Peace on Earth? I tell you, NO, but rather Division!
by Pastor Cary Gordon
So what is peace?
If you ask most Christians this simple question, most all of us would answer with a similar description. When you hear the word “peace,” perhaps you think of relaxation or a quiet and comfortable atmosphere. Perhaps peace, to you, is best defined as “the absence of all stress or pressure.” Maybe you ascribe to Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of peace; and therefore you would describe it as “tranquility” or “the refreshing time period in which a nation thrives during the absence of war.” Maybe you would describe peace as “sipping iced tea on the back porch of a quiet lakeside home at sundown.”
Regardless of how you personally define peace, I am sure your understanding is in some way compatible with what society as a whole would view as “peace.” All of these varied descriptions would be in agreement with the scholastic standard of linguistic definition…the dictionary. Webster’s Dictionary has not only become the standard in defining the language we speak; it has greatly influenced how society thinks.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines peace as 1) A state of tranquility or quiet a as freedom from civil disturbance, b) a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom; 2) freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions; 3) harmony in personal relations; 4) a state or period of mutual concord between governments.
Before I was inspired by the Lord to dive into a very deep study of this subject of Biblical peace, in January of 1996, had someone asked me to define peace, I am quite sure I would have responded with something on the same wavelength with Webster’s Dictionary. Though it is a wonderful tool, I have found that many times the scriptural definitions of the words we tend to view through our “twenty-first-century sunglasses” are actually quite different—sometimes completely contrary. This is the case with the subject of spiritual peace.
As we begin to discuss scriptural peace, you will find, to your surprise, that true peace is not what you expected. You may find yourself having to intentionally dismiss all of your preconceived ideas regarding peace, including Webster’s definition of peace. I would like to present this subject a little differently to help you comprehend the reality of true biblical peace. Because common understanding is so contrary to scriptural peace, I will begin my attempt to correctly define peace by first emphasizing what spiritual peace most definitely is not!
A Peace Not From God
Allow me to present to you what looks like a contradiction in the scriptures. Notice the words of the angels announcing Christ’s birth in this next passage of scripture.
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
In this passage of Luke we see angels announcing peace to the world. Ironically, in this same book, only a few chapters later, we have Jesus emphatically stating that He most definitely has not come to bring peace.
Luke 12:51-53 “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”
Without a doubt, this certainly appears contradictory on the surface. One minute you have the heavenly host declaring that peace has come to earth, and the next minute the Subject of their message declares He has come to do nothing of the sort. “I have come to bring division!” He claims! Most every American, saved and unsaved, has been exposed to or participated in an annual church Christmas program at some time in their life. We have all seen the children dressed in white gowns with halos reciting Luke, chapter 2! And yet, Jesus states quite deliberately that He absolutely has NOT come to bring peace? To make matters even more confusing to the average Bible reader, consider with me the writings of Matthew. Jesus is recorded as saying:
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”
Only a few chapters later, we are faced with another glaring contradiction, or so it seems, from the mouth of Jesus.
Matthew 10:34-38 “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”
Avoiding Weird Doctrines
In all subjects, regardless of the topic being studied, proper interpretation must be held to the highest standards. There is a law which must be applied in the development of pure doctrine, and this law is paramount to all others. A Bible student must always begin a study on any biblical subject with the literal words of the Lord Jesus. His words take precedence over them all. Many ministers, as well as laymen, come up with weird doctrines laced with subtle error—even gross heresy, when they use an Old Testament verse as their primary source of information, applying the teachings of Jesus secondarily. The only safe way to develop pure doctrine is to begin with the teachings of Jesus, and then apply other inspired passages of scripture. In fact, even the New Testament epistles are only best interpreted in the light of the words of Jesus.
Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” For this reason, I wish to begin our study on the subject of true peace by first looking at the infallible words of our Lord Jesus in the gospel account of John. It is within this next particular passage that Jesus makes His definitive statement concerning peace, and the enigmas of our aforementioned contradictions of scripture divulge their simple solution.
Two Kinds of Peace
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Jesus discloses that there is a marked difference between His peace and what is commonly regarded by the world as peace. Simply put, He reveals that there are two types of peace available for us the kind of peace HE possesses and the kind of peace the WORLD possesses. 1) Spiritual peace. 2) Worldly peace. Jesus specifically emphasizes here that He has NOT come to give us the worldly kind of peace. He most definitely HAS come to give us His own peace, which is quite different from what the world has to offer. Not only is the peace of God different from the peace of the world, it is nearly contrary to common thought! With that in mind, let’s look again at our supposed contradictions.
Matthew 10:34 “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
Luke 12:51 “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division…”
We can now infer Jesus’ implications concerning peace by understanding that He had not come to bring “worldly peace.” I divide these two forms of peace into two categories: first-class peace and second-class peace. Please don’t misunderstand me! Second-class peace is certainly not to be degraded or scorned, for it is truly beneficial and wonderful. It is every nice thing that Webster’s Dictionary says it is, and perhaps a little more than what he took time to define for us. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy sipping iced tea on the back porch of a quiet lakeside home at sundown! The problem lies in the fact that most of us live in second-class peace and never comprehend first-class peace. Jesus went to the trouble to leave it for us, but we don’t understand what it is or how it works! The Living Bible sheds light on this same verse:
John 14:27 (TLB) “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives.”
