July 31, 2016
What does it mean to live in the security of God’s abiding love and faithfulness? Alistair Begg shares some of the challenges and hindrances that stand in the way of the peace God promises to His children. When we humble ourselves under the jurisdiction of God, we can cast off all hopelessness and anxiety, secured by grace in His care for us.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I would like to read multiple short passages of Scripture. I’ll tell you where they are. I won’t wait for you to turn them all up. If you’re swift, then you’ll be able to, but it’s not my intention to have you scurry around.
First of all, just briefly, in Isaiah chapter 26, the prophet says,
We have a strong city;
he sets up salvation
as walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
In Matthew chapter 10 and the words of Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
In John chapter 16 and the concluding verse, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
In Philippians chapter 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but … everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And finally, in 1 Peter 5: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Father, with your Word in our ears and, we pray, upon our hearts, we ask that we might understand what it means to live in the security of your abiding love and faithfulness. Help us to this end, we pray, as we think along these lines now. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
If you were present this morning, we were looking at the fruit of the Spirit as it relates to peace, and we spent most of our time thinking about the peace which is the foundation of it all—namely, the security of peace with God as a result of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, I think, acknowledged together that that reality does not preclude the experience of the living of life, whereby there is much that comes to destabilize us and to make us feel less than peaceful.
And so, what I want to do in the moments that I have—and I wrote this just on the top right-hand corner of my sheet here—I want to provide some unfinished thoughts on living at peace. All right? These are not uncertain thoughts; they’re just unfinished thoughts. I’ve preached on this subject a number of times. I have notes to that end from the years past. I’m not relying on any of that. I’m just talking, as it were, from the immediacy of our study this morning. And so, it may not be as ordered as you might like or as I might like, but hopefully, by the time we conclude and end with song, it will be sufficient here for us to have been helped by the Word of God.
Let me say first of all that I have every sympathy with those who wrestle particularly with anxiety. I don’t think I have ever—perhaps on one occasion only that I would imagine—have had what could have been called a panic attack. If it wasn’t, I don’t ever want to have one, because it was bad enough. I know what it is personally to worry about things. I know what it is to be anxious in my spirit. I know what it is to waken at three o’clock in the morning and feel as though either my life is unraveling before me or that it is a mountain range that it will be absolutely impossible for me to climb. Therefore, for those of you, of us, who understand this, we can hold hands together and acknowledge it.
I also recognize that there are some who have, by dint personality, a kind of stoical perspective on life. This may or may not be peace. It may actually be a form of cynicism. It may be the kind of stoicism that essentially responds to all of life with simply a shrug: “Who cares? Who really listens? Who pays attention?” And neither of those perspectives are brought under the jurisdiction of God until they’re brought under the jurisdiction of God.
And as we saw this morning, in quoting from one of the passages from which I’ve just quoted again—namely, the end of John chapter 16—peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ clearly does not guarantee the believer freedom from difficult circumstances, from trying things that would rob us of peace. Jesus says it categorically, doesn’t he? “In the world,” he says to his followers, “you are going to have tribulation. You can absolutely bank on that. The second thing you may be confident about is that I, your Lord and Savior, have overcome the world.”
And as we sang this morning in the hymn “Like a River Glorious,” I hope you paid attention—I did—particularly to the line “Every joy or trial [cometh] from above”; so that the circumstances of life that both bring us into experiences of joy and tranquility come from our heavenly Father when they are his good for us, but also the times of difficulty and trial also come from his hand.
And there is something that is of fundamental importance in tackling this subject, and it’s vital that we get it at the beginning, and it is this: that the same grace which reconciles us to God through the Lord Jesus, that same grace inevitably antagonizes us to the Evil One. So, when we are unredeemed, God is against us, if you like. His wrath is revealed from heaven against wickedness. We are wicked. Therefore, this God is a God who loves his enemies, who pursues us, who wins us, who has redeemed us. He is, if you like, the best of enemies. But when we are then reconciled to him, we are antagonized to the worst of enemies, to the one who is the accuser of the brethren.
