Of all the aphorisms glibly quoted about what “Peace is…..”, I have never heard the one that would best describe its contribution to the New Testament message: Peace is practical! A faithful person does not stop at “wishing” someone “peace”: he is obligated to DO something about it (Jas.2:16)!
I have chosen to focus this study upon the primary word, eirene, and not the six other less frequently used words also sometimes translated “peace”, which refer only to “silence” or “quietness (considered in #139).Although a plurality of the appearances of eirene in the New Testament are found in simple greetings or leave-takings (33 times), almost as many (27) occur in direct admonitions for the life, corporately or individually, of the faithful brotherhood!
This is a marked departure from the classical uses of the word, in which the cessation of armed conflict by a treaty predominates. In the New Testament, this aspect is seen overtly only in Lk.14:22, Ac.12:20, Ac.24:2, and perhaps Rom.3:17 and Rv.6:4, although John the Baptist’s admonition to soldiers to “do violence to no one” (Lk.3:14) certainly would carry that idea (and have interesting and salutary effects on military activity!), as would Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:18 to “live peaceably with all people.”
Lexicographers uniformly note the LXX usage, and its correspondence to the Hebrew greeting, “shalom”, wishing safety, security, health, and general well-being to the person or group addressed. This usage, of course, is seen in most of the epistles, often in closings as well as greetings, and also in Jesus’ dismissal of people he had healed, and in his instructions to the disciples whom he was sending away to preach. It is interesting that in this latter setting, the greeting of peace is to be offered quite indiscriminately (Lk.10:5,6). Jesus reassures them that it just won’t “take” if the person or household is not capable of receiving it. This seems to assume some degree of power in the greeting – perhaps a prayer? or at least a blessing. In any case, the disciple is not to pass such a judgment prematurely. Later, however, John (II Jn.10) excludes from those instructions people who are clearly known to have deliberately distorted the message.
Seven times “peace” is listed as an attribute of God (Rom.15:33, 16:20; I Cor.14:33, II Cor.13:11, Phil.4:9, I Thes.5:23, Heb.13:20), and three times as a primary component of the Gospel (Rom.10:15, Eph.6:15, Ac.10:36). (see also W.S.#67) Interestingly, though, the much-touted phrase, “peace with God”, appears only once (Rom.5:1)! This is yet another instance where common “evangelical” focus has been skewed by a “generally accepted doctrine” that totally lacks New Testament derivation. The vast majority of New Testament references relate to the peace that the Lord Jesus has created – and required!– among his people!
“Peace / security / well-being” was widely anticipated as a characteristic of the Messianic Kingdom (Lk.1:79, 2:14, 19:38,42), and this is probably at least one reason for Jesus’ teaching on the subject in his final instructions to the disciples (Jn.14:27 and 16:33), bequeathing to his followers not just the “peace” of the common greeting, but “my peace”, which holds firm even under the anticipated persecution, rather than enabling them to escape it.
Although Luke mentions in Ac.9:31 that the young church enjoyed a period of peace (traditional translators used “rest”, but the word is eirene) from persecution after Saul’s conversion, most of the “peace” is experienced in the midst of or in spite of the hostility of opponents. It is often focused within the group, between brethren of diverse backgrounds (Mk.9:50, II Cor.3:11, Eph.2:14-17, 4:3; Col.1:20, 3:15; I Thes.5:13, II Tim.2:22, I Pet.3:11, Jas.3:17).
Peace is represented as the goal toward which the faithful are encouraged to strive (Jn.16:33, Rom.14:19, I Cor.7:15, II Tim.2:22, Heb.12:14), both among themselves and toward those outside (Rom.12:18, Heb.12:14, Jas.3:8, Ac.10:36).
It is also intended to become characteristic of the personality of a faithful person, being listed among the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal.5:22), and described as a result of fixing one’s attention upon the affairs of the Spirit (Rom.8:6). The peace offered to the faithful is paired with “doing good” (Rom.2:10), “joy” (Rom.15:13), the opposite of confusion (I Cor.14:33), love (II Cor.13:11 and Eph.6:23), the unity of the Spirit (Eph.4:3), God’s act of setting his people apart in holiness (I Thes.5:23),wisdom and justice (Jas.3:17,18), the protection of their / our hearts and minds (Phil.4:7), and the very presence of God (Phil.4:9)! The result of reconciliation (see last post), in repeated instances, is described as making, or having “made peace” among formerly alienated people and groups.
Peace is represented as the creation and the gift of the Lord Jesus, and attributed (also only once) to the giving of his life (Col.1:20). The Biblical writers go into much less explanatory detail regarding that provision than do most of their subsequent interpreters! Here, it is stated as a simple fact.
The gift also requires concerted effort on the part of recipients! Note the instructions that follow the promise of peace in Phil.4:8-9, where the focus is upon deliberately paying attention to things that contribute to peace, and upon continual practice!
Actualization of the gift of peace is not automatic! It requires concerted efforts on behalf of justice (Jas.3:18). Yes, I know the traditional translators said “righteousness” – but please see W.S.#3. It is the same word, only separated by the “doctrines” of folks who prefer to privatize their “faith”, keeping it sanitized and theoretical, and to avoid the often messy responsibility of faithfulness (W.S.#1).
The more accurate understanding is available from II Cor.13:11, “…be [live] in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you all.” The present active imperative, eireneuete, indicates constant effort in that regard. It would be equally valid to render it “keep making peace.”
Peace is not a “reward” to be passively received, or a blissful state in which to luxuriate with “no troubles”, but an assignment to be faithfully fulfilled!
Paul states rather bluntly in Rom.2:10 that God’s offer of “peace”, whether to Jew or Gentile, is to “all who are doing good,” and urges his readers (Rom.14:19) to “earnestly pursue matters of peace, and the things that build each other up.” He elaborates on this theme in Eph.2:14-22. Be careful not to carve this beautiful description of the peace that Jesus has created into tiny, isolated phrases to “prove” some obscure point of “theology.” Allow the whole picture to soak into your consciousness, and to transform your perception of the brotherhood that the Lord has created for his Kingdom! It is glorious!
Yes, that sort of a combination of diverse people is bound to make some sparks. But the remedy lies precisely in the peace that Jesus has created! Peace is not only the atmosphere in which the Kingdom survives and thrives, but the “umpire” or “referee” (Col.3:15) whose skill can sort out any resulting friction! That the “rules of the game” (Col.3:12-17) often need mediation should come as no surprise. It is evidence of life and growth – not failure!
The intensity of effort required in this regard is evident in the frequency with which we are urged to “pursue” it (Rom.14:19, II Tim.2:22, Heb.12:14, I Pet.3:11). Dioko is the same word that is used of persecution! Are we that relentless in pursuit of the characteristics of the Kingdom?
Only the “God of peace” (I Thes.5:23) can make us fully his – but (v.24) he is perfectly capable of doing the job. We are simply expected to co-operate!
“(May) God’s peace, which greatly exceeds all understanding, protect (our) hearts and (our) minds, in Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:7)!
“May the Lord of Peace himself give you all peace – through everything [every situation], in every way!” (II Thes.3:16.)