I’ve Got You Surrounded!

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 phroureó (φρουρέω - 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 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 aloud 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 is 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 which has crept into the Philippian church. Concern 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 (merimnaó - μεριμνάω) has to do with being divided or going to pieces. The fact that he uses a present participle probably indicates the Philippians are actively engaged in this 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.

For Paul, it is the peace of God, not the Peace of Rome, which provides this kind of confident rest and ready preparedness.

Paul’s remedy for anxiety and division is the peace of God which 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 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 (Philippians 4:6), who in turn, stations peace to watch as sentinel over our anxious thoughts and feelings (4:7).

The trust evident in such constant prayer is grounded in the close proximity of the coming Christ (Philippians 4:5) and the confident joy in the Lord that transcends and permeates your present circumstances (4:4).

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!

Preaching on this text may well mean naming the threats your community faces, both internally and externally. The confidence and joy which set the tone of the text flow from the work of God in Jesus to surround us and protect us while knowing and providing for our needs. The invitation to constant and trusting prayer flows from the peace that goes beyond our reasoning—and beyond the reasons we have to be anxious—the peace that surrounds our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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.

You might consider structuring your sermon to reflect the structure of the text. If I were using something like a Verse-by-Verse structure, I might use the image of the garrison from verse 7 in my introduction and then walk toward that goal, one verse at a time. Or you could even start at the end and move verse by verse backward, toward the beginning; the meaning seems to open up nicely in that direction.

The thought of beginning at the end may also be influenced by the concrete image Paul uses of God’s peace standing sentinel over hearts and minds. While the Philippians know the situation from their lived experience, your hearers may not as readily feel the impact of this image. So, you might want to start there and develop the logic of the metaphor throughout the sermon: With a sentinel like God’s peace standing guard, the things which seem to threaten us do not stand a chance.

Focusing on this image may also lead to structuring your sermon in terms of the metaphorical movement from the source domain of a garrisoned army to the target domain of the Church facing enemies but enjoying peace, confidence, and joy.

Keep the image of the sentinel prominent in whatever sermon structure you choose. The confidence, rest, and maybe even preparedness which flow from that image sum up the teaching of these four verses as a whole.

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.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Philippians 4:4-7.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Philippians 4:4-7.