PEACE, AND THE LEGACY OF JESUS

-- PERFECT PEACE

WHAT NATION today has peace? What nation is at peace with itself? What government has brought harmony to its people so they may live at peace with their fellows? What nation among the nations is at peace with its neighbors? Such questions direct attention to the fact that conflict continues in the human family.

Man subdues the earth, and it brings forth abundantly. Continents yield more than their people need. Food surplus is itself sometimes a problem. But even so, millions are dying from want of food. Military conflicts and political decisions prevent the distribution of life- preserving supplies. The problem is well known, but the solution is elusive. Scholars plan for peace; statesmen convene to make peace, and warriors fight to enforce it. But still there is no peace.

And why is there no peace in the world today? Because most people are selfish and dishonest. Stern and harsh as such judgment may sound, it is nonetheless true: most people are really selfish. They have not yet learned to appreciate the blessing in doing good to others and living together in truth and harmony. But of course this condition is not unique to our time. The Bible shows that the same situation existed in Jerusalem when they were without peace in the time of Jeremiah. While selfish and dishonest people claimed there was "Peace, peace," the prophet proclaimed that in reality there was no peace. (Jer. 6:13,14) And there could be no peace until the people responded to the instruction of God. "For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them, every one is given to covetousness [every one is greedy for unjust gain--selfish], and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely [both the teachers and instructors of the people, and those who claimed to speak for God were dishonest]."

Such accusation against that people was fair and proper, even as it would be against many in the world today. Human selfishness began in Eden, when our first parents chose to ignore God's law and break His covenant. (Hosea 6:7) That disobedience brought death, and mankind continues on the broad road to destruction. In view of man's unhappy condition, peace is a desirable objective in this present evil world. It is therefore essential that we inquire of God regarding peace and His program for its gift to believers.

God the Source of Peace

Every attribute of God is itself a description of Him. We thus see the Almighty as the God of power; as the God of justice; as the God of wisdom; as the God of love. A special manifestation of one attribute may reveal God; even a prominent activity may seem to describe Him. God may, then, sometimes be thought of as a God of wrath; at other times, as a God of mercy. And because essential benefits extend to us from our Heavenly Father which reveal His gracious character, we may also properly think of Him as the God of light, the God of truth, or the God of all grace.

But more often Scripture refers to Jehovah as the God of peace. (Rom. 15:33, 2 Cor. 13:11, 1 Thes. 5:23) Every New Testament book except 1st John exhorts believers to the attainment of and growth in peace. And many New Testament books contain a salutation invoking a blessing of peace from our Heavenly Father. And the Old Testament contains many assurances of abundant peace to those who love and worship the LORD.

The fountain of all peace is God Himself. From His own vast resources of power and wisdom springs God's peace. It is an ingredient of His inherent goodness. One has written: "God is never confused, bewildered, perplexed, anxious or careworn, not in the least fearful that His plans will miscarry or His purposes fail. All power and wisdom emanate from Him. The scope of His mighty intellect reaches to the utmost bounds of possibility, comprehends all causes and discerns with precision all effects; consequently God knows the end from the beginning--a knowing which comes not only from philosophical principles which He Himself established, but also by intuitive knowledge. As the Creator of all things and the originator of all law, God is thoroughly acquainted with all the intricate subtleties of physical, moral and intellectual law, so that no problem could arise the results of which are not manifest to His mind."

But what, exactly, is peace? Peace is a moral quality of mind and heart. Peace is defined as a state of quiet or tranquility, freedom from disturbance or agitation. Such a state of mind is affirmed of God. He is never wearied nor perplexed by any of the cares of His vast dominion. Yet this perfect peace of God is not due to the absence of disorders in His realm. It is not due to an indifference to the pain or pleasure of others. The perfect peace of God stems from that perfect poise and balance of His glorious attributes which make Him master of His sovereign situation in the universe.

