “agree” – not when they compromise. And how can they agree, unless they “agree in the Lord?”

You’ll note that Paul assumes that someone must help these two ladies make peace. We might be tempted to say that this is a sign of weakness, but consider it: doesn’t it usually require a peacemaker? This is the result of sin, for sin made us in need of the one who makes peace between us and God.

  • Peacemakers need a good deal of humility. Paul’s example here is a good one; he appeals to the peacemaker there as a “yokefellow” – someone who has born the burden with him. Again, no sense of supremacy, only the object of peace.
  • Note too that it will take more than one peacemaker – as mentioned – which is also normal. Peacemaking is a church activity, and should be done by the church. No wonder our Lord calls such people “blessed.”

In this one word – which is extremely difficult to translate – we have the secret to keeping the peace. The King James had it as “moderation.” It is the art of being one who is slow to anger and quick to agree, humble in manner and strong in spirit. Still waters run deep.

  • Note first that such gentleness is not recommended – it is required. A blowhard, fiery Christian has much to learn.
  • But note too that you must also have a reputation for being gentle. Why? If for no other reason, it brings credit upon the church. More than that, it makes people much more willing to deal with you.[1]

Peace in Ourselves

It seems that we are not to be anxious. This sounds so difficult to modern ears; anxiety is everywhere around us. The word used here means “to be pulled in all directions at once.” Isn’t that a fitting description?

The cure, Paul tells us, is in prayer. Most Christians have heard that. They’ve heard it, and mumble under their breath, “Sure glad that works for you.” But look at how Paul tells you to pray:

  • First, you are to pray in everything. Like your job, for instance. You don’t pray about your job? Too mundane? Not God’s problem? Or maybe you think, “That’s not really the source of my anxiety.” No matter; he tells you to pray about everything. Why? So that God will be the lord of all your life.
  • You are to do so with prayer and petition. What’s the difference? Prayer, as used here, is a form of worship. It is a time of peace and conversation between you and God. No matter what your troubles, you should do this first. Then comes petition – specific requests.
  • You are to pray with thanksgiving. Why? After all, you might not feel very thankful. But this is not a feeling but an act. First, you have abundant cause to be thankful – try counting your blessings, you’ll find them numerous enough if you look. Next, consider what it means if you don’t come with thanksgiving. What does that say to the God who blesses you – that you’re an ingrate? Spiritual Alzheimer’s? And finally, you should pray with thanksgiving because it brings results. By reminding yourself of your blessings, you will pray in a sense of security and a warmth of heart, knowing who God truly is. God is pleased with this; so pleased that one great saint (Spurgeon) said that to pray with thanksgiving was to pray “on the eve of blessing.”
Christian Meditation

Paul tells us to meditate, or as expressed here, “think about such things.” We need to carefully use this word, meditation.

  • It does not mean “empty your mind so God can put something in it.” That’s the Eastern religion/transcendental meditation viewpoint. An empty mind is the devil’s wastebasket.
  • It is a discipline of concentrating on the things God wants you to think about. There is no sense in saying that there is too much sex and violence on your VCR. You control what you think about. So concentrate.

So then, what does he tell you to think about? Here are the “whatevers”:

  • True – the word means that which is not concealed. Things that are open and above board. This might include honest dealings in your business, and the people who are examples of this.
  • Noble – the word means that which is venerable, grave and honest. There are those whose character commands respect; you should ask yourself why and imitate them as they imitate Christ.
  • Right – This carries with it the sense of being fair, or equitable. Do you know a man who is fair to all, no matter the cost to himself? Think about his character.
  • Pure – the word carries cleanliness and chastity in it. The test of your ability to meditate on this comes at weddings. Do you see the purity of the bride or the dirty jokes of the party?
  • Lovely – the word actually means “friendly toward.” Have you ever met someone who was everybody’s friend? This is the character you are to think on here.
  • Admirable – the phrasing means “well spoken of.” It’s the catch all term for anything Paul might have missed above.

Peace with God

If we are to have peace with each other, and peace within ourselves, we must first have peace with God. Paul gives us three things here which help keep that peace with God.

Rejoice in the Lord

Ultimately, God wins. We know how this human drama turns out. Therefore we have cause to rejoice, no matter what else is happening. But there are other reasons too:

  • If we are persecuted for the Lord’s sake, we should rejoice, for this is a badge of honor.[2]
  • Sometimes it’s simply a matter of counting your blessings. We need to remember what God has done for us, and rejoice.
  • Ultimately, it is an act of devotion to God. It says, my circumstances may not look like they’re worthy of rejoicing – but my God is.
Peace and Reconciliation

Paul talks of the peace of God, which is beyond understanding. The word he uses for peace literally means “to set at one.” In other words, we have to be “at one” with God. We can see this in two ways:

  • First, this is reconciliation. God reconciled us to himself through Christ; therefore Christ is our peace.[3] We are therefore appointed ambassadors of Christ.
  • We may also see it in the mediaeval concept of peace. Each man had his own peace, which it was a crime to break (hence our phrase “breach of the peace.”) The higher the man, the greater the crime. If to break the king’s peace was the worst possible breach, how much more to breach the peace of God? When you were a child, your father came into the room, and his peace descended upon his children (or else!) How much more should the presence of Christ in our midst be our peace?
The Lord is Near

Finally, Paul tells us the Lord is near. As the Psalmist put it,

(Psa 145:18 NIV) The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

In this world we shall have trouble,[4] but if we call on the Lord in truth, he is near to us. When he is near, we have his peace.

[1] I cannot resist this observation: how many beautiful women think that a man must be hard and tough? And then discover after marriage that they really were looking for a gentle man?

[2] Acts 5:41, for example.

[3] Ephesians 2:14

[4] See John 16:33

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