And in the Westminster Confession of Faith, to which I’m alluding, actually, this comes across very clearly in section 13, on the nature of sanctification. And I’ll just quote briefly to you from it. Section 2, 13.2: “This sanctification”—that is, the ongoing work of the Spirit of God in the lives of those whom he has redeemed—“this sanctification, although imperfect in this life, is effected in every part of man’s nature.” So there is a thoroughgoing work of grace. “Some remnants of corruption still persist in every part.” And that’s the significance of, for example, putting “to death the deeds of the [flesh].” In Galatians 5, we are no longer involved in the works of the flesh. These must be dealt with. It is no longer that we engage in those things. We’re succumbing to them, we’re tempted by them, they drag us down, but now the work of sanctification is to produce in us fruit as a result of the Spirit’s work. But those remnants of corruption remain in every part, and—here we go—so there arises “a continual and irreconcilable war”—the flesh warring against the Spirit and the Spirit warring against the flesh.
So, we have within ourselves, then, all of the challenges that come to us on three fronts: the devil himself, his animosity towards those whom he has been unable to stop from being made members of God’s family; the downward drag of our own sinful impulses which remain, the corrupting influence of our flesh; and the appeal, which is external to us, of a view of the world and of God which is alien to what the Bible teaches. And on those three fronts we are confronted by challenges which sometimes seem almost insurmountable. And on account of that, we can identify numerous hindrances to our own sense—experiential sense—of genuine peace within our hearts. All right?
Now, I could keep you here all night giving you a long, long list. I’m only going to give you one or two to get us started, if you like. I’m sure you can identify more. What about something that impacts our sense of peace?
Well, what about unwelcome circumstances? Unwelcome circumstances—those kinds of things that come into our lives that find us saying, “Why this? Why me? Why now?” And unless we have identified the fact that God, our heavenly Father, is sovereign over all of these things, we will find that we are virtually inevitably robbed of our peace. Because our peace, then, is largely guaranteed by the well-being of the events of our lives. As soon as they begin to go south, as soon as we no longer are able to find in them that which gives us joy and satisfaction and so on, we will find that our peace is hindered.
Secondly, the hindrance of unconfessed sin. Unconfessed sin. Areas of our lives that we have now begun to tolerate. Little secret places that we have sequestered away—or we think we have—that allow us to just cozy up to these things, and we wonder why it is that we don’t have that sense of genuine peace and contentment in God. Listen carefully: the Bible makes it really clear that disobedience to the clear instruction of the Bible and genuine peace in our hearts do not and cannot go hand in hand. It is right for us to feel guilty. It is necessary for us to bring that sense before the cross of Christ and to confess it. But when we choose not to, then we ought not to be surprised that we don’t enjoy peace.
Thirdly, uncertainty—just any kind of uncertainty. Uncertainty about the future—just the fact that we don’t really know what’s going on, the fact that we’re not sure what’s happening. Unless we have a confidence in the God who is in control of the sparrows, then we won’t be able to handle the present election cycle. We won’t be able to handle the strange world in which we’re living. We will find ourselves saying to one another, “I’m living in a world now that I don’t understand. It would appear to me that things are completely upside down.” And you don’t have to go looking for these events. They come to us again and again. And those of us who are control freaks can’t deal with uncertainty. And so there is so much in our lives that is inevitably uncertain, because we don’t know what a day holds. We don’t even know what the next hour holds. Therefore, that uncertainty, unless it is entrusted to a heavenly Father, becomes a hindrance to our experience of peace.
