Before Jesus was born, it was prophesied that He would be a man of peace.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end… (Isaiah 9:6-7; ESV)”
When Jesus was born, the declaration of the angels to the shepherds promised peace. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased (Luke 2:14; ESV)!” It is worth taking a moment to realize that the textual evidence favors the understanding that the angel’s promised peace is not universal, but rather directed towards men who stand in God’s grace.
As we continue into the ministry of Jesus, He held forth peace as not only a desirable trait, but as being necessary to seek after if we are to be the full recipients of God’s blessings. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says the Savior, “for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9)”
Likewise, Jesus encouraged His followers to pursue practices which would promote peace: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39; ESV)” And, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).”
So central was the idea of peace to the blessings Christ brings to His followers, that nearly every epistle in the New Testament opens with the benediction of, “Grace and Peace” (cf. Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, etc.). Of the five which don’t begin this way, Jude opens with “mercy and peace,” and Hebrews and 1 John have non-standard openings which don’t identify their recipients as in a regular letter; which leaves James and 3 John as the real odd epistles out. But the predominance of the benediction indicates that to the Spirit-led, apostolic mind, Peace, as a blessing, was as synonymous with being a follower of Christ as Grace was.
In writing to the Roman church, the apostle Paul echoes the teachings of Jesus regarding the desirability and pursuit of peace in the life of a Christ-follower. He writes, “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6; ESV).” He also commands, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:17-18; ESV),” and then later, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace… (Romans 14:19).”
Regarding the relationship between peace and righteousness, the epistle of James teaches us, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18; ESV)
All of which is to say that those who profess to be followers of Christ should be amongst the most peaceful of men. It is concerning those lost in the world, ravaged by sin and rebellion against the things of God, that it is said, “The way of peace they have not known (Isaiah 59:8; Romans 3:17).” The world, filled as it is with sin, has never truly known peace and so long as the world continues in sin it will not know peace. Only by giving themselves over to the Prince of Peace, will the situation change. Yet, if this is true, consider the corollary: those who don’t know peace – those who advocate violence, aggression, hate, animosity, and division – of such it could be said that they don’t truly know or understand Christ, nor the doctrine of Christ, nor the grace and
righteousness that Jesus brings. For, “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace,” and we remember that the scriptures speak of “Grace and Peace,” as twin blessings.
In this, the holiday season, it is customary for people to speak of the peace that Christ brings, and to remember the promise of the angels to the shepherds. Yet, as seasons come and seasons go, as year follows year, there are some who must wonder, where is this peace that was promised? Things continue as they always have, with men fighting against men.
For peace to come into the world, the Peace of Christ must be more than a platitude. If we desire it in our lives, we must actually follow the doctrines and the lessons Jesus taught, and we must ourselves seek to live in peace with both God and men, remembering that it is the peacemakers who shall be known as the sons of God. Only by walking according to the teachings of Christ can we truly be said to know the Way of Peace.
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us as we seek to follow after the Prince of Peace. We meet at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have questions or comments, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.