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So we are continuing our series of sermons on the 3:16s: those passages of Scripture that are Chapter 3 Verse 16 of various books of the Bible that seem to outline really important concepts and ideas within the Christian faith.
And today, we are thinking about 2 Thessalonians 3:16, which says this: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times, in all ways. The Lord be with you all.”
Now this is such an important verse, because the idea of Peace is right at the heart of the Christian faith. I know that we talk about love being the most important commandment of all: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. And it is right to understand love as the pre-eminent principle to live by. But love is underpinned by peace; our ability to know God’s love for us, and our ability to share love with others, is built on the foundation of peace.
Now, that may sound slightly strange but, in the Christian faith, the idea of ‘peace’ is slightly different from how the wider world understands the idea of ‘peace’. And it’s that Christian idea of peace I want to think about today and most importantly, how we can experience peace for ourselves, and there are three practical ways that we are going to explore in a few minutes time.
But first, just to re-iterate the importance of ‘peace’ in the Christian experience. ‘Peace’ is so important that it is the title God gave to his Son Jesus: who is called ‘The Prince of Peace’. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’: it is an attitude, a way of living, that Jesus wants from all of his followers. And in Galatians 5, Paul lists ‘peace’ as one of the fruit of the Spirit; a characteristic, if you like, of Christian living.
So there’s something about ‘peace’ that goes to the very heart of human identity: we discover our true identity when we live in peace, we live out our destiny when we become people of peace, we experience fullness of life when we pursue peace, with God and with others.
‘Peace’ is at the heart of the human experience: it is the foundation on which we build, and it is the destiny towards which we move.
But that is a slightly different understanding of ‘peace’ than the world offers. For many people, peace means the absence of conflict. And, of course, we want to work for ‘peace’ in that sense; we long for the day when wars will cease, when genocides will end, when the threat of terror on our streets will subside and when people from all ethnic diversities will truly live peaceably together. And we do need to pursue that type of peace.
But we know, don’t we, that this type of peace always eludes us because as fallen human beings, we don’t know how to create that type of peace that will last. We might pursue that type of peace by avoiding conflict but peace is never won by running a way from a problem or pretending that a divisive issue doesn’t exist. We might pursue that type of peace by trying to appease other people. But appeasement is usually a false peace that can’t last because the real issues have never truly been dealt with but just brushed under the carpet instead. The pursuit of peace in this way will never last because the only true peace that lasts is the peace that God gives.
So what is that peace – and how can we experience it? Well, there’s three practical ways to do that.
1. Accept that you already are at peace
Now, that may sound like a really strange thing to say because, for many of us, peace may feel like a really long way off. We might be stressed at work, we may have financial worries. Perhaps we are having relationship difficulties at the moment or we are struggling to cope with a difficult illness, or whatever. For many of us, we may say that “Peace is the last thing I feel right now”.
And I want to reply to that by saying that this is at the heart of the problem: that true ‘peace’ isn’t something we ‘feel’ but a statement about the reality of our standing before God.
‘Peace’ is an objective reality for us to accept, not primarily an emotion for us to feel.
What do I mean by that? Well, listen to what Paul has to say in Romans 4 & 5: “We believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”
Now this is quite a complex statement, but it’s really important. What Paul is saying is this:
That Jesus died on the cross and dealt with all our sins and then God raised him from death. And we have a share in his resurrection, just like we have a share in his death. And it’s through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we have been put right with God; that we are now at peace with God.
Once we were enemies of God because we were still subject to the power of sin. But now our sins have been dealt with, we are at peace with God and we have full access to him.
So ‘peace’ in its purest Christian sense, is not an emotion at all but an objective truth about our legal standing before God.
Once we were enemies but now we are at peace with God: it's a legal, objective fact.
And so the first thing for us to do is accept the truth: the truth that, through Jesus, we are at peace with God.
That’s why sharing the peace during our Communion Service is so important. Because when we shake hands or give a hug and say “Peace be with you”, “And also with you”, we are not exchanging a pleasantry or saying ‘Hello’ to each other. Instead, we are proclaiming a deep theological truth: we are proclaiming to one another that our standing before God is now a standing of Peace, not as God’s enemies. And that’s why we share the peace at that point of the service, just before we share Communion together: because we are proclaiming to one another the theological reality that each one of us is at peace with God and that we therefore all have the right to receive Holy Communion.
And we stand with confidence and boldness in that peace.
So the first thing to say, then, is that we don’t need to feel peaceful to be at peace. Each one of us is objectively at peace with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus and even when we don’t feel very peaceful, we need to cling to the reality of our objective standing before God.
It is the absolute foundation of all we believe and experience as followers of Jesus.
And that’s why Jesus is called The Prince of Peace: not because he never got into conflict with other people but because the peace that we have with God is gained through his sacrifice for us.
2. We grow in our experience of peace through studying God’s Word
The Bible is full of statements about God’s peace and about our identity as children of God through which we derive our peace.
The more time we spend with the Bible, then the more time spend reading these statements and promises of peace.
We are shaped by what we digest. That is true physically, of course: if I too many McDonalds breakfasts (which I absolutely love!), I will end up with the body shape of a Sausage and Egg McMuffin! It’s true mentally too: I made a conscious decision a few years back to stop watching Soap Operas because they were so full of angry people speaking angry words and I just didn’t need that negative input into my mind any more - because we are not immune to the negative emotions that these programs raise in us.
And it’s true spiritually of course: if I spend time with God’s Word through the Bible, my worldview and self-understanding will become increasingly shaped by that. The more I read about God’s peace and my standing as a child of God, the more positivity will enter my soul and my way of being and relating to God, the world and others will be transformed.
The person who wrote Psalm 1 got it right when he said this: “Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord. They meditate on it day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”
So how can we know peace in our lives?
Firstly, we just need to accept the reality that we are already at peace with God.
Secondly, we need to devote ourselves to God’s Word and become increasingly shaped by its promises of peace made by God towards us.
3. We need to become peacemakers ourselves
Now this is a tough call for us, especially if we feel that we have been wronged by others in the past or are being wronged by them at the present time. But Jesus was absolutely clear in his Sermon on the Mount when he said this: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
It is a wonderful thing to be put at peace with God.
It is a wonderful thing to grow into a deep experience of that peace.
But then, as Christians, we are called to do all we can to share that peace with others and to work towards peace in the wider world.
At the heart of that activity, of course, is the need to forgive others and seek to be reconciled with them. That is a process for us all – forgiveness is rarely if ever a one-off event: it is about working hard for a change a mind and a change of attitude towards the other that will eventually result in a change of behavior.
But as the Bible tells us, “We love, because God first loved us” and likewise, we forgive because God first forgave us.
It is a tough calling to be a peacemaker: but it is at the very heart of how we try to live out the Christian life.
So peace, then, is a foundational value for the Christian life. It is not primarily an emotion that we feel. It is not the absence of conflict through avoidance or appeasement. Instead, peace is, first and foremost, an objective reality: once, we were enemies of God but now we are at peace with him.
And the first part of knowing peace is to accept that objective truth. Thereafter, we grow into the experience of peace by meditating on God’s word to us and absorbing into our being the truth of his promises about peace and the truth of his promises about who we are as children of God. And finally, the more that we grow into that depth of experience, the more able we are to become peacemakers ourselves and share that sense of peace with others through forgiveness and reconciliation.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:16, Paul wrote this: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times, in all ways. The Lord be with you all.”
Our hope and prayer and determination is to live in that peace this day and for the rest of our lives.
Thanks be to God.