My son’s favored farewell phrase of late is, “Alright, love you, peace,” or some variation on that theme. I smile a bit at the retro feel of that—straight out of the sixties. The B.C. sixties, for of course the Hebrew for peace, shalom has been used as a blessing and greeting/farewell for millennia. “Peace to you” is also a common greeting and farewell all through the New Testament. A good number of the ninety or so occurrences of peace are found at the beginnings of epistles. Romans 1:7 is typical: “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul, Peter, and John all begin their letters with a desire for grace and peace from God for their readers. Jesus, after healing people, often sent them away with “go in peace.”
What is this peace everyone wishes everyone had? It’s the Greek word eirene, which has several similar meanings, varying according to the context. According to Strong’s, the first four are these:
- a state of national tranquility, and/or the exemption from the rage and havoc of war
- peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord
- security, safety, prosperity, felicity [happiness, contentment], (because peace and harmony make and keep things safe and prosperous)
- of the Messiah’s peace, the way that leads to peace (salvation).
It seems to me that in the greetings and farewells of the epistles, all these meanings are included. All the above facets of peace are highly desirable, right? We all want to be at peace, not war, in our nations. We want to be at peace with other people individually. We strongly desire to live in security, prosperity, and happiness. We want God’s peace, His gift of salvation that assures us of everlasting peace in all its varied nuances.
That, however, barely scratches the surface of the New Testament peace passages. My starting point for studying this was the list of the fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-23. What peace can grow from being indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Here it seems I need to work up the list from the bottom. The Messiah’s peace grows in me as He abides in me. Jesus says in John, “these things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” If I trust Christ I have peace with God, says Paul in Romans 5:1.
Up the list to number three. The Holy Spirit in me helps me to live right, in a way that promotes security, safety, prosperity and contentment. Philippians 4:7 tells me that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard my heart and mind through Christ Jesus. My emotions, my thoughts and responses to people, how I make plans and decisions, my work ethic… my entire mental and emotional life is guarded and at peace. Worldly pressures, evil influences and fears can’t easily lead me astray toward bad decisions. See Romans 8:6 for an eloquent summary.
On up to number two, Jesus says “have peace with one another.” Paul exhorts the church to “be at peace among yourselves.” Boy, that can be a tall order at times. Maybe everyone in your family is sweetness and light, but though I can occasionally attain sweetness, more often I am a test of my husband’s character. I feel sure that the Holy Spirit resident in him is a primary factor in the continued success of our marriage. The fruit of peace growing in us means that we can, if we will, lay aside a bitter reply, a caustic recrimination, and reach instead for a gracious phrase. James says it this way: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” We do have to make a serious effort, as Peter emphasizes here: “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” And Paul say “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”
I have worked up the list from the bottom. Peace with God leads to peace in my heart and mind, and a contented life. This works outward to enable me to be at peace with those around me. Number one on the list is…that’s right, world peace. Talk about the big picture. That’s the biggest and most complex picture there is.
World peace is of course beyond our power to establish, but not beyond our ability to influence. Jesus’ statements about peace reflect a real tension between the ideal and the current reality. In Matthew 10 He says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Conflict and disharmony are inevitable when one kingdom is usurping another. But the kingdom of God is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
The devil fights hard (though futilely) to retain his territory, but we do not fight as he does. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians.
John the Baptist’s father prophesied about Jesus, that He would shine on those who live in darkness, and guide our feet into the way of peace. We are His soldiers. “This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:13-15) Eventually the fruit of peace will blossom and grow over the entire planet, forever and always. And I do long for that day. But today, I will attempt to let the Holy Spirit guide me in the way of peace, and be a peacemaker, sowing peace as I go along.
Finally brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11