The Apostle Paul, having warned the Galatian Christians regarding important matters of doctrine (cf. Galatians 1:6-5:16), then turned to insist upon important matters of practice. He did so by comparing and contrasting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). He described the fruit of the Spirit accordingly in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
In a very real sense love is the fruit of the Spirit, and every other manifestation thereof mere commentary. Joy is no mere emotion but a disposition maintained regardless of circumstances. Paul continued with the posture of peace. The Greek word translated here as “peace” is eirene, defined by Thayer’s as:
1) a state of national tranquillity
1a) exemption from the rage and havoc of war
2) peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord
3) security, safety, prosperity, felicity, (because peace and harmony make and keep things safe and prosperous)
4) of the Messiah’s peace
4a) the way that leads to peace (salvation)
5) of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is
6) the blessed state of devout and upright men after death
The Apostles prove very concerned with peace and making sure Christians understand the value and importance of peace. They wished for the peace of God to come upon the Christians as is evidenced by its frequent invocation in the salutation and the conclusion of letters (Romans 1:7, Romans 15:33, 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Peter 5:14, etc.).
The “peace” of which the Apostles spoke was never understood to be generated within the self. Whether we wish to admit it or not we maintain the legacy of our time lost in the world of sin, children of wrath, hated by others, and hating in turn (cf. Ephesians 2:1-4, Titus 3:3). Our hearts are liable to condemn us (1 John 3:20). On our own we are easily tossed to and fro, feeling good or miserable about ourselves based on our most recent thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The “peace” of which the Apostles spoke would not be found in the world. Jesus assured His disciples they would have tribulation in the world (John 16:33); it was not hard for Him to guarantee this, because the world thrives on conflict. In the world “peace” is understood as the absence of active hostilities: if peoples or nations are not killing each other, they are deemed at “peace,” whether they are best of friends or greatly opposed to one another. The “peace” the world would leave those at “peace” alone to do as they please; it yearns for a nice and fat equilibrium for the advantaged no matter the cost to the marginalized and oppressed. Peace in the world is ephemeral; there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21). The ways of the world are antithetical to real peace (James 3:13-18).
The “peace” of which the Apostles spoke is rooted in what God has accomplished for Christians through Jesus: reconciliation in relationship. Christians have peace toward God because they can stand forgiven of sin through the blood of Jesus the Lamb (John 1:28, Romans 2:10, 5:1-11, 8:1-17). Christians have not done anything to deserve such salvation in reconciliation; no effort they can put forth will earn, deserve, or merit such standing before God (Romans 3:20-23, Ephesians 2:1-11). Thus the peace God offers Christians in Christ is given by sheer grace; we cannot earn it, obtain it through great effort, or anything of that sort. We must submit ourselves to God and His purposes in Christ to receive the gift of the peace God would give to all of His children (John 16:33).
The peace which exists between God and man in Christ certainly goes beyond a feeling of calmness: this peace involves the firm conviction that God is greater than our hearts, we are fully cleansed in Christ, and no thing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:30-39, 1 John 3:20-21). Through the peace God gives in Christ we can call out the thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, shame, and remembrance of past sins for what they are: temptations by the Evil One to inertia and sin. And yet God can give believers His peace in Christ which surpasses understanding, providing a preternatural calm which believers, on their own, could never manifest in light of their circumstances (cf. Philippians 4:7). If we would receive such peace, we must continually maintain trust in God and cast our anxieties upon Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6, 1 Peter 5:7). The believer in Christ maintains peace in the world not because of him or herself or their standing in the world; they live in the superabundant peace of Christ, understanding that no matter what may afflict them in the world, they have entrusted themselves to the love of God, and no external force can extricate them from Him.
The peace God would give to Christians in Christ is not just about their individual reconciliation with God. In Christ God has reconciled all who would believe in Him to Himself: in the world they would be divided by ethnicity, language, class, etc., but Jesus killed all forms of hostility among people when He suffered and died on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18). Christians are called to unity in the faith on the ground of the peace God has given them in Jesus: whatever might divide Christians in the world is not nearly as important as the shared faith in Christ which should bring them together.
Thus peace is one of the three primary characteristics of the Kingdom of God according to Romans 10:17. This peace could only be accomplished by God’s work in Christ; only through suffering evil could the hostility be killed. Nevertheless, Christians must diligently apply great effort to maintain this precious peace obtained through the work of God in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3). Christians must pursue the humility, love, patience, tolerance, etc., which make for peace so they can build one another up (Romans 14:19); they must be of the same mind and actively seek to live in peace so the God of peace would remain with them (2 Corinthians 3:11).
Christians must continually make the choice to allow the peace of Christ to rule in their hearts (cf. Colossians 3:15). They will be sorely tempted to participate and foment the divisions of the world. Christians may even be tempted to replace the peace of Christ with the peace of this world, maintaining factionalism and divisions rooted in worldly thinking. Christians must always be on guard lest they cry out “peace,” where there is no peace: there is no peace in ourselves without the Lord or in the world (Ezekiel 13:8-16, 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Wherever worldly thinking, selfish ambition, factionalism, tribalism, and the like are engendered; whenever we look for succor, comfort, and hope from the world and its powers and principalities; or especially when the ways of the Kingdom are overrun by the ways of the world, demonic wisdom has been accepted over the ways of righteousness in God in Christ which lead to true peace (James 3:13-18). Christians do well to find rest and comfort in God in Christ, in love and humility casting their anxieties upon God, resisting the siren songs of fearmongering in the world, firmly rooted in Christ, and working diligently to preserve the unity of the faith in the bond of peace.
Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with you all (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
Ethan R. Longhenry