We do not think of God as developing peace or of growing in this quality, but rather of His complete possession of it. God rejoices when sinners repent, and He sorrows at acts of sin, even as does man whom He made in His image. God's peace has prevailed and been manifested during the discord, hatred, and rebellion in His family. Surely our God of peace has sorrowed with the discord within His creations. One of His sons became a tempter, an opponent, and a usurper. Another son and his family proceeded on a course of disobedience which has continued for many centuries. And angelic sons became allies of Satan. But God's peace has ever maintained; it rules in perfection amidst such rebellions. This is so because peace is compatible with godly sorrow, not overcome by it.

Peace With God Promised

Like all of His blessings, peace with God was made possible by the obedience of Jesus. In Romans 5:1 Paul teaches plainly that peace with God comes through His dearly beloved Son. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This means we receive peace only by learning of, accepting, and joining the Son. Peace is developed in us according to our faith and acceptance of the principles taught by our Master.

The sacrificial death of Jesus enabled the blessing of peace with God. Those who are justified by faith have been reconciled. Paul refers to this reconciliation in Col. 1:20-22. "And having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him [Jesus] to reconcile all things unto Himself [God]; by Him [Jesus], I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of His flesh through death." Reconciliation marks a new relationship with God--we become His children--sons of God. This opens the way; then we receive and begin to grow in the true peace of God.

God inspires peace in others because He has peace, and is at peace. Paul suggests in Phil. 4:6,7 that we have peace when our considerations and meditations follow established principles. "Be careful [that is, be anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." The Apostle would have us understand that we have the ability to restrict the peace of God in our hearts and lower its influence in our lives, or to improve its influence and increase its blessing in ratio to thoughts we encourage within ourselves.

"My Peace I Leave Unto You"

The world's greatest teacher of moral and spiritual values promised peace to His followers; it is the legacy of all who believe in Jesus. A legacy is something which is left behind by one who has died, for others to enjoy after him. Jesus promised such a gift just before His death on the cross. His words are in John 14:27. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you."

No record employs the word 'peace' in connection with any of our Master's difficult experiences. But Jesus surely had peace. The Psalmist's description of those who have peace--"Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them"--includes our Master above all others. (Psa. 119:165) And all well know the promise in Isaiah 26:3 which affirms that the trust Jesus manifested in God led on to peace. "Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in Thee. Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock."

Jesus was often under attack by His critics, by his detractors, by His enemies, by the servants of His wiley adversary, the Devil. Amidst such circumstances, however, our Master's confidence that His Father always heard Him (Luke 11:42) enabled Jesus to give wise counsel, express eternal principles, and proclaim important truths that pertain to salvation. Because such gracious words proceeded out of the mouth of the Son of God (Luke 4:22), we know that the peace of Christ was an inner peace--a peace of heart.

The peace Jesus left for us is the peace of God because Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus read and believed the testimony of faithful men of old who saw God's glory and power. His belief in the divine majesty of God enabled peace to prevail in His every trial. More than this, His peace increased daily in a deepening appreciation of God's wondrous character as it became known to Him through God's revealed purposes.

Purpose In His Visit

Jesus came to spread peace in Israel. This was important in His ministry. He instructed His disciples to 'speak peace'. When first entering a house, they should say, "Peace be to this house, and if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it." (Luke 10:5,6) No wonder, then, that Jesus made special mention of this legacy; He regarded His peace as an essential blessing. Peace is received by the same rule as are other spiritual qualities--in the measure our faith permits: 'according to your faith be it unto you'. Jesus encouraged the faith of blind men with those words so they might receive literal sight. (Matt. 9:29) Much more, then, is faith required by believers who would receive spiritual sight and the accompanying peace which our dear Master left for us all.

His promise of peace as a legacy affirms its importance. Other aspects of His blessing did not receive a similar emphasis. He did not say He left His knowledge to us. But He would have us learn of Him. (Matt. 11:29) He did not say He left His wisdom to us. But He would have us be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. (Matt. 10:16) He did not say He left His power and abilities to us. But He did say that greater works than what He did we would do. (John 14:12) Peace is a practical quality. Its influence affects every aspect of our human and spiritual experience.

