And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus – Phil. 4:7
The word “peace” and the concept of peace are thrown around more at Christmastime than at any other time of the year. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that both Jesus’ Old Testament and New Testament “birth announcements” reference peace and suggest he would be ushering in an era of peace. Isaiah 9:6 foretelling Jesus’ birth declares, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (emphasis mine). On the night of Christ birth, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds and declared the good news. The angel was immediately accompanied by his fellow angels and they proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” – Luke 2:14.
The concept of peace has many connotations, even in the church. We speak of “peace with God” and “the peace of God.” Are these two phrases interchangeable? If they are not synonymous, can we have one aspects of God’s peace without the other? How do we obtain both peace with God and the peace of God?
Peace with God and the peace of God refer to different aspects of God’s peace. Romans 5:1 declares, therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (emphasis mine). After Adam and Eve willfully chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden, mankind fell under the curse and became subject to God’s wrath. Romans 1:18 describes this wrath; the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. God’s wrath manifested itself in judgment against mankind in the form of death and eternal separation from him. Christ’s death on the cross paved the way for man to be reconciled with God. By placing our faith in Jesus Christ, we become justified or declared righteous before God. God’s justice is satisfied and instead of experiencing God’s wrath, we experience peace with God. Peace with God occurs at the point of conversion and is thereafter a permanent condition.
The peace of God can be quite another matter. God promised believers his peace, but we must initiate the possession of it. God gave the Israelites, Canaan, The Promised Land, but they still needed to subdue the existing inhabitants of the land and take possession of it. God equipped his people to take possession of the land, but they had to take action to see its fulfillment. Rarely did God equip his people for possession through military superiority. Generally the opposite was true. God intentionally thinned the ranks of the Israelite forces. (See the story of Gideon in Judges the 7th chapter.) Even after taking possession of the land, the Israelites still had to fend off enemy attacks periodically. Sadly, the Israelites failed to maintain possession of the land and were taken into captivity because they turned away from God.
There are many parallels when it comes to us possessing of the peace of God. God provides instruction and provision for gaining his peace — do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God – Philippians 4:5. The results of following those instructions are seen in the next verse; and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6.
There are many unyielding forces that would seek to disrupt our peace. Jesus describes some of these forces in the parables of the sower and seed (Mat. 13:18-24); the evil one (Satan), troubles and persecution, and the worries of this life and deceitfulness of riches. Their barrage is constant and any cease fire is only temporary. When Satan tempted Jesus, he [Satan] left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13b). If these forces’ attacks are unwithering, then so must be our responses. We must be in an ongoing state of prayer, petition and thanksgiving. While we must initiate possession of God’s peace, God’s peace cannot be obtained only by our initiation or self-effort. Our initiation is the catalyst or spark, but it is God who provides a peace that is beyond our ability to comprehend humanly. That is why we can have peace in the midst of deep loss, sorrow and heartache. I have used military imagery to describe those forces that would seek to disrupt our peace, and the Apostle Paul uses military imagery to describe the protection afforded by God’s peace. Paul describes God’s peace as a guard or garrison around our hearts and minds.
A critical factor in our ability to experience God’s peace is the degree to which we are attached to the things of this world. While we may not care to think about it, sooner or later we all lose possessions, loved ones and even our own lives. We were all born with our fists clinched, but losses help us to loosen our grip. If our hands are open things may fall out, but they can be placed in.
The late Corrie ten Boom, and her family were placed into Nazi concentration camps for harboring Jews during War World II. Corrie alone survived the death camps and went on to chronicle her experiences in the book, The Hiding Place. I recently heard Chuck Swindoll recount what Corrie ten Boom told him years later after her experiences. She said, “Pastor Swindoll, you have to them to hold everything loosely.” Here was a woman who had lost nearly everything from a human perspective yet through her losses she gained a greater sense of God’s enduring peace that passes all understanding. Inspired by what she went through, Ms. ten Boom famously wrote these words, “There is no pit so deep, that’s God love is not deeper still.”