The Nearness of Jesus, Spiritual Resilience, and the Glory of God: Part 2
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
-hymn, Thomas Chisholm
In part 1 of this series we were challenged with the idea of “rejoicing, always” and the means by which God intends for us to lay hold of this joy – that is, faith-filled prayer, in Paul’s well-known passage, Philippians 4:4-7. We are specifically looking at the claim that verse 5 provides an absolutely essential (although often overlooked) truth that anchors these commands and promises in the very nearness of Jesus Himself, living by the Holy Spirit in every believer. We will jump around a bit but hopefully it will help, by the end to clarify your thinking and the claim that verse 5 stands as the bedrock of these other truths.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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. (ESV)
The Profound Promise
Before we look at verse 5 however, I want to look at the profound promise we are given in verse 7.The promise is that God’s peace will actually guard our hearts and minds from fears and anxieties. Here, we discover a possible state of our hearts and minds that is supernaturally derived. The promise is that through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), we may obtain peace (the opposite of anxiety!), and that peace is not something our reason or mental processes could ever drum up on their own. This is no ordinary “peaceful feeling”, and no amount of mental gymnastics and “positive thinking” could ever bring about this type of peace. We are utterly dependent on God to make this a reality. I believe we need to feel the weight of this as we meditate on this passage. God has ordained that the means of supernatural peace and joy is prayer. However, as we have seen, that prayer must be fueled by joy and thankfulness in the Trinity. But the question remains – what exactly are we to be thankful for and what are we to rejoice over? Next we turn to verse 6 to fully unveil the motivations for our prayer and the hope of verse 7’s promise.
Verse 6 provides the primary motivation for why God cares about our anxiety and why He wants us to rejoice. The short answer is that it glorifies God. We will come back to the long answer at our conclusion. For now, I want to focus on the phrase “The Lord is at hand” in verse 5. I believe very strongly that the truth of this phrase provides the fundamental basis on which the rest of these verses rest. This is the only “indicative” (or truth claim for which we are to believe). The remaining verses in the immediate context are either promises or commands. So what does this little phrase mean?
Many have taken this verse to have an eschatological meaning –in other words, that “Jesus is coming back again”. Certainly this is true and a doctrine that is universally agreed-upon amongst Christian denominations. The bulk of eschatological proof-texts provide this as the central and most lucid truth regarding the future of the universe and humankind. Back in chapter 1 (verse 10), Paul prays that the Philippians would be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ”, here referring to the second and expected coming of Jesus Christ. However, given the immediate context of chapter four I do not believe the phrase “the Lord is at hand” refers to Christ’s second coming. There is only one other place in the New Testament that uses similar terminology as Philippians 4:5, and is found in James chapter 5 verse 8. It says, “…establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” In this case, based on the immediate context and words, it is clear that James is talking about the second coming of Christ and linking the need to be patient with the fact that Christ’s second coming is “at hand” – or looming large onto the horizon of history. So, yes, this term “the Lord is at hand” can refer to the second coming, however as James makes clear - it depends on the context. In James it refers to the second coming, while in Philippians chapter four Paul is apparently using it to refer to the immediate presence, comfort, and security of Jesus Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.
Given the comment Paul makes only a few verses later – namely, “The God of peace will be with you”, I take this verse to mean that God Himself – namely Jesus Christ, specifically through the person of the Holy Spirit, is actually present with the born-again Christian. Secondly, the grammatical structure is straightforward. If transliterated, it would say quite simply, “the Lord is near”. If this is the case, then the term “at hand” is literally true – The Lord Jesus Christ is so close that if you could, you could “reach out and touch Him”.
Note also the title Paul uses – Lord. This is to emphasize the sovereign nature of God’s presence. God is not only literally with you – close enough to touch (“at hand”), but He is Lord – He is ruler of heaven and earth– He is sovereign and in control of the circumstances you are currently in, which you are tempted to be anxious about. Nothing is out of His purveyance and ability to change, most of all your heart and mind. This is intended to provide us with confidence no matter what the circumstances – good or bad. Knowing that God is there with you, close enough to “touch”, is completely in control, and that all of His intentions are always and only good and loving towards you (Romans 8:28, 35-39), should allay and subside anxieties and motivate the believer to pray in confidence. Elsewhere in Scripture, God’s presence (for the believer) is associated with supernatural and unparalleled joy and bliss (see the entirety of Psalm 16). As a result, the possibility of rejoicing is fundamentally a rejoicing in God Himself and a deep-seated, heart-felt conviction (and even at times we may perceive) that God is at hand. There is a direct spiritual experience of God Himself (although limited by remaining in-dwelling sin, worldly imperfections, and the attacks of Satan) and therefore a supernaturally, and Holy Spirit invoked joy that ensues. That joy crowds out the looming anxieties as the believer remembers God’s nearness, supplicates with thanksgiving (about His nearness and sovereignty and good intentions) with the expectation of a God-dispensed supernatural peace. This is why later, Paul may rightly say that the “God of peace will be with you” (v. 9).
In the third and final installment of this three-part article, we will look at how God has ordained that the focus of our attention determines our affections and intends for our minds to be “set on things above” (Colossians 3:2), and that the ultimate purpose of overcoming anxiety is for the sake of God’s glory. For now, remember Jesus’s words in John 14:27 – “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid”, and thank Him that these words are true, even in your most distressing moments, and receive these promises as a gift of His type of peace.