A discussion of peace should not overlook the occasions when Jesus, as God's representative, was deeply exercised in His opposition to the workers of iniquity. One such example was when he denounced the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23:29-38); another, when he drove out of the temple the money changers who had made God's house of worship a den of thieves. (Luke 19:45,46) But such instances did not denote loss of peace or lack of trust in God. On the other hand, His control in such circumstances demonstrated the preservation and expression of peace. We should all take comfort and courage from those records of His ministry whenever we are required to stand firm in opposition to error or evil.

Jesus wept when he beheld deep sorrow in the Bethany family which He specially loved (John 11:35), but this did not diminish His peace. Surely he entered into that sorrow, even as we are counseled to "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Rom. 12:15) And we believe that when he "was touched with a feeling of our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15), each experience brought forth intense resolve toward faithfulness. Jesus exampled the Father's power when he awakened Lazarus from the dead, thus demonstrating his basic objective--the destruction of death. Such obedience to God's will that day and each day even unto Calvary would assure His resurrection as the firstfruit from the dead. (1 Cor. 15:20-23) But His faithfulness meant more than His own resurrection; it assured "a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust."--Acts 24:15

Our Part in the Legacy

God foreknew the sorrow which would be experienced by those who live in this "valley of the shadow of death." (Psa. 23:4, Isa. 9:2, Matt. 4:16) But believers sorrow not as do others who have no hope. (1 Thes. 4:13) The hope of those who have His peace is firm, as an anchor to our soul, sure and steadfast. (Heb. 6:19) Such can say, as one has written: "Peace does not dwell in outward things, but within our being; we may preserve it in the midst of the bitterest pain, if our will remain firm and submissive. Peace in this life springs from acquiescence to, not in an exemption from suffering."

It was fellowship and communion with God, and His faith and trust in the wisdom of God's purpose, that perfected peace in Jesus. And all who walk in the footsteps of our dear Master receive the peace of God through the same process.

We can learn from Peter how to attain abundance of peace. He wrote: "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord." (2 Pet. 1:2) That, simply stated, is the process by which the peace of God becomes enlarged in our heart. We must read the Scriptures, read about God and about His Son; consider with attention the written testimony which explains the divine purpose and character; know the promises, believe the promises, claim the promises. In no other way can one receive the peace of God.

The Apostle Paul's counsel in Romans 15:13 is understandably similar. "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the holy spirit." Paul links peace and belief. We are to believe that all will come to pass which God says will come to pass, through the working of the Son in God's plan of salvation.

When Jesus promised His legacy of peace, He said He would not give it as the world gave. "Not as the world giveth, give I unto you." Indeed the world's peace is given differently, because it considers peace from an external view. Fleshly comforts and calm surroundings are provided; untroubled serenity and quietness is arranged. And the world's peace is small in measure, limited in scope, perishable in quality, and short in duration. Thus does the world give peace.

Believers may be despitefully used (Luke 6:27) or persecuted (Matt. 5:44) by unbelievers or people of other convictions. Such experiences may try our faith, and godly peace may be disturbed. The following suggestions by a thoughtful writer may help in such a circumstance: "The more quietly and peaceably we all get on, the better--the better for ourselves--the better for our neighbors. In nine cases out of ten the wisest policy is, if a man cheats you, quit dealing with him; if he is abusive, quit his company; if he slanders you, take care to live so that nobody will believe him: no matter who he is, or how he misuses you, the wisest way is generally to let him alone; for there is nothing better than this cool, calm, quiet way of dealing with the wrongs we meet with."

The God of Peace

It is but natural that one who senses God's displeasure will lack the perfect peace of him whose mind is stayed on God and on His promises. Note, therefore, Paul's simple, clear words which encourage obedience by all who seek the peace and presence of God: "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."--Phil. 4:9

The Apostle seemed to joy in "the God of peace" expression, perhaps because it conveys the thought of one who arranges atonement, of one who plans to effect peace. Paul wanted us to be perfect in doing God's will, realizing that to all who were, the God of peace who brought Jesus from the dead would multiply peace. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."--Heb. 13:20,21

Paul also used "the God of peace" expression in the promise of a most unpeaceful act--the destruction of a being. But the promised destruction is essential to eternal peace--"And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." (Rom. 16:20) God has authorized the destruction of the principal opponent of truth and righteousness. --Rev. 20:10,14

Are We at Peace?

