Partaking of Peace
June 24, 2001 | Brian Bill
Ann Landers receives around 10,000 letters a month from people requesting advice on various topics. When asked what her most common question is, she answered that people seem to be afraid or worried about something. They’re afraid of losing their health, they worry about their job, and they’re filled with concerns about their family. People are wacked out about their neighbors or frustrated with their friends. A great preponderance of letters describe relational ruptures and family friction. In short, people are looking for peace but can’t seem to find it.
We’re not sure how long the tenuous Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire will last in the Middle East and we wonder how long it will be before our own relationships head south. I read an incredible story this week about a father who was so filled with anxiety and stress that he punched out “Cookie Monster.” Here’s the story as it appeared in the online version of USA Today on Thursday:
A man’s plan to have his young daughter meet the Cookie Monster crumbled when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting the furry blue Sesame Street character. Police say Lee P. McPhatter, upset that the Cookie Monster would not pose for a picture at the Sesame Place theme park, shoved and kicked the employee inside the costume.
Middletown police said that 21-year-old Jennie McNelis suffered bruised ribs and a cervical sprain when McPhatter shoved her to the ground, then kicked her in the head and back. McPhatter said he would fight the charges, which include simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct.
Peace is regarded as one of the supreme virtues and yet it is so often absent from lives today. From “Road Rage” to “Cookie Conflicts,” our culture does not partake of peace on a regular basis. We long for it, we wish we had it, but we seldom find it. Even in the church we don’t always see it. That leads to a question: Why is that some people have peace while others of us are going to pieces?
As we continue in our study on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, we come to the third character trait of committed Christ followers. Let’s read this passage together: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
As we’ve discovered in our series, the Fruit of the Spirit can only come from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He alone is the source and supplier of peace because He is the God of all peace. Only as we stay connected to the vine will we be able to know and experience this peace.
Before we define what peace is, let’s look at what it is not:
- Peace is not merely the absence of activity. We often use the phrase “peace and quiet” to refer to our need to slow down.
- Peace is more than the absence of hostility. The biblical concept is much deeper than just not having conflict.
- Peace is not just getting away from reality. While we go on vacation to get away from it all, the Bible offers peace right where we are.
In the Old Testament, the word shalom is a state of wholeness and harmony that is intended to resonate in all relationships. When used as a greeting, shalom was a wish for outward freedom from disturbance as well as an inward sense of well-being. To a people constantly harassed by enemies, peace was the premiere blessing. In Numbers 6:24-26, God gave Moses these words to use when blessing His people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
The New Testament describes at least three spheres, or planes, of peace:
- Peace with God – that’s the vertical dimension
- Peace of God – this takes place internally
- Peace with others – when we have peace with God and we experience the peace of God, we can then extend peace horizontally
Peace With God
Last week we spent some time establishing the fact that God breaks out into joy when He thinks about us. Zephaniah 3:17: “…He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” In order for us to move forward in our journey to joy, we must first recognize that God rejoices over us with singing.
While this is certainly true, and we need to let it soak into our spirits, there’s a corollary to this biblical truth. Because you’ve been created in the image of God, you matter greatly to Him. But, due to the devastating effects of sin, before we come to faith in Christ you and I are also considered to be at “war” with God.
Romans 5:10 refers to us as “enemies” of God. God was your enemy and you were His adversary. This is hard to swallow because many of us don’t feel like we’ve been at war with God. While we might not think we’re fighting Him, the Bible clearly teaches that He is at war with those who do not know His Son. God is the enemy of sin and Satan. Before you came to Christ, you were a child of darkness and were therefore locked in conflict with the Almighty. Ephesians 2:3 adds that we were by “nature objects of God’s wrath.” Psalm 7:11 puts it strongly: “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day.”
