Sunday, May 29, 2022

Peace and God’s Will

In some situations peace and God’s will may be in conflict, as certain passages of scripture show. Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” As a result of his advent households would necessarily be divided. Romans 12:18 teaches Christians to avoid provoking this conflict: “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

Other scriptures show that among believers peace and the will of God are complementary: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity ... for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” Think too of the many exhortations in the New Testament that call for oneness of mind. In these cases the pursuit of peace will assist us in discovering God’s will.

The reverse is also true: in fulfilling the will of God we will enjoy true peace.

Enjoying the peace of God is a corporate matter, something we arrive at together. It is a mistake to look upon this sort of peace as a promise made to individuals. A Christian may say, “I had peace about it, so I knew I was in the will of God.” The one speaking so confidently is open to self-deception; the assertion may be made to justify activity which produces anything but peace among those closely linked with the speaker. This should be a red light to all involved.

General and Particular

There are what we may call God’s general plans, things written in the word of God which all believers are called to obey, and there are particular and personal matters in which a child of God wishes to know his will.

It is in deciding his particular will that God’s children sometimes become troubled or nervous. “What if the circumstances as I see them now were to unexpectedly change”, they say to themselves, “I could be stuck for life with the result(s) of my decision.” So they reach out for a form of insurance against future disaster. After struggling with an issue for some while and then making a firm decision, anyone would naturally enjoy a sense of peace, but that is not what is in view in the texts that follow.

Two Misapplications

There are two scriptures sometimes used out of their contexts to support the idea that the confirmation that you have been guided in making a decision is the peace you feel in your heart. One is Philippians 4:7, “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” But in its context that is not the result of choosing wisely regarding employment, marriage or going on a cruise, etc.

The other verse sometimes misapplied is Colossians 3:15, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” The use of the word “rule” certainly suggests that the peace of God is to be the deciding factor, the authoritative influence and the thing that should settle matters for the children of God who find themselves in this situation. But what is the situation? How does the peace of God express itself in this case, and who will enjoy it?

Corporate Peace

In the New Testament individual believers are viewed as being incorporated into the universal body of Christ. They are also so closely linked with a company consisting of fellow believers that the local church is also spoken of as a body of Christ. Its leadership consists of a group of men called elders; they are the ones to tend and feed the flock, but each member is charged to care for the other members. That is how it should be. Sad to report, it is not how it is in the majority of churches today, even those that are evangelical. Nevertheless that is the ideal and the setting in which these and other instructions of the New Testament can be understood and put into practice.

This promise of peace is not addressed to an individual, but to the local church or to those with whom we are closely associated in Christian service. All are urged to put on “gentleness, kindness, humility, meekness, patience; bearing with one another”. Forgiveness and love are to characterize all involved. The authoritative word “rule” tells us what will make for peace when differences of opinion arise. But peace is not to rule one heart only; each of us is far too prone to favor our own cause and be deceived; it is to rule in our hearts. Since God is the God of truth, he is not encouraging us to compromise in order to achieve peace; nevertheless, before a path is adopted he requires oneness of mind among those spiritually mature.

Independence of a number of others is often a mark of immaturity. We are not to be ruled by the opinion of one brother or sister who agrees or disagrees with us. It may be God’s will to separate from each other and go in different directions in the latter case. See how the argument between Paul and Barnabas resulted in opportunities of service for God opening up for each but in different areas.

A Practical Application

How may the peace of God be enjoyed in practical terms? Obviously not by one man dominating in any disagreement.

I was once present at a meeting of mature men each of whom had a passionate interest in how a particular project was to proceed. They had reached an impasse. One of them got a bit red under the collar and expressed himself very strongly. Another man spoke up: “Well, brethren, we have a different understanding here of what ought to be done. We should not proceed. I move that we spend the days before our next meeting praying that we may find out God’s will rather than our own.” All agreed. The next session a very different spirit prevailed, confession was made and accepted. They were ruled by what made for the peace of God.

When the right kind of peace is lacking, that which is truly of God, it means that man’s will has taken over. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” If any of those involved continue to push they will only promote discord and division, even if their cause is right. It is not time to push; it is time to pray, to demonstrate that we are a dependent people who will not act on our own. It is time to wait on God and to wait for him. He will not fail to respond. “Blessed are all those who wait for him.”

— Colin Anderson, April 2014

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