“The Peace of God that excels all thought”
This article is the first in a series of articles examining the Fruits of the Spirit. As the Fruits of the Spirit are vital for all true Christians let us take some time to investigate what the Bible says and see what we can learn that will help us in a practical way. This will assist us to not only exhibit this fruit but also benefit personally from it.
Here we will examine:
and continuing the theme in the 2nd Part:
What is Peace?
So what is peace? A dictionary[i] defines it as “freedom from disturbance, tranquillity”. But the Bible means more than this when it talks about peace. A good place to start is by examining the Hebrew word usually translated as ‘peace’.
The Hebrew word is “Shalom” and the Arabic word is ‘salam’ or ‘salaam’. We are likely familiar with them as a word of greeting. Shalom means:
- safety and soundness in body,
- welfare, health, prosperity,
- peace, quiet, tranquility
- peace and friendship with humans, with God, from war.
If we greet someone with ‘shalom’ we are expressing the desire that all these fine things come upon them. Such a greeting is far more than a simple greeting of ‘Hello, how are you?’, ’How do you do?’, ‘What’s happening?’ or ‘Hi’ and similar common greetings used in the Western World. That is why the Apostle John said in 2 John 1:9-10 regarding those who do not remain in the teaching of Christ, that we should not receive them into our homes or say a greeting to them. Why? It is because it would effectively be asking a blessing from God and Christ on their wrong course of action by greeting them and showing welcoming hospitality and support. This in all conscience we could not do, neither would God and Christ be prepared to carry out this blessing on such a person. However, there is a big difference between calling a blessing upon them and speaking to them. Speaking to them would be not only Christian but necessary if one was to encourage them to change their ways so they could gain God’s blessing once again.
The Greek word used for ‘peace’ is “Eirene” translated as ‘peace’ or ‘peace of mind’ from which we get the Christian name Irene. The root of the word is from ‘eiro’ to join or tie together into a whole, hence wholeness, when all essential parts are joined together. From this we can see that as with “Shalom”, it is not possible to have peace without many things coming together to be united. So there is a need to see how we can get those important things to come together.
What kind of Peace do we really need?
- Physical Peace
- Freedom from excessive or unwanted noise.
- Freedom from physical assault.
- Freedom from weather extremes, such as heat, cold, rain, wind
- Mental Peace or Peace of Mind
- Freedom from fear of death, whether premature due to disease, violence, natural disasters, or wars; or due to old age.
- Freedom from mental anguish, whether due to the death of loved ones or by stress caused by financial worries, or other people’s actions, or the results of our own imperfect actions.
For true peace we need all these things to come together. These points are focused on what we need, but, by the same token most other people desire the same, they also desire peace. So how can both we and others achieve this goal or desire?
What is needed for True Peace?
Psalm 34:14 and 1 Peter 3:11 give us an important starting point when these scriptures say “Turn away from what is bad, and do what is good; Seek to find peace, and pursue it.”
Therefore, there are four key points to take from these scriptures:
- Turning away from bad. This would involve a measure of other fruits of the spirit such as self-control, faithfulness, and love for goodness to enable us to have the strength to turn away from the enticement of sin. Proverbs 3:7 encourages us “Do not become wise in your own eyes. Fear Jehovah and turn away from bad.” This scripture indicates a healthy fear of Jehovah is the key, the desire not to displease him.
- Doing what is good would require displaying all the fruits of the spirit. It would also involve displaying justice, reasonableness, and not having partial distinctions amongst other qualities as highlighted by James 3:17,18 which says in part “But the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.”
- Seeking to find peace is something that depends upon our attitude even as Romans 12:18 says “If possible, as far as it depends upon YOU, be peaceable with all men.”
- Pursuing peace is making a real effort to seek it. If we search for it as for hid treasure then Peter’s hope for all Christians would come true as he wrote in 2 Peter 1:2 “May undeserved kindness and peace be increased to YOU by an accurate knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,”.
You will have noticed though that many of the causes of a lack of peace or requirements for true peace are outside of our control. They are also outside the control of other humans as well. We therefore need assistance in the short term to cope with these things, but also in the long term intervention to eliminate them and thereby bring about true peace. So the question arises who has the power to bring true peace to us all?
The One True Source of Peace
Can man bring about peace?
Just one well known example demonstrates the futility of looking to man. On September 30, 1938 on his return from meeting the German Chancellor Hitler, Neville Chamberlain the British Prime Minister declared the following “I believe it is peace for our time.”[ii] He was referring to the agreement made and signed with Hitler. As history shows, 11 months later on 1st September 1939 World War II broke out. Any peace attempts by man while commendable, fail sooner or later. Man cannot bring about long term peace.
Peace was offered to the nation of Israel while in the Sinai wilderness. The Bible book of Leviticus records the offer Jehovah made to them in Leviticus 26:3-6 where it says in part “‘If YOU continue walking in my statutes and keeping my commandments and YOU do carry them out, … I will put peace in the land, and YOU will indeed lie down, with no one making [YOU] tremble; and I will make the injurious wild beast cease out of the land, and a sword will not pass through YOUR land.”
