Texts: Isaiah 57:14-21, Philippians 4:4-9, John 14:19-27 3rd Lent Midweek
The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace
In the name of him who shows himself to the faithful; but whom the unbelieving world cannot see; dear friends in Christ: thus far in our evening meditations on the nine fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter five, we’ve considered the first two, which are respectively Christian love and joy. This evening we’re going to turn our attention to the third, which is peace.
Let me ask: what’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “peace”? Speaking for myself, having grown up in the sixties, the first thing that pops into my head is an image of the quintessential hippie character. He’s got long hair, a scraggly beard, tie-dyed T-shirt, raggedy bell bottom jeans, and he’s barefoot. He’s got a pair of ridiculously small wire rimmed glasses with round, deeply blue tinted lenses perched precariously near the tip of his nose. His eyelids are at half-mast, perfectly complementing the otherwise stoned expression on his face. He lazily raises a hand beside his head, extends two fingers and says, “Hey, peace, man.” What exactly he means when he says it is anyone’s guess. It could be anything: a standard hippie greeting, an invitation to live and let live (whatever that means), or very possibly a prelude to the question, “Can you spare me some bread?” (in which bread refers to what you carry in your wallet, not to what you make sandwiches with). That’s the picture the word peace creates in my mind; but it doesn’t help very much toward saying what peace is.
So it would be more helpful to try to pin down a definition. And if we were speaking in purely secular terms, then I think most people would agree that peace describes the state of affairs we experience when we are not at war. It’s the absence of open hostilities between nations or other people groups. And you don’t have to live very long in this world of ours to know that this kind of peace is a comparatively rare phenomenon. It seems that we’re always at war with someone. And even when we’re not (technically), we’re likely to have some of our armed forces deployed as peacekeepers whose job it is to stand between people groups who would like to be at war with each other. During the long Cold War, we managed to sustain a period of “peace” by constantly building more and more powerful nuclear weapons. Then the principle of MAD, that is, Mutually Assured Destruction, supposedly guaranteed that no one would start a major war because it would be impossible to win. In a thermonuclear war, everyone loses. So we had peace, of a sorts; but we also lived in constant fear that one day we’d wake up to discover that during the night we’d been vaporized and the whole world had been reduced to cinders. Taking all of this into consideration, what we can say about worldly peace is that it’s quite fragile, it’s usually short-lived, and even when we are supposedly enjoying it, we still have to be on guard, steadily preparing ourselves by sustaining security measures, stockpiling weapons, developing new and more terrible weapons, training soldiers, sending out spies to see what potential enemies are up to, and on and on. The price of this peace is eternal vigilance driven by fear – and even then, it doesn’t last. This is peace that the world gives.
Thank the Lord, therefore, that when he speaks of peace he’s talking about something else entirely. Actually, the biblical concept of peace is twofold, because two words with different emphases are used. On one hand we’ve got the Greek word eirhnh. From it we get the English word “irenic”, which means “peaceful”; and also the woman’s name “Irene”, which, as you probably guessed, means “peace”. This word for peace emphasizes the idea of bringing into reconciliation parties formerly in conflict. We were violently at odds; but now we’re close friends. And this is nothing less that the heart of the Gospel. Because of our sinful hearts, we were the enemies of God. We were in open rebellion against him. But God in his mercy looked upon us with compassion. Even knowing what we were and how we hated him, he determined to save us. He determined to heal us. So he sent his Son to bear on the cross the just consequences of our sin. And then, having spent the entirety of his wrath against Jesus our substitute, he reached out to us through him with his word of forgiveness. It’s no coincidence that when Jesus first appeared to his gathered disciples, who were cowering in fear on the evening of that first Easter day, the first words out of his mouth were, “Peace to you.” He was telling them that the war between God and man is over; that through him and his suffering and death, the broken relationship had been restored. He had reconciled sinful man to God.
