Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

Discipleship-greenAntidote #6: Practicing Paul’s Pattern

Whereas the points to ponder in verse 8 were character traits, the list in verse 9 focuses on the means of communication by which the Philippians encountered the gospel and observed its life-changing power. “What you have learned and received” sums up the message that Paul and Silas brought to Philippi. That message is good news (“gospel”), and its subject is Christ himself (Phil. 1:5, 15, 17–18). Christ’s divine and human person and His redemptive mission (2:6–11) were the only theme that Paul cared to convey (1 Cor. 2:1–2; Col. 1:28).

What they had “heard and seen” in Paul was the fruit of God’s grace, as the Holy Spirit had caused the gospel to take root in his life. This second pair of verbs alludes to the situation that Paul mentioned in Philippians 1:30, namely, that the believers of Philippi had seen Paul suffer in the past, while he was among them, but now heard from a distance that he still suffered. In his current imprisonment and legal crisis, Paul is prepared for whichever outcome God has planned for him, affirming one single-minded resolve: “it is my eager expectation and hope that … with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:20–21). Paul has shown his friends how faith in Jesus works out in practice, in the midst of life’s trials. Just as Christ is the Savior, who captivates Paul’s belief, so also Christ is the Lord, who controls Paul’s behavior.

What the Philippians heard and saw in Paul was the effect of Jesus Christ transforming a selfish, sinful man into the beauty of his own image, in holiness and love. When we read the virtues listed in verse 8 in the light of Paul’s gospel-focused message and lifestyle in verse 9, we see that he is not just saying, “Think good thoughts, like the upright pagans.” Rather, he is calling us to ponder the dimensions of Christ’s perfection. Christ is the standard of truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, and praiseworthiness.

So Paul sets the pattern for how pondering Christ’s perfections progresses on to practicing them in daily living. Fixing and feasting your minds on Jesus must ignite the fire of your will and motivation, so you are eager to express your love for him by loving others. In that move from ponder to practice, God’s Spirit quietly conforms our desires to the mind-set of Jesus, so we are no longer preoccupied with our safety or rights, no longer intimidated by threats, no longer paralyzed by anxiety. As trusting children, we learn to let our wise and mighty Father deal with factors beyond our control. Set free from that burden of protecting ourselves from harm and loss, we begin to practice the self-forgetting servanthood of Jesus, as we have seen it reflected in people such as Paul.

So Paul does close with a parental “to-do” list of sorts: rejoice in the Lord, be gentle in hope, pray with thanks, ponder and practice the beauties of Jesus. We could even add to these that, in some circumstances, there are other practical steps that we may take to address the occasions of our anxiety. If you have accrued looming debt by living beyond your means, begin to practice responsible stewardship before the Lord—spending less, paying off overdue bills, and saving more will be God’s means to bring some relief to your stress. If the strain in your relationship with another believer has persisted because you are afraid to speak the truth in love or too proud to confess sin and seek forgiveness, consider your discomfort God’s prod, prompting you to pay the price of gospel-grounded peacemaking.

The ultimate antidote to anxiety is not to be found in what we do but in what God has done and is doing for us. Appropriately, therefore, we close our survey of God’s antidotes to anxiety by returning to the twin promises about the peace of God and the God of peace in verses 7 and 9.

Antidote #7: Protected by the Peace of God and the God of Peace

Christ, our Champion, promises the protection of God’s peace through the presence of the God of peace (Phil. 4:7, 9). As we stop wasting energy in futile worry and turn instead to thankful prayer, “the peace of God … will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The word guard is a military term that often refers to a soldier’s duty to ensure that prisoners do not escape (see 2 Cor. 11:32; Gal. 3:23). Another purpose of a military guard was to protect a target of attack, as Roman forces had stepped in to keep an angry mob in the Jerusalem temple from tearing Paul apart (Acts 21:27–36). That is the scenario that Paul paints here. Our hearts and minds are under attack and need God’s protection. The Philippians faced intimidation that threatened their hearts with fear, perhaps by threatening their bodies with harm (Phil. 1:28). So Paul promises that peaceful calm will replace worry when we pray to God with thanks for grace already given.

This peace “surpasses all understanding” because, as one scholar put it, “believers experience it when it is unexpected, in circumstances that make it appear impossible: Paul suffering in prison, the Philippians threatened by quarrels within and by enemies without.”