Sadly, we know from the Bible record it didn’t take the Israelites long to leave Jehovah’s commandments and actually start suffering oppression as a consequence.
The Psalmist David wrote in Psalm 4:8 “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For you yourself alone, O Jehovah, make me dwell in security.” So we can conclude that peace from any other source than Jehovah (and his son Jesus) is just temporary illusion.
More importantly our theme scripture Philippians 4:6-7 not only reminds us of the only true source of peace, God. It also reminds us of something else very important. The full passage says “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let YOUR petitions be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard YOUR hearts and YOUR mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” This means that to gain true peace we need to acknowledge the role of Jesus Christ in bringing that peace.
Is it not Jesus Christ who is called the Prince of Peace? (Isaiah 9:6). It is only through him and his ransom sacrifice on behalf of mankind that the peace from God is able to be brought about. If we all but ignore or downplay Christ’s role, we will not be able to find peace. Indeed as Isaiah goes on to say in his messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:7 “To the abundance of the princely rule and to peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom in order to establish it firmly and to sustain it by means of justice and by means of righteousness, from now on and to time indefinite. The very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this.”
Therefore the Bible clearly promises that the messiah, Jesus Christ the Son of God is the mechanism through which Jehovah will bring about peace. But can we put trust in those promises? Today we live in a world where promises are broken more often than kept which leads to a lack of trust. So how can we build up our trust in the one True Source of peace?
Build up our trust in the One True Source
Jeremiah went through many trials and lived in perilous times leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. He was inspired to write the following warning and encouragement from Jehovah. Jeremiah 17:5-6 contains the warning and reminds us “This is what Jehovah has said: “Cursed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in earthling man and actually makes flesh his arm, and whose heart turns away from Jehovah himself. 6 And he will certainly become like a solitary tree in the desert plain and will not see when good comes; but he must reside in parched places in the wilderness, in a salt country that is not inhabited.”
Therefore putting trust in earthling man, any earthling men is bound to end in disaster. Sooner or later we would end up in a desert without water and inhabitants. Surely that scenario is a recipe for pain, and suffering and potentially death rather than peace.
But Jeremiah then contrasts this foolish course with that of those who trust in Jehovah and his purposes. Jeremiah 17:7-8 describe the blessings of following such a course, saying: “7Blessed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in Jehovah, and whose confidence Jehovah has become. 8 And he will certainly become like a tree planted by the waters, that sends out its roots right by the watercourse; and he will not see when heat comes, but his foliage will actually prove to be luxuriant. And in the year of drought he will not become anxious, nor will he leave off from producing fruit.” Now that certainly describes a tranquil, beautiful, peaceful scene. One that would be refreshing not only to the ‘tree’ itself (us), but to others that visit or come into contact with or rest under that ‘tree’.
Putting trust in Jehovah and his Son Christ Jesus requires a lot more than obeying his commands. A child can obey its parents out of duty, out of fear of punishment, out of habit. But when a child trusts the parents, it will obey because it knows the parents have its best interests at heart. It will also have experienced the fact that the parents want to keep the child safe and protected, and that they really care for it.
It is likewise with Jehovah and Jesus Christ. They have our best interests at heart; they want to protect us from our own imperfections. But we need to build up our trust in them by putting faith in them because we know in our hearts that they really do have our best interests at heart. They do not want to keep us at a distance; Jehovah wants us to view him as a Father, and Jesus as our brother. (Mark 3:33-35). To view Jehovah as a father we therefore need to build a relationship with him.
Build a relationship with our Father
Jesus taught all who desired to, how to build a relationship with Jehovah as our Father. How? We can only build a relationship with our physical father by speaking regularly to him. Likewise we can only build a relationship with our Heavenly Father by going regularly to him in prayer, the only means we currently have of speaking to him.
As Matthew recorded in Matthew 6:9, commonly known as the model prayer, Jesus taught us “You must pray then, this way: ’Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come, let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth”. Did he say ‘Our friend in the heavens.’? No, he did not, he made it clear when speaking to all his audience, both disciples and non-disciples when he said “Our Father”. He was desirous of the non-disciples, the majority of his audience, to become disciples and benefit from the Kingdom arrangement. (Matthew 6:33). Indeed as Romans 8:14 reminds us “For all who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons.” Being peaceable with others is also vital if we are to become “God’s sons”. (Matthew 5:9)
This is part of the “accurate knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2) which brings an increase of God’s grace and peace upon us.
Acts 17:27 talks about seeking “God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.” The Greek word translated “grope for” has a root meaning of ‘touch lightly, feel after, to discover and personally investigate’. A way to understand this scripture is to imagine you are looking for something important, but it is pitch black, you cannot see anything. You would have to grope for it, but you would make steps very carefully, so you do not walk into anything or step on or trip over anything. When you think you may have found it, you would gently touch and feel the object, to find some identifying shape that would help you recognise that it was the object of your search. Once you found it, you would not let it go.
