If we’ve been around the church for a while (or spent time with those who have), you may have heard a phrase like, “the peace that passes all understanding”. Sometimes, the timing of this is a little rough, like when you hear it from a well-meaning friend (or in a sermon) during a time when things seem pretty bad for you. Similarly, quoting the corresponding verse (which we can read below) to someone who is suffering or in sorrow might not be the right thing to say.
Still, in our more reflective moments, when our hearts aren’t quite as heavy and our minds aren’t quite as full, this is definitely the kind of peace that we’d like to have. We want peace when there seem to be no way out of a conflict. We need the hope that peace can be found when things seem hopeless. We seek a peace that goes beyond the fragile treaties and settlements of human beings – one that truly creates harmony within the human race. Perhaps we even seek peace between fallen people and a perfect, holy God.
The verse from which most people paraphrase, “peace that passes understanding” is probably Philippians 4:7. Before we jump into that, though, let’s back up just one verse, and read them both:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NIV
I like the NIV’s translation here, since the peace we really need must necessarily transcend human understanding. The “peace” that is conceived of (and implemented) by people isn’t a big enough peace for our soul, nor can it address the conflict for the problems that really matter. Other translations do a good job of bringing out various aspects of God’s peace, too:
- “which passeth all understanding” (King James Version, and others)
- “which surpasses all comprehension” (New American Standard Version)
- “which exceeds anything we can understand” (New Living Translation)
(See also Bible Gateway’s display of that verse in all English translations that it supports.)
In the Bible, though, context is critical. Here, verse 6 gives us some good background for what it means to live in this amazing peace. Now, I’m not suggesting that we have to master the instructions of verse 6 (not worrying; asking God for things in prayer, etc.) in order to experience God’s peace in verse 7. I don’t interpret verse 6 as a prerequisite for verse 7. Still, I think that these two concepts are closely related. For instance, when we are confident of the peace of God – even if we don’t totally comprehend it – we don’t have to worry. As we trust a loving, all-powerful God to keep His promises, anxiety no longer has any right to maintain residence in our hearts.
Similarly, as we let God’s peace reign in our lives, we don’t have to fix everything. Now that God’s peace is already established (through His holy plan and gift of salvation), we can just hand over our problems to Him. We can be peacemakers, but we no longer have to work to achieve peace between ourselves and God. So, we thank God for what He has done (where He lets us see His work), and we thank Him for what we trust He is doing (where we don’t yet see it). And, we pray with our requests (of all kinds) to the One who has provided us with ultimate peace. Then, we share the good news – about that peace – with others, so that they can experience it, too.
If you don’t have the peace that you want, read Philippians 4:6 again today and follow its instructions. Tell God about what is “un-peaceful” in your life, and give Him the opportunity to take care of those things (see 1 Peter 5:7). See if you don’t find more of His peace as you trust Him more with your problems, and as you draw closer to Him. After all, God took care of the massive separation that we created by our sin. He can handle the other things that we are struggling with, too.
Conversely, if you have experienced the peace of God already, remember that simple fact as you talk with Him. We should certainly be grateful for God’s peace, but His faithfulness should inspire us to continue to share our hearts – good and bad – with Him.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.