A favorite Bible passage often used in times of strife, stress, or struggle comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the early church in Philippi.
As he winds the letter to a close, Paul writes, “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).
The notion of God’s peace being able to guard and protect us can be a welcome balm for our troubled souls.
Some translations of the Bible use the word “surpass” in place of “transcend,” but the meaning is much the same. God’s peace is so great we cannot possibly comprehend its fullness, so great it overshadows even the mightiest of concerns.
But what is the peace that surpasses all understanding? And how can we get that peace?
What Does Peace Mean in This Passage?
The original Greek word used here for peace, eiréné, is defined by Strong’s Concordance as “one, peace, quietness, or rest”— it’s a giving over, a blissfully relaxing, much like the carefree sleep of a child who has no worries because all their concerns are handled.
Peace can often be translated with a militaristic perspective in mind, such as the absence of human conflict or battles, but here it’s used more in reference to a state of mind.
Eiréné is possibly derived from the root word eiró, which means “to join,” as in a state of harmony and connection.
For Paul’s intended audience, people often torn apart by religious persecution and cultural strife, the concept of peace is a desirable one.
What Does ‘Surpasses All Understanding’ Mean?
The Greek phrase “uperechousa panta noun” is translated to mean “surpasses all understanding.” Uperechousa, or its transliterate version huperechó, comes from the words huper (which means over, or beyond) and echó (have, or hold), according to Strong’s Concordance — basically, “to hold above, to rise above, to be superior.”
This, then, is something that is far above the norm, vastly beyond the regular.
What Is the Peace That Surpasses All Understanding?
From a translation perspective, this essentially implies a deep, blissful, restful state that is so far beyond our normal state — which, at that time, for the church in Philippi, was divisive, contentious, and combative.
For a people accustomed to conflict and trouble, the promised peace of God would have been not only desirable but something they could scarcely begin to imagine.
What Is the Deeper Meaning of ‘Peace That Surpasses All Understanding’?
However, it takes a fuller reading of the passage to understand all the nuances of this oft-quoted Scripture.
Just before Paul reassures the people of this perfect peace available to guard their hearts, he encourages them to do something that might sound odd in light of their difficult experiences: Rejoice in the Lord. And not only on occasion, or when times are good, but to do so “always.” As Paul writes,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 4:4-7).
In essence, he says, don’t worry about a thing. Ask God for what you need, be grateful, and joyful in your faith, and your heart and mind will be wrapped tenderly in the protective peace of the Lord.
The key here is that this peace comes as a result of an action: Prayer. When we petition God — go to Him with our requests, worries, cares, and concerns — we get a bonus gift: Not only does He hear us, but He gives us a peaceful, easy feeling in return because we’ve dealt with the problem correctly by giving it over to the only One who can do anything about it.
That means that no matter our circumstances, whether we are facing death, torture, arrest, or ridicule, we’ll be able to handle it in stride. Our faith in God dispels fear and conquers the evil one, leaving us content in whatever life brings.
It’s a secure confidence, a deep-rooted knowledge, that God is in charge and will take care of everything.
What Other Scriptures Echo This Theme of God-Given Peace?
Jesus, Himself, offers similar words to His disciples in the Gospel of John, when He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
This seems to be the same sort of peace Paul is referring to in Philippians — a peace we humans cannot possibly understand, as it is unlike the world, but one that has the ability both to drive out fear and free us from our worries.
That same notion is reflected in Romans 8:28, where Paul reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
God will work it all out, Paul is saying — He will handle our problems and our terrors if we only believe and turn them over to Him.
In return, we receive a supernatural peace, unexplainable, and perhaps not even comprehensible, with the potential to calm us and enable us to experience joy.
In case we missed the point, Paul reflects more on this in his second letter to the early church in Corinth. He writes,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Can We All Get This Peace?
Best of all, the Bible tells us, every one of us has the ability to get this “peace that surpasses understanding.”
Like the “living water” Jesus offers the woman at the well in John 4:10, all we must do is believe in Jesus, confidently and completely give over our troubles to God, and breathe, knowing joy will follow in the hope nestled within our soul.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team. Learn more at http://jessicabrodie.com.