Peace like a River

by Scarlett Stough

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Let the Peace of Christ Rule.

Adapted from a presentation given at the Seventh Annual Christian Women's Retreat.

In Isaiah, peace is compared to a river:

For this is what the LORD says: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;…."
Isaiah 66:12

Gently flowing rivers often do give us a sense of peace and relaxation as we sit by their banks, or float downstream on a raft or in an inner tube. But rivers are not always so peaceful. As alluded to in the verse above, rivers flood. When they flood, they can carry off and destroy homes and livelihoods.

But flooding rivers often leave enriching soil in their floodplains which can nourish a crop. The power of moving waters can be harnessed to create electricity or grind grain; they can be controlled for good or be a destructive force. Rivers illustrate how good can come even out of bad times (Romans 8:28.)

We usually think of peace as being the opposite of war as in Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8b

We are called to follow Christ as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9): "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God." If a peacemaker is needed, there must be a lack of peace to restore.

The imagery of warfare is used to describe the reality of living in this world:

Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs----he wants to please his commanding officer.
2 Timothy 2:3-4

In Isaiah the Messiah , Jesus, is called the Prince of peace:

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. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
Isaiah 9:6-7

At his birth, the angels praised God, saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14.)"

Yet Jesus told his disciples:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Matthew 10:34

How do we make sense of these seemingly contradictory statements?

There is an hostility toward God from a world wanting to decide for itself what is good and what is evil. From birth we want what we want and we want it now. There is a fierce opposition to being told judgment is coming and all will have to account to a "higher power" for our actions.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
Romans 8:5-8

God sent his Son to offer us terms of peace, but not everyone accepts those terms. Those who do accept his terms have peace with God; but then find themselves often under attack by those who do not.

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 now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:1-11

Once we accept his terms of peace, we are reconciled to God and no longer at war with him. This is the first aspect of peace: Peace with God.

God sends his Spirit to dwell in us and create peace in our lives. This is the second aspect of peace: Peace within.

Jesus promised peace to his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid
John 14:27
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

After his resurrection, Jesus greeted his disciples three times with the words "Peace be with you!"

Because Jesus removed the hostility towards God from the hearts of those who believe in and accept him, we can receive peace. Now we no longer need to be troubled by the very real troubles of this life. We do have troubles, but by the Spirit God has given us, we do not need to be anxious about anything.

Of course, we all know we do get anxious, but we don't have to stay that way. God has made a way for us to regain the peace he gives:

…The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:5-7

Now God's peace can permeate our minds, giving us that peace of mind we all crave. This peace is not dependent on the circumstances in which we live. Whatever our economic circumstances, or the state of our health, or the political situation of worldly peace or war, we do not have to be anxious about them. We can leave the outcome to God knowing he has our best interests at heart.

Peace isn't just the opposite of war; it is also the opposite of anxiety.

Both the Hebrew word shalom and the Greek word eirene, translated into the English word peace have the sense of wholeness, wellness, harmony, joined or united. The Greek word used in the above scripture translated as anxious, is merimna, from a root word meaning "pulled apart," "split into pieces," or "disjointed." God's peace joins and unites. God's peace makes us whole.

We do have a responsibility to allow God's peace to change us. Peace is a gift of the Spirit and a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22.) But we can hinder its increase in our lives:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:15

This verse reminds us:

  •  We should not resist the Spirit's work in our hearts Ÿ
  • We are members of one Body, we do not have to go it alone Ÿ
  • We are called to peace, peace with God, peace within and peace with others, the third aspect of peace.

Peace is God's gift to us. His peace, the peace of Christ, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, is ours to accept and nurture. The way to peace is simple, but not always easy, and like most things in life, it takes practice to break the habits of past thinking. We still struggle with the old self even while the new self grows within us.

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