Fourthly, the hindrance of pain from our past—not simply uncertainty about our future but pain from our past. In listening to these testimonies tonight, one of the wonderful things about them all is that they speak to the way in which God deals with our painful pasts—that he is the one who is able to cover over a multitude of our sins. And yet once you are in Christ, when you seek to live for Christ, as you’re following him… Interestingly, when I write to the folks who’ve been baptized on a Monday, I write the same letter every time. Some of you have received it. And I’ve encouraged you to read and memorize Ephesians 6:10–20, which is to take to ourselves “the whole armor of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the [wiles] of the devil.” And the reason I do that is because as we step out in obedience to Jesus, the Evil One is more vociferously engaged with us. And one of his great tactics is to come to us and accuse us of things that are buried in our past—that which has been dealt with in the cross, that which has been covered over, that which has been put as far as the east is from the west, as deep as the deepest ocean. And the Evil One comes to us and says, “You know, don’t you remember when…?” And suddenly, our peace is gone.
Fifthly, the hindrance of uncontrolled desires. Of uncontrolled desires. You know, James talks about it, doesn’t he? He says, “You know, you want certain things. You covet, and you kill because you can’t have what you want.” And uncontrolled desires rob us of our peace. That’s why we’ll never have peace with an envious heart. You never have peace when you’re jealous. You can’t have peace, because the envy will eat you up. You’re just annoyed the person has that or was successful in that. The fact that you couldn’t even enter the exam doesn’t even matter to you. It’s just that they got it and you didn’t. And suddenly, you are internally, just the combustion has kicked in. The uncontrolled desires that would take us in all kinds of directions. Remember in Screwtape Letters, he says, “Now, you need to go to these people and get them to take good things at the wrong time, with the wrong person, in the wrong place, and in the wrong quantities.” Uncontrolled desires.
Now, with all that said, a couple of comments, first from Paul’s statement to the Philippians, and then, finally, Peter’s statement to his readers.
If you turn to Philippians 4, it’s familiar material. It’s classic, isn’t it? And we’ll just say a word or two concerning it. Again I say to you, these are unfinished thoughts.
Philippians chapter 4. You notice the way in which joy and peace are interwoven here: “Rejoice in the Lord. I’m going to say it to you again: rejoice.” And as we studied joy last time, you realize that the opposite of joy is not sorrow, but the opposite of joy is hopelessness. Because the Christian knows joy in the middle of sorrow. So, if joy is simply the absence of sorrow or the absence of difficulty or the absence of pain, then we don’t even have a clue about joy. No, joy is that which is produced in us in the awareness of the fact that it is the same heavenly Father who is overruling these events. And so we’re able to “rejoice in the Lord.”
Now, that’s a crucial phrase, isn’t it? “Rejoice in the Lord. Do it always!” And he says, “And let me just say that to you again: rejoice. You should let your gentleness or your reasonableness or your spirit of contentment be known to everyone,” unlike the argumentation that has been going on in the previous verses between Euodia and Syntyche, who are having a right rumble with one another and need to “agree in the Lord.” They’re going to have to get that sorted out, he says. And you need to know and be encouraged by the fact that “the Lord is at hand.” The Lord is near to those who fear him.
So, here’s the exhortation: “Do not be anxious.” “Don’t be anxious about anything, but instead, pray about everything.” It’s a tall order, isn’t it? “Don’t be anxious about anything.” “Can I just be anxious about a few things?” No! You don’t need to be anxious about anything! Of course, why pray if you can be anxious? You know, why pray if you can worry? What do you need to pray for? You can just enjoy yourself worrying. “No,” he says, “you don’t need to do that. Do it the other way around. Instead, pray about everything.”
“By prayer and supplication.” It’s a good word, “supplication,” isn’t it? It means… I always think of, like, dogs when I think of supplication. It shows you how warped my mind is. But we had a golden retriever, and it always knew when it was time for its meal. And I think it understood supplication. It’s just its face was the heart longing of the retriever. It’s just supplication—as opposed to “O God, help me, thank you, goodbye.” “Lord, I’m coming to you with this one. Lord, your Word says I should come to you in prayer and supplication, that I should bring the deepest longings of my heart to you. And so, in obedience to your Word, I’m doing that. The reason I’m doing it is because I’ve been so jolly anxious about all of these things that I’m now telling you about, and I’m trusting you that as I come to you with a genuine spirit of thankfulness, that you will bring these matters in line.”
