Of all the characteristics listed in Galatians 5 as fruit of the Holy Spirit living within us, “peace” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood. From tie-dyed T-shirts to two-fingered hand gestures to beauty pageant contestants declaring their desire for world peace, the culture we live in has its own ideas of what peace looks like. I wonder, though, if any of those ideas conform to the Biblical concept of peace as Paul meant it to be.
A natural first step in studying what peace should look like would be to go to a dictionary. Using a basic dictionary, find the definition of “peace.” If your dictionary is like mine, a strong emphasis is placed on the lack of disturbance between people or an agreement of harmony (between different counties, for example). Peace, it seems, is generally thought to be little more than the opposite of war. While we definitely want that, it’s not something most of us think about or desire multiple times a day.
In fact, it was not this kind of peace Jesus Himself was concerned with. Read Matthew 34-36. Jesus Himself said He did not come to bring _________________.
Tucked amid the definitions of peace as an opposite to war, though, is one other definition which gets us on the right path for studying peace in this context. Merriam-Webster’s website also has this definition: “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.”
That, my friends, is something I can get behind. That is the kind of peace I need, and that is the kind of peace Paul was talking about.
The Greek word Paul used in Galatians 5:22 is “eirēnē,” which has definitions similar to what our dictionaries emphasize. However, as is often the case, it is important to note who Paul was addressing in his letter. Using a commentary like this one, look for information about the people to whom Paul was writing.
Did you find that the Galatians were brand new Christians, of Hebrew descent? Because of Paul’s Hebrew upbringing and the prominence of the Greek language even among the Jewish people, the Greek word “eirēnē” came to be used often synonymously with the Hebrew word “šālôm,” which means “internal well-being and contentment.”
This kind of peace, though, is not something we can muster up by ourselves. If you’ve ever felt anxious or stressed or scared (that pretty much includes all of us, I assume), you know that deep, soul-level peace is not something we can force. There has to be something (or someone) to help us, and thankfully, there is.
That was a very long and detailed path to get to this point: when the Holy Spirit lives and moves within God’s people, they will have peace within themselves. This peace does not mean the absence of struggle or external difficulties (even including war, in some cases). Rather, the peace that the Holy Spirit produces in us is a contentment in spite of whatever may be happening around us.
Read John 16:33. As believers, peace is available to us. Jesus has made it possible, despite the inevitable problems we’ll face in this life. Peace can be ours.
Read John 14:26-27. Note that in practically the same breath, Jesus tells us of two gifts He’s giving us: the Holy Spirit and peace. And once again, we are reminded that the peace He offers is internal and unconditional.
We also see, though, that as is so often the case, we are not without responsibility. Jesus leaves us the Spirit, and He is the One who produces the fruit of peace. He – the Holy Spirit – is the main gardener, while we are the ones who tend the garden on a daily basis. We are the ones who must till the soil and water the seeds, cultivating what He has planted.
Read 1 Peter 3:11. In agreement with Paul, Peter points believers toward peace in an active sense. We must do something to see peace begin to grow. In the NIV translation, what does Peter instruct believers to do? _________ from _________ and ___ _________; to _________ peace and _________ it.
To seek and to pursue is to be active. Peace is not going to find us; instead, we must actively look for it. In such a chaotic world, though, with so many reasons to be peace-less, how do we do that? What will that require?
There are ways the world would have us seek “inner peace,” like yoga and essential oils and meditation. There is definitely a time and place for those things. (I have a cabinet full of essential oils to prove it!) However, without addressing the root cause of our distress – or lack of peace – we’ll only be treating symptoms, rather than the illness itself. As in any fruitful garden, weeds must be pulled and the soil must be nourished.
Read Philippians 4:4-9. What is the first thing Paul immediately instructs us to do?
He then instructs us to pray with thanksgiving. If we don’t pray in that way, what is implied that we will feel?
What will result from such prayer and rejoicing?
Isn’t it interesting that the peace of God – the very idea of harmony and nonviolence – stands guard over our hearts and minds? That means that when life throws every conflict and struggle and anxiety-inducing situation our way, those things do not have to penetrate the core of who we are. They do not have to affect how we feel or what we think. Our hearts and our minds are protected by the peace of God Almighty.
Looking back at Philippians 4:8-9, we see that Paul again mentions our minds. While God’s peace stands as sentry at the doorway of our hearts, we still must maintain order inside. What eight traits should our thoughts always have?
Essentially, we have learned that:
- The Holy Spirit produces a peace in us that overrides any external circumstances.
- While He ultimately produces the fruit, we have the responsibility to tend the garden and cultivate an environment for it to thrive.
- We have the responsibility of worshiping and praying to usher in the peace of God.
- Our minds are the epicenter of either peace or distress. We can choose what remains there.
Read Colossians 3:15 to finish today’s study. That, my friends, is my prayer for you today. We are called to peace. May it – and it alone – rule in our hearts because of our security in Christ Jesus.