This world does not know peace. With all the school shootings, wars, violent crimes, vicious arguments and downright hatred, how can Christians show peace?
One of the greatest human desires is for peace: peace between nations, peace between neighbors and peace within our own minds. Yet our experience confirms the biblical assessment: “The way of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:17; quoted from Isaiah 59:8).
Acting in a way that leads to true and lasting peace is not part of our natural human tendencies. Instead, the apostle Paul wrote that our human nature leads to “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions … murders” (Galatians 5:20-21). In contrast, those who are baptized and receive God’s Holy Spirit can have access to a new nature that allows us to grow in the fruit of peace (verse 22).
What is peace?
The word Paul used for peace was the Greek word eirene. This word includes the meaning “peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
Peace includes a calm, harmonious absence of conflict that this world has never known. There may have been isolated times and places where conflict was halted for a time, but real world peace has never been seen. That hasn’t stopped this world from pretending, however. Think of all the peace treaties that have been broken almost as soon as they were signed.
In Jeremiah 8:11, we see that the practice of leaders trying to ignore or sugarcoat the lack of peace is not something new: “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace.”
Sadly, the little Band-Aids humanity has tried—treaties, social programs, talks around tables—cannot treat the gushing wounds of a world ravaged by conflict and contention.
Peace is the opposite of James 4:1-4, which describes the cause of war. “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Notice Philippians 4:6-7: “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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (emphasis added throughout). God’s perfect peace is one of those wonderfully deep things of God that have not “entered into the heart of man” but are only “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:9, 14).
There is a reason that the majority of people in the world cannot even begin to understand the peace offered by God: They have been blinded and deceived (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9). This is even true in the religious realm (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). People look to religion as the source from which to learn the way to peace. However, throughout history, uncounted wars have been waged in the name of religion. This is confusing to those sincerely searching for answers about what produces lasting peace.
The fruit of the Spirit of peace also provides the inner peace of mind and contentment found by living God’s way of life—even in less-than-peaceful situations.
“Usually in the New Testament eirene stands for the Hebrew shalowm and means not just freedom from trouble but everything that makes for a man’s highest good” (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible). Peace is more than the absence of war or something felt in the mind. It is a way of living life in a proper relationship between man and God, as well as man and man.
Why does God want us to demonstrate peace?
Peace is so alien a thing in this world. Imagine a world:
- Where people actually let others finish speaking instead of interrupting them.
- Where people don’t have heated arguments.
- Where differences are settled with patience rather than fists.
- Where people show compassion to others even when they don’t deserve it.
Why, in Romans 12:18, does Paul say, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men”? He said this because God wants His entire creation to be at peace, and this must start one person at a time. Repentant, baptized followers of Christ are given the gift of the Holy Spirit now (Acts 2:38), and they are the first of hopefully billions to follow.
Even those who are not yet converted undoubtedly desire peace, yet they have misdirected and sometimes dangerous ideas of what peace actually is and how to attain it. A true Christian’s job in demonstrating peace is to show the world what true peace looks like: a calm contentment through being as close to God as possible, which exhibits the other spiritual fruits, including love, patience, kindness and gentleness.
The coming Kingdom of God will be one of peace; and if we are to be a part of it, we must demonstrate this reality. Christ explicitly explained this in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
So why does God want us to demonstrate peace? God wants us to be a part of His family as sons and daughters, and His family must be peaceful. Eventually the whole world will be part of this peaceful family; but now, amidst the hatred and conflict, it must start with us.
An example of peace to follow
A great example of making peace can be found in the story of Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham) and his nephew Lot. The two were traveling together, but their possessions were too great and their herdsmen began bickering and fighting over grazing land.
Abram came to Lot and said: “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9).
Instead of letting anger build up and shouting accusations, Abram calmly assessed the situation and made a suggestion, giving Lot the preference. His example shows that making peace might involve sacrifice of comfort and preference. But God blessed the results of Abram’s efforts at peace and recorded it as an example for us.
An example to avoid
The story of Joab is a potent example of a lack of peace. He was the general of King David’s army, but became infamous for his ruthlessness and for going above and beyond the king’s orders in very violent ways. Joab managed to viciously murder two other military leaders, as well as David’s wayward son Absalom, all without approval from the king.
In fact, David eventually gave instructions for Joab to be punished for his violence. David told his son Solomon: “Moreover you know also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two commanders of the armies of Israel, to Abner the son of Ner and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed. And he shed the blood of war in peacetime, and put the blood of war on his belt that was around his waist, and on his sandals that were on his feet. Therefore do according to your wisdom, and do not let his gray hair go down to the grave in peace” (1 Kings 2:5-6).
Joab’s attitude seems to have been completely opposite of peace. He clearly illustrates how those who “take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
Peace self-examination questionnaire
How are we doing in growing in the fruit of peace? To find out, ask yourself questions such as:
- When conflict comes, do I strive to make peace or add fuel to the fire? Why?
- What areas of my life or actions demonstrate that I am truly a peacemaker?
- Do I know the difference between godly peace and the world’s peace? How do I know?
- Considering specific interactions with others, ask: Did my email/phone call/text/Facebook post/conversation/behavior promote peace or strife?
How do we demonstrate more peace?
We must practice the way of peace starting in the only area we can really affect: our sphere of influence. Remember, Paul urged us “if it is possible” and “as much as depends on you” to live peaceably with “all men.” This will be challenging. Here are a few ideas:
- Drop conversations that are getting out of hand. This might involve saying something like: “Let’s agree to disagree.” Then be satisfied that you can’t change someone else’s mind about certain things. Peace is knowing that God’s intervention might be necessary to change someone’s thinking (including our own).
- Make yourself stand out as the calm and collected one in whatever encounters you experience. Others may fight or say insulting, jealous or prideful things, but we should edify, build up and walk away from an encounter if necessary.
- Respect other human beings as potential future members of the family of God. Remind yourself that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), no matter how angry you are at the person at the moment.
There will be world peace one day, when Christ returns to earth and sets up God’s Kingdom. Until then, we have to show the world the spiritual calm and contentment we receive by knowing God and growing in the fruit of the Spirit of peace.
See more about peace in the article about the coming peaceful “Millennium” and the video “A Festival of Peace.” For more about the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, see our article “The Fruit of the Spirit” and the links to the other eight.