You see, I think that “thanksgiving” bit is vital: “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I think what Paul is getting at there—and again, these are unfulfilled, unfinished thoughts—I think that what Paul is getting at there is this: that the only way we can really pray with thanksgiving and genuine supplication and bringing these things before God is when we’re prepared to be thankful whatever the answer is, so that, “I will thank you. I’m coming in a spirit of thankfulness. And I thank you that you, Father, know best. This is my earnest plea, this is my genuine supplication, this is the longing of my heart, but I want you to know, I will thank you.”
It is, if you like, you remember… Well, I just need to turn to it, because I don’t remember myself, and you might not either. But in the hymn—those of you who have, like me, sung old hymns in the past—I’ve always wondered about this: “Here I raise my Ebenezer: hitherto thy help has come.” And young boys have a lot of fun with that in the evening service. But in 1 Samuel 7: “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’” He says, “I’m going to set up this stone so that every time I come past it, I will remind myself of the faithfulness of God, of all the reasons I have for thankfulness. And it is that, then, which I am able to translate into present-tense reality.”
Picking up on that, John Newton, the hymn writer, wrote the famous hymn which begins,
My Savior is near,
And for my relief
Will surely appear:
By prayer let me wrestle,
And he will perform;
With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm.
[If] dark be my way,
Since he is my guide,
’Tis mine to obey,
’Tis his to provide:
[Though] cisterns be broken
And creatures all fail,
The word he has spoken
Shall surely prevail.
And here comes 1 Samuel 7:
His love in time past
Forbids me to think
He’ll leave me at last
In trouble to sink;
Each sweet Ebenezer
I have in review
Confirms his good pleasure
To help me quite through.
Since all that I meet
Shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet,
The medicine is food;
Though painful at present,
’Twill cease before long,
And then, oh how pleasant,
The conqueror’s song!
You see, when we come to God and pray in this way, the promise here in Philippians 4 is not that we will be delivered from that which is the basis of our anxiety or concern, but the promise is peace. You see that? “Let your requests be made known to God,” with thanksgiving—let them “be made known to God. And the peace of God…” “The peace of God.”
You see, here’s a problem. Here’s another reason why we do not have peace, why I don’t have peace. Because if when I pray, I am only willing to settle for deliverance, what happens when there’s no deliverance? If when I pray, I’m only prepared to settle for the answer that I want or that I believe I need or, worse still, that I deserve, then we will never make any headway. Because the promise is that he will grant to us peace.
Now, you have the same thing—and we’ll finish here, quickly—in 1 Peter, don’t you? Peter is saying much along the same lines to those who are his readers: “casting all your anxieties on him.” And Peter knew what it was to be anxious himself. He’s able to speak empathetically, to write empathetically, to these folks.
Now, the word for “anxiety,” which is the word merimnan in Greek—and the linguists here will check me on this—comes from a root verb which actually means “to divide.” “To divide.” So that the idea of anxiety is that our minds are then divided; they become uncertain; they become unstable; we don’t really have things under control. You have, actually—the very verb you have in the arrival of Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary. And remember, Martha was troubled, was anxious about many things. That’s what’s going on there. She was divided. And she was a little ticked off with her sister, Mary, wasn’t she? You know, “I’m trying to get the whole thing together here. I got the meal. I got the whole deal, and you’re just sitting there talking to Jesus.” Yeah. There’s a time to just sit there and talk to Jesus. Some of us are distracted and divided because we’ve created things for ourselves that have to be done, have to be done a certain way, have to be completed in this timeframe, have to be accomplished in this fashion. And it is just the very root of that which creates anxiety.
The anxiety is there. The action is there as well. What are you to do? Well, you’ll notice, verse 7, it says, “casting all your anxieties on him.” “Casting all your anxieties on him.” It’s good that the ESV translates that as a participle and not as an imperative, as it does in the NIV. Because the NIV begins 7, “Cast all your anxiet[ies] on him.” But actually, that’s not right. The imperative is in verse 6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you”—don’t you worry about getting exalted—“casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
You see, it takes humility, doesn’t it, for us not to take matters into our own hands, to run our own deal, to determine our own destiny, to make sure that we’ve got everything buttoned down and under control. “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, casting your anxiety on him, because you know he cares for you.”
