Passeth all understanding

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Philippians 3:1-4:9

We can often feel besieged by worries.  Demands seem to threaten us from every side.  We dare not step out into our calling lest we be crushed by pressures too great for us.

Some of us respond by shutting down.  “There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets” we cry, bolting the door against such dangers (Proverbs 22:13).  Others of us raise a war cry and run into battle, confident of our own powers.  Paul has a different approach.

He says “Be careful for nothing.”

In the Greek, it’s the exact same phrase as Jesus’ repeated command of Matthew 6: “Take no thought”.  It means “Don’t have many and divided thoughts.”  Easier said than done.  When we’re besieged by worries our minds run in a thousand directions at once.  But Paul (and Jesus) counsel us to stop: “Be careful for nothing.”  It’s an all-embracing negative.  And it’s followed by an all-inclusive positive:

“In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

Paul doesn’t tell us to squash our many fears.  Instead he invites us to view them as “requests”.  Did you realise that all of your worries are actually requests?  Requests which so often go unexpressed.  Requests which God Himself is eager to hear.

What does this assume about ourselves and about God?

First, it assumes that we’re not very good at discerning our many desires… let alone expressing them… let alone addressing them to God.  But, second, it assumes that we have a God who is intimately concerned for our many troubles.  As the Lord’s Prayer teaches us, we have a Father who is not only interested in His kingdom coming but also in our daily bread.

Therefore, of course we pray “with thanksgiving.”  We are grateful for a Father so kind and so powerful that He attends to our every supplication.

The little phrase “with thanksgiving” is so easily forgotten.  But there can be no peace if we simply bring our shopping lists to God.  Without an awareness of the grace of our Father and an attendant gratitude, all our petitioning is liable to heighten our fears, not allay them.  But with faith in a generous Father, Paul attaches this promise to our prayers…

“the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Here is something unknown to the world.  Not just stress management but a peace that “passeth all understanding.”  No mere trick of the mind can deliver what Paul offers here.  There can be no earthly explanation of this peace.  It’s beyond our wit and wisdom.  Because this is a peace that wages war on our fears.

What do I mean?  Well the word for “keep” is very strong.  Paul uses it in two other places.  In 2 Corinthians he uses it to describe a garrison of soldiers guarding a city (2 Corinthians 11:32).  In Galatians 3, he speaks of the saints of old “shut up” under the Mosaic law (Galatians 3:23).  It’s a word that means “hold prisoner” or “besiege.”

So this is the reversal of our fears.  Right now you may feel besieged by worries. But there is a cavalry.  There is a greater force to call on.  ”Through Christ Jesus” you have perfect access to a generous Father.  So then, turn your problems to prayers and know: it’s His peace that besieges you.

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