Fruit of the Spirit: Peace
by Marion Van Driel
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23)
“Don’t bug me! Just give me some peace!” Life is often far from peaceful. Pressing demands find us ill at ease, if not in full-blown anxiety mode. Relationships may be strained, or even abusive. Communication and social media bombard us. Church meetings, commitments and activities leave us feeling burdened and stressed rather than fulfilled. On top of all this, we may struggle with inner demons that unearth a sense of unworthiness and anxiety. And then there’s the state of world affairs. Peace? If only!
An Old Testament Jewish word that evokes a richer meaning of ‘peace’ is shalom, as Christopher J.H. Wright points out in his book, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. It describes “all-round well-being, freedom from fear and want, and contentment with God, others, and creation.” He adds that both Jesus and Paul would have greeted others many times a day with the customary greeting, “Peace be with you,” which today is still used among Jews and Arabs.
Peace with God
When Christ bridged the abyss that sin created between God and us, we were ushered into fellowship with our loving Creator once again – as if we never sinned. As if we were the first humans to bear His image. As if nothing had marred our initial perfection. Christ’s atoning work on our behalf means that we are no longer alienated – at odds – with our Father. This lasting peace also breaks down barriers between people who share faith in Christ (i.e.Jews and Gentiles – see Eph. 2:11-18). Knowing that our relationship with God is made whole, we have confidence for our future. Christ assures us that all will be well.
Peace of God
The message of the gospel, again and again, is one of peace. “Don’t be afraid,” spoken by the angel to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds, and at the resurrection. Jesus told his disciples and others who sought Him out, not to be afraid. The message of Christ is that we need not fear, but trust. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus reasons that if God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, certainly humankind, of far greater worth in God’s eyes, need not worry about these things. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (vs. 33). Scripture goes so far as to say that the peace God gives, passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6,7).
In theory, this sounds exactly what we desperately hope for and what we need. But can we actually experience this all-surpassing peace in the nitty-gritty of life’s tedium and chaos? Paul suggests, Wright says, “that this is exactly where it matters most. For a life that is filled with this kind of peace is a powerful witness to the gospel.” Christians who demonstrate an inner calm when things are not going their way, are following Christ’s example of trusting God in both good and hard times, remembering that we are never left alone. Christ was forsaken so we wouldn’t be.
Peace that God calls for
This third peace, according to Wright – is peace cultivated through the Holy Spirit’s work in us. It is founded upon our peace with God and of God. Since Christ is our peace, we can live and work for shalom within the kingdom, and the wider world. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Rom 8:12). Taking a peaceful stance is hard work. Creating peace in a contentious situation goes against our human genome. We’re reactionary by nature. Proverbs instructs us: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (15:1).
When the dispute about eating kosher foods came into question for the early church between Jewish and Gentile Christians, Paul urged both sides to avoid arguing about “disputable matters”. Although we may not agree in all things, within the body of Christ, we still need to accept each another (Rom 14:1-3). How can we not accept someone whom Christ has accepted? Contempt and condemnation are out of the question for the peacemaker. We have no justification to reject someone the Lord has accepted – no right to take the position of judgement that belongs to God alone.
Wright urges us to view our peacemaking through the lens of Christ’s return. Will our preferences or strong opinions matter then? Wright gives several examples including, “What difference will it make that I was an African woman who preached the gospel, planted churches, and taught thousands of people how to be disciples, but you thought I shouldn’t have been doing that at all as a woman?” He adds that we are to be shaped by Christ’s example of love (Phil 2:3-5). Lives of peace are a witness to the world that there is a better way – one that includes humble, wise choices that need not succumb to pressures that leave us frazzled.
Jesus demonstrated peace in the wildest conditions – waves on the sea, and waves of people who pressed upon Him. He was quietly confident in the love and care of His Father. This same confidence produces mature character in us, including the inseparable duo of joy and peace. Anne Lamott says, “Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet.”
Practical strategies for cultivating peace
Wright gives some practical ways to work towards peace:
• Seek to address and resolve conflicts rather than causing, or adding to, them.
• Be careful to avoid words and attitudes that create misunderstanding and division.
• Be willing to apologize, even if not (strictly speaking) in the wrong. “Sorry” is often the first word that leads to peace.
• Allow God to vindicate the truth in His own time, rather than jumping to our own defense when things are said and done against us. Paul says that it is better to suffer wrong than take another believer to court.
• Avoid any kind of gossip; learn the strict discipline of keeping confidences.
Wright ends his chapter on peace with the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi; if you know the musical version, let it ramble through your mind, or maybe even sing it out loud. But be careful with that – it could set you up for high expectations from anyone who hears you!
Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring your love;
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord; and where there’s hope, true faith in You.
Make me a channel of your peace. Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope;
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light; and where there’s sadness, ever joy.
O Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in giving to all people, we receive; and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.
(Copyright 1967, Franciscan Communications Center)