Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Peace and Peacefulness

  Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:

Peace and Peacefulness

 

Richard Hollerman

We all know that Jesus was to be called the “Prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and that the Angels announced in the presence of the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).  Christ was the bringer of peace.  The song writer put it this way:

There comes to my heart one sweet strain,

A glad and a joyous refrain;

I sing it again and again:

Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love!

 

What is peace?  The word in the Hebrew is salom, occurring more than 200 times.  It “conveys the image of wholeness, unity, and harmony—something that is complete and sound.”[i]  David wrote, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). We also read, “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).  Isaiah also wrote, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because He trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). 

 

The New Testament word is eirene, and it simply means “peace.” “’Peace’ is something rooted in one’s relationship with God and testifies to the restoration of human beings to inner harmony and to harmonious relationships with others.”[ii]  Barclay says, “In the NT the word peace, eirene, occurs eighty-eight times, and it occurs in every gook. The NT is the book of peace.”[iii]

 

First, notice that God is often called “the God of peace” (Romans 15:33; 16:20; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20).  Jesus is called “the Lord of peace” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Peace comes from God and we receive it through Christ Jesus.  All of those in sin are alienated or separated from God because of guilt.  Paul says that “you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21).  Isaiah explains, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).  Because people are in sin and separated from God, they cannot have true peace. 

Again, Isaiah writes, “The wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud, ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (57:20-21).  What then does sinful man need?  He needs peace that comes through reconciliation to the God of peace!

 

Jesus Christ came into the world to suffer and die for our sin and rise again from the dead, thereby becoming the means by which the repentant and believing sinner may be reconciled to God.  “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10).  And now, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).  Peace with God comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21)! 

This is the basis of Christ’s work of peace making.  Paul says, “You were at that time separate from Christ . . . but now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13; cf. Acts 10:36).  Through His reconciling and saving work on the cross, Christ “Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15). 

 

If two or more people are brought into a harmonious or peaceful relationship with God through Christ, they are to be at peace with each other.  In the first century, the Jews and the Gentiles were separated, but Christ “Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall . . . making two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15, cf. vv. 16-18). 

Christ breaks down barriers and brings a state of harmony and peace between different classes of people.  The young and the old believer can dwell in harmony.  The American can live in peace with citizens of other countries.  The various ethnic groups with their different colors and body structures can all find sweet accord as one.  We are called on to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  Our Lord pronounces his blessing on “peacemakers” for they “shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  No wonder we are to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11).  In light of Christ’s return and the destruction of the created order, Peter says that we are to be “diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).

 

We have seen that we are at peace with God through Christ and that we now are in a peaceful relationship of love and unity in the body of Christ, and we frequently are urged to maintain this spiritual peace and unity.  Luke says that the people of God “enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:31).  Paul writes, “Be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).  The apostle exhorts us, “Live in peace with one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).  In the public assemblies, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).  We are even to “be at peace with all men,” as much as we can (Romans 12:18).

 

God wants to bring former Catholics and Protestants into harmony and unity.  He wants to unite former Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews in one spiritual family—the family of God.  He wants to unite former fornicators, homosexuals, adulterers, prostitutes, child molesters in one body.  God seeks peace through Jesus Christ—a family of peace that enjoys the peace of the Lord.

 

On the other hand, we know that peace is impossible in the world.  Jesus foretells, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6).  He even said that peace will be impossible in our own life as we come to Him and walk as His disciple.  The Authorized (KJV) has the angels say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).  This suggests that Jesus came to bring peace on earth.  In reality, a better rendering would be, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV).  “God’s gift of ‘peace’ will come not to all humanity but to those whom God is pleased to call to himself.”[iv] 

 

Jesus plainly warned, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).  Luke explains this further: “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth?  I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).  Christ used His “sword” in a way that division will occur between people who do not welcome the gospel (Matthew 10:34-36; 24:9-13; Mark 13:12-13; Luke 12:51-53; 21:16-17).  As long as unbelievers are hostile to the gospel and persecute the children of God, there will be a lack of peace on earth.  We may “pursue peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14a), but not all will welcome this peaceful gesture.  As Psalm 120:7 points out, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.”

 

The Christian himself dwells in the realm of peace.  In many of the New Testament salutations, we read, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3; 2 John 3). 

As we receive God’s grace in Christ Jesus, we experience peace with God and also peace in our soul.  Our very life is lived in the realm of peace: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).    Peace is so important that it is called a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). 

 

A deep spiritual inner peace is ours through Christ.  Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid” (John 14:27).  He went on to say that we are living in a world where we won’t find peace but we can also experience inner peace in all circumstances: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take course; I have overcome the world” (16:33).  Regardless of the suffering and distress the world brings, we can find inner peace through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.  Peace and joy are related:

 

Peace and joy are very similar in that neither is dependent on any external circumstances.  True peace rests in the objective reality of our right standing with God and the knowledge that ultimately nothing can snatch us from His loving care.[v]

 

The new covenant writings have much to say about peace.  Paul’s prayer is that the believers may be filled with peace: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13).  If we truly believe, we will experience genuine joy and authentic peace. 

This peace comes through our life of prayer: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).  Do we want to have this measure, this dimension, of peace in our hearts—a peace that is beyond our comprehension?  Then we must express ourselves to God in prayer and thanksgiving.

 

 



[i] Richards, Expository Dictionary, p. 479.

[ii] Richards, Ibid., p. 480.

[iii] William  Barclay, Flesh and Spirit, p. 86.

[iv] ESV Study Bible note.

[v] MacArthur, The Quest for Character, p. 87.

 

 

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