REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 62: Peace.
While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief and envy. He cannot even give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even for outward peace. These words from the Stoic 1st century philosopher Epictetus are still applicable, where expectations of governments run high in times of threat and pressure, like pandemics and the resultant economic and health concerns.
My mum used to say, when I was growing up at home and many years later when we would visit with the children, “I just need some P and Q.” Peace and quiet. A cuppa and half an hour she was back at her best.
We all know what she and the Stoic were alluding to: temporary and inner peace are both important and though the inner is far more elusive, it benefits from rest and reflection. The third of the fruits of the Spirit, peace follows love and joy [Galatians 5:22] and is set in contrast to the un-peaceful ways of the sinful nature: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy [Gal 5:20]. It is often noted, helpfully I think, that these first three fruits refer primarily to our relationship with God, the second three to our relationships with others and the third trio to ourselves.
The believer has peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1-11 sets this out very clearly and is about what we may call an objective peace with God that is not dependant on circumstances, feelings or our temperament. It comes about through our Lord’s atoning death, where God’s wrath is dealt with, so that the believing sinner is no longer an enemy of God [Rom 5:9], but fully reconciled with God [5:10-11], no longer condemned [Rom 8:1] but welcomed into God’s presence at all times [5:1-2] and assured of full pardon and life eternal [John 5:24]. To have discovered and received this is a fruit of the Spirit that confirms God’s love for us, draws out our love for Him and compels us to share this gospel of peace with others [Gal 2:20, 2 Cor 5:14-21].
But there is also a subjective peace that God the Holy Spirit gives to us in the midst of the ups and downs of life. It is described as the ‘peace of God that passes all understanding’ [Phil 4:7]. This special fruit grows and prospers when we are under pressure. The apostle who speaks of it knew the pressures of imprisonment, bad-mouthing and bickering between and from fellow believers, sickness, desertion by friends, persecutions and privations [Phil 1:15-18, 4:2-3,10-19, 2 Cor 11:16-29, 12:1-10]. His heart, in these circumstances, was guarded from dark thoughts about God and his friends by God Himself [Phil 4:7]. This work of the Holy Spirit came through prayerful reliance and trust in God’s good promises, regular rejoicing and thankfulness [4:4-7], a commitment to set his mind on all that is good and godly [4:8], forever mindful that his response to difficulties would be a significant means of experiencing God’s presence, [‘the God of peace will be with you’] and an encouragement to all who were watching him [4:9].
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to prove our reliance upon the living God and to experience an ever- deepening relationship with Him. Times of prosperity and pleasure are rarely as effective in proving God’s faithfulness and experiencing His peace. The objective peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is more likely to captivate and excite us when the chips are down and our lives and livelihood threatened.
Thomas Watson, with typical Puritan clarity, says: if God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble. In times of peace the world so easily creates envy of others, discontent and blame because the government made some mistakes in handling the pandemic and angst when we have to put up with some inconveniences in the interests of others. God, on the other hand, will give us gratitude and generosity towards others which contributes to our inner peace. Peace within leads to peace with others. Another Puritan, Thomas Manton, reminds us of the soil and roots that produce such a flower bed of peace: we are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.
We must not forget that this passage came to a congregation and has its first application in our life together as believers. We can so easily allow pressures, disappointments that things have not been handled in the way we would have preferred, and let’s be honest, our own sinful habits, can be fertile ground for the weeds of discord, ambition and factions to emerge, ripen and ruin our fellowship[s]. Gal 5:16-18 and 6:7-10 must be allowed to ring clearly in our ears if we are to exhibit and contribute this rare fruit of peace. Dick Lucas reminds us that: when peace rules in the heart, His peace will rule in the fellowship [Col 3:15]. These are wise words indeed, which will keep us from blaming others or expecting others to be the peacemakers our Lord taught each of us to be [Matt 5:9].
Peter Brain 9th February, 2021