The Blessing of Peace

One of the more beneficial topics in the Word is the biblical teaching on peace. Often peace is understood as simply the absence of conflict. But that reduces peace to a single concept, which is contrary to the biblical understanding of peace. Mark D. Roberts, in the post below, unpacks for us the depth of peace as revealed in the Word. May your life reflect the peace of Christ as He rules in your heart. Pastor Chris 
 
 

The Zealot desire for “peace” apart from Roman rule ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, a sad fact of history that is memorialized on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.

Peace Among People, Part 1

“Peace with God and peace within our souls do not exhaust the potentialities of peace through Christ. Scripture connects inner peace specifically to peace among people: “Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace” (Col 3:15). If divine peace reigns within us, it should touch the rest our lives, especially our most important relationships in

family, among friends, and in church

. But the peace Christ impacts an even broader set of human relationships than these.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lays the spiritual foundation for peace among people. After first showing that the death of Christ leads to our personal salvation (Eph 2:4-10), Ephesians 2 goes on to explore the corporate implications of the cross, focusing on the fundamental division between Jews and Gentiles. 

For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death (Eph 2:14-16).

The death of Jesus not only brings reconciliation between individuals and God, but also creates reconciliation among people by exploding the hostility that keeps us from living peacefully together. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what Paul is teaching here because sometimes we get so excited about the personal relevance of the cross that we neglect its corporate implications. We end up proclaiming the possibility of peace with God and peace within ourselves without mentioning peace among people.

But God’s plan for you includes more than reconciliation with him, however essential and foundational this reconciliation is. On the basis of peace with God, you can have peace with others as well, an essential dimension of God’s perfect peace. Notice, too, that peace among people is not limited to a few close relationships. It transforms the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. It impacts races, ethnicities, and even nations. The Old Testament foresaw that the righteous king who comes humbly, “riding on a donkey . . . will bring peace to the nations” (Zech 9:9-10). When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he came to die so that God’s peace would pervade all peoples and nations. 

I didn’t always think of God’s peace in this way. I grew up focusing on Christ’s provision of peace with God, within my own soul, and with my closest companions. Biblical passages that spoke of the social and political dimensions of divine peace could be reinterpreted to fit my preconceived notions of peace. I could easily ignore the texts that connect peace with righteousness and justice, or else relegate them to the future when Christ returns. 

But when I was in graduate school, my best friend was a Mennonite pastor who conceived of God’s peace much more fully. While not denying the central importance of peace with God or the blessings of inner peace, Tom spoke passionately of the broad dimensions of biblical peace. He helped me take seriously passages from Scripture that I had ignored or misinterpreted, especially the latter half of Ephesians 2, which shows how Christ’s death makes peace between hostile peoples. He also showed me the rich meanings of the Hebrew term shalom, a word that I had understood to refer primarily to the absence of conflict. Through Tom, I realized that I had truncated biblical peace to fit my own values, needs, and preconceptions. By his influence, I came to embrace the richer and truer sense of biblical peace, recognizing its interconnectedness with righteousness, justice, and wholeness in all of life.  

Peace Among People, Part 2

In my last post I began to lay out some of the broader implications of Jesus’ life and death. He came to bring peace, not only between God and people, but also among people. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave to restore peace to a broken world. Wherever there is conflict, whether inside individual hearts, or within families, or among brothers and sisters in church, or between different ethnic groups, or even between warring nations, Christ “wages peace” as his disciples wield the paradoxical power of the cross. This power is paradoxical because victory comes through the embodied proclamation of Christ’s own powerlessness.

It would be a great error to think of the social dimensions of peace as simply whitewashing social evil in a grand attempt to “make nice.” It’s all too easy for us to confuse peacemaking with “nice-making.” This was also true in Jesus’ own day. Some Jews believed that, if he were the Messiah, Jesus would usher in a season of painless prosperity. To these mistaken folk Jesus said, 

Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I have come to bring strife and division! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against – or the other way around. There will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (Luke 12:52-53).

Does this passage contradict everything else we have read about the peacemaking work of Christ? No, because it must be interpreted in its unique context. Jesus is speaking in Luke 12 to those who expected a superficial peace, a peace that was really no peace at all because it failed to deal with the true cause of human brokenness. Many of the Jews in the first-century equated peace with the expulsion of the Romans. “Get rid of foreign rule and we’ll have peace,” they thought. But Jesus came to bring an unanticipated kind of peace. His peace would address the root cause of human suffering. His peace would be offered to people who were not Jews, even to the hated Romans. 


 

As Jesus pursued his peculiar peacemaking mission, he engendered plenty of strife. His failure to fulfill Jewish expectations led to his being rejected by his own people, while his insistence on the presence of God’s reign brought about his crucifixion at Roman hands. It would have been so much easier for Jesus if he had simply joined the Zealots, who fomented violence against Rome, or the Sadducees, who tolerated partnership with the Romans, or the Pharisees, who by the time of Jesus focused on personal piety instead of social reformation. But Jesus was unwilling to settle for a peace that was no peace. He resolutely pursued the all-encompassing peace that comes only when sin is abolished and God’s rule is reestablished on the earth.

Jesus’ statement about strife and division should warn us not to equate the absence of conflict with true peace. There are families, for example, which appear to be peaceful only because the head of the household is a tyrant who uses emotional and sometimes physical violence to institute order. Churches sometimes pride themselves on avoiding conflict, but they do so only because the pastor has learned to silence open discussion through his authoritarian leadership. And there are nations that are not at war, but in which wholistic peace cannot be found. 

When we look for peace, we must keep before us the concept we find throughout Scripture. True peace will always include right-relationships, just treatment of all persons, wholeness in all dimensions of life, and divine blessing to boot. Sometimes the path to true peace must pass through strife and division before it arrives at its destination. 

What does all of this mean for you personally? It means that, no matter how much you enjoy peace with God and within your own heart, you must also pursue the corporate aspects of shalom. In a nutshell, you must be a peacemaker.” 


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