Second-class peace is certainly quite fragile! Why? Because the kind of peace the world possesses is only beneficial among the right circumstances, in the proper setting. For example, if you want to enjoy your “iced tea on the back porch of a quiet lakeside home at sundown,” then you need several key ingredients. First, you need iced tea. Second, you need a comfortable chair. Then you will need a home with a back porch so that you will have somewhere to sit in that nice comfortable chair. Next, you will need the neighbors next door to turn down their loud stereo and quiet their children! Did I forget to mention the need for a lake? And finally, you need the weather to cooperate with the moment, giving you a breathtaking sunset! Fragile enough?!
Second-class, worldly peace is truly wonderful! Thank you, Lord, for those (few) moments when we do enjoy second-class peace! But first-class peace is nothing of this kind. First-class peace, the kind Jesus came to give us, is not dependent upon our outside circumstances. First-class peace has little to do with political, social, or financial unrest. In fact, I’ll take it one step further by saying scriptural peace has little or nothing to do with the idea of tranquility or quiet. “WHAT?!” Yes, you read that correctly. The God kind of peace is nothing of the sort. Yet, when most of us read the Bible and see the word “peace,” we automatically plug our second-class understanding of scriptural peace into the text we are reading, and the result is a second-class interpretation of God’s truth.
The written Word of God remains a mystery to the intellect of man until the proceeding word of the Spirit of Truth comes and sheds His light. (See 1 Corinthians 2:11-14.) In early January of 1996, prior to the aforementioned visitation from the Lord Jesus, the written Word (logos) concerning the subject of this precious fruit of the spirit had remained a mystery to me. Up until that day, my understanding of “the God kind of peace” remained second-class and on the same plane with Webster’s Dictionary. You might say I was sitting in a “second-class seat,” and Jesus introduced me to “first-class peace.”
Call for the Harp
A good analogy of second-class peace is seen in 1 Samuel, in the story of a talented young shepherd who played the harp before his king.
1 Samuel 16:14-23 “But the spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him. And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a man, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well. And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me. Then answered one of the servants, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him. Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep. And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul. And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”
This story of King Saul epitomizes second-class peace. Saul’s “peace” was entirely dependent upon outside circumstances. As we will see later on in more detail, the kind of peace Jesus came to give, first-class peace, has nothing to do with outside circumstances. First-class peace comes from within us and affects without us. Saul’s second-class peace came from without before it could affect within. So many of God’s children live their lives “calling for the harp.” Too many of God’s children live a lifestyle of drudgery in the workplace, where the atmosphere is anything but peaceful. By the end of the work week they gather their families together and drag themselves to church for re-filling. As they leave the building you can hear them saying, “I’m so glad I can come here on Sunday and find peace!” Then it’s back into the world and its second-class peace once again.
When the Church Becomes a Hospital
Dear reader, the consequences of this second-class spiritual lifestyle not only hinder the spiritual power of God in the life of the individual, but its corporate effect upon what is today known as “the local church” has reduced many would-be churches into nothing more than spiritual hospitals! God has never and will never desire His church to merely be a spiritual hospital! Yes, the church should be a place where we can get healing after a battle. Everyone needs to be nursed back to health every now and again. But our primary purpose as the church is to reach the lost and dying with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. We, the church, are supposed to be like David! We are designed to be the “peace-makers” not just the “peace-takers!! We should learn to “play the harp,” not “call for the harp.” Zechariah prophesied what the people of God would be like at the onset of the millennial kingdom.
Zechariah 12:8 (NRSV) “On that day the LORD will shield the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head.”
Imagine a group of believers where the weakest among them are like David, and the strongest among them are like God! If this is who we are called to be during the Millennium, then how much more should we press toward that mark as we see the day of the Lord approaching? Zechariah’s description of the people of God does not sound like a spiritual hospital!
The Lord Jesus fought this second-class peace mentality within His twelve disciples.
Mark 4:35-41 “And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
What a marvelous lesson can be learned from this story. Jesus was not a man who waited for His outside conditions to be at peace before His inside conditions could be calmed. Jesus had such inward peace that He slept soundly upon a pillow, while those with a second-class peace mentality scurried about the boat. Finally, the second-class disciples became bothered by His care-free inward condition. “Don’t you care that we are drowning?” they shouted! His response was a demonstration of power and spiritual poise. “Peace, be still!” Jesus commanded!
Jesus took hold of the peace on the inside of Him and changed the situation on the outside. While the “twelve Sauls” were “calling for the harp,” Jesus was skillfully playing it!
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
With every moment of your day there are two kinds of peace you can walk in. You can either walk in the supernatural peace of God or you can walk in the fragile peace of the world. There are only two options. There is no neutral third choice. At the end of every day you can say, “I have walked in the peace of Jesus today!” or you can say, “I accepted a second-class substitute for what could have been first-class peace!”
Don’t wait for the music! Make your own!