Bible Study: True Peace,
One of our deepest longings as human beings is for peace. But what exactly is peace? Most often we think of peace as peace of mind and freedom from worry and anxiety, a state of tranquility and serenity. But because human beings are not complete in themselves, because we have needs, concerns and cares of every kind weigh heavily down upon us.We wonder if we are going to make enough money this month to pay the bills;we wonder if others will like us or reject us,we wonder if our car will start up in the winter;we worry about our children: are they safe; are we raising them properly?
Concerns like these continually intrude and disrupt any kind of inner peace we seek to have. Moreover, we constantly wonder; Are we making the right decisions in life? Should I have taken that job? Should I move to another area? Should I marry this person or not?Weighing up our options,we realize that there are good points to various alternatives, and we have difficulty making up our minds.we feel we are of two or more minds about these matters, and this internal division plagues and may even paralyze us. And in these little details of life it seems that the Bible does not give us direct and clear guidance. To be at peace with oneself would mean a freedom from anxiety or worry about our lives, a confidence that we were making the right decisions according to Gods will. In short, having peace would mean freedom from this internal state of disharmony and division within ourselves. It is this peace that Paul refers to in Phil 4:6-7: Do not worry about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
Peace not only refers to a state of internal harmony, but to a state of harmony with other human beings. But peace is not merely the absence of conflict between people, but a condition of wholeness, prosperity and well-being as the Hebrew word shalom signifies. The prophet Zechariah describes peace in this way: For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew (8:12). And when the Messiah comes, He will be the Prince of Peace and bring justice and righteousness (Isa 9:6-7). Justice and righteousness are not simply individual qualities, rather the whole of human society will be characterized by Gods justice, for He sent the Messiah to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Isa 61:1). In other words, peace represents the ideal condition of humanity, in which needs of all are met perfectly and completely and there are no lacks; an endless infinite supply of all that is necessary for life is provided.After all, what produces conflict other than the fear that one might not get what one wants or needs? So peace is more than a mere absence ofwar of conflict, but a situation in which the well-being of every person is taken into account and provided for. Just because our country may not officially be atwarwith other countries does notmean that we have peace in the biblical sense. As long as there is injustice, as long as there is oppression, poverty, disease, and homelessness, as long as there is sin, there is no peace in our countries. But if we have the God of peace within us (Phil 4:9) and fix our faith firmly upon this biblical truth, then we can enjoy His peace in the midst of the chaos and conflict that rages around us in the world.
Everyday we hear of these conflicts in the news, whether in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics, or between India and Pakistan, in the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Some of the most devastating wars in human history have been fought in the past one hundred years and the invention of nuclear weapons, and though they may have ended the Second World War, they now loom over us threatening the human race with mass destruction. Although the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear powers have exercised restraint over the past fifty-seven years since the atom bombs were dropped on Japan, one need only remember last September to realize that there are terrorists who would use such weapons had they the opportunity. The more advanced our civilization becomes, the more peace seems to elude us. But even within American society, peace seems to evade us. We are perhaps the most litigious society in the world: when we do not get ourway,we go to court and sue. Conflict appears to be a way of life for the human race.
Conflict and war between peoples, between communities, between individu-alswhat is the source of conflict and how do we resolve it? The worlds answer is that were all basically good people and we just need to compromise. But compromise is only enlightened self-interestif I give a little here, then I will getsome of what I want at leastit is only settling for less than what I really want. But real peace is not of human making, and nothing we do will ever bring it about.We do not have it in ourselves to bring about peace in ourselves individually let alone in situations of world conflict. The most we can accomplish is a temporary cessation of hostilities. When we live from a spirit of self-for-self, automatically we are in conflict with anyone and everyone around us, because the danger is always present that we wont get whatwe want or need. As James says in his letter, Those conflicts and disputes among you,where do they come from?Do they not come from your desires that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder (James 4:1-2). Self-for-self Satan-operated people cannot be at peace in themselves or with each other because the very fact thatwe all seek our own good means that we will inevitably come into conflict. Even when we appear to be concerned about the good of everyone, we come into conflict over what is best for all concerned and break out into open conflict over our ideals. The philosophy of communism was ultimately rooted in Karl Marxs desire to improve the conditions and life of the ordinaryworkingman in 19th century European society. But the lofty ideals did not and could not be translated into real life because Marx did not take into account the sinfulness of human beings and the fact that apart from Christwe are all operated by Satan (Eph 2:2). Because human beings rarely agree on anything, communist peace could only be enforced through brutal totalitarian regimes. A handful of people dictated what was best for the vast majority of the people. Inevitably, however, because they themselves were self-for-self Satan-operated people, the leaders did not pursue what was best for all, but only what was best for themselves, at everyone elses expense. Communism failed to bring about a harmonious society of peace because it relied not upon God, but upon human strength and power to achieve its aims. But selfreliance is really a manifestation of the spirit of Satan.