Likewise we need to search carefully for God. As Ephesians 4:18 reminds us the nations “are in darkness mentally and alienated from the life that belongs to God”. The problem with darkness is that someone or something can be right next to us without us realising it, and with God it can be the same. We can and should therefore build up a relationship with both our Father and his son, by getting to know their likes and dislikes from the scriptures and by prayer. As we build up a relationship with anyone, we begin to understand them better. This means we can have more confidence in what we do and how we act with them as we know it will be pleasing to them. This gives us peace of mind. The same applies to our relationship with God and Jesus.
Does it matter what we were? The scriptures show clearly it does not. But it does matter what we are now though. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, many of them had been doing many wrong things, but that had all changed and was behind them.(1 Corinthians 6:9-10). As Paul wrote in the latter part of 1 Corinthians 6: 10 “But YOU have been washed clean, but YOU have been sanctified, but YOU have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.” What a privilege to be declared righteous.
For example Cornelius was a Roman centurion and likely had much blood on his hands, maybe even Jewish blood as he was stationed in Judea. Yet an angel told Cornelius “Cornelius, your prayer has been favourably heard and your gifts of mercy have been remembered before God.” (Acts 10:31) When Apostle Peter came to him Peter said to all present “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35) Would not that have given Cornelius, peace of mind, that God would accept such a sinner as him? Not only that but also Peter was given confirmation and peace of mind, that something that was taboo for a Jew was henceforth not only acceptable to God and Christ but vital, that of speaking to Gentiles.
Without praying for God’s Holy Spirit we will not be able to find peace by just reading his word, because we are unlikely to understand it well enough. Does not Jesus suggest it is the Holy Spirit that helps teach us all things and understand and remember what we have learnt? His words recorded in John 14:26 are: “But the helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach YOU all things and bring back to YOUR minds all the things I told YOU”. Additionally Acts 9:31 indicates that the early Christian congregation gained peace from persecution and being built up as they walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 records the Apostle Paul’s desire of peace for the Thessalonians by saying: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give YOU peace constantly in every way. The Lord be with all of YOU.” This scripture shows that Jesus [the Lord] can give us peace and the mechanism of this has to be by means of the Holy Spirit sent by God in Jesus name as per John 14:24 quoted above. Titus 1:4 and Philemon 1:3 amongst other scriptures have similar wording.
Our Father and Jesus will be desirous of giving us peace. However, they will be unable to if we are in a course of action contrary to their commands, so obedience is vital.
Obedience to the commandments of God and Jesus brings Peace
In building a relationship with God and Christ we will then start to nurture the desire to obey them. As with a physical father it is difficult to build a relationship if we do not love him, nor want to obey him and his wisdom in life. Likewise in Isaiah 48:18-19 God pleaded with the disobedient Israelites: “O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. 19 And your offspring would become just like the sand, and the descendants from your inward parts like the grains of it. One’s name would not be cut off or be annihilated from before me.”
It is therefore vitally important to obey the commandments of both God and Jesus. Therefore let us briefly examine some commandments and principles that bring peace.
- Matthew 5:23-24 – Jesus taught that if you want to bring a gift to God, and you remember your brother has something against you, we should first of all go and make peace with our brother before going on to offer the gift to Jehovah.
- Mark 9:50 – Jesus said “Have salt in yourselves and keep peace between one another.” Salt makes food that is otherwise unpalatable, tasty. Likewise, being seasoned ourselves (in a metaphorical sense) then we will be able to keep peace between one another when it might have been difficult otherwise.
- Luke 19:37-42 – If we do not discern the things having to do with peace, by studying God’s Word and accepting Jesus as the Messiah, then we will fail to find peace for ourselves.
- Romans 2:10 – The Apostle Paul wrote that there will be “glory and honor and peace for everyone who works what is good”. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 amongst many scriptures discusses what some of those good works are.
- Romans 14:19 – “So, then let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.” Pursuing things means making a real continuous effort to obtain these things.
- Romans 15:13 – “May the God who gives hope fill you with all joy and peace by your believing, that you may abound in hope with power of Holy Spirit.” We need to firmly believe that obeying God and Jesus is the right thing to do and the beneficial thing to practice.
- Ephesians 2:14-15 – Ephesians 2 says about Jesus Christ, “for he is our peace”. How so? “he who made the two parties one and destroyed the wall[iii] in between” referring to the Jews and the Gentiles and destroying the barrier between them to make them into one flock. The non Christian Jews in general hated the Gentiles and barely tolerated them at best. Even today Ultra-Orthodox Jews will avoid even eye-contact with ‘goyim’ to the extent of noticeably turning away their head. Hardly conducive to peace and good relations. Yet Jewish and Gentile Christians has to put aside such prejudices and become ‘one flock under one shepherd’ to gain God and Christ’s favor and enjoy peace. (John 10:14-17).
- Ephesians 4:3 – The Apostle Paul entreated Christians to “walk worthily of the calling … with complete lowliness of mind, and mildness, with long-suffering, putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” Improving our practicing of all of these qualities of the Holy Spirit will help bring us peace with others and with ourselves.
Yes, obedience to the commandments of God and Jesus as conveyed in God’s word, will result in a measure of peace with others now, and peace of mind for ourselves and the great potential for complete peace while enjoying everlasting life in the future.
[i] Google dictionary
[iii] Referring to the literal wall separating the Gentiles from the Jews that existed in the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem.