Getting a Christmas present for my mom was always hard. She never gave us anything solid to go on. Every year we did this dance: We would ask her what she wanted, and she would always say the same thing: Peace on earth.
I thought about the letters we wrote to Santa when we were kids. I don’t know how your letters went, but mine always began with a variation on a theme. “Dear Santa, I have been a very good boy this year.” Some of you probably wrote, “Dear Santa, let me explain…” We wanted Santa to come and bring us something besides coal in our stocking. So we prefaced our wish list with the reasons why it would be a good idea for the guy in the red suit to come down our chimney.
Now that I am older, my Christmas wish list is noticeably shorter. I don’t care so much about getting the Atari 2600 or Stretch Armstrong (OK, maybe Stretch Armstrong is still cool).
The Apostle Paul had a list too. And if peace was going to make an appearance, there would need to be prep work done in advance. I like to think of Philippians 4 as the cookies and milk laid out on the coffee table, welcoming peace into the home.
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women… (Philippians 4:2-3). Euodia and Syntyche were two ladies in the church who apparently had trouble getting along. Wow – sure glad that doesn’t happen today. Their names are telling. Euodia and Syntyche mean “successful” and “lucky.” I bet neither of them felt that way at the moment.
They seem to be having a disagreement. Paul understood disagreements. He fought with Barnabas before going on a missionary journey. He scolded Peter for ignoring new Gentile converts. He challenged religious leaders and even called out Caesar himself. Maybe that’s why his tone is so, well, mellow. He’s not yelling at them. But he is calling them out. Paul mentioned them by name, so this must have been important. My guess is that they were leaders in the church… and people were watching.
I go back to the fact that he has been challenging the church to “think” like Christ. He used that word a lot in the book of Philippians: Think. Here it’s translated, be of the same mind.
And look what Paul tells the rest of the church – help them. I was outside our high school my freshman year when somebody told me, “Jeff and Duwayne are fighting.” Jeff and Duwayne were two of my good friends, so I ran over… just to watch.
I’m not sure which is sadder – the fact that people in the church fight or that others in the church stand around and watch.
There are lots of things that God’s people can argue about. Some people like vanilla ice cream and others like chocolate. Some people get up at the crack of dawn and others get up at the crack of noon. Some people are Cubs fans and others are just wrong. (Don’t get mad. Please keep reading).
Christ’s church draws people from all kinds of backgrounds. They have varied interests and goals and hopes and desires. Truth be told, you and I might not agree on a lot of things. But if you want peace, then there is one place in which we must agree: The price of peace means to think like Jesus.
That’s what the Bible means when it talks about unity. Do you remember the one time in the Bible when Jesus prayed for you? I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21).
We don’t HAVE to agree on everything. But when we agree on the one thing that matters – Jesus is Lord and I will be like Jesus – then the world will believe.
We tend to default to the belief that peace is impossible because we are in conflict with others. Friends, if there was anyone who understood conflict, it was Jesus. For a guy who loved everyone, He sure had a rough time getting along with them. Every time Jesus turned around, He found Himself at odds with the religious leaders, His own disciples, and even His own family. But look what Paul said earlier in Philippians: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).
Do you want peace? Then think like Jesus thinks. Jesus is many things, one of which is this: HE IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING. But He didn’t use His power to His advantage but instead made himself nothing. He took on the nature of a servant. He humbled himself. He became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Here is what the Apostle John told his churches: This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus (I John 4:17, NIV). I love verses like this. When you close your eyes on earth and open them in heaven and look at your Father and wonder whether or not you made it – Were you like Jesus?
Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is not total agreement with everyone on every issue. Peace is the understanding of the only thing, the only One, who is truly important.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that the very next thing Paul says is this: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 2:4-5).
Rejoice! There is no difference between you and me that will separate us. Rejoice! We have a peace that the world can’t help but be drawn to. Rejoice! The Lord is near. If we are not careful, we miss those words. The Lord is near.
The price of peace is the Presence of the Prince of Peace. Too many of us want peace on our own terms. We want peace when our life choices remove Jesus from the equation. We can’t figure out why our behavior and a personal connection with our Savior can’t live side by side. We shout our sin on social media one day, but the next day we complain to everyone on Facebook that we can’t catch a break.
I have already said that peace isn’t the absence of conflict. That’s what peace isn’t. But here is what peace is: Peace is the presence of God. Here is what Paul told the church in Rome: The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6).
Peace doesn’t come when all the problems go away, because your problems will never go away. You will die with a to-do list – things left undone and unsaid, relationships left unrestored, and goals unmet. You don’t get peace by checking off all the items on the list. Peace comes with total surrender to God.
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).
So what’s the key to peace? Don’t worry about stuff? (Ha. I say it again. Ha). Not that easy, is it? I don’t know if this will make you feel any better or not, but Jesus worried about stuff. Jesus dealt with anxiety. The night before he was crucified, he sweat drops of blood (I call that pretty intense anxiety). Three times Jesus went to pray the same prayer – Lord, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.
But each time his prayer ended the same way: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39).
Everybody has worries. Anxiety will happen. Did you know the word anxiety comes from an ancient Greek word that means “to choke?” Does anyone feel choked lately?
Anxiety is real. The question is what you are going to go when it shows up. The price of peace is prayer. In every situation, present your requests to God. I would say that most of our prayers begin from worry. We even call them “prayer concerns.” It is anxiety over an issue that often leads us to the Throne in the first place. Notice the tradeoff. I give Jesus my worry, and He gives me peace. That’s a trade I will make any day.
Some people say, “I pray all the time. Why isn’t God responding?” I counter with this: “Are you SURE that you are praying all the time? Because it looks to me like you are worrying all the time. There is a huge difference.”
Peace is a mindset. Philippians is a book about how you THINK. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8).
Peace is a choice. All the way back to Philippians 4:2 where we started. I choose to never allow my disagreements to get in the way of the main thing. I choose to have the same mind as Jesus. I choose to celebrate the presence of God. I choose to acknowledge my anxieties before God and trust that He will guard my heart and mind.
And I choose to think about the things that my Jesus thinks about.
The Apostle Paul put it like this: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5).
Christian, Your mind belongs to Christ and must be made to obey Christ. So every thought that comes out of your head goes through a filter. And if it doesn’t pass the test, it never sees the light of day. What is the test? Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8).
Read Philippians 4:9 one more time and ask yourself this question: What exactly is promised here? Paul doesn’t promise them “peace” if they follow his lead. When you put what you have been taught into practice, the God of peace will be with you. You see, when we choose to think like Jesus, when we welcome the presence of Jesus, when we quit trying to do the job of Jesus, when we take hold of every thought and give them to Jesus, we get something better than peace. We get Jesus.
The reason you might not have peace this Christmas season may be because you’re setting out the cookies and milk for the wrong thing. You think peace comes when that relationship is fixed or that problem is solved. You do get peace when you get what you want, as long as you want the One that matters. My Christmas list is very short and simple. I want Jesus. And I know my Jesus will come bringing peace.
I wish you Jesus. I wish you the peace that only He can provide. I wish you the willingness to think like He does, to love one another like He does, to bask in His presence, to experience the freedom that comes when we stop trying to fix everything, to take every thought that goes through your head and lay it at His feet, to follow Jesus and become a follower of Jesus for whom others can follow.
I wish you peace. And maybe Stretch Armstrong.
–Tracy Thomas, Director of Alumni Relations at Lincoln Christian University