Summary: Those who walk in the Spirit are assured that they will have the peace of God, not the absence of conflict.
Galatians 5:22–23 (NLT)
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Peace is a major theme of the Bible and that is rather strange since the land of the Bible has seldom enjoyed what we would call peace. Israel is a place of constant conflict. Last week on the anniversary of the day of the founding of Israel, a day that the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states hate, Israel had conflict on three borders. They are surrounded by millions of people who absolutely hate them and would be willing to die in order to wipe them out. And that is really nothing new for them. They have been a people who are almost constantly in a state of non-peace – of conflict.
If you ever get the chance to go to Israel, you will get the opportunity to see places like Masada – the mountain fortress of King Herod, down by the Red Sea, where in the first century, some Jewish rebels held out against the Romans who put them under siege. When the Romans finally gained access to their compound they found that they had all been willing to die by their own hands rather than surrender. Not a place of peace.
Or you can go to places like Beth Shan – a mound some 300 ft high near the Jordan Valley. The mound is composed of over 5000 years of ruins from civilizations that were defeated and destroyed – their city walls becoming the foundation for the next city to be built. And you are struck with the endless wars, the fear and the insecurity of people in that region, living between the great empires of Babylon and Egypt.
Yet with that history, God announced through his prophet Isaiah that there would be a Messiah who would come who would be the “Prince of Peace.” And when the Messiah was born, angels were sent to proclaim “peace on earth and good will to men.” And we can only imagine, since we have probably never lived in fear of neighbors who raid you in the night or bomb your children as they board the bus, what it might mean to them to be promised peace. It would be everything. To read the words of Isaiah and to receive the promise from God that there would be a new age of peace – of Shalom -- when the whole world would enjoy peace, when you would no longer need a sword or spear, but they could be remade into garden tools – when all of creation would live in harmony – when lamb could live with the lion – when children would have nothing to fear. It would be the New Kingdom – the peaceable kingdom it would be. What a promise!
The Old Testament word for peace that is often used is shalom. It means completeness and wellbeing. It encompasses physical peace as well as inner peace. It is associated with righteousness – a life of faith and obedience to God. To be in a covenant relationship with God means that you will have shalom – inner peace as well as living in a land of peace. But of course, we know the story of how that worked out – of leaders who led a nation into idolatry that brought about God’s judgment and discipline – and not peace or shalom – but enemies on the borders, suffering, and captivity.
And yet they still wait for shalom. They wait like so many others in our world. Peace on earth is illusive and it is for the most part – just a matter of where you live and the color of your skin or the name of your country. It is geographical.
And yet we are promised that peace will grow in develop in our lives if we walk in the Spirit. And we know that peace as it is used in this way is not about guns and wars as much as it is about our inner wars. We realize that we may live in a place that is secure, where we are never physically threatened, and yet we may be at war on the inside. In fact, the inner war of guilt, shame, regret, anger, and bitterness may be extremely dangerous. The inner conflicts can be devastating because they work themselves to the outside and cause harm not just to ourselves but to others. The majority of violent deaths occur among people who are related in some way.
It is not about them, but about us. Our battles, our inner wars, and our unresolved anger, are what keep us from that shalom. And yet we are assured that if we walk in the Spirit – if we listen to the Spirit and seek the will of God – we will develop peace in our lives.