“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:4-7].
Rejoicing in the Lord always, living in gentleness toward all, recognizing the presence of Christ, living in conversation with God born out of relationship with God – this all leads to the peace of God (which is beyond our understanding) guarding our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
I previously wrote that in a sense we have the opportunity to relive the Garden of Eden each new day of our lives, we can choose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; or we can choose, by God’s grace, to eat from the Tree of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ. In another sense we can choose, by God’s grace, to live in the New Jerusalem each new day – for in the New Jerusalem we see not the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but only the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:1-4). In a third sense we live between the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem, we are on pilgrimage from one to the other. We have left a high place (the Garden), have fallen from that place, but are now in Christ traveling to a higher place (the New Jerusalem) – see Hebrews 11:10, 15, 16; 12:18 - 24.
The peace of God surpasses all understanding, we don’t comprehend it, it just doesn’t make sense. This peace comes not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it comes from our Lord Jesus, the Tree of Life. This peace is not born of earth, it is rooted in the joy and certainty of heaven. Some people think that when Paul writes that the peace of God surpasses all understanding that he means that it surpasses what the mind that does not know Christ can understand (see 1 Corinthians Chapter Two for insight into the difference between the mind that knows Christ and the mind that doesn’t). These folks think that the mind that knows Christ can understand the peace of God.
For sure the mind that does not know Christ cannot experience the peace of God; while the mind that knows Christ can experience God’s peace. But Paul is not using a word that means experience, he is not using a heart word, he is using a head word; and so I think that Paul, in the midst of his own imprisonment, is saying what many Christians have come to know in the their minds and experience in both their hearts and minds – that the peace of God is so other worldly and so transcendent that we cannot comprehend it, we cannot understand it, we cannot (to use a current expression) “wrap our minds around it.” The peace of God does not make sense. It does not make sense to experience overwhelming peace in the midst of adversity and pain and persecution – it doesn’t make earthly sense, and while it does make heavenly sense because of who our Father is, because of who Jesus is, because of who the Holy Spirit is – we still can’t comprehend it. We know it is so because of who God is, we know Jesus the Prince of Peace lives within us and envelops us in Himself – but we do not understand how this can be because it is so other than we are – and yet praise God – it is who we are becoming in Christ Jesus!
I’m making a point of this because the peace of God is one of the most supernatural experiences (to take the risk of using comparative language) that a Christian can know because it is a contradiction of natural-earthly circumstances – it is an acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord and that this present age does not have the final word on the meaning of our circumstances. The peace of God guarding our hearts and minds is the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace establishing itself within us and building ramparts around its territory – around our hearts and minds. This is why Paul will follow in verses 8 – 9 with an exhortation to holy thinking and holy living – we do not want to dismantle our defenses, we want to continually strengthen them.
The world tempts us to retaliate, the enemy wants us to rationalize retribution and justify violating the peace of God. “If someone does something harmful to me then it is only right that I respond by escalating the conflict,” is the way of the age. Unholy anger is the world’s ballistic missile. Yet Jesus proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount that He is bringing a Kingdom to the planet with an entirely different trajectory, it is upward and not downward – it is intent on building and not destroying – the idea of “mutual assured destruction” is foreign to the Kingdom of God. The laws and principles of the heavenly land in which we live are different than the principles and laws of the earthly land upon which we live – the laws and principles of the heavenly land are eternal, the laws and principles of the earthly land are temporal.
When we experience the peace of God that passes all understanding we taste our heavenly home – right now, right here, in the midst of circumstances that shout, “How can you be at peace! How can you not have worry and anxiety!”
One of the properties I manage is a housing cooperative here in Virginia. However, even though the cooperative is located in Virginia, it was incorporated in Maryland; therefore while it must comply with Virginia laws for a foreign corporation, it must also be governed by Maryland’s law regarding housing cooperatives. The people living in the housing cooperative live in Virginia but are (at least in part) governed by Maryland law – especially Maryland housing cooperative law. God’s people may live on the earth, they may live in the world, they may live in the midst of the spirit of the age – but they are not governed by the things of earth and are not to subject themselves to the spirit of the age. The peace of God is to rule us (Colossians 3:15) and that peace is not of the world (John 14:27) – this is the peace we are called to, an other-worldly peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding…keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”