By Justin Rossow
In Philippians 4:4–7, Paul is landing the plane on his letter to these dear friends with some final words of exhortation and encouragement. Verse 7 includes a striking image that holds these verses together: Paul says that the “peace of God” is actually going to garrison, or guard by placing a sentinel, the hearts and minds of these Philippian believers.
Since Philippi was a Roman colony, Paul’s audience would have had regular, personal experience with a military garrison. A garrison is the place where the soldiers who are not currently on duty are able to rest secure, knowing that a guard has been placed and someone is keeping watch. It is not difficult to image that the people who heard Paul’s letter read out loud would have seen Roman sentinels patrolling the borders or the Roman garrison, providing both defense and an early warning system. The result of that military security would have been soldiers well-rested and ready for action.
For Paul, it’s the peace of God, not the Peace of Rome, which provides this kind of confident rest and ready preparedness. While the Epistle to the Philippians is a joyful and encouraging letter, you can also tell that the Philippians face real threats, both foreign and domestic.
Paul repeatedly calls for unity in the face of the division that has crept into the Philippian church. Fear for Paul because he is in jail and worry about their own financial future seem to be causing some divided hearts and minds; indeed, the word Paul uses for anxiety in verse 6 has to do with being divided, or going to pieces.
The way Paul phrases his command not to worry probably indicates that the Philippians are actively engaged in that kind of splitting anxiety, and they should stop and desist. Concern for individual status or rights, worry about money, leaders who are divided—all of these seem to be perceived threats to the wellbeing of the Philippian community.
Paul’s remedy for anxiety and division is the peace of God that places a sentinel and patrols the perimeter of the hearts and thoughts of the Philippian church. They can rest from their worry. They can stop being afraid. They can find unity in the midst of division. Even though they have real reasons to fear, the peace of God that transcends all other reasons now guards, patrols, and garrisons their hearts and minds.
Paul’s answer to anxiety echoes Jesus’ teaching on anxiety: worry’s opposite and antidote is trusting prayer (see Matthew 6, for example). No perceived threat, big or small, is outside the domain of prayer. In all things, in every situation, thankful prayers bring our needs to God (Phil 4:6), who in turn, stations peace to watch as sentinel over our anxious thoughts and feelings (4:7).
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
The trust evident in such constant prayer is grounded in the close proximity of the coming Christ (Phil 4:5) and the confident joy in the Lord that transcends and permeates your present circumstances (4:4).
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.
Philippians 4:4-5 (ESV)
In these short verses, Paul vividly paints the picture of a community surrounded by the presence and provision of God, grounded in joy and trust, and guarded by peace. What a beautiful way to imagine the Christian Church and our life together as those who belong to the Jesus who is both near to us, and coming soon!
Our congregations and families and friendships face legitimate threats, both internally and externally. Our own preoccupation with individual rights, our worry about family or church budgets, and the evident division between our own leaders—these things cause real uncertainty even for faithful Christians. Your own health, financial upheaval, or family tension can add layers of anxiety and stress.
But the confident joy Paul has in mind doesn’t come from removing all potential threats. For Paul, confidence and joy come from the work of God to surround us and protect us, even as our heavenly Father hears, knows, and provides for our needs. Paul invites the Philippian believers, and us along with them, to constant and trusting prayer, prayer grounded in the peace that goes beyond our reasoning—and beyond the legitimate reasons we have to be anxious.
Paul says that peace, the peace that surpasses understanding, surrounds our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; garrisons our troubled spirits; sets sentinels for fragile hearts.
With all that’s going on around you this Advent and Christmas season—all the threats to your personal and family stability, real and imagined—know this: God’s got you surrounded (in a good way!); you have nothing to fear.
Your heart and mind can be at rest. Jesus is near, hears your prayers, and gives you great joy.
Sections of this blog first appeared as part of the Craft of Preaching series at https://www.1517.org/articles/epistle-philippians-44-7-advent-3-series-c-1. Used by permission.