What is peace?
Peace is often defined as the absence of conflict or the end of war, but in Scripture, peace is often synonymous with wholeness or salvation. For example, Isaiah 52:7 says, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good new of happiness, who announces salvation…” The Gospel is good news of peace. In the Armor of God passage of Scripture in Ephesians 6, verse 15 tells us to shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.
I find it interesting that in both of these passages of Scripture, peace is correlated with our feet. Often, we think of peace as being associated with our mind and the way we think, but it is more so about our lifestyle and the way we walk out our faith. Isaiah 59:8 says, “They do not know the way of peace, and there is no justice in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them does not know peace.” Romans 3:17 also refers to a “path of peace” and in Luke 1:79 Zechariah prophesied that Salvation would come “… to guide our feet in the way of peace.”
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom” which means completeness in number, safety or soundness in body, welfare, health, and prosperity. Shalom means peace, quiet, tranquility, and contentment. As Phillip Kenneson writes in Life on the Vine, shalom “refers to the state of well-being, wholeness, and harmony that infuses all of one’s relationships. Such a view of peace is inherently social; to be at peace only with oneself is not to experience shalom in all its fullness.”
We need people. We need community to experience true peace. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” This is a difficult task for us to work towards when we live in a society that is so individualistic and divisive.
We live in an electronic age that allows us to hide behind a screen. We can type out hurtful words and press the send button, knowing we would never actually say those words aloud if we were face to face with the person on the other end. We can’t see the impact of our words, so we can’t see the harm being done. With these technological advances, we can create an image of the person we want others to see us as online. We only post the pictures we want them to see, and only share the stories we want them to hear. Meanwhile, we are completely alone, completely anonymous, and completely void of true connection. Without true connection, how can we know true peace?
Even outside of technology, we’re still divided. The media has divided us. Marketing has divided us. Politics have divided us. Greed has divided us. Pride has divided us. The love of money and the desire for power has divided us. As Phillip Kenneson writes, “Politics no longer involves the search for the common good, but a competition between warring factions, each bent on securing or protecting its own interests. All of this contributes to the further fragmentation of our lives, both as individuals and as a society.” The world sees no gray area, no middle ground, no sense of nuance. Only right and wrong. Only us against them. And this leaves little room for peace. We are taught to think one way, and we rarely see both sides of the story. We rarely listen to people with different worldviews and different life experiences than our own. When we’re so focused on ourselves, we start to lose sight of the bigger picture. When we never lift up our eyes to see what’s going on in the world around us, then we eventually end up tripping over own feet as we journey on the path to peace.
In Life on the Vine, Kenneson describes how our fragmented lives have created a barrier to peace. He says, “trying to embody such integrity (that is, a fully integrated life) is difficult in a society that cultivates fragmentation rather than wholeness or shalom.” What does it mean for us to live fragmented lives? Think about this: Is who you are when you’re at home different from who you are when you’re out in public? The way we talk and interact with our neighbors and the people we live around may be different from how we talk and interact with those we work with, and the person we portray ourselves to be at church may be different from the person we portray ourselves to be with our friends and family. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it exhausting? No wonder it’s so hard for us to be at peace with ourselves and with other people. How do we know which one is the real us? How do we know what our real convictions are verses the opinions that we’ve formed based on other people’s opinions? Each group of people we surround ourselves with have different expectations of us, so we shape and mold ourselves to fit into the image of who they want us to be. We are far too concerned about what other people think about us, and the truth is, no one really cares about the image we’re portraying because they’re too concerned with their own image.
Even our Christianity has become individualized. We call it a “personal” relationship with Jesus. We choose our churches based on what’s convenient for us and what’s most beneficial for us. We complain about church when we don’t “get something out of it.” We leave a church when they didn’t reach out to us, or when they did or did not do this for us. We make it about ourselves, but the church doesn’t exist for us. The church exists to glorify God and make His Name known. The church exists for the community. The church exists to make disciples, to care for the orphans, the widows, and the least of these. We are part of a body of Christ, and peace is found when we are all working together in harmony towards one purpose. Peace is found when we use all of our differing spiritual gifts to spread the Gospel of Peace – the Good News of a Savior who unites both Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. Peace is found when we lay down our pride. Peace is found when we shift our focus from ourselves and start putting the focus on serving and honoring God with every breath that He graciously gives to us.
Peace is a gift.
In John 14:27 Jesus says, “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 fearful.”
