*NOTE: Hey Mountain Goats! This is one part of a whole series about the Fruits of the Spirit. If you haven’t read the introduction post yet, you can do so here!
I struggled when coming to this topic, because it isn’t one that I typically discuss or study on my own.
It seems that there’s an abstract idea of peace I have in my mind that I’ve attributed to feelings of calm, or eras of history when conflict was at a low. But really, I don’t know that I’ve ever considered spiritual peace until I began approaching this subject.
What I do know is that without truly understanding it—or at least as much as we can of it—we can’t come close to being able to partake in peacefulness. Often the word “peace” is used in terms of “world peace,” “inner peace,” or in contrast with war. But in studying it a bit further, I believe there’s a much deeper application.
My experience with attaining peace has had somewhat of a rocky start. When I was in college, my ignorance of biblical peace served to frustrate every aspect of my life. It affected me mentally, emotionally, and most importantly, my grades started to slip. College is where I received my first ever F in a class. It still haunts me to this day.
None of this occurred to me until I actually sought to understand peace. Not only did I begin to recognize the patterns in my own life that were keeping me away from peace, I also began to fully believe I could have it for myself.
Attaining true peace is no easy task. It requires focus, faith, and a whole lot of prayer. The first step in achieving such a complicated concept is by first attempting to understand it.
I believe Paul can enlighten us a bit on the definition of peace. In Philippians 4:11-13, he says this:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Now, verse 13 is super familiar for lovers of Paul’s writing, and we apply it to everything as Christians. School, work, relationships, family, travel, healing, you name it. That isn’t a bad thing, because it is true that through Christ and God’s power we can move mountains. But, I do think we’re missing the point a little.
In the context of the passage, Paul is talking about how no matter what his circumstances, he can experience a sense of contentment, or at-peace-ness about what’s happening.
I like to put myself in Paul’s place sometimes, and consider the fact that he wrote many of these letters from imprisonment. His life wasn’t easy, and he didn’t come from a “good Christian background,” he didn’t walk beside Jesus like the apostles did, yet he had such a deep understanding of the gospel and of Christ. His letters to the churches are dense with emotion and theology, and he truly cares for the churches he writes to.
It is a goal of mine to have the sort of contentment that Paul did. I want to be able to look around at every shaky thing in my life and the world around me and be at peace, knowing that all of it is “rubbish” in comparison to the glory of God. (Phil 3:8)
R.C. Sproul, in the footnotes of the ESV study Bible, says that “Paul’s contentment was utterly reliant not on himself and his ability to suppress emotions, but on Christ, who held Paul fast and sustained him in all circumstances.”
So contentment, here (which by definition is a state of peaceful happiness) is a reliance entirely on God; a trust that He not only can, but will hold us in all circumstances.
Early on in the chapter of Philippians, Paul says that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)
The peace of God in this passage is so all-encompassing, so fulfilling, and so protective of our hearts and minds that we quite literally cannot understand it. It is so beyond human understanding and comprehension that God even tells us we won’t be able to.
To me, this is kind of like when you’re in school, trying to understand something, and the teacher tells you it’s okay, you don’t have to understand it just yet because you’ll learn about it later. It will make sense later on, when you need it.
Understanding peace is only the first piece of the puzzle. The next step is attaining it. But, how are we supposed to achieve this abstract concept of peace? I know I want it in my own life, so how do we get there?
That was my question when I first approached this topic. Life has a tendency to shake us up, to throw curveballs at us, and expect us to adapt. I found during my college years that it was increasingly more difficult to curve away from these hardships, so instead I decided to face them.
This technique wasn’t peaceful at all. I struggled a lot with daily returning to God, praying for myself and others, and seeking good in everything. I was consumed by my work and my school, and I struggled to make time for personal and spiritual relationships.
Since college, I’ve made a stronger effort to build my personal and spiritual relationships. Not perfectly, of course, because only Christ is a perfect human, but I’m trying. Like Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” This is what I’m trying to do in my everyday life. But what does that look like?
Turning away from evil doesn’t necessarily mean other people’s evil, the sins of the world, or the sins of the church even. At least, not exclusively.
True peace cannot be attained if we are not repentant of our sins; our deep, internal, secret sins that we know Christ knows about, but still want to hide. We have to be truly repentant of that evil, stop letting it control us, and make conscious steps toward the intentions of Christ.
In Romans 5:1 we learn “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This specifically refers to His sacrifice on the cross for our sins. We have been reconciled to the Father through Christ’s death. He took our punishment for us, so that we don’t have to be enslaved by our sins anymore and we can repent. Through this, we have the ability to achieve peace.
Jesus confirms this in John 16:33 when He says “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Through Christ’s sacrifice, we’ve been given access to a myriad of gifts and promises that we wouldn’t have otherwise. God has given us access to hope, truth, love, eternal life, and yes, peace.
But these gifts aren’t like Christmas gifts, you don’t just receive them and move on. They require an active life choice to accept that God is our Father, and to be obedient to Him.
So, how do we achieve peace under that criteria?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at 2 Timothy 2:22-23:
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
From this, we learn that part of attaining true peace and contentment comes from maturing and pursuing. Fleeing from immaturity (youthful passions), and pursuing the things, thoughts, and character of God. We want to find unity and harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ who pursue God with a pure heart.
Jon Bloom, a theological source I trust for much of my personal study, wrote an article published on Desiring God about pursuing peace. In this article, he uses Romans 12:14-21 to illustrate what pursuing peace would look like:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Bloom also says “it requires a rigorous, disciplined commitment to being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. It requires pressing on…for peace.”
To attain peace, we must trust God’s reason. His reason is, in fact, superior to our own because He knows more than we do.
Peace and trust go hand-in-hand. They work together to make each other stronger. We trust more when we are at peace with God’s reason, and we are more at peace when we trust that God knows more than we do, and that He is in control. Even when it seems like life is in chaos, God is in the middle of it whispering words of intention and reason through the Holy Spirit.
I think that often, when we think of peace, we think of the ocean or the woods, where everything is calm and routine, and we know what to expect. We think of peace as an escape from reality or from the everyday busyness of life, rather than an internal practice of contentment no matter the circumstance.
Biblical peace is more like standing alone in the middle of a crowd, knowing that as long as you keep moving forward you’ll get where you’re supposed to be. It doesn’t matter what the person to the left of you is yelling about, or the person to the right of you is complaining about, or even whatever mess you yourself just stepped in. As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that as long as you face the right direction, you’ll be safe.
I think that’s what the peace of God feels like.
A Prayer for all us Mountain Goats
My prayer for you is that you would be able to trust God with such an all-encompassing fullness that nothing can pull you away from the peace that surpasses all human understanding. I pray that together, we as a body of Christians can be filled with so much peace that we literally reflect the joy of Christ. I pray that we can witness through our contentment, and pursue truth and righteousness with a spiritual maturity that we’ve never experienced before. I pray that you may feel the peace of God overwhelm you.
Christian, Writer, Coffee Addict
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