At Christmas, we were reminded of the words the angels sang the night Jesus Christ was born: “Peace and goodwill…” It is something we long for in a world that is torn by self-interest, injustice, terrorism, and war. ‘Is the angels’ message really true?’ we ask. ‘Where is the peace and goodwill?

Before we dismiss their words, we need to read them in the context of their complete statement: “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “And on earth peace among those he (Godfavors!” The promise was to a specific group of people.

Consider Paul the Apostle’s words in Philippians 4:7: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ JesusAnd in 4:9: …And the God of peace will be with you.

Peace – Shalom! 

It’s a word of security. Paul understood what it is to be anxious, even fearful about the unexpected in life. 

He also knew the barbs of opposition that hurt God’s people. In December 2012, Dr. Angela Merkel remarked that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. Richard Glover, himself an atheist, asked in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Nov. 14, 2015) why are ‘Believers, Christian people, so derided and ridiculed?’

At the time he wrote his Letter to the Philippians, Paul the Apostle was in prison for his faith. He knew what it was like to be in situations that cause anxiety and fear.

Paul’s word ‘guard’ in the context of his speaking about God’s peace is very encouraging. It actually means ‘a garrison’. Being a Roman citizen he may have had the Praetorian Guard in mind. It’s a great thought: God’s ‘Praetorian Guard’ providing a security for our hearts and minds, and so giving us peace.

The word ‘hearts’ in the Bible is a reference to our mind and will, our conscience and our emotions. It’s what is going on within us that finds outward expression in our life.

And the word ‘mind’ is a reference to our conscious thoughts and ideas that spring from these inner longings.

Dr. Ashley Null, one of the foremost scholars concerning Abp Thomas Cranmer, observes that Cranmer’s anthropology can be summarized: ‘What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.’ Null explains that, according to Cranmer, ‘The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself is captive to what the heart wants’.

When Paul speaks about ‘the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds, he is speaking about our need, not just for inner transformation, but our on-going need to keep our hearts and minds centered on Christ. Otherwise ‘our hearts and minds’, will turn away from Christ and become enemies of his cross – something that Paul speaks about at the end of Philippians 3.


But we need something more. We need the conscious presence of God. So in Philippians 4:9 Paul tells us again, ‘The peace of God will be with you’. Why would he make this promise unless we need this peace?

Paul knows that our faith can easily become a creedal formula rather than a living experience. While we theoretically know that Christ is with us, we can at the same time, in reality, forget Him. And in the absence of a sense of His presence, it is so easy to fall into sin and slackness. We need to know that in truth and in reality, the God of peace is with us.

In Philippians 4:7 and 9, Paul identifies some very encouraging promises: ‘The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep you… God’s peace will be with us.

The peace of God that passes all understanding is the promise that our lives will be touched by the supernatural. It is beyond the range of our human understanding.

So often our problem in standing firm in the face of hostility is that others do not see why we want to be different. As one commentator remarked, ‘Society looks on us as being in the category of the lady whose obituary noted that her chief hobby was religion’. What we need as God’s people, individually and as a people, is the touch of the supernatural – something that cannot be explained except by saying, ‘This is the finger of God’. (Exodus 8:19)

I’m not talking about some mystical power. Rather I am speaking of the work of God’s Word through his Spirit in our lives, enabling us to rise above the challenges of life in such a way that it can be explained only by the power of God at work within us.

© John G. Mason