I was listening to somebody—I don’t know who it was—just the other day, and as they told me something, I said, “That’s exactly what I used to do.” I think it was a young lady. She told me she would lie in her bed at night and wait for the sound of her father’s car to finally come up the driveway. And as soon as she knew that he was safely in the house, she could go to sleep. I used to do the very same thing. We lived in a relatively small town. I knew the sound of everybody’s engine. And I knew my father’s engine before it came down the driveway. I knew the way he changed down the gears. And then I could go to sleep. “Father’s here. He’s in control. I can lay all my burdens down now. I don’t need to worry.” That’s the picture. But if you don’t trust your dad, there’s no security there. And if I don’t trust my Father, there’s no security there.
Our time has gone, but let me give this to you to ponder a little more. You’ll notice that in verse 6, you have the humility that is cultivated by the enabling grace of God. In verse 8, you have the adversity that comes our way by the antagonism of the Evil One. You have an adversary. He’s prowling around. He’s looking for people to devour. And it is in the middle of that that the promise of our anxious cares being dealt with then comes to fruition. And the wonderful close of his letter, verse 10: “And [even] after you[’ve] suffered a little while,” he says, “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish.”
You know, I’ve told you many times that a good hymnbook will help you with the blues and will help you, often, in anxiety. I know it’s helpful to me. And here’s one of my favorite hymns. I didn’t have time to look up and see why Anna Letitia Waring wrote this hymn or in what context, but I love this hymn. Goes like this:
In heav’nly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?
Wherever he may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim;
He knows the way he taketh,
And I will walk with him.
Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have[n’t] seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
Where [the dark] clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free;
My Savior has my treasure,
And he will walk with me.
Father, thank you that you care for the sparrows and that in Christ we are worth more than many sparrows. You know, Lord, that the communal amount of anxiety and stress represented just in this room is enough to weigh down a saint. But we thank you that you are the God who restores, who strengthens, who equips, and who keeps. Some of us have got particular burdens at the moment. We name them before you. We know how we would like the outcome to be, and because it hasn’t come out that way, we are actually, honestly, robbed of our peace. So, I guess what we have to do is to say, “Father, we want to pray with thanksgiving, whatever the outcome, because we know that you know best, that you won’t cause your child an unnecessary tear, and that those who are our deepest concerns are of a far greater concern to you.”
Help us, Lord, to help each other with this. Save us from superficial brightness. Save us, Lord, from cynicism and a kind of stoicism that acts as if we are above and beyond all this stuff, because that isn’t true, and it isn’t helpful. But grant, rather, that we might not only cast our burdens upon you but that we might share our burdens with one another, that we might be a help and an encouragement to each other in relationship to these things. For we ask it in your name. Amen.
 Isaiah 26:1–4 (ESV).
 Matthew 10:29–31 (ESV).
 John 16:33 (ESV).
 Philippians 4:4–7 (ESV).
 1 Peter 5:6–8 (ESV).
 Frances Ridley Havergal, “Like a River Glorious” (1874).
 See Romans 1:18.
 See Revelation 12:10.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, 13.2.
 Romans 8:13 (ESV).
 See Galatians 5:24.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, 13.2.
 Ephesians 6:11 (ESV).
 See Psalm 103:12.
 James 4:2 (paraphrased).
 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942), chap. 9. Paraphrased.
 Philippians 4:2 (ESV).
 Robert Robinson, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (1758). Lyrics lightly altered.
 1 Samuel 7:12 (ESV).
 John Newton, “I Will Trust and Not Be Afraid.”
 See Luke 10:41.
 Luke 10:40 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 5:10 (ESV).
 Anna Letitia Waring, “In Heavenly Love Abiding” (1850).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.