Peace in the New Testament
Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
The coming of the Lord Jesus brought the promise of peace, to Jews and Gentiles alike, as, first, 'the word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ', Acts 10. 36 and then, 'to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace', Luke 1. 79. The gospel promise is 'on earth peace, good will toward men', Luke 2. 14.
The peace that the Lord Jesus came to bring was personal peace for this age, until He comes again and sets up His kingdom, where peace will prevail because He is the Prince of Peace, 'Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword', Matt. 10. 34 and, 'Nay; but rather division', Luke 12. 51. (There is of course a need for the present external conditions of our lives to be sufficiently peaceable for the effective preaching of the gospel, and we are exhorted to pray for this, 1 Tim. 2. 1-4.)
The kind of personal peace the Lord Jesus alone can give was known to two women in the Gospels, 'Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace', Luke 7. 50 and 'thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace', Luke 8. 48; Mark 5. 34. The disciples also knew this peace, in fact it was the Lord's parting gift to them, 'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you', John 14. 27. Of course, the whole ministry of the Lord Jesus was to this end, 'These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace', 'The first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you', John 20. 19 (see also Luke 24. 36). This peace then becomes the prerequisite of service, 'Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you', John 20. 21.
Peace in Romans
As well as being a regular feature of the introduction to the epistles (see above), peace is a major theme of many of them. In his epistle to the Romans the apostle Paul shows its development, often using quotations from the Old Testament. In chapter 3, in the long indictment of the state of man in his sin, he cites, 'and the way of peace have they not known, 3. 17 (quoting from Isaiah 59. 8). Then, having set out the truth of justification by faith he concludes, 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ', 5. 1. Again quoting from Isaiah, he states, 'How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace', 10. 15 from Isa. 52. 7. Life for the believer should then to be the enjoyment of 'life and peace', 8. 6, and 'righteousness, and peace, and joy', 14. 17. However, these things do not always come automatically and hence the exhortation, 'Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace', 14. 19. This is in keeping with the desire of Paul for his readers, 'Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing', 15. 13 and, 'Now the God of peace be with you all', 15. 33, giving then the prophetic and ironic promise that, 'the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly', 16. 20.
Peace in the Corinthian Epistles
The title 'God of peace' is contrasted with 'God of disorder' in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians: 'For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints', 14. 33, JND. This gives us an interesting clue as to what is entailed by the expression 'God of peace'. Disorder in the assembly at Corinth was extensive, and spoiled the tranquillity and unity that should prevail; this was inconsistent with the character of the God whose assembly it was. If the Corinthian believers were to 'live in peace', then they could expect the real experienced presence of 'the God of love and peace', 2 Cor. 13. 11. Such peace, whether experienced inwardly or practised outwardly is to be expected because 'the fruit of the Spirit is . . . peace', Gal. 5. 22, and anyway practical obedience brings peace, Gal. 6. 16.
Peace in the Prison Epistles
The Ephesian epistle highlights the fact that the Lord Jesus 'came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh', 2. 17, from Isa. 57. 19 thus making peace between man and God possible, but also peace between saved Jews and saved Gentiles for, 'he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity . . . for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace', 2. 14, 15, showing that such inter-ethnic conflict now has no part in Christian experience.
This peace, once enjoyed, has to be guarded, and we should be, 'endeavouring to keep [guard] the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace', 4.
3. The gospel of peace, known and experienced, then becomes part of our essential equipment in the battle of life, 'your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace', 6. 15, giving us stability and a firm footing in difficult circumstances. (Paul would by seeing the footwear worn by those guarding him.) Thoughts of guarding also arise with reference to the peace of God. When in Philippines 4. 7 Paul states that, 'the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep [guard] your hears and minds', the word he uses here for keep has to do with 'soldiers standing on guard duty and refers to the guarding of the city gate from within, as a control on all who went out', Rienecker/Rogers. Thus the peace of God stands sentinel at the gates of our heart, to regulate our thoughts and actions. If this is true, and our actions are according to His will, then if 'those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me' are done, then 'the God of peace shall be with you', 4. 9. Thus a knowledge of the peace of God controlling my life is mandatory for my personal enjoyment of the God of peace.
In writing to the Colossians, the apostle Paul attacks wrong ideas relative to the person and position of the Lord Jesus Christ (with special reference to the doctrine later known as gnosticism), and shows His greatness 'having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven', 1. 20. The shed blood of the Lord Jesus is the basis of all God's actions relative to a fallen earth.
Not only should the peace of God stand guard in my heart, but it should also act as umpire in the disputed matters within our hearts, hence having the final say; that is the meaning of, 'let the peace of God rule [be umpire, referee] in your hearts', 3. 15.
Concluding Practical Comments
Peace as an everyday experience is the pursuit of an often elusive quarry; it does not yield itself easily to appropriation. However we are told to engage in its pursuit, 'let us pursue the things which tend to peace', Rom. 14. 19, see also 1 Pet. 3. 1; Psa. 34. 14, whether it is with believers - 'them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart', 2 Tim. 2. 22 - or with all, Heb. 12. 14. When we are successful in our pursuit, we have fulfilled Peter's command, 'be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace', 2 Pet. 3. 14.
Finally, it is interesting to note that God's title when referring to practical sanctification (whereby every part of ourselves is set apart for Himself), is 'the very God of peace', 1 Thess. 5. 23. Similarly, perfection (Christian maturity) is also from the same 'God of peace', Heb. 13. 20, 21. It is the God of peace who has brought about the circumstances for peace, such that we can begin to enjoy the spiritual prosperity now possible because of the prevalent peaceful conditions. A complementary thought is" that 'the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace', Jas. 3r. 18, for spiritual fruitfulness can only be enjoyed in conditions of peace that we make in our own circumstances, being imitators of God.