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I had the church service at the assisted living facility this morning. My husband thought my message was particularly good. Your thoughts welcome too and you need not share his view!
I made a theme out of the old song (likely associated with children’s Sunday school) “I’ve got the joy (down in my heart).” Last time my message was based on the first stanza, and this time the second stanza – the peace that passeth understanding.

The call to worship was from Isaiah 40: 28-29. The Scripture readings were: Habakkuk 3:17-19; 1 Peter 1:3,8-9; Philippians 4:4-7. I reference all these in the message.

** I preached this again at a church and got an audio recording: Link here. Best to DOWNLOAD it to listen (otherwise, straight from google drive, it seems to stop playing every couple minutes).

Philippians 4:4-7, The peace that surpasses understanding…Be less like a thermometer and more like a thermostat

The word  rejoice  or  joy  occurs 13 times in this brief, 4 chapter, letter to the Philippian Christians – and it was written from jail! The apostle Paul was in prison for the Gospel.  Yet he says here in Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”  This is an “in spite of” joy…a joy in spite of difficulties.

A passage from Habakkuk in the Old Testament was also read this morning, and this was a difficult time for the nation of Israel. Enemies were prevailing against them. And Habakkuk proclaims that even though the fields produce no food and there are no cattle in the stalls, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

As believers, our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outward circumstances. We need to be less like a thermometer, and more like a thermostat. What do I mean by that?

A thermometer reflects the temperature around it. It goes up when it gets hotter, and goes down when it gets cooler. It is like a volatile person; they are up and down depending on life circumstances.

But a thermostat is set at a temperature and it stays at that temperature. If a thermostat is set at 74, it stays 74, no matter if it gets hotter or cooler outside.

The Philippians 4 passage talks about the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is this peace that can make us more like a thermostat.

Let’s begin to look at this passage in Philippians.  It says “rejoice in the Lord always.”  It does not say rejoice always. That would be ludicrous, cruel, and unrealistic.  Bad things happen in life. Sometimes you cannot squeeze a drop of rejoicing out of your circumstances, but you can always rejoice in the Lord. * It is those three words – in the Lord – that make this different from other pious or pithy maxims about life that tell us to just be happy or to put on a smile.

You can have joy in the God of your salvation when you can’t have joy in what has happened to you or what is happening around you.
Let’s say “Rejoice in the Lord” out loud together:  Rejoice in the Lord.

The Philippians passage continues by telling us to not be anxious.
It says: Do not be anxious about anything.  Jesus taught about this too. In Matthew 6 there is a section of verses where Jesus tells us to not worry about our life because God cares for us.

Hmmm. Is it possible to never worry or be anxious?  I’d say no.
The very fact that Jesus and Paul teach about anxiety and worry indicates that we will have anxiety and worry at times in life, otherwise Jesus and Paul would not have to bring it up. The question is: what will we DO with our anxiety or worry when we have it?

Philippians 4:6 says “Be anxious for nothing, BUT…”    But.
“But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Anxiety should stimulate prayer. The word supplication is an old fashioned term. It means to plead humbly. In other words, be serious about your problems if you want God to deal with your problems seriously.

There are issues in life that are legitimate to be anxious about.
But sometimes we can worry about silly and inconsequential things.
A survey or study I read about – said that only about 10% of the things people worry about are legitimate concerns. This reflects me unfortunately –  I can worry about silly things that never happen.

In Matthew 6:27 Jesus said “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” – The answer is no. We just make an hour of our life more stressful and anxiety ridden.

But some anxiety or worry can be a good thing. To be anxious for someone’s physical or spiritual well-being indicates we care about them, and we care enough that we want to take it to God in prayer. In fact, the Scripture encourages intercessory prayer, that is, interceding for another person by praying for them. Jesus modeled this for us in John 17 when he prayed very intently and seriously for future Christians and the coming church. Jesus in John 17 prayed for you and me!

And that brings us back to the key point: What will we do with our concerns, our anxieties, our worries?  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Note that thanksgiving is an aspect of this instruction about prayer.
Even when we have a dire need or concern, prayer should include praise and gratitude for who God is and all that he has done for us – especially through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Several verses from 1 Peter chapter 1 were read earlier and verse 3 said: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
– Amen and Hallelujah!

In one sense, Christianity is pessimistic or just very realistic about life. Jesus died. He did not evade death. In Isaiah 53 Jesus is called the man of sorrows. Verse 3 says that Jesus was “despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” 

The eastern religion of Buddhism says “Life is suffering.”  Period.  Those 3 words.  Pure pessimism. No hope. Christianity is different. Christianity is not a Pollyanna faith that sees no evil, but Christianity does not stop at “life is suffering.”  Christianity says: “Life is suffering – but glory, hallelujah, Easter is here.”  *

We have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We gather together as believers on Sunday because Jesus arose from the grave on this day. Jesus conquered death. A dead Savior would not be a Savior. Jesus is alive.

Jesus said in John 14:  “Because I live, you also will live.”  Jesus said to Martha in John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

Some Christians seem to forget about the resurrection, at least as reflected in how they live. They stop at “life is suffering” and it is like they follow their own hearse around. They have Easter on their calendar, but Easter is not in their heart, not in their mind. *

Do you have the joy, joy, joy down in your heart? Do you have the peace that passeth understanding down in your heart?

And actually we need to get to the peace that surpasses all understanding. We’ve not looked at it yet.

There is a provision for the problem-plagued soul that handles the problem God’s way. Verse 6 told us to not be anxious and to take everything to God in prayer. Verse 7 continues: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  The result of verse 6 is that we receive the peace of God.

Note what verse 7 does not say. It actually does not say that God will immediately or directly answer your specific request – whatever it happens to be – but that you will have the peace of God and your anxiety thus relieved.  The peace is described – it is a peace that surpasses understanding, and it will guard your heart and mind.

Paul is talking about a supernatural peace – a peace that can exist even when circumstances can’t be changed, this side of heaven at least.

A Christian song years ago had this line: “Sometimes God calms the storm, and other times He calms His child.”  We can have peace in the midst of a storm, and have a confidence, born of faith, that the Lord will give us wisdom, courage, and strength to deal with whatever happens.

Many Christians, including me, have not adequately availed themselves of this provision of God for the peace of heaven in our heart which can be obtained long before the Christian is taken to heaven.

Remember that Paul is in jail, but despite those circumstances, a theme of his letter is rejoicing and having joy in the Lord. People in the Lord have reserves of strength.  “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God…he does not grow tired or weary.” 

And this is about the peace of God, a peace that we experience in daily life – that makes us more like a thermostat and less like a thermometer.

However, in closing, there is one thing that can prevent us from having this peace of God – and that is if we have never made peace with God. The peace of God follows from peace with God.

Romans 5:1 says:  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the Garden of Eden, sin entered this world and broke the peace or fellowship that humanity had with God. But God already had a plan to bring redemption and reconciliation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Colossians 1:20 says that the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for our sin brought us peace and reconciliation with God.

There is only one thing we must do to have this peace with God – and that is to believe. Romans 3 says that “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ” and that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Note those wonderful words:  given, freely, grace.   God’s great salvation is a gift to be received through faith. You either have this gift or you do not have it. If you have never received it, that means you have, in essence, rejected it. If you are not sure if you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, please talk to me after the service. I’d be glad to help you enter into a relationship of peace with God.

* I used multiple books when preparing this message. Ones by Stuart Brisco, John Walvoord, and E. Stanley Jones were particularly helpful. Where I have a “*” my thoughts came very directly from E. Stanley Jones in this book: In Christ, Devotions for Every Day of the Year.