Before we can understand this first dimension of peace we must first come to grips with the state of our relationship with God apart from Christ. While God loves us and cherishes us, He is also repulsed and filled with indignation because of our sinfulness. Romans 1:18: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
That’s the bad news. Please turn to Romans 5:1 for the good news: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, you and I can now be at peace with God. This word can also mean, “to set at one again.” God the Father poured out His wrath, fury, and indignation on His Son, who died in our place, as our sin-substitute. Colossians 1:20 says that Jesus reconciled Himself to all things “making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”
Listen carefully. We don’t deserve this peace. In fact, what we deserve is death and eternal punishment. But, because of God’s great love, He provided a way for us to be set at one again with the God of the universe. God’s joy and His justice converge on the cross of Calvary. His love and His law find full satisfaction through the sacrificial death of His Son. God is both just and the justifier. His fury is fully absorbed and resolved in the sacrifice of Jesus.
It all depends on Christ
When we put our faith in Christ, we are “justified,” which means that we’ve been declared “righteous” and at peace with God forever. This is a positional truth. Your acceptance and peace with God does not depend on you. It all depends on Christ. My sins do not cancel out my justification or shatter my peace with God. Romans 8:1 is a great reminder: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Peace of God
In order to have the peace of God internally, we must first experience peace with God vertically. The upward dimension must be taken care of before inward peace can permeate our lives.
On the night Jesus was born the great company of the heavenly host appeared, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14). This peace comes to those on whom God’s favor rests. Who is that? It’s those of us who have been justified by faith in Christ. Those at peace with God can experience the peace of God.
Shortly before Jesus died, He declared in John 14:27: “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.” This inner peace is a gift from Jesus and comes to us as a key element of the fruit of the Spirit. We will experience this peace in proportion to the room we give the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Every one of Paul’s thirteen letters begins with a greeting of peace. Some of them end with it as well. The church at Thessalonica needed this encouragement because they suffered from oppression and persecution, they were confronted with the problem of immorality, they were grieving over those who had died and they were battling false teachers. Listen to Paul’s final greeting to this church in 2 Thessalonians 3:16: “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”
How can we experience this kind of inner peace at all times and in every way? Let’s look at Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.”
We’re told first of all to not be filled with anxiety about the things of life. Most of us are walking “civil wars,” where we are inundated with worry and concern. Paul’s a realist so he knows that we can’t just determine to not be anxious and suddenly we’re flooded with peace. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t will yourself to tranquility. The path to inner peace passes through prayer.
The word “petition” carries with it the idea of being specific about what our wants, needs and problems are. We’re to do this with thanksgiving, being careful to have an attitude of gratitude for what God has already done for us. The picture here is that we come to the throne of grace with our arms filled with cares and concerns and then we hand them to God.
Once we present our requests to God, His peace will come flooding into our lives. I want you to notice that it’s God’s peace and only He can give it to us. Just like we can’t manufacture the fruit of love or joy, so too, we cannot pretend to have peace when we really don’t.
This peace “passes all understanding” which means that it goes way beyond all that we can even ask or imagine. Our minds cannot even fathom this kind of supernatural peace. Only when it ambushes us can we begin to taste it. The word “guard” is a military term meaning to protect a camp or castle. When God’s peace floods our lives, it will protect our hearts and minds against enemy attacks.
Friend, do you have this kind of inner peace? If you’re a believer, it’s not only available to you; God expects that you display peace on a regular basis as the Fruit of the Spirit matures in your life. It’s really rather simple:
- Don’t be anxious about anything…
- But if you are, then present your requests to God.
- When you do, His supernatural and profound peace will come and protect you…
- So that you won’t be filled with worry and anxiety.
Peace With Others
Peace with God enables us to have the peace of God. Christ as Savior brings peace with God; Christ as Lord brings the peace of God. Another way to say it is that we can’t have the peace of God until we know the God of peace. That then leads us to our third point. We’re called to live at peace with others.
Jesus put it this way in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but instead “peacemakers.” This could be translated as “peace workers.” It takes effort to bring conflict to an end. When we work at preventing contention and strife we are doing what God does. We’re called to make peace when we’re involved in conflict with someone and when we see others involved in skirmishes.
Romans 14:19 lays out our responsibility: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Let’s look at some very practical ways that we can live at peace with others. When relationships are out of sync, we need to take action to make them right and productive, whether we are the offender, the offended, or the innocent bystander.
In the tiny book of Philemon, we have a biblical model of three people at work to bring about peace. It’s located right after Titus and right before the book of Hebrews. One is the offender, another is the offended, and the third tries to reconcile them. Written while Paul was in prison, this letter is addressed to Philemon. Paul’s purpose is to bring peace between Philemon and his escaped slave Onesimus, who had fled to Rome where he had been converted under Paul’s ministry.