The Al-Qaeda and the radical Muslims are really no different than the Communists, at least in one respect. They too pursue a vision of a perfect society, a traditional Islamic society. Many Muslims find Western culture extremely threatening and disruptive to their traditional way of life, which they believe God has commanded them to live, especially the sexual immorality that pervades the West and the freedom that we give to women. These Muslims find Western society so threatening that they view American culture as Satanic, and in some respects, they have a point. Our culture has departed from Gods standards, though I think that traditional Islamic culture is just as Satanic, particularly in its oppression of women. The radicals, however, go further than the traditional Muslims: in their zeal to produce a purified Islamic society they are willing to annihilate and kill anyone and any culture that opposes them, and unlike the Communists, they believe that God is on their side. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve their ideals. But they are deceived by Satan in their willingness to murder innocent people to achieve their goal of a purified society. In the end they too do not rely upon the one true God of the Bible to bring about peace, but rather on their own efforts to exterminate all who oppose their vision of a pure Islamic society. Only God has the right to exercise final judgment upon other human beings, and He does not share that prerogative with us. Peace, justice, perfection, and any other ideal cannot be brought about by force or self-effort, since in reality, all self-effort is Satan.
So all human ideals fail because we are operated by that spirit of self-effort and self-for-self, Satan himself. Because his spirit is in rebellion against God, disharmony and conflict are his essential nature, which he produces in all those he indwells and operates. Satan is not only the cause of conflict between groups of people, but the cause of internal disharmony and conflict as well. Paul speaks of this conflict in Romans 7:14-25, in which he did not do what he wanted, but did the evil he hated, because of sin (that is, the spirit of Satan) dwelling in him. And if Satan is the source of all conflict, then the only answer is not compromise, but in being delivered from his spirit and being indwelt by a new spirit, namely the Spirit of Christ.
So peace is not attained by human strength or effort: peace is a person, Jesus himself, the Prince of Peace (Isa 6:9). Paul says that Jesus Christ Himself is our peace (Eph 2:14). But what exactly does it mean to say that peace is a person? Now it is clear that Jesus Christ through his death brought about peace with God by dying in our place on the cross and saved us from Gods wrath (Rom 5:1, 9). By his death we were reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:17-20; Eph 2:15-16), and so we have peace with God. Jesus death caused a cessation of hostilities between humanity and God, at least on Gods side, though it is still up to us whether we will cease our hostility to God by accepting his gospel and receiving his Son into our hearts. But that being said, Paul says that Jesus Christ Himself is our peace, not merely that He gives us or offers us peace. How is this possible? True peace can only be established when every aspect of our lives is brought under Gods control (and entirely out of Satans control). But we cannot achieve this by our own self-effort, which is really just Satan, after all. We cannot bring ourselves under Gods control; if we could do that, we could keep the whole of Gods law by our own efforts, clearly an impossibility according to Rom 7:14-25. Instead we must trust another (Christ Himself) to come in and take over and deliver us from the slavery and wretchedness that Satan brings about in us. If we truly and fully realized that the God of the universe had come down and entered into our lives to live his life through us, we would have the answer to all our worries, anxieties, moments of indecision. An infinite supply is present within us as our answer to every situation if we but acknowledge this as the one true fact of our lives! Instead, we look at the outer circumstances as if they were the reality and not inward to the supply. This is why we as Christians fail to enjoy the peace which is ours in Christ, or rather the peace which is Christ Himself. It is only when we look at life from the eternal dimension of Christ within us and not at our circumstances that we can enjoy peace (see 2 Cor 4:16). So Jesus is our peace because He personally comes to dwell in us and to live His life through us completely and perfectly if we trust Him to do so. Obviously, there remains the human element of faith; we are not simply possessed by Christ apart from our choice. We can trust Christ to produce his perfect obedience through us (see Col 1:28), and to deliver us from the internal division and disharmony that Paul describes in Romans 7. As Isaiah says: Those of steadfast mind You keep in peacein peace because they trust in You (Isa 26:3). Jesus Christ is our peace because He is the One who lives our lives.
Christ is not only the peace within us, He also is the peace between people and between groups of people. In Eph 2:14, Jesus is the peace between Jews and Gentiles, who had formerly been hostile to each other. But now because of the atoning death of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them, the two groups are one and the dividing wall between them is broken down. The two groups are not one because they sat down at a meeting table and conducted negotiations and talks and both groups finally agreed to give a little and compromise. Nor did they suddenly come to some kind of outward external agreement. The unity is brought about by the One spirit which dwells in them, the One Person who lives through them all and is the true Person within them. As Paul says in Colossians 3:11: there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! Christ is not only in all, like some kind of added appendage to our real selves; rather He is the real self, the real person within us, and we are only vessels of Him, all expressing Him. This is the real basis of peace within ourselves and with others. The hope of the world is not negotiating tables and United Nations mediators and peacekeepers (though they do serve a temporal purpose), but Christ living in and through all people. There can only be peace when the divisions between people are eliminated, and this can only happen when Satans lie of independent self is exposed and eliminated. A world full of so-called independent selves all pursuing their own independent goals and purposes cannot but result in conflict and disharmony. Only when we realize that there is truly only One Person in the universe can this conflict be overcome. Paul calls us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, because as one body we were called to peace (Col 3:15). One body means one person, of whom we are all individually expressions. When we realize this, we have the truth that set us free, as Jesus says in John 8:32. Only in Christ will there ever be peace on earth.
Brett has an M.A. in New Testament and a Th. M. in Biblical Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently working on his doctorate at the University of Durham in England. He lives in Poughkeepsie, New York, and is a Zerubbabel Contact and Teacher- Sharer.