“The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts.”—PHIL. 4:7.
1, 2. What events in Philippi led to the imprisonment of Paul and Silas? (See opening picture.)
IT IS about midnight. Two missionaries, Paul and Silas, are in prison—the innermost part of the prison—in the city of Philippi. Their feet are fastened securely in stocks, and their backs are still aching from the beatings they had just received. (Acts 16:23, 24) How quickly things had happened! Without any warning, they had been dragged by a mob to the marketplace to stand before a hastily convened court. Their clothes were torn off them, and they were severely beaten with rods. (Acts 16:16-22) The injustice of it all! Paul, a Roman citizen, deserved a proper trial.*
2 As Paul sits in the darkness, he contemplates the events of the day. He thinks about the people of Philippi. They do not even have a Jewish synagogue in their city, unlike so many other cities that Paul has visited. In fact, the Jewish worshippers need to gather outside the city gates beside a river. (Acts 16:13, 14) Is this because there are not even ten Jewish males in the city, the number required to form a synagogue? The people of Philippi are obviously very proud of their Roman citizenship, even if it is only a partial or secondary form of citizenship. (Acts 16:21) Could this be why they do not even think it possible that these Jews, Paul and Silas, could be Roman citizens? Whatever the case, here they are, unjustly thrown into prison.
3. Why may Paul have found his imprisonment confusing; yet, what attitude did he display?
3 Perhaps Paul is also thinking about the events of the past few months. He was on the other side of the Aegean Sea, in Asia Minor. While Paul was there, the holy spirit repeatedly stopped him from preaching in certain areas. It was as if the holy spirit were pushing him to go somewhere else. (Acts 16:6, 7) But where? The answer came in a vision while he was in Troas. Paul was told: “Step over into Macedonia.” With such a clear indication of Jehovah’s will, Paul immediately accepted the invitation. (Read Acts 16:8-10.) But what happened next? Soon after he arrived in Macedonia, he ended up in prison! Why did Jehovah allow this to happen to Paul? How long would he be stuck in prison? Even if these questions weighed heavily on Paul’s mind, he did not let them erode his faith and joy. Both he and Silas started “praying and praising God with song.” (Acts 16:25) Their hearts and minds were soothed by the peace of God.
4, 5. (a) How could our situation be similar to that of Paul? (b) How did Paul’s situation change unexpectedly?
4 Perhaps there have been times in your life when you felt that you, like Paul, were following the leadings of God’s holy spirit, but then things did not turn out the way you expected. You came face-to-face with challenges, or you found yourself in new circumstances that required massive changes in your life. (Eccl. 9:11) As you look back, maybe you are left wondering why Jehovah allowed certain things to happen. If so, what can help you to continue to endure with full confidence in Jehovah? To find the answer, let us return to the account of Paul and Silas.
5 As Paul and Silas sing songs of praise, a series of totally unexpected events occurs. Suddenly, there is a violent earthquake. The doors of the prison are thrown wide open. All the prisoners’ bonds are loosened. Paul stops the jailer from committing suicide. The jailer and his entire family get baptized. As the new day starts, the city magistrates send constables to release Paul and Silas. The officials ask them to leave the city peacefully. Then, on realizing that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens, the magistrates see that they have made a huge blunder, so they themselves come to escort the two men out. But Paul and Silas insist on first saying good-bye to their newly baptized sister Lydia. Additionally, they use the opportunity to strengthen the brothers. (Acts 16:26-40) How quickly everything changed!
IT “SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING”
6. What will we now discuss and review together?
6 What do we learn from these events? Jehovah can do the unexpected, so we need not be anxious in the face of trials. That lesson no doubt made a deep impression on Paul, as evidenced by what he later wrote to the brothers in Philippi about anxiety and the peace of God. Let us first discuss Paul’s words recorded at Philippians 4:6, 7. (Read.) Then, we will review some additional Scriptural examples of how Jehovah did the unexpected. Finally, we will consider how “the peace of God” can help us to endure with full confidence in Jehovah.
7. What lesson did Paul highlight when he later wrote to the brothers in Philippi, and what lesson can we learn from his words?
7 No doubt when the brothers in Philippi read Paul’s letter to them, they remembered what had happened to him and how none of them had expected Jehovah to take action in the way that he did. What lesson was Paul teaching them? Basically: Do not worry. Pray, and then you will receive the peace of God. But notice that “the peace of God . . . surpasses all understanding.” What does that mean? Some translators render this expression “surpasses all our dreams” or “excels all human planning.” Paul was, in effect, saying that “the peace of God” is more wonderful than can be imagined. So although from a human viewpoint we may not see a way out of our problems, Jehovah does, and he can do the unexpected.—Read 2 Peter 2:9.
8, 9. (a) Even though Paul had suffered an injustice in Philippi, what good resulted because of those events? (b) Why could the brothers in Philippi take Paul’s words seriously?
8 As the brothers in Philippi thought over what had happened in the ten years since those events, they would have been strengthened. What Paul wrote was true. Although Jehovah had allowed an injustice to occur, this ultimately resulted in “the defending and legally establishing of the good news.” (Phil. 1:7) Those city magistrates would think twice before doing anything against the newly formed Christian congregation in their city. Perhaps because of Paul’s actions, his traveling companion Luke, the physician, was able to remain in Philippi after Paul and Silas left. Luke could thus give extra help to the new Christians in that city.
9 Indeed, when those brothers in Philippi read Paul’s letter, they knew that these were not the words of an academic who was sitting somewhere in an office. Paul had experienced extreme difficulties; yet, he demonstrated that he had “the peace of God.” In fact, when Paul wrote to those brothers, he was under house arrest in Rome. But he was still showing that “the peace of God” was with him.—Phil. 1:12-14; 4:7, 11, 22.