If peace is a gift, then what does that tell us about peace? That tells us it can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It must be received. If you want to receive peace, you have to open your hands to accept it. You have to surrender. You have to let go of control. You have to let go of pride, and selfishness. You have to let go fear, anxiety, and insecurity. You have to trust the Giver of the gift. You have to trust that He is the Giver of good gifts. You have to trust His intentions, trust His plan, and trust His purpose. You have to trust that He gives out of the abounding love He has for us. He does not intend to harm us, but is working all things together for good.
Peace is freely given to us. And that’s great news! Who doesn’t love a good gift?! But in this particular passage of Scripture we can’t be so quick to focus on the peace that we neglect to consider the words that came before the gift of peace:
“I am leaving you…”
Suddenly that peace doesn’t seem like such a great gift – because Jesus didn’t just give it, He left it. Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on the night of the Last Supper, the night before His death. Jesus was warning His disciples about what was to come, and in leaving them with the gift of peace, He was leaving them with a gift they didn’t even know they needed yet. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t comprehend. Jesus had shifted their world upside down, and they could never have imagined a world without Him in it. They could never have imagined the horrors He would face on the cross. They could never have imagined that He was going to die and rise again. They could never have imagined the persecution and martyrdom they themselves would face as His followers. And Jesus knew that. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our limited understanding. He is compassionate. He is merciful. He is gracious. In verse 29 He says, “I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.”
Peace is a promise.
Last week, when we talked about joy, we talked about its connection with sorrow. This week, we see that peace is closely connected with fear and anxiety. Jesus knew that because He experienced our humanity. In Him, we find faith to face our fears. Jesus gave the gift of peace before the promise of pain was fulfilled because He knew it was coming. He equips us for every trial we will ever face. He does not leave us alone. With the gift of peace, comes the gift of His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Peace. And Jesus said “It’s better that I go so the Holy Spirit can come” (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. He is our Helper. He is our Advocate. “These things I have told you,” Jesus says in John 13:33, “so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus tells us that His gift of peace is not the same peace that the world offers. The world offers a fake peace, a counterfeit peace. The peace that the world offers only provides a temporary fix; it puts a band-aid over the gaping wound of sin in our lives. The peace the world offers just wants us to forget our troubles or mask our troubles. There’s no promise to remember. The peace the world offers is found in money and possession, in lustfulness and addiction, in likes and attention. The peace of this world is found when we blend in with this world, but the peace of God is found when we stand out from this world. The peace of God is found only in Jesus. The peace of God is found when we praise Him even in the midst of the storm. The peace of God is when we smile, even when our hearts are heavy and burdened. The peace of God is found when we surrender fully to Him, even when our minds are filled with fear and anxiety. There is a song called Peace by Hillsong Young & Free and the words say, “You will stay true, even when the lies come. Your word remains truth, even when my thoughts don’t line up. I will stand tall on each promise you made… Dare anxiety come, I’ll remember that peace is promise you keep.” We find the promise of peace in the words of Jesus. Countless times throughout John 13-16 we see Jesus start a statement with the phrase “These things I have spoken to you…” or “This I have told you…” In John 16:33 He says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.” His words hold the gift of peace, and we find peace when we call those words to remembrance.
In Hebrews 10:32-35, Paul writes:
“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”
If peace is a promise Jesus spoke to us, then we can trust He will provide peace for us. We can trust His Word because He is faithful to fulfill all that He has promised. Jesus does not just speak truth, Jesus is truth. Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Peace is not a place we go to, it’s a person we run to. The Prince of Peace is the One walking with us through all of our trials. The Prince of Peace is the One in the boat with us in the midst of the storm. When He speaks, the winds and waves cease. His presence is all the peace we need. So why do we fear? We often fear because we do not trust Him. When Jesus calmed the storm for His disciples, He asked them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Fear is the opposite of faith. Do you know what command is given more often than any other command in Scripture? Do not fear. I’ve heard it said that the command is given 365 times throughout Scripture – once for every day of the year. We constantly need to be reminded not to fear. We constantly need to be reminded to trust Jesus to be our Peace and to speak Peace into our lives. Peace is not the absence of conflict – We will face troubles in this life. We will face times of fear and uncertainty – but peace is an anchor in the midst of the storm. Peace is calmness even in the midst of the chaos. Peace is the ability to find harmony even with those who are different from us – even when the world is doing everything it can to try and divide us. When we live at peace, we live in the confidence that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that He will do exactly what He says He will do. Peace is a way of life. Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” We should always be seeking peace with ourselves, peace with each other, and peace with God. We pursue peace when we pursue Jesus. As long as we are seeking after Jesus, then we are seeking after peace!