Most of us have read “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and have come to the conclusion that, as explanations go, it probably surpasses all understanding! Is it saying that God’s peace is so deep and holy, or so all-inclusive and powerful, or so godly that our finite brains cannot hope to make anything of it? I always felt that all I could take from that was that God had actually designed my mind so that I’d never get it, like a 3D maze for a 2D mouse’s mind! I’ve even heard sermons insisting on just that. Hardly fair, and whatever for? Why were we not allowed to understand?
New King James Version – Philippians 4:5-7
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.
Revised Standard Version – Philippians 4:5-7
5 Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. 6 Have no anxiety 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 passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
But first let’s skip over to Colossians –
New Living Translation – Colossians 3:14-15
14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
Mouse Companion Version – Colossians 3:14-15
14 Over all these add love, which is the binding agent of perfection,
Many of the newer translations assume that love is the bond facilitating the unity of believers but, though it will ultimately have that effect, here Paul is directing us to spiritual perfection: love holding together all the virtues of Christ within the individual believer, particularly those virtues he’s just mentioned. I have elaborated slightly on “bond” as the word has so many meanings in English and therefore so many ways it could be misunderstood.
15 and let the peace of God be your heart’s arbiter, for to this way of life you were called as one body, and grow in gratitude.
Most translations put something about allowing “the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” What Paul is talking about here is practical instruction on how to live ‘by the Spirit,’ or how to deny the flesh and still live your life. He says that we are to live by the peace of God. An ‘arbiter’ is a referee, making decisions on the fly. By this he means that once we’ve brought the matter to God in prayer, we are to attend to the ‘check in the spirit’ where the Holy Spirit says “no,” or to the ‘peace in the spirit,’ where He says “yes.” Then we stop or move based on our awareness of this check or peace regarding a particular circumstance or direction. This is living by the Spirit—always allowing the final decision to be His. It doesn’t mean allowing the peace of Christ to make you feel relaxed and at peace in every situation, which is what many translations imply.
Most newer translations assume that Paul is saying we were ‘called to peace,’ and while I wouldn’t disagree in principle it is rather vague: I feel sure he actually means we are called to the practice of attending to the Holy Spirit in our hearts so we can literally obey Him in fine detail because we are His body on earth and this is the only way it will work. If we allow the Holy Spirit to direct our steps, then we are “sons of God” and thus together form His body. Simply trying to be ‘filled’ with God’s peace is not going to achieve that.
And finally, because, when we live this way it will work and we will bear fruit for Christ, this will cause us to become more and more grateful to Christ for calling, purifying and enabling us.
Meanwhile, over in Philippians –
Mouse Companion Version – Philippians 4:5-7
5 Let your graciousness be seen by all. The Lord is at hand
Our lives are supposed to be so Christ centred that everyone we come into contact with should notice His character in us—even if it repels them… and we’re specifically not to hide it.
Almost every translation misses the detail that the end of this verse is the first part of the sentence in the next verse so they end up stressing that we are to reveal our graciousness because the Lord is watching. This is not what Paul is saying.
6 so don’t be concerned about anything: just pray about everything. Through prayers and thanksgiving let God know your needs,
His point is that because the Lord is always at hand, we never have to do without His support in living this life. All we have to do is get into the habit of praying “about everything,” bringing all the details of our lives before Him in faith.
7 and the peace of God, which is superior to all reasoning, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.
Here Paul again talks about the peace of God. Being dead in Christ means we can no longer draw on our flesh to live even our daily life, let alone our obedience to God. The only strength by which we can legitimately do anything is His strength, made available by the Holy Spirit and drawn upon by us, through faith.
What we are supposed to do is focus utterly on sensing the gentle peace of God in our spirits, giving us the go-ahead, or, conversely, the quiet little check in the spirit stopping us from going forward, and so allowing us to understand His promptings, directions and instructions; keeping us fruitful and safe from dangers He can see but we can’t. Obviously, though this will take sensitivity and practice, this is straightforward to follow and obey, which is why it is “superior to all reasoning,” (not surpassing all understanding) as our only alternative is to try to reason it all out for ourselves, in the flesh, without adequate knowledge of either the situation or the will of God for us. This application of the peace of God will guard our hearts and thoughts because our hearts need simply trust and our minds obey. It is described as living by faith since we have to act on tiny little promptings in our spirits, not by any fleshly ability or intelligence, nor by any of the ways of the world.
And in Romans –
Mouse Companion Version – Romans 8:6
6 The mind of the flesh is death but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace.
This confirms that if we live by the Spirit, He will provide life to live by—the transcendent, victorious, resurrection life of Christ—together with the peace of God so we will have orders to follow.
Bless you folks, Geoff >ᴥ<