And what’s particularly telling on that occasion is that they were still afraid. It’s only after he shows them his wounded hands – the very marks of his suffering for their sin – that they calm down and believe what he’s telling them. That’s when they experience the peace he’s proclaiming. It’s while gazing upon the wounds he received in his passion that they know for certain that they have nothing to fear from a wrathful God. They understand that in Jesus God is now favorably disposed toward them – that they’ve passed out of his judgment, and that they can now approach him, as Luther put it, “as dear children go to their dear Father” with all their cares, concerns, and requests. Those once at war are now family and fast friends with God through the death of Christ.
It’s for this very reason that the pastor proclaims the Peace of the Lord during the service of Holy Communion immediately after consecrating the bread and wine. He holds before the congregation the body and blood of the Savior – the proof of Jesus’ passion and death – and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” And the point is that he’s holding it right there in his hand: God’s peace to us: his crucified and risen Son on display in the body broken and the blood he shed for us. That’s where Christ reveals himself to us but not to the world. We see him; but unbelievers don’t. And seeing, smelling, feeling, tasting him, and hearing his Word, we receive to ourselves the assurance of our forgiveness and the peace of God that passes all understanding.
And there’s another dimension to this. Having been restored vertically to a right relationship with God in Christ, we are able to experience restored relationships on the horizontal plane with others who are similarly reconciled to God in Jesus. Recognizing how we are forgiven and loved by the Lord, possessing a new redeemed nature, and being filled with God’s own Holy Spirit, empowers us to forgive and love each other. So the peace of the Lord to us spills over into real and lasting peace between other members of the family of faith.
Good. Everything I’ve said so far pertains to the first emphasis of the spiritual fruit of peace. The second emphasis comes to us from the Hebrew word for peace, which is “shalom”. This word comes from a root that means “to be enough”. So when you hear a Hebrew speaking person wishing you peace or “shalom”, the idea is that he hopes your life will be full of good things and that you will lack for nothing. Peace is what you experience when everything as it should be both spiritually and physically. You are content and satisfied, and you’re not worrying about anything because there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all covered.
It will be helpful to understand that in the ancient world, things could be pretty uncertain. A drought, a hailstorm, an invasion of locusts could easily wipe out all your crops, and then you’d face famine. People in your family might die for lack of food. Or a sudden attack by marauding enemies could get you or your loved ones killed or captured and made slaves just like that. And of course, they didn’t have the medical wonders we take for granted today. So every little injury or infection could have meant death or permanent disability. The point is that people were almost always worried about something. They rarely knew real peace of mind, and so they valued it highly. And that’s why we see this emphasis in their understanding of peace.
Now, we might not be worried about the same things they did; but we still find plenty to worry about, don’t we? And so this aspect is included when we speak of the spiritual fruit of peace. It’s the sense that the Lord always has me and my best interest at heart, and that he’s taking care of me completely. Every need of soul and body is covered. So I don’t have to be fretting about what tomorrow will bring because whatever it is, my heavenly Father will take care of it. I’m in the original “good hands”—not of All State insurance but of the Almighty God – whom I know loves me and cares for me for Christ’s sake.
So these two ideas together: peace as a reconciled relationship with God who was formerly angry with us due to our sin, and peace as knowing that all things are taken care of and freedom from having to worry about the future – both of these are included when we speak of the peace that the Spirit is working to bring to maturity in our lives. It’s a wonderful thing; but obviously none of us has yet realized the goal in its totality. But again, the purpose of our taking the time to meditate upon the fruit of peace is so that we know what it is we’re to be working toward. It’s the sin and unbelief still present in our old natures that prevents us from enjoying now the fullness of this peace – which ought to be high incentive for us to want to search out and destroy through repentance the sin and unbelief in our hearts that stand in the way, and then apply ourselves all the more to the very means of grace the Lord gives us to strengthen our faith and assure us that in Christ our sins are forgiven and we have been reconciled. Then we will know the peace of God that passes all understanding.
May our loving God and Father give us the grace to make this our goal. And may he grant us the grace to pray, “Dona nobis pacem – Give us peace.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!