Everyone wants to experience what Philippians 4:7 calls “the peace of God which passes understanding.” God’s peace “passes understanding” in that it keeps our hearts peaceful and calm even though we understand perfectly well that there is no human or natural way that we can be extricated from some difficulty that threatens our future. Philippians 4:6–7 sets forth three conditions which we must meet in order to experience this peace of God.
“Have no anxiety about anything” (4:6) is the first condition. This means we must have the firm purpose to carry on the fight of faith against whatever may be making us anxious. We wage this warfare by banking our hope on a promise in God’s Word that we will triumph over the present difficulty that threatens our future.
If are beginning to fear that we will not have the strength and time to accomplish the tasks before us, we fight back by trusting a promise such as Deuteronomy 33:25, which says, “As your days, so shall your strength be.” If we are about to despair that God will ever answer a prayer that we have been bringing to him for a long time, we should trust a promise such as Habakkuk 2:3; “if it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”
For each situation in life that arouses anxiety, there are several promises in Scripture that declare that this situation, instead of being a stumbling block, will become a stepping-stone to blessing through a wonderful way in which God will work. When we have such promises from God, it is clear that allowing ourselves to be anxious is sinful. Being anxious is as though we were saying that some promise that God himself has made is not true. We all do well to reflect on how dreadful it is to say, in effect, that the all-glorious God is a liar and doesn’t keep his promises. So it is obvious that God will give us his peace which passes all understanding only if we honor him by banking our hope on his integrity.
Being thankful is the second condition which, according to Philippians 4:6–7, must be met in order to enjoy God’s peace. Taking time to recall the many ways in which God has blessed us from the past down to the present—this is the way to keep free from the sin of self-pity. We all find it very easy to indulge in self-pity, because it comforts us to think that we have been deprived of what is rightfully ours. If we can convince ourselves that life ought to have treated us better, then we are comforted in thinking that what is right and good is on our side. But such “comfort” is gained at the terrible price of having to say, in effect, that God is not on the side of what is right and good.
That’s why God makes it clear in Scripture that we are to come into his presence with singing and gladness (Psalm 100:2). From the example of the dreadful destruction that befell the Israelites who murmured in the wilderness, we are admonished never to complain about our lot (1 Corinthians 10:10–11).
Thanksgiving is so important because it constitutes the frame of mind in which confidence in God’s promises can flourish. How is it possible for us to believe God when we feel sorry for ourselves and thus regard God as having wronged us? So we can understand why God will give us his peace only as we are thankful and thereby retain that frame of mind in which the faith that honors him can flourish.
The third condition for enjoying God’s peace is to “let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). In addition to fighting back anxiety by trusting a promise that speaks to our problem, we must take the positive action of requesting, as specifically as possible, that God will make the present crisis into a stepping-stone leading to blessing for ourselves and others.
God has commanded us to pray, because when he brings blessing after we have prayed, it is then clear that he is responsible for turning the distress into a blessing. By asking God for things, we open the door for him to be glorified. But if we don’t make our requests known to him, then we remove the opportunity for him to glorify himself in responding to the prayer addressed to him. So again it becomes clear why God gives us his peace only if we bring specific requests to him and thereby open the door for him to glorify himself. God will certainly not give his peace to those who dishonor him by not bringing their requests before him.
We will know God’s peace if we fight back anxiety by trusting a promise; if we are thankful, and if we make positive, specific requests to God for deliverance. Since doing these things gives God the honor that is due his name, he will most surely give his peace that passes all understanding to those who fulfill these conditions.
The simple fact is that when we trust God, we obligate him to bless us. When we trust God, we honor his name. There is no way God could dishonor his name by failing to do what people, on the basis of what he has promised, have trusted him to do.
Daniel P. Fuller