Do not confuse feeling anxiety with lacking faith in Christ and his care! The military mission of God’s peace, as it occupies its guard post to protect believers’ hearts and minds, is not to numb us to life’s pains or to blind us to its threats. It is to draw our troubled hearts to the truth that will strengthen us to stand: we are “in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7), and not even the worst that life or death throws at us can sever us from his love (Rom. 8:34–39).

Now, when Paul speaks of “the peace of God,” he has in view not only a mellow state of mind for individuals. He also refers to two other dimensions of peace, one deeper and one wider. The deeper peace is God’s reconciling mercy that ended the hostility between us rebels and himself. About this deeper peace Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Because God has made peace with us through his Son, no danger of the present or threat of the future can separate us from his love (8:35–39). If you think you can achieve lasting peace of mind by mantras or meditation, without receiving peace with your Maker through humble trust in Christ and his cross, you are self-deceived. The peace that lasts through time and into eternity is found only in the peacemaking mission of Jesus the Son of God.

God’s peace also extends wider than my personal peace of mind or yours. Christ’s peacemaking mission to reconcile us to his Father has created a community of peacemakers and peacekeepers. When our hearts and minds are guarded by God’s peace, our motives are ruled by his reconciling, unifying love as we relate to others. This is the oneness to which Paul just called Euodia and Syntyche. Paul instructed believers to bear with “one another and, if one has a complaint against another, [to] forgiv[e] each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:13–15). Patience, forgiveness, love, harmony are all about interpersonal relationships among believers. In this family context, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” means that Christ’s peace, rather than personal self-interest, must set the agenda for our attitudes and interactions. The Philippians, too, need the power of God’s peace to protect their hearts from the self-centered focus that has fed their worries and prolonged their friction, as do we.

Notice the “package” in whom God’s protective peace is delivered: it comes to us “in Christ Jesus.” Paul has kept Jesus in view all along. He is the Lord in whom we rejoice, the Lord who is near, our greatest reason for thanks, the apex of virtue, the theme of Paul’s preaching and practice. Here Paul speaks his name. God’s peace comes to us “in Christ Jesus,” as we rest in his saving work, completed for us, and as we trust in his living person, now praying for us at God’s right hand and present among us by his Spirit. Paul directs our attention toward Christ himself as the ultimate Peacemaker (see Eph. 2:14–19).

In Philippians 4:9, Paul inverts the wording of verse 7, speaking now not of “the peace of God” protecting us but of “the God of peace” present with us. The God of peace is with us now through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. God’s peace is not a prescription electronically transmitted from a doctor’s office to a pharmacy, to be picked up and self-administered by the invalid. No, this divine Physician of our souls makes house calls! The peace of God guards our hearts because the God of peace comes near us by his Holy Spirit. The Immanuel promise, “God with us,” which we celebrate at Christmas, did not apply only to the thirty-three years that Jesus walked this earth. It is still in force. Before his death, Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). After his resurrection, he assured us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Admittedly, the troubles in the world are easy to see, whereas God’s presence by his Spirit is invisible. But as Jesus told Nicodemus, though we cannot see the wind or discover its origin, we hear its roar and see trees swaying by its power (John 3:8)! So the unseen Spirit of Christ shows his presence in our lives in many surprising ways, making us calm when we expect to be panicky, and moving us to serve others when we once lavished all care only on ourselves.

The Only Cure

Do you need antidotes to anxiety? There are lots of remedies on the market, I suppose. You could consult your physician, or check the self-help section at your bookstore. But only one cure was designed by the Manufacturer who knows how you are put together from the inside out, the One who knows why your heart is unsettled by the uncontrollable factors of life. To find the peace that you long for, to silence the worries that keep you awake at night, what you need is nothing less than God himself as your Friend and Father, your ever-present Protector.

You need to find your joy in the Lord, whether there are figs on the tree and grapes on the vine or not. Fix your hope on Jesus’ coming, and you will find the strength to react to hostility with gentleness rather than retaliation. Set your heart’s “anxiety alarm” so that when you start wallowing in worry, you know that it is time to rehearse God’s good gifts—especially Jesus, God’s great gift—and then bring the hassles that make you fret to your Father. Instead of exhausting your mental energy on the futile “what if?” treadmill, focus your thoughts on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you.