We live in a world that is marked by upheaval in every sector. From never-ending unrest between political groups to volatile world economies and markets, to sudden and frightening acts of terror at home and abroad, average men and women seek some place of stability and security. I often ask my counselees what they want most in life. Invariably most of them identify peace as something they most desire, but for some reason can never seem to discover. Whether it is internal confidence in the midst of personal doubt, the presence of tranquility between feuding spouses who just can’t get along, or a sense of comfort to accompany sorrow or grief, most of us seem to persistently pursue this ever elusive feeling.
But, is peace merely a feeling, or is it something more?
Those I counsel, both unbelievers and believers, work through an exercise which has them list the qualities and characteristics of peace. The purpose of this exercise is to reveal that many people understand “peace” to be purely situational, temporary, and experiential. The responses I often receive from non-Christians demonstrate a belief that peace is summed up in the absence of conflict or the removal of hindrances to personal happiness. Peace is when my wife and I don’t fight. Peace is when I am appreciated by my boss and co-workers. Peace is when I am happy with myself. Peace is when I am financially secure. Interestingly, the responses I receive from self-proclaimed Christians do not differ from those who do not claim Christ as Lord. Peace is my right as a child of God. Jesus died to make me happy. The Christian life is my “best life” now! The list goes on and on. However, what Jesus taught on this subject challenges many of our assumptions concerning the nature and purpose of peace.
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Matthew 10:34–36
The responses I am given by many “peace pursuers” after reading these verses range from surprise to unbelief. Isn’t this the same Jesus recognized as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) by Old Testament prophets? Indeed at the commencement of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus himself said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). How could a peace-loving God not usher in or promote worldwide peace? Can such a seeming contradiction be explained? And we must still answer that lingering question, “What exactly is the peace of God?”
Man Made Peace
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth . . . Matthew 10:34a
Jesus dispelled the faulty assumption held by many that He came to establish an earth-bound resolution to an oppressed and politically-charged Palestine. While Jesus did spend much of His time binding the wounds of the broken, healing the sick, and even raising the dead, his ultimate concern was for the souls of men. The Gospel provided the answer to the sin-sick soul. It provides the narrow-way toward spiritual reconciliation between the perfect God and sinful man (Matthew 7:13–14). Jesus was aware that many of those who took an interest in Him, whether it be shallow or sincere, were hurriedly pursuing “peace on the earth,” which had more to do with personal tranquility and their own self-satisfaction rather than the eternal and supernatural peace granted by God to men (2 Timothy 4:3–4). As humans, we are not creators, only imitators. Our best efforts in fabricating peace will only leave us in disappointment and despair because our skewed understanding of peace is dependent upon things outside of our control anyway!
The peace from God and of God does not depend on our emotional state at any given moment. True peace accompanies the reception of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into one’s home and heart, regardless of our circumstances and our own comprehension (Proverbs 3:5–6; Philippians 4:7).
God Given Peace
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27
Before His betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus took the time to encourage His faithful disciples in the task at hand. He reminded them that because of their confession, the world would hate and persecute them (John 15:18–25). Christians would suffer pressures from within and without. However, Jesus promised to give them His peace, “not as the world gives,” but as He supplied (John 14:27). The God of peace attends the faithful and obedient brethren (Philippians 4:9). His peace and grace accompany the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit to the “fullest measure” (1 Peter 1:2), and the peace of God is granted to His children through the “Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).
God given peace is evidenced in the quiet yet strong assurance that God is faithful and His promises are sure (Romans 8:28–30; Hebrews 3:14; 6:11; 11:1).
So many people spend their days in pursuit of their own brand of “peace on earth.” They must do whatever is possible to either avoid conflict (one definition of peace) or to live their lives on their own terms (another definition of peace). God did not send His only Son to the earth in order for Him to make us “happy” or to make things “easy” for us. He sent Jesus to beckon us to a relationship with Him and to call us to allegiance to Him. Only when we let go of our empty pursuits and receive a God-given peace, can we become agents of peace and ministers of reconciliation to a peace-less world (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).