Paul advised in 1 Thes. 5:13, "Be at peace among yourselves." This admonition continues appropriate to the entire Gospel church. Do we accept experiences with the brethren which may perplex, or be unpleasant, and not display or feel anger or malice? Then we have God's peace. Do we accept such experiences in a quiet, proper manner, while at the same time striving to clarify the issue? Then we retain peace. Do we promptly forgive a wrong in order to restore peace? Then we display the grace of peace. Do we set aside our preferences (not principles) in favor of those of others, in the interests of peace? Do we delay our plans or wishes in deference to those of others, and still keep our peace? These practices, if followed, may preserve and encourage peace among ourselves.

Having advocated peace among believers, Paul then listed activities in which it is important to manifest the peace of God: when we exhort others, warn others, comfort others, or support others. A flourishing peace among ourselves will help us to follow that which is good in many other activities: rejoice in service, opportunity and privilege; pray in spirit; give thanks, be zealous, accept admonition, prove all things, hold fast the proven, and abstain from every appearance of evil.

Lastly, the Apostle assures those who maintain peace in their Christian relationships, that "the very God of peace" will accept their service. God "will sanctify wholly" the peaceful. Such are encouraged in knowing that those who God 'sanctifies wholly' today will receive reward tomorrow--glory, honor and privilege. All of this is in 1 Thes. 5:14-23.

Paul's consideration of the counsel of his Master may have led him to an appreciation of those precepts. Jesus said to His disciples, "Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another." (Mark 9:50) Salt preserves and purifies. Application of that instruction requires believers to deny themselves, put away pride, ambition, and contention. One who has received peace from the God of peace does not quarrel with other believers, nor does such an one struggle for place, honor, or office. All who keep that commandment will thereby encourage the spiritual prosperity of the brotherhood. Disciples who employ its principles will learn how true is the saying that "peace is rarely denied to the peaceful." Someone has well written: "Five great enemies to peace inhabit with us: avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride. If these enemies were to be banished, we should enjoy perpetual peace." Indeed, every faithful believer shall have perpetual peace. Through the power of the Lord, every enemy not subdued in present conflicts will be banished forever in the resurrection.

James 3:13-18 summarizes in a practical form the issues which involve Godly peace. "Who is there among you who is wise and intelligent? Then let him by his noble living show forth his [good] works with the (unobtrusive) humility [which is the proper attribute] of true wisdom.

"But if you have bitter jealousy (envy) and contention (rivalry, selfish ambition) in your hearts, do not pride yourselves on it and thus be in defiance of and false to the Truth. This [superficial] wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual (animal), even devilish (demoniacal).

"For wherever there is jealousy (envy) and contention (rivalry and selfish ambition) there will also be confusion (unrest, disharmony, rebellion) and all sorts of evil and vile practices.

"But the wisdom from above is first of all pure (undefiled); then it is peace-loving, courteous (considerate, gentle). [It is willing to] yield to reason, full of compassion and good fruits; it is wholehearted and straightforward, impartial and unfeigned--free from doubts, wavering and insincerity.

"And the harvest of righteousness (of conformity to God's will in thought and deed) is [the fruit of the seed] sown in peace by those who work for and make peace--in themselves and in others, [that is,] that peace which means concord (agreement, harmony) between individuals, with undisturbedness, in a peaceful mind free from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts."--Amplified

The above admonition is of great value to each son of God who struggles for mastery over personal imperfections, as is Paul's counsel in Col. 3:12-15: "Put ye on therefore, as chosen ones of God, holy and having been loved, bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving yourselves, if anyone has a complaint against anyone; as indeed the Lord forgave you, so also ye. And over all these things love, which is the bond of completeness. And let the peace of Christ rule in the hearts of you, to which indeed ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful."--Marshall Interlinear