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Why is it that when life becomes complicated or hard, we yearn for “peace and quiet”? I know sometimes it is tempting to try to find a cave to dwell in and get away from people forever. Some days I think to myself how nice it would be to never have to hear others clicking their pens or cracking their knuckles or humming “Call Me Maybe” just to annoy me? It almost seems logical: if I get hurt all the time from people, maybe I should avoid people! But God didn’t wire us that way. Sometimes we focus too much on the negatives of relationships (shame, hurt, disappointment) and forget about the positives of a good relationship (love, protection, security, trust, free chocolate).
In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts bad relationships with good ones. Living to satisfy the desires of the flesh produces “quarrels, factions, and envy.” Living by the Spirit, on the other hand, produces a fruit of the Spirit called “peace” within a community of believers. In other words, Paul is saying that true peace cannot be achieved by winning a war or running from conflict or saving up enough money to buy protection and feel secure. True peace can only be found in God and a body of believers who love each other as Jesus loves us.
Peace in the Greek is very similar to the Hebrew word for peace, which is Shalom. With both of these in mind, New Testament scholar Ronald Y. K. Fung says peace “means more than the merely negative notion of absence of war and trouble; it denotes rather a positive state of ‘wholeness’ – ‘soundness’ and ‘prosperity.’ In the LXX the word ‘describes health of body, welfare and security, perfect serenity and tranquility, a life and a state in which a man is perfectly related to his fellow men and to his God.” (Fung, NICNT, p. 265) True peace is not a lack of fighting, but giving yourself so the body of Christ can become a whole and you can become whole again in God.
Conversely, if you withhold yourself and keep even a piece of yourself from others, you are withholding true peace from yourself. Fung goes on to say that, in the context of Galatians, “Peace may refer specifically to harmony in human relationships, but it would be arbitrary to exclude from its meaning the inner peace which results from a right relationship with God and is reflected in concord with other people.” (Fung, NICNT, p. 266) Only God can give us peace with others and peace in our hearts and minds “that transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
It is not a surprise that peace would appear together on a list of virtues that Paul authored. In Romans 14:17 Paul says, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Later in Romans he prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:13) Joy and peace are inevitable in the life and relationships with those who live by the Holy Spirit. May we give every piece of ourselves so that we may finally experience true peace on earth.