"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" (John 14:27).
My young friend Josh Woo recently visited his parents' homeland of Korea while on summer vacation from his studies at the University of Southern California. One day, I read the email he sends occasionally to friends and family. Over that weekend, he had visited the DMZ, that "demilitarized zone" marking the border between North and South Korea, part of the settlement which ended the Korean War in 1953. Josh sent several pictures, including one showing a sign with the number: 21,172.
"That's the number of days since the Korean War ended," he said. Then he surmised, "This probably means that in their minds that war is not really over." I expect he's right. What we have here is a truce, an agreement to disagree. For each of those thousands of days, relations between these two nations and its people have been strained. What we do not have is peace.
When I went off to my freshman year of college, that truce was five years old. I recall our history professor, Mae Parrish, lauding the agreement that ended that war, calling it a mark of maturity among nations. Rather than a fight to the death, rather than demanding "unconditional surrender" of one side or the other, the combatants agreed to disagree. That's about the best we humans can do sometimes. And, let us be quick to say, it's a far cry better than slaughtering our young men and women to make a point or have our way. But let us not call it peace. Peace is something else altogether.
Scripture knows three kinds of peace: with God, within ourselves, and between one another. The implications for Christ's disciples are enormous.
I. Peace with God Is a Gift from the Lord Jesus Christ
Peace is something we receive by faith; this is salvation. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). As a result of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the sins which divided us from a Holy God have been dealt with "once and for all" (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10-12). Our salvation is a done deal. When we receive Jesus Christ into our lives as Lord and Savior, the enmity that had estranged us from the Father is no more.
Somewhere I read of a preacher asking Henry David Thoreau if he had "made his peace" with the Almighty. He answered something to the effect that, "We were never at cross purposes with each other." In no way do I wish to put down Thoreau, but his statement reveals an unrealistic view of the sinful heart and the self-centeredness that characterizes every member of the human race. When scripture says, "There is none righteous" and "All have sinned" (Rom. 3), that includes distinguished New England writers also.
Peace with God is a wonderful thing. And to think, it's a gift! "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
Toward the conclusion to his best-selling 1953 book, Peace With God, Billy Graham wrote, "Peace can be experienced only when you have received divine pardon-when you have been reconciled to God and when you have harmony within, with your fellow man and especially with God. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.' But through the blood of the cross, Christ has made peace with God for us and is Himself our peace. If by faith we accept Him, we are justified by God and can realize the inner serenity that can come to man through no other means. When Christ enters our heart, we are freed of that haunting sense of sin. Cleansed of all feeling of contamination and unfitness, we can lift up our heads secure in the knowledge that we can look with confidence into the face of our fellowmen. When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.' Even more important, we know that we can stand before God in the hour of our death with this same feeling of peace and security."
II. Peace within Ourselves Is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Peace is something the Spirit grows within us; this is sanctification. There is a vertical peace-between God and man. There is a horizontal peace-between people. And there is an inner peace, which is a product of the indwelling Holy Spirit who sits in control of one's life.
We see this in the story of a woman known in Scripture only as "the Shunnamite woman." After this lady had led her husband to extend hospitality to the Prophet Elisha, who was making his rounds throughout Israel, even to the extent of building onto the house a "prophet's quarters" for him, the man of God decided to do something for her. He asked his servant to find out what she needed. "He said to him, Say now to her, "Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?"' And she answered, I live among my own people'" (2 Kings 4:13).
I love the self-sufficiency of that. There is nothing acquisitive about this woman. She is no opportunist, even when the man of God hands her a blank check. There is a beautiful peace within her. It's this quality our Lord meant when He said, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27). It's His peace. It's unlike anything the world has. It is the rarest quality on earth, and one of the most precious.
John MacArthur says the verb form of the word for peace means "to have it all together." God's peace-which the Holy Spirit bears in our lives when He sits in control-is a wholeness or settled-ness. We lack for nothing. Paul expressed it like this (to paraphrase): "All of God is in Christ. Christ is in you. You are complete in Him" (Col. 2:9; 1:27; 2:10).
One of the best ways to see what this Holy Spirit peace is all about is to notice when it's absent. The lack of this kind of completeness leaves the field free for anxiety, worry, fear, and angst to do their dirty work. Pastor Waylon Bailey and I were discussing a young minister with whom we were both impressed. Waylon observed, "There are two kinds of preachers: those who go into the ministry whole and those who enter it in order to get whole." We agreed that our mutual friend was already whole. It's a wonderful life. It's a fruit of the Spirit.
III. Peace between People Is a Work of Righteousness
This kind of peace is something we do. "And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever" (Isa. 32:17).
The first peace-with God (salvation)-is a gift from Jesus. You receive this all at once by repenting and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The second peace-within oneself (sanctification)-is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It takes time to produce this fruit, and becomes more evident as we grow in Christ. The last peace-between people (obedience)-is a work of righteousness. It's something we do, not a gift and not a fruit. It is a work. The presence of inner peace (with God, within ourselves) gives us the power, ability, desire, to work for peace between ourselves and other people.
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Rom. 12:18). Let's be very clear about this, Christian: Much of it depends on you. In Jesus Christ, you have been freed from anxiety, worry, and fear. You have been freed from overwhelming guilt and you are empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. If anyone is automatically able to go to someone who has offended you and forgive, it's you. If anyone is able to go to someone who is angry at you and apologize, it's you. If anyone is able to bring two warring parties together and assist them in reconciling, it's you.
What you are not entitled to or empowered for is "to be quick to take offense" (1 Cor. 13:5). If there is a person on the earth who overlooks slights and offenses, it ought to be you, one of the most blessed of anyone anywhere.
The peace of God and the peace of Christ are not ends in themselves. God gives no gifts in order that His children may have nice warm feelings inside. The gift of God's peace and the fruit of the Spirit which is peace are given in order to make us peacemakers. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt.5:9).
Joe McKeever is a retired Southern Baptist pastor from New Orleans, Louisiana. He blogs regularly at www.joemckeever.com.
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