“DO NOT BE ANXIOUS OVER ANYTHING”
10, 11. What do we need to do when we are overly worried about a problem, and what can we reasonably expect?
10 What can help us not to be anxious over anything and to experience “the peace of God”? Paul’s words to the Philippians show us that the antidote to worry is prayer. So when we are anxious, we need to turn our worries into prayers. (Read 1 Peter 5:6, 7.) Pray to Jehovah in full faith, knowing that he cares for you. Pray to him “with thanksgiving,” remembering your blessings. Our confidence in him will be strengthened when we keep in mind that he can “do more than superabundantly beyond all the things we ask or conceive.”—Eph. 3:20.
11 As in the case of Paul and Silas in Philippi, we may be surprised by what Jehovah does for us personally. It may not be spectacular, but it will always be what we need. (1 Cor. 10:13) Of course, this does not mean that we sit back and do nothing, simply waiting for Jehovah to correct the situation or solve the problem. We need to act in harmony with our prayers. (Rom. 12:11) Our actions thereby prove our sincerity and give Jehovah something to bless. But at the same time, we need to realize that Jehovah is not limited by our requests, plans, and expectations. Sometimes he surprises us by doing the unexpected. Let us consider some Bible accounts that reinforce our confidence in Jehovah’s ability to do the unexpected in our behalf.
EXAMPLES OF JEHOVAH DOING THE UNEXPECTED
12. (a) What did King Hezekiah do when threatened by Assyrian King Sennacherib? (b) What do we learn from how Jehovah resolved the problem?
12 As we search the Scriptures, time and again we find examples of Jehovah doing the unexpected. King Hezekiah lived at a time when King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah and captured all the fortified cities, with the exception of Jerusalem. (2 Ki. 18:1-3, 13) Then, Sennacherib turned his attention to Jerusalem. What did King Hezekiah do when faced with this imminent threat? He approached Jehovah in prayer and turned to Jehovah’s prophet Isaiah for advice. (2 Ki. 19:5, 15-20) Hezekiah also tried to show his reasonableness by paying the fine that Sennacherib imposed on him. (2 Ki. 18:14, 15) In time, Hezekiah made preparations for a long siege. (2 Chron. 32:2-4) But how was the situation resolved? Jehovah sent an angel to destroy 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night. Truly, not even Hezekiah expected that to happen!—2 Ki. 19:35.
13. (a) What lesson do we learn from what happened to Joseph? (b) How did something unexpected occur in the case of Abraham’s wife, Sarah?
13 Consider the young man Joseph, a son of Jacob. While in a prison hole in Egypt, did Joseph have any idea that he would be appointed to the second-highest position in the land or that he would be used by Jehovah to save his family from starvation? (Gen. 40:15, ftn.; 41:39-43; 50:20) No doubt Jehovah’s actions exceeded all of Joseph’s expectations. Think, too, about Joseph’s great-grandmother Sarah. Did aged Sarah expect that Jehovah would allow her to give birth to her own son, not just receive as son the child produced by her servant girl? The birth of Isaac certainly exceeded all that Sarah could ever have imagined.—Gen. 21:1-3, 6, 7.
14. What confidence can we have in Jehovah?
14 Granted, we do not expect that Jehovah will miraculously take away all our problems before the promised new world; nor do we demand that spectacular things occur in our lives. But we do know that the God who helped his servants in amazing ways is our God, Jehovah. (Read Isaiah 43:10-13.) This confidence helps us to have faith in him. We know that he can do whatever is needed to empower us to accomplish his will fully. (2 Cor. 4:7-9) What lessons do we learn from these Bible accounts? As the examples of Hezekiah, Joseph, and Sarah show, Jehovah can help us to conquer the seemingly unconquerable if we remain faithful to Him.
Jehovah can help us to conquer the seemingly unconquerable if we remain faithful to him
15. What will help us to retain “the peace of God,” and how is this possible?
15 How can we face challenges and still retain “the peace of God”? It is by maintaining a good relationship with our God, Jehovah. Such a relationship is possible only “by means of Christ Jesus,” who offered his life as a ransom sacrifice. The provision of that ransom is yet another one of the amazing works of our Father. Jehovah uses the ransom to cover our sins, enabling us to have a clean conscience and draw close to him.—John 14:6; Jas. 4:8; 1 Pet. 3:21.
IT WILL GUARD OUR HEARTS AND MENTAL POWERS
16. What will result when we attain “the peace of God”? Illustrate.
16 What results when we receive this “peace of God that surpasses all understanding”? The Scriptures answer by saying that it ‘will guard our hearts and our mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.’ (Phil. 4:7) The original-language word for “guard” was a military expression. It referred to a garrison of troops that was assigned to guard a fortified city in ancient times. Philippi was such a city. The inhabitants of Philippi slept soundly at night, knowing that soldiers were guarding the gates of their city. In a similar manner, when we have “the peace of God,” our hearts and minds remain at rest. We know that Jehovah cares for us and wants us to succeed. (1 Pet. 5:10) That knowledge guards us from becoming overwhelmed by anxiety or discouragement.
17. What will help us to face the future with full confidence?
17 Soon mankind will face the greatest tribulation that will ever occur here on earth. (Matt. 24:21, 22) We do not know all the details of what that will mean for us individually. However, there is no need for us to be consumed by anxiety. Even though we do not know everything Jehovah will do, we do know our God. We have seen from his past dealings that no matter what happens, Jehovah will always accomplish his purpose, and sometimes he does it in an unexpected manner. Each time Jehovah does so for us, we may experience in a new way “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Apparently, Silas too was a Roman citizen.—Acts 16:37.