We all want peace. I’m sure we all really do. But what does it look like?
For as long as anyone living can remember, America has been either at war or in serious rivalry with other country.
Our government has also operated a long-running Middle East peace process. Is there peace there?
Bumper stickers proclaim “Give peace a chance,” and “War is not the answer.”
I well remember the unpopular war in Vietnam and attended peace rallies to protest it.
What was peace like there? People would take turns shouting angry slogans into a microphone. Occasionally, in the name of peace, some people threw bricks through windows or even burned down buildings.
If you’re not experiencing uncomfortable conflict within your family, your work place, or your neighborhood, you’re seeing someone else’s and getting an earful about it.
And that’s before you look at the local news.
So what happens if we decide to avoid arguments? Chances are we find ourselves in at least one relationship strained by tension over issues no one dare talk about.
Here is what peace looks like wherever we look: we can have genuinely peaceful and joyful relationships with some people. We can have comfortable and smooth relationships with most people. We can pretend not to be in conflict with others. We cannot possibly avoid stormy, hurtful relationships entirely.
If people can’t get along with all of the other people in their lives without ever getting into conflict, is there any wonder that nations are never entirely at peace with every other nation?
The peace wished for on bumper stickers is an illusion.
Peace not as the world gives
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubles and do not be afraid.” — John 14:27 (NIV) If Jesus gives peace that’s not what the world gives, perhaps it doesn’t look like the peace the world seeks.
Real peace must be something other than an absence of conflict or papering over differences to maintain an uneasy truce. It must also include peace on a dimension that the world neglects to consider:God hates sin. Everyone on the face of the earth falls short of perfection, which is just another way of saying everyone sins.
Therefore, the peace Jesus offers is first peace with God.
- On the cross, he willingly suffered the death that sinners deserve.
- Although he himself knew no sin, he took all sin throughout all the earth and throughout all time upon himself. He became sin. When he died, all that sin died with him.
- He made each of us an offer we shouldn’t refuse: in exchange for willingly giving him all of our sin and agreeing that the death he died was our just penalty, he offers us his righteousness. That is, we can now have right standing with God through faith as if we had never sinned in the first place.
- By faith, we can also recognize that we have been adopted into God’s family. When the Bible says, “work out your salvation,” it means to acknowledge the changed heart that we received with our new righteousness and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, let it work throughout our personalities until it starts to become evident outwardly.
Second, the peace Jesus offers is peace within.
He said not to let your hearts be troubled or afraid. We have each been wounded by all that conflict we have suffered, and it feels like we have to be troubled and/or afraid. Being or not being troubled or afraid is a choice, but feelings can be a great bully. Anyone in the world can choose not to be troubled or afraid, but without the Holy Spirit to shield our hearts and provide guidance, no one has the strength.
The Bible calls Jesus’ peace the peace that passes understanding. It makes no sense that anyone can endure all the hurtful things that happen day in and day out and not respond by being troubled or afraid. It doesn’t have to make sense. Just receive it and trust it!
Third, the peace Jesus offers works within conflict
We can’t avoid conflict. We can’t go very long in this world without getting hurt.
Just hours after Jesus promised peace to his disciples, a large group of armed men arrested him.
He was beaten. He was mocked. He was subjected to an illegal kangaroo court where everyone knew the verdict before it started.
Finally, with jeers and catcalls ringing in his ears, he suffered the agony of the slowest, cruelest form of execution ever devised.
Jesus never lost his peace during the whole ordeal. His accusers found that especially infuriating. His followers panicked and fled for their lives, but eventually they, too, learned to walk in the peace of God.
What does it look like? A person at peace can
- experience trouble without being emotionally overcome by it.
- withstand abuse without needing to retaliate.
- respond to a crisis with prayer and a calm assurance of deliverance without panicking or looking for shortcuts.