1. Paul the Reconciler.
Paul went out of his way to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus. He could have just stayed out of it, but he chose to be a peacemaker. Verse 13 mentions that Onesimus was assisting Paul in ministry but Paul wanted him to go back and make things right with Philemon.
Do you know of people who aren’t talking to each other? Are you aware of relationships that have broken down? We must be willing to take action when we see people at odds with each other.
2. Onesimus the Repenter.
Peacemaking in the body requires not only one person who is willing to take the initiative, but also people who are willing to be reconciled. When Onesimus escaped from Philemon’s household he evidently stole something. Now, after being converted, he wanted to make things right so he was making the 1,000 mile journey back to his master. Paul was sending this letter with him to encourage Philemon to forgive Onesimus.
Have you wronged someone? Then take the necessary steps, no matter how long the journey, to be reconciled. As repenters, we must be willing to acknowledge our sins and go to those whom we’ve offended.
3. Philemon the Receiver.
In a culture without slavery it’s hard for us to realize the magnitude of Paul’s request. Philemon was asked to receive his runaway, thieving slave – not as a piece of property but as verse 16 says, “as a dear brother in the Lord.”
Do you need to forgive and restore someone this morning? The need for “receivers” is paramount in the body of Christ. As receivers we need to offer the forgiveness and mercy that people need so that we can live in peace with each other once again.
Sam Smith and Joe Jones were not talking to each other. This deeply concerned Bob Brown so he got together with Sam Smith and asked, “What do you think of Joe Jones?” Sam quickly responded, “He’s the biggest jerk in town!” Bob stopped him and said, “You’ve got to admit that he’s a good dad, right?” Smith readily agreed, “Yeah, he’s definitely a family man.” The next day Bob Brown went up to Joe Jones and said, “Do you know what Sam Smith said about you?” “No, but I can’t imagine anything good coming out of his mouth.” Bob then said, “This may surprise you, but he said that you’re very kind to your family.”
“What do you think of Smith?” asked Bob Brown. “Truthfully, I believe he’s a lowdown scalawag.” “But you have to admit that he’s very honest in business, don’t you?” Joe responded, “Without a doubt. You can definitely trust him in business.” The next day Bob called on Sam again and said, “Do you know what Jones said about you? He claims that you’re an honest businessman and that your word can be trusted.”
What do you think happened the next time these guys saw each other? The point is that you and I are sometimes called to be “holy meddlers,” to work at making peace when we know that people are sideways with each other.
Let’s face it. There’s more conflict between brothers and sisters in Christ than we care to admit. If we want to experience the fruit of peace we must be vigilant about keeping our relationships with each other healthy. Satan loves to divide and create conflict. Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, says that the “Holy Spirit is a dove that soars away when there is division.”
They have instituted a policy for the world famous Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, which has won four Grammy’s and two Dove awards: “The first time we hear you talk about another choir member in a negative way, there will no warning – you’ll be asked to leave the choir.” During their church membership classes, Cymbala challenges believers with this charge: “The moment you hear someone speak anything bad about someone, you stop them in mid-sentence and say, ‘Have you talked to that person yet? If you haven’t go to him right now.’”
Gossip is slaying many churches today. Friends, let’s make the commitment to not speak bad about each other. Let’s give grace and not spread slander. Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Ann Landers and her twin sister, who goes by the name “Dear Abby,” have been dispensing advice for decades. They’ve tried to help people who experience conflict and are searching for peace. Sadly, it’s my understanding that they’ve not talked to each other in years because of some conflict that they’ve had in their relationship! I don’t know if they’ve reconciled yet, but I hope they do soon if they haven’t. Instead of looking to an advice column for some answers, I want to give some “biblical advice” to follow when you experience tension, stress, and friction in your friendships. In order to help us remember we’ll use the acrostic PEACE.
P – Plan a peace conference. Sometimes we don’t have a third party who will take the initiative to put this conference together. If you sense conflict with an individual, the Bible says to not wait for him or her to make the first move. Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15 establish that whether you are the offender, or the offended, the ball is always in your court. Take the first step and do it right away. The longer you wait the harder it will become.
E – Empathize with their feelings. When you sit down with the person, the first thing you should do is listen to what he or she is feeling. Remember that your view is your view. You’ve been given a single porthole through which to look at life. It’s a valuable porthole, but it only exposes you to a portion of the ocean.
Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The word “look” is the Greek word “scopos,” from where we get the word “scope” as in telescope and microscope. It literally means, “to focus on” or “pay attention to.” If we want to make peace with someone we must take the focus off of our needs and hurts and consider what the other person is feeling. Often we’ll discover that the person is himself hurting about something.
A – Attack the problem not the person. We’re called to speak the truth in love in Ephesians 4:15. This means that we are to practice “truthing in love.” Talk truth but don’t pound on the person. We’re never persuasive when we’re abrasive. We can’t get our point across by being cross. If you say something offensively it will be received defensively.
C – Cooperate as much as possible. Jesus reminds us that it’s very easy for us to have a 4×4 hanging out of our eye when we notice a little speck of dust in someone else’s life. Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If we want to live at peace we must be willing to compromise, or give a little. James 3:18: “Peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.” In a relationship, whatever you sow, you’re going to reap. If you plant seeds of peace, you’re going to reap a peaceful relationship. If you plant seeds of inflexibility, you’re going to reap conflict.
E – Emphasize reconciliation not resolution. There’s a big difference between these two words. Reconciliation means to reestablish the relationship and let peace reign. Resolution means to resolve every issue. 2 Corinthians 5:19 reminds us that God has “committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.” We can disagree without being disagreeable. You and I can have unity without uniformity. We can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye. Beth and I made this commitment when we got married. We vowed to not go to bed angry at night. That doesn’t mean that we have to solve all of our problems before we go to sleep but it does mean we need to be reconciled.
Since peace is part of the Fruit of the Spirit, we should see it ripen in our lives. As we’ve been learning through this series, fruit is both a gift and a task. Here are some steps we can put into practice so that we’ll partake of peace on a regular basis.
1. Make peace with God.
If you have never made peace with God yet, this is your first step. One day a young man went to his pastor in great distress because of all the anxiety and friction he had in his life. He asked the pastor, “Can you tell me what I must do to find peace?” The minister replied, “Young man, you are too late.” The man was devastated. “You mean it’s too late for me to be saved?” The pastor smiled and said, “Oh, no. But you are too late to do anything. Jesus did everything that needed to be done twenty centuries ago!”
Have you made peace with God? I’m not talking about a truce. A truce is saying, “God you stay on your side of the line and I’ll stay on my side. You handle all the big problems of the world and I’ll handle my life.” That’s not peace. Peace is what will take place when you acknowledge your sins, believe that Jesus died in your place on the cross, and receive Him into your life by faith. Are you ready to do that?
2. Identify one thing that you are worried about right now.
Give it to God in prayer. Don’t hold on to it. Present it to God and you’ll experience a peace that is beyond anything that you can manufacture on your own. Inner peace comes as we practice the power of prayer.
3. Say something good when someone says something bad.
When you hear gossip, give the gift of grace by immediately speaking a kind word about the person being talked about. This will be our “code” to let us know when we’re slipping into unwholesome talk. If you’re talking about someone and someone else starts building that person up, you’ll know that you’ve slipped into slander.
4. Read the Book of Philemon every day for a week.
5. Schedule a peace conference this week.
Is there someone you’re at war with today? Get together with them and follow the PEACE process:
- Plan it
- Attack the problem
- Emphasize reconciliation
This past week a devastating twister wiped out a small town in northwestern Wisconsin. Ironically, the name of the town is “Siren.” Hundreds of people picked through their belongings and cleared trees from streets after a tornado struck without any warning siren being sounded, killing three people and damaging dozens of homes and businesses. Sadly, and unbelievably, this town of Siren had a village siren but it was damaged in April and was scheduled to be repaired this week.
Friends, some of you are in a tornado right now. Tension is flying, hearts have been ripped open, and your relationships are in shreds. God is sounding His siren this morning. Listen to Him before it’s too late. Do